Few models have had an impact on the world, quite like the Land Rover has. From the deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa, the tropical jungles of Central America, and the icy-cold plains of Northern Siberia, the Land Rover has conquered them all. Originally designed as a recreational vehicle in post-war Britain, the Series I Land Rover was a purpose-built, rugged off-roader and was the Rover Company’s answer to the Willys Jeep. It first broke cover back in 1948 and there was no looking back.
The Land Rover would eventually become the Defender and its shape is truly iconic. With more than seven decades of pedigree to fall back on, it certainly enjoys a lofty status and continues to have an incredibly passionate fanbase of off-road enthusiasts around the world.
Sharing that same passion are the founders of E.C.D. Automotive Design; Scott Wallace, Thomas Humble, and Elliot Humble. I recently had the chance to catch up with Scott and Tom to find out their process of turning these dependable and utilitarian workhorses into extremely desirable custom luxury off-roaders.
The E.C.D. Story
A shot of E.C.D. Automotive Design’s facility in Florida
The market demand for old-school Defenders is pretty substantial and nice examples often carry a premium in the used/collector car space. They remain extremely sought-after vehicles and I began by asking how E.C.D went about tapping into this lucrative market. Well, it started about 10 years ago, when Tom moved to the States from the U.K.
We started out as hobbyists really, Scott was a friend of the family. We had the demand and people were asking us to bring vehicles and modify them, but I wasn’t really set up for it at the time, but we kind of threw ourselves into it anfd with a little bit of Scott’s direction, I eventually left my day job to do this full time -Tom
Aside from working a full-time job, with help from his brother Elliot, Tom was importing old Defenders from England and reselling them in Florida, under the East Coast Defender name. One thing that Tom noted early on was that people wanted to customize their vehicles. But it wasn’t until he met Scott through some family friends, did the idea to go about creating a business around custom Defenders really come about.
A front 3/4 shot of E.C.D. Automotive Design’s Project Alpaca
The model that E.C.D. brand was primarily built upon, of course, was the Land Rover Defender. Tom told me that one of the most challenging aspects of the build process of these custom Defenders remains scouting for good donor vehicles. But with a decade’s worth of expertise under their belt, they’ve ironed things out and now have an efficient process in place.
It is a difficult thing to do, and through our systems and processes, we make it seem easy from the outside, but it is a difficult thing to find these vehicles. We don’t start with rotten vehicles or things crumbling away in a field. We buy good vehicles to start with, and they go through the process here which is close to 2200 man-hours of rebuilding them to what you see on our website – Tom
Defenders come in a variety of shapes and sizes and the current choice at E.C.D. is made up of the short-wheelbase two-door model (ECD D90), or longer-wheelbase variants with safari windows (ECD D110, ECD Series II A), or even one which offers a bed (ECD D130). Based on your requirements, you have several potent powertrains to choose from and including the bonker LS3 engine. But E.C.D. goes a step further as they also offer a number of mechanical upgrades from modern brakes and suspension to adding heavy-duty off-road hardware like a winch or an A-Bar.
A front 3/4 shot of Project Mas (D130) by E.C.D. Automotive Design
The addition of modern equipment and conveniences completely transforms these vehicles. You can’t really do much on the safety front, given the old-school platform, but Tom did add that they upgrade every build to an all-disc brake setup, along with an external roll cage as standard.
The Build Process -Taking Bespoke To The Next Level
Where E.C.D really comes into its own is with the level of customization that they offer to their clientele. It all starts with a blank piece of paper. The options really are endless from custom wheels, paint choices, and accessories like LED lighting, down to the stitch pattern for the leather upholstery. The sky is pretty much the limit.
You can create something like a period-correct classic Series 1 Defender that would look right at home on a jungle safari to a blacked-out beast that appeals to a younger crowd. Honestly, some of these builds really wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond or Indiana Jones film.
You design the vehicle and make all the choices you want, and all you’re doing is using our resources in terms of our skill levels, our facility, our process, and our systems to then create a true luxury journey for you – Scott
A shot of E.C.D. Automotive Design’s new production facility in Florida
The timeline for finalizing a one-of-one spec build is around four to five months. You can also jump onto their online configurator and visualize your own build in real time. Let your imagination run wild with the 3D renderings which allow you to come up with your own version of the ultimate Defender. The attention to detail and man hours put into creating these masterpieces will obviously incur a cost. The typical price for a custom-built Defender from E.C.D. starts around the $220,000 mark.
The E.C.D Experience And Brand
A shot of E.C.D. Automotive Design
According to Scott, one way that E.C.D distinguishes itself from other players in the market is that they put the customer at the center of the design process.
That’s the difference Khris, between us and other builders. There’s talent around the world to build custom-restored Defenders, but I think what E.C.D Automotive does very differently is I think we put two things together. We build your one-of-one customized restored Defender, Ranger Rover, or now E-Type, but we also do what the automotive industry has failed to do for many years and that’s to put the client at the center of the experience – Scott
Scott further added that this was exactly why they have so many repeat customers, with some of them on their fourth or fifth builds with E.C.D. The brand goes beyond just selling you a custom vehicle. They also believe in customers continuing to have that same experience post delivery as well, be it with service or having them as part of the E.C.D Drivers club.
When we deliver the vehicle to the client, we touch base immediately. We have a full-time warranty manager here, who introduces herself. It’s an ongoing thing really with a lot of clients.- Tom
Tom adds that they’ve been looking at New York and California, which are big markets for E.C.D, with a high concentration of clients already. In order to better serve these customers, the brand is setting up small facilities which would be an E.C.D building with their very own trained technician responsible for servicing these vehicles.
Beyond The Defender
A shot of a restored Jaguar E-Type at E.C.D. Automotive Design
E.C.D has previously built a classic Range Rover and recently also added another model to its portfolio. The much revered and iconic Jaguar E-Type, now available with Tesla power as well. Just like with the Defenders, you have a vast array of drivetrain choices. So, in the case of the Defender, that would mean, 4×2 or 4×4. If you’d like to take the EV route, you also have a choice of single or dual electric motors as well.
What E.C.D. is all about is a suite of menu options that you’re designing your own car. So if you approach it and say, you want to retain all the classic side of it, you want the original V-12 restored, or want a flat-six, that’s just a choice you’re making, and asking us to execute. Our position in the market is not to debate what’s right, wrong or topical, or political. It’s just to listen to our clients and say – It’s your car, you make the decisions – Scott
I asked if the brand potentially had plans of adding more British sports cars, and Scott said that it is definitely a possibility, especially since they don’t have to conform to a corporate structure like most typical automakers do. This makes their decision-making process faster and easier to execute.
The New Facility
It’s hard to believe, that what started out as an idea by Tom, Scott, and Elliot over a couple of beers has now become an entity that operates out of a 100,000 sqaure-foot facility with a team of 70 strong. They only broke ground on the new space in July this year and given the demand for their vehicles, it was absolutely necessary to scale up operations.
A shot of Production Line 2 at E.C.D. Automotive Design, at its new facility in Florida
To give you an idea of this growing demand, E.C.D, completed over 200 builds by 2020. But in two years, they built 200 more bespoke examples and wrapped up their 400th build. Scott told me that they’re already starting to notice some of the benefits of moving to this new facility.
For the second production line, we’re going to take a lot of learnings from the main line, and start to push the E-Type through the end of this year and all of next year. We hope next year, that we produce 10 to 12 E-Types on that line, and we will scale that production in 2024. There’s also a big market for customers that don’t want to wait. We can design it for you and put the best elements and make it a good and efficient daily driving classic Defender. We could use the third line to produce that – Scott
This new space will allow them to build up to 150 vehicles a year which now includes the E-Type as well over two production lines. There is enough room to add a third line as well where they can build E.C.D configured Defenders to cater to the large customer base who don’t wish to wait.
To Sum It Up
A front 3/4 shot of a custom Series II Defender by E.C.D. Automotive Design
While E.C.D, is currently only serving the U.S. market with their custom Defenders, thanks to social media and the amazing work that the team at E.C.D is putting, it in has allowed them to build a global fan base, with people as far as Dubai and Australia reaching out to them. Even folks from the U.K. and Ireland are joining in the conversation and expressing interest.
We didn’t want to be one of those pompous brands either where you could only enter if you were going to buy $300,000. We’ve always had an open door policy to whether you’re a fan of E.C.D or whether it’s a buyer or client of E.C.D. Me and the guys that they see online and on social content, have a very loyal fanbase and we have a duty to let them see the product, whether they can buy the product or not, they’re treated the same – Scott
Speaking with Scott and Thomas, I got a sense of how friendly and approachable they really are. Scott adds that if the local Defenders Club in Dallas, Arizona, or New York came to visit; why would E.C.D not want them to come to their facility and celebrate the Defender, and with that let me leave you with this fantastic film, by King Rose Archives; which lets you in on the significance of the Land Rover and what E.C.D as a brand is trying to preserve.