Skip to main content

Custom car builders are everywhere today. You can’t throw a rock without hitting six custom garages. While more people adding their flair to our cars isn’t a bad thing by any means, it doesn’t mean that all custom car companies were created equal. E.C.D. Automotive Design is not your average custom builder. While many people restore vintage Land Rover Defenders, few completely remanufacture them using a refreshing mix of original and new custom parts. Even more exciting than that, E.C.D. doesn’t stop at building high-end Defenders. The English firm is now remanufacturing/restoring Jaguar E-Types. 

E.C.D. is not your average custom Land Rover Defender builder

Project Mayhem by E.C.D. Automotive Design custom Land Rover build
Project Mayhem by E.C.D. Automotive Design | E.C.D.

The company started slowly, humbly, and with the focused intention of building the highest-quality vintage Land Rover Defenders on the market. The firm’s founders, Tom, Elliot, and Scott, set about this journey stripping and rebuilding to order one Land Rover at a time. The early days often required 18 hours in the shop, and still, the team had to outsource many of the more complicated tasks. This wasn’t working—something needed to change. The founders grabbed a Post-it note and scribbled the principles that would forever change how they built E.C.D. vehicles. The ideas all circled around delivering high-quality vehicles to customers while still building cars that the founders were excited about.

The lads and ladies of E.C.D. were kind enough to invite me down to the E.C.D. Automotive Design’s HQ in Orlando, FL, to sniff around the plant and drive some cars. Before piloting a sampler of the two vehicles they currently build, the CEO Scott Wallace took me through both build processes one step at a time. 

Can a vintage Land Rover Defender be luxurious?

Project Hutton; a vintage Land Rover Defender 110
Project Hutton by E.C.D. Automotive Design | E.C.D.

If you’ve ever driven an original Land Rover Defender of any flavo(u)r, you might, as I did, struggle to see how such a stiff, boxy tractor of an SUV could ever be smooth, quiet, refined, or luxurious in any way. This isn’t a dig on Defenders, but it is important to understand how crude these original Defenders were before E.C.D. got a hold of them. You’ll never fully understand the effort and skill it takes for this transformation until you’ve experienced the charm and brutality that is driving a proper vintage Land Rover. Even a freshly dead man can tell that E.C.D. makes a high-quality product, as well they should. These Defenders start at a hefty $230,000.

So how do they do it? Building custom Land Rover Defenders is not a novel idea. Many shops are doing this work, and many are building great trucks. That said, I’ve never seen such a finely tuned operation as the Defender build line I witnessed in this unassuming industrial park in Orlando. Scott walked me through each step of the process, from the boneyard of base Defenders out back to shakedown drives for breaking in new motors on finished trucks. 

The process was staggering. We thumped around behind the shop, looking at the dusty-crusty original base Defenders. While stammering at the beauty of the collection of Defenders in various states of play, Scott dragged me inside the sprawling 100,000 sqft production facility; my mind went from buzzing to running out of my ears into a small puddle on the floor. 

Hard work and crazy organization

E.C.D production line making Jaguar E-Types
E.C.D E-Type production line | MotorBiscuit: Peter Corn

The build teams worked like soldiers. Every station is brimming with experts in their niche. The upholstery teams crafted hand-stitched leather work like they’ve been doing it for a million years.

Fun fact: as an option, you can select the same Italian leather used by foreign exotics like Ferrari and Lamborghini.

One room held a small team building custom wiring harnesses by hand. Another station was just for restoring and rebuilding original axles, differentials, and other Land Rover undercarriage mechanicals. There were paint teams, frame builders/restorers, engine and driveline installation, and a quality control group that seemed more scrupulous than a drill sergeant looking for wrinkles on a cadet’s bedspread. The process was staggering. 

The craziest part of all was that every station only gets four days. That means that a massive task like building the interior takes only four days. Installing the engine, transmission, and driveline? Four days. Painting? You guessed it; four days. Mind-boggling. But speed alone isn’t impressive. Anyone can build a shitty truck quickly. I’m from Alabama, trust me. But to completely break down and then build a completely custom 1 of 1 Land Rover Defender in a little over a month? It is quite an operation. For perspective, E.C.D. has made roughly 500 Defenders so far. I can tell you they have the process locked in. 

You can now order a brand-new vintage Jaguar E-Type

While E.C.D. has built a few Defenders over the years, the group is now offering something even more exciting and unique. The main reason I came down was to put my greasy paws on one of E.C.D.’s painfully beautiful restored Jaguar E-Types. Not only is this an all-time favorite car of mine, but far fewer shops are offering this sort of product. 

The process for the E-Type is the same as the Defender; only it takes a little longer – for now. As you can imagine, not only has E.C.D. been building Defenders for years, but the Jag is also an exponentially more complicated build. As Charles Bigelow, Director of Planning & Production, explained, the bodywork is far more complicated. Stripping and reworking the body panels is a tougher process. Although the team mostly uses series III E-Types for their larger size, they are still far smaller than Defenders. That said, the team already has the stations down to 10 days, compared to the Land Rover Defender’s four days. The Jaguars start at $400k and can easily go to the moon and back, depending on your taste. 

Project Dallas – E.C.D. Automotive Design's bespoke vintage Jaguar E-Type build
E.C.D. Project Dallas Jaguar E-Type | MotorBiscuit: Peter Corn

E.C.D. is only getting started with the E-Type line. Seeing a group of these legendary sports cars from our friends across the way all lined up gave me chills. It felt like being in a paddock in 1971, waiting for a race. 

While it’s my job to remain objective, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that aside from the amazing cars – of which there were many – as I trotted behind the CEO, he would nearly constantly stop to give a fist bump, ask workers personal questions about their families, and he even got ribbed by the upholstery team. It’s clear that part of the secret sauce E.C.D. is cooking with is an honest sense of teamwork. He mentioned to me multiple times how he was just “the money guy.” The building teams were clearly exalted as the secret to the organization. It felt good in there. It felt open. 

What’s it like to drive a $300k Land Rover Defender? 

E.C.D. Automotive Designs Land Rover Defender 110 custom Land Rover build
E.C.D. Project TNT | MotorBiscuit: Peter Corn

Without digging into the endless custom spec sheet of the Project TNT, it had a 650-hp LT4 with an eight-speed automatic transmission. This monster Defender was based on the 1991 Defender 110. Despite it being a nearly 35-year-old truck that spent most of its life trying to pretend it wasn’t a tractor, it drove like a modern SUV. The truck is slathered in Napa leather, teak wood floors, diamond plate, and other materials you might expect to find in Hemmingway’s house. The power was shocking. It’s an odd thing to drive such a rugged vehicle with that much power. Despite the 650-hp, there were plenty of civilized driving characteristics. From the braking to the suspension, all of the Defender’s parts were pulling in the same direction. It was a joy to drive.

What’s it like to drive a $400k restomod Jaguar E-Type?

E.C.D. Jaguar E-type
E.C.D. Jaguar E-type | MotorBiscuit: Peter Corn

The Project Dallas E-Type is within the first seven cars to leave the E-Type line. I had the distinct honor of helping put the first 500 break-in miles on the LT1 V8. It was odd finally getting to drive one of my top-tier dream cars, yet I knew this wasn’t an E-Type, at least not in the way they were intended. 

The E-Type’s look was lovely, refined, sharp, and elegant; everything you’d expect. However, the V8 slapped you right between the eyes as something different. Unlike the Defender, which originally came with a V8 in some models, the E-Type offered distinctly European powertrains like inline-six models and even a V12. The LT1 crate motor had an unmistakably American muscle car feel. The sound, the torque, and the harder-to-explain presence of it forced a sense that you were driving something different – undeniably great – but different. 

As someone who has spent decades driving as many vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles as I could get my paws on, this one felt unique. Part of this is the restomod category, but there was also a sense of a melding of two things. America and England? Sports car and muscle car? Old and new? I don’t know exactly how to put my finger on it. That said, the result is a fantastic-looking vintage car that is reliable, comfortable, and exciting. It doesn’t really need any further explanation. It’s a top-quality restomod marrying American muscle with British taste and finesse. I loved it. 

I washed the drive down with some fish and chips and a bit of spirited banter (most of which I didn’t understand). We compared the cars we’ve owned, both the ones we loved and hated. After our meal, we all shook hands. It was plain to see why E.C.D. Automotive Design has a long waiting list of clients wanting a custom Land Rover or restored Jaguar E-Type. The cars are great, but the people building them aren’t to be overlooked.