The As­phalt Jun­gle

Automobile - - Contents - By Arthur St. An­toine

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

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