In 2013, Tom and Elliot Humble partnered with Scott Wallace to form E.C.D. Automotive Design. Sharing a love of classic British cars, the three ex-pats set out to realize their vision of restoring and modifying Land Rover Defenders to levels of refinement and performance that far exceeded their original factory condition. From the outset, the partners agreed to bring all aspects of their production plan in-house, enabling them to maintain absolute control over quality, costs, and scheduling. Pioneering restomoders, including firms like Singer Vehicle Design and Ringbrothers, still use specialist contractors to complete certain facets of their builds, and E.C.D.’s 100% in-house goal was a tall order by any standards, but decidedly ambitious for a trio who could show only sagacity in place of manufacturing experience. It took them less than a decade to fulfill every aspect of their founding plan, but don’t expect the plucky Brits to sit on their laurels. In addition to Defenders and Range Rovers, the E-Type Jags are coming, and other models besides.
When we first spoke with the erstwhile Defender specialist six months ago, E.C.D. had just announced the addition of E-Type Jaguars to its burgeoning lineup, and the founding partners were busily preparing to move the firm to a purpose-built, 100,000 square-foot production facility in Kissimmee, Florida, dubbed the Rover Dome. We recently visited the firm’s new headquarters to discover what it takes to build a rolling work-of-art from a rusty old Land Rover and what it feels like to drive a Defender with over 550 horses under the hood. I was also invited to experience building a car with their concierge team, following in the footsteps of a client list that now stretches into the hundreds. Alas, the HotCars Defender will never be more than a rendering, but it was fun to experience, if only briefly, the boundless possibilities available to those who can afford to drop over $250K on a premium bespoke car.
Ahead of my visit, John Price, E.C.D.’s head of sales and the first point of contact for its clients, called to discuss the design of our own fantasy Defender restomod. Before our call, Price had sent me a link to the firm’s online catalog, containing 108 pages of options from which to choose. Just one of the reasons the design process can take up to six months. After deciding on their choice of base vehicle, clients face a dizzying array of alternatives, including numerous body styles, 27 types of wheels, 68 different leather colors, 18 ways to have the leather stitched, multiple seat arrangements and designs, and 18 styles of gauges, to highlight just a few. But before I can make a start on styling, there’s the all-important choice of powerplant.
E.C.D. offers a range of gas engines in their Land and Range Rover builds, starting with GM’s 5.3-liter LC9 Vortec. A legacy small-block V8, tuned to produce a healthy 360 horsepower. If the LC9 is a little tame for your taste, GM also supplies E.C.D. with the 400 horsepower LS3 and its new generation of direct-injection, 6.2-liter small-block V8s. These include the LT1, producing 455 horsepower, or the twin-supercharged LT4, which can unleash 650 horses, and 650 foot-pounds of torque. A considerable step up from the original Ford, five-cylinder, turbo diesel unit. For the traditionalists, there is also the option of a Cummins R2.8 turbo diesel, which may be sluggish compared to the Chevy monsters, but will take you considerably further on a full tank. However, if the thought of a diesel anything is enough to make you compost your carrot peelings in disgust, E.C.D. will convert your chosen Land Rover, Range Rover, or E-Type Jag into a zero-emissions EV, using Tesla’s drivetrain technology.
With the short-wheelbase Defender 90 Hardtop chosen, Price recommended the best colors to match my theme, the HotCars logo–Fuji White, with pure black and Ferrari Red accents. A vast array of existing color schemes are available, including Laborghini Verde green, adorning a recent build–not a car you can easily lose in a car park. But if a client can’t find the exact color they desire, E.C.D. will custom match any sample they can provide. And since our dream build would remain only that, I figured I might as well add the manic LT4 engine, which requires choosing the automatic eight-speed transmission. E.C.D also offers an automatic six-speed and a five-speed manual option for use with the legacy engines. Concluding the key exterior elements, I went on to add the premium air suspension, Brembo brakes (also finished in Ferrari red, of course), Borla twin pipes, 20-inch Retro Mondial five-spoke wheels, and an X Lander Grille to match the Khan widebody kit.
Continuing the theme inside and sparing no (virtual) expense, I chose the finest leather with a simple, straight stitch and Classic White gauges for the dash. E.C.D. offers custom billet aluminum hardware and endless types of skid plates, winches, spotlights, roll cages, and other accessories. If your pockets are deep enough, the build team will accommodate whatever outlandish ideas you care to conceive, highway safety laws withstanding. Price revealed that, on average, E.C.D.’s customers spend over $55K on upgrades and accessories alone.
An Immersive Experience
Emily Humble, who heads up the E.C.D. concierge team, explained how the firm goes to extraordinary lengths to involve clients in every aspect of the design process. After defining all the elements of their chosen vehicle, would-be owners receive a gift box containing samples, providing an opportunity to experience their proposed exterior paint and interior fabrics first-hand. E.C.D.’s customer-focused process ensures every finished car is a true reflection of its owner’s vision. My gift box contained a sample of the Fuji white paint finish and swaths of supple, Spinneybeck Italian leather in black and Positano red. With paint and fabrics approved, E.C.D. dispatches a 360º rendering of each build, allowing clients to view the external and internal details from all angles before signing off on the project. Sadly, I’m $288K short of the $289K needed to build our Defender 90, and this is where my HotCars project ends but, in the case of a genuine customer, the fulfillment team will begin ordering parts and identifying a suitable donor car.
Onsite With E.C.D.
My driver for the day, an affable ex-New York cop, delivered me to E.C.D.’s sprawling new home, set in a growing industrial suburb of Kissimmee, Florida. Pronounced kiss-sim-ee, not kissy-mee, a raspy Brooklyn accent corrected me from the front seat as I stepped into the blazing Florida sunshine. Raven Sexton greeted me inside, guiding me through reception and into a pristine depot, lit like a scene from a sci-fi movie. Standing beyond a lounge area was an awesome collection of custom Defenders; their polished exteriors shined to such a depth that their hard skins appeared almost liquid. Mastering paintwork, I would discover, is an art form in itself. Beyond the Defenders, which included the extrodinary Project Mr. O, a stunning Series-1 Range Rover converted to an electric drivetrain, and crouched among the imposing four-by-fours, an immaculate Jaguar, restored to gorgeous, E-type perfection. This, I would discover, was the holding bay for completed builds awaiting final delivery to their owners and a gearhead’s dream garage.
Turning A Passion Into A Production
Scott Wallace, who had shared E.C.D.’s improbable founding story, led me outside to where they receive the imported donor cars and parts sourced by their UK-based fulfillment center, which the firm set up to guard against continuing supply chain issues plaguing manufacturers the world over. Every E.C.D. build starts its (second) life here, and Wallace reminded me that, when it comes to the flat-paneled Defenders, the frame is often the only original part they keep. The Range Rovers and E-Type Jaguars are a different story, and the salvage team will reuse as much of the original bodywork as possible. The first step in any E.C.D. build involves stripping the donor car down to the bare frame for inspection, repair, and galvanizing. Defender chassis also receive a tough coating of Raptor Liner. When complete the finished frames make their way to one of two production lines, the North Line is where the Rovers take shape, and the South Line is for building the E-Types, each identified by a rondel in the classic London tube style.
Inside, the first of ten production phases start with hanging the parts on the bare frame necessary to turn it into a rolling chassis. Fitment of axles, suspension, brakes, steering gear, and wheels, according to the specifications chosen by the client, followed by the engine and drivetrain. Feeding phases three and four are sub-assembly teams producing the electrical harness and upholstery. In an adjoining workshop, the electrical team modifies the original harness to meet the specific needs of each vehicle, accounting for any auxiliaries included in the build, ensuring spotlights, winches, and, in one case, automated unfolding pet steps, are operable at the flick of a switch. The upholstery team occupies a second workshop and handles all the furnishings. Every seat is handmade and stitched according to the client’s choice of style, fit, and finish.
With all the wiring, fuel, and brake lines in place, the dash, upholstery, and bodywork are next up. The paint and prepping crew strip the salvaged body panels to the bare metal for inspection and repair before sending them to the Rover Dome’s new state-of-the-art paint booth, known internally as the lab. Awaiting my arrival at the lab were overalls, a respirator, and an invitation to try my hand at painting a sample. The computerized system itemizes the formula for a given paint, enabling E.C.D. to create any color in different finishes from a bank of base colors and additives. A selection of pre-mixed paints was also waiting for me, including solid gloss Ferrari red, Porsche blue, and metallic Aston Martin green. I chose the Aston green and, armed with a paint gun, went to work on my sample. My first attempt was a disaster. Applying the paint in an even coat requires a deft hand and years of practice. I fared a little better the second time but left the lab with a newfound respect for the mastery behind the flawless finishes adorning the gleaming vehicles on display in the depot.
Phase five sees the addition of any final cosmetics before moving to quality control for inspection and testing. Each vehicle undergoes a 700-point checklist to ensure it meets E.C.D.’s exacting standards, returning to the line for any repairs before coming back for another inspection and road testing. Sitting in the inspection bay, I noticed a dark blue Defender 110, dotted with masking tape identifying the (unidentifiable to my eye) blemishes in the paint-work. A thousand miles of road testing promises that every mechanical and electronic aspect works correctly before the project moves to the penultimate stage. Final tweaks and delayed parts get taken care of in phase nine, after which the project makes its last visit to the lab to fix any paint chips sustained in road testing and receive a final polish. With phase ten completed, the build is ready for delivery to its new owner.
Pulling Gs In The Big Tex
John Price asked me if I’d like to test drive Project Big-Tex, a Defender 110 powered by a 6.2-liter LS3 V8, tuned to produce 565 horsepower, and the old cliche about the bears and the woods immediately sprang to mind. Check out the review for a complete rundown of my experience. Limited to Kissimmee’s level grid of streets, our ‘test track’ was, admittedly, not an ideal proving ground for so much on- and off-road performance. Needless to say, acceleration throughout the rev range is vastly improved, and the big 110 feels plenty fast, if not nippy. The key takeaway: E.C.D.’s Land Rover builds aren’t mere show ponies. Although there’s no escaping the D110’s considerable weight and lofty stance, it’s a far cry from the boat-like handling characterizing the original truck. When I really stood on the gas pedal, the Big-Tex squatted down like a bull elephant about to charge a predator, laying down the power with surprising conviction. And although evident, body roll is much reduced. It’s a well-thought-out, holistic creation that has enhanced the old Rover’s look and feel in equal measures.
Before heading home, I took the opportunity to sit down with the management team to find out more about their plans for the future. E.C.D. has scaled at an unprecedented pace, proving, not only the partner’s original plan but also the unmet demand for high-end restomods. Wallace told me the firm has a $20M revenue stream and a growing waiting list for both Rovers and the recently announced E-Types, and E.C.D. will continue to build on its success. Not just in terms of physical scale, but also concerning the different types of vehicles on offer. Elliot Humble, a fan of the original Mini, told me the firm looked into restomodding the classic marque, but admitted, its diminutive size is not to everyone’s taste (or fit). Aston Martins and classic Alfa Romeos are on the table, but E.C.D. has not ruled out adding American Muscle cars or other European makes to its list.
They weren’t the first to productionize the restomodding of classic cars. Firms like Singer, Classic Restorations, and Gateway Bronco have been at it for decades. What sets E.C.D. apart is the pace at which it scaled while maintaining (if not improving) the quality of its products, producing more vehicles each year than any of them. No mean feat. Owning the entire production process and the U.K. sourcing operation has also enabled it to manage the waitlist and build-time (12 to 14 months). The addition of the far scarcer E-types, not to mention Astons and Alfas, may prove harder to scale, nevertheless, the tenacious team has a proven knack for adapting their production process and overcoming challenges. As the operation hummed along around me, I couldn’t help but notice that they are already using every inch of the new space. E.C.D. is going to need a bigger shop, again.