The Asphalt Jungle
How to get your old-school British off-roader fix in supremely elegant style.
FOR ANYONE ALIVE “way back when,” how could you possibly forget 1995? Dean Martin died, and never again did the moon in the sky look like a big pizza pie. Starbucks unveiled the frozen Frappuccino—prompting Martin to remark, “Thank God I’m dead.” And O.J. Simpson performed one of history’s greatest-ever feats of magic by trying on a pair of ill-fitting leather gloves and instantly transforming a mound of DNA evidence into a golf cart.
To tell the truth, though, 1995 was pretty much lost way back in the cobwebs of my cerebellum— until, that is, I recently climbed behind the wheel of a circa-1995 long-wheelbase Range Rover Classic by the folks at E.C.D. Automotive Design of Kissimmee, Florida. Some of you might know this crew as East Coast Defenders, but given its new design studio in Malibu, California, and the recent addition of Range Rovers to the formerly exclusive lineup of Defender 90s and 110s, the company has changed its moniker. The corporate mission remains the same, though: Customers choose the Land Rover they desire (up through the 1997 year, the last for U.S.-bound Defenders) and select the drivetrain, wheels, and almost any exterior and interior fitments they wish. Then, after about a year of painstaking groundup restoration and handiwork, E.C.D. will deliver what’s essentially a brandnew, 20-plus-year-old vehicle.
“Back in England, we grew up around MGs, Minis, and Rovers, always tinkering with them,” says Tom Humble, one of three partners—along with his brother Elliot and friend Scott Wallace—who founded E.C.D. in the U.S. back in 2013. “But when I moved to the States about six years ago, I brought two Defenders with me. I ended up putting them on eBay, and they sold very quickly. Then one night not long after, I was talking Defenders with Scott, and the idea for the company sort of just started from there.” In the years since, E.C.D. has sold more than 150 of its custom rigs.
“In Los Angeles you can go to a restaurant and find 15 Mercedes G-Wagens parked out front,” Wallace says. “Our customers want something unique and exclusive. They want to be able to drive from Kissimmee to L.A. without seeing themselves once.”
E.C.D.’s new Rover Classic comes in three editions—Retro, Pursuit, and Pinnacle—and can be customized with an almost infinite number of options. In a sea of modern Range Rovers, the beautifully presented Classic Pinnacle Edition I drove around L.A. for a few days stopped traffic wherever I went. “Damn, I always wanted one of those,” one admirer said. “You keep yours in such great shape!” The light was about to turn green, so I just said, “Thanks.”
Mind you, stepping back to the future costs big. The top-line RRC Pinnacle starts at $169,995. But for that princely sum you get a stately 4x4 refurbished to better-than-new condition, a Chevy 6.2-liter V-8 crate motor mounted to a six-speed auto, upgraded brakes and suspension, LED lighting all around, and a huge, sumptuously appointed interior dressed in premium Spinneybeck leather—all detailed to your exact specifications.
I road-tested the Classic when it was new back in the mid-1990s, and those memories roared back strong as I cruised around L.A. Yes, the E.C.D. Rover may be modernized, but many of the original’s charms—some might call them “quirks”—remain. The steering feels like you’re trying to turn a water buffalo. The “safarioptimized” seating position is conspicuously high—I recall passengers in the old days fretting through turns: “Is this thing going to tip over?” The window frames are as thin as O.J.’s alibis, but the gaps in the various body panels are wide enough to swallow fingers.
None of that detracts from the old-school pleasures of piloting this truck, though. With 430 horsepower on tap, the LS3-powered Classic accelerates with ease. The leather-lined cabin looks—and smells—divine. Said my wife when she climbed aboard: “This interior makes me want to smoke a cigar.” Rear-seat accommodations are limolike. And should you wish to risk creosote-bush scratches on your $170K toy, the Classic will happily crawl anywhere in Death Valley you’d care to go.
After a few days behind the wheel, I realized two things I especially liked about the E.C.D. RR Classic: (1) driving it made me feel 20 years younger, and (2) whenever I turned on the radio, I did not hear “Macarena.” AM