Designing And Driving A Tesla-Powered Land Rover Defender Restomod

Ethel Walsh

With only 9,000 cars rolling out of Maranello each year, buying a Ferrari makes you part of an exclusive club. But even then, there’s still the off chance that you pull up to the Monaco yacht club during race weekend and someone has the exact same SF90 as you. The same Rosso Corsa paint job, the same Sabbia Nappa leather, and even identical wheels. How embarrassing.

Many well-off customers realize that, even among the rare ranks of Ferrari, that “exclusivity” still means sharing paint, parts, and engines with your fellow one-percenters. That’s why some have turned to specialization shops like Singer to build them a vehicle that literally no one else on planet Earth owns.

ECD Automotive Design is one of a number of names in the booming restomod business. Located just outside of Orlando, Florida, customers can come in, design, and watch the classic Land Rover, Range Rover, or Jaguar E-Type of their dreams be built from the frame up. I drove up to ECD’s massive new facility and got a small taste of what creating a one-of-a-kind Defender is like.

ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender

Designing Your Dream Defender

The design process starts before you even arrive. Sales and Design Lead at ECD, John Price, takes customers down a rabbit hole of customizable options over the phone. With over 100 pages to choose from, speaking with a buyer for the first time takes anywhere from two to four hours, he says. In each of these phone calls, John walks customers through every possible option, ranging from the finish of the exterior paint to the stitching of the seats, and even the weightiness of something as small as the volume knob.

I got the condensed 20-minute version of the call, which netted me a lovely matte Cool Khaki Gray exterior finish, 18-inch wheels, and a dark leather interior for the virtual Defender 110 pickup of my dreams (pictured below).

ECD Automotive Electric Land Rover Defender
ECD Automotive Electric Land Rover Defender

That customization carries over to the powertrain, too, in which buyers can select a base four-cylinder engine, four V8 options – up to a supercharged Corvette LT4 – and even a Tesla powertrain sourced from partners in the UK.

Once it’s all said and done, ECD takes your one-of-a-kind design and turns it into a rendering that allows you to “see” your vehicle in a virtual studio before they even start building it. ECD uses advanced 3D modeling technology and Unreal Engine software to bring that build to life, and soon there will even be a version of this technology that allows customers to see their cars driving on the road.

Here’s what my custom Defender 110 ended up looking like in that software when it was all said and done:

After customers get a virtual glimpse of their Defender, they can still go in and tweak specific details. Instead of a matte finish, maybe they want something glossier, or instead of retro-styled wheels, they prefer something more modern. And when the final decisions are made, ECD sends each customer a gift box that contains paint and leather samples as well as a piece of the original Land Rover being used in their build – be it a hinge or a bolt. It’s a small but meaningful memento that helps get customers excited.

The Production Line

ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender

Once buyers decide on their final look, it’s time for production. Although ECD, like Singer and Icon, is a restmod operation by definition, walking into its new 100,000-square-foot facility feels more like standing along the production line of a genuine auto manufacturer.

One of the three founders, Scott Wallace, gives me a tour of the shop, taking me through each and every step of production from start to finish. Two lines – North and South – handle the builds. The North Line is exclusively for Defender and classic Range Rovers while the South Line takes care of E-Types, which just kicked off production in the last few months and should be on the road early next year. There’s even room for a third line.

“Now we’ve designed the building so that if you move everything three feet that way, this is the third line,” Scott points to a narrow walkway between the South Line and the open garage doors. “We can essentially build 180 units per year; the north line does 60 units per year and the south line does 60 units per year.”

A complete Land Rover build takes about 100 days from the start of production (not including design time), with ECD tearing every vehicle down to the frame. Wallace and his team have a list of 642 individual tasks to complete on each vehicle before it heads out the door. And each individual station has a checklist the lead engineers managing said station need to complete before the project can move on to the next step.

Wallace pulls out his phone and shows me a dashboard app that has every one of the 642 tasks of each build in detail, displaying where the progress of each one currently sits. This is the type of attention to detail you typically don’t expect of a restomod operation.

ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender
ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender

​​”There’s definitely a wrong way to do this cheaper and quicker,” he says. “We get clients that come in and say, ‘well someone has offered to do this for $180,000.’ Well, you can do it for $180,000, but it’s going to be wrong.”

ECD uses only the finest materials in each build. The carpet in each Defender comes from the Bentley Continental, the leather is the same Nubuck used in every Singer, and because ECD tears each vehicle down to the frame, engineers are able to improve sound deadening and damping to a level that Scott says is better than a Cadillac Escalade or BMW X5.

Even the paint is more premium than what you get from some luxury manufacturers; these Defenders have similar high-end hues found on the nicest (and priciest) Porsche or Ferrari paint jobs. A dedicated paint shop with genuine paint-to-sample technology handles each customer request; you can literally pull a piece of cloth from your favorite shirt and turn that into a matching color for your Defender.

ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender

ECD let me step into the booth myself to try my hand at one of the samples ECD sends its customers. Let’s just say it’s much harder than it looks.

If you think this attention to detail sounds too good to be true – see for yourself. You can visit the ECD YouTube channel where six cameras stream live from the production facility and allow you to watch your truck being built. “We’re transparent… it’s not arrogance, it’s transparency. Look at the cameras and see what we’re doing.”

Driving The Electric Defender

After getting the full tour and trying (and failing) in the paint shop, ECD let me behind the wheel of one of its completed Defender projects. Specifically, a Tesla-powered Defender 110 with a 100-kilowatt-hour battery pack and an available 450 horsepower.

This version of the Defender can hit 60 miles per hour in about 4.0 seconds, and depending on how you spec it (wheels, body style, etc.), estimates suggest you’ll get around 200 miles of range at its most efficient. But in reality, most ECD customers only cover about 50 to 60 miles a day, so going all out on options is still par for the course – even among EV shoppers.

As I grab the weighty metallic handle of this all-electric Defender and hop inside (literally, since it sits so high up), one thing remains clear: quality over everything. Swathes of high-end leather cover the cabin, aluminum dials dot the console, and even the steering wheel is a wonderfully oversized thin-rimmed wooden fitment that feels fantastic in my hand.

ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender
ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender
ECD Automotive Design Electric Land Rover Defender

But setting off for the first time is a strange experience. ECD wanted each build to still drive like a classic Defender – and after a few minutes on road, this one clearly does. Lots of body roll, truck-like steering vagueness, and a very tall ride height. But the immediate torque from the Tesla powertrain and the whisper-quiet acceleration (apart from some tire noise) is entirely unique to any other Defender. Simply point and shoot.

Granted, the acceleration isn’t electric hypercar-quick considering there’s only 450 hp moving this massive body. But this Defender hustles from a standstill with more verve than any of its V8-powered counterparts likely do.

The Tesla-powered Defender is only a small part of the larger business. Soon, we’ll see Jaguar E-Types – both gas and electric – roll out of ECD’s Florida facility, and who knows what else the company has planned down the line. But one thing is for certain, if you want a quality custom Defender or a fantastic E-Type, call up the folks at ECD.

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