In 2013, the founders of E.C.D. Automotive Design, Scott Wallace, Tom Humble and Elliot Humble were catching up over a few beers one night and discussing what their next business ventures would be.
Playing the game of hypotheticals, an idea was thrown out – almost as a joke – to customize vintage Land Rover Defenders.
The next day, Wallace placed a plan behind that joke.
In less than a decade E.C.D. Automotive Design went from a single garage operation to a multimillion dollar operation, buying out their garage neighbors.
Growing up on a farm in the UK, the Humble brothers have been Land Rover lovers for as long as they could remember. Choosing to work with Defenders was not a hard choice, but the execution had a few obstacles.
In 1998, the Defender didn’t pass the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new safety standards, leading the automaker to end its sales in the U.S.
Because of this, any Land Rover Defender that is imported from the United Kingdom must be over 25 years old. However, what Wallace would call a “Defender-in-a-box,” allows for a disassembled Defender of any year to be imported in pieces.
While other vintage Defender customizers rely on this for things like doors and cabin components but replace the frame with a modern upgrade – E.C.D. wants the heart of its builds to remain authentic.
E.C.D. imports the boxed Defender parts but the frame of their builds are truly over 25 year old vintage Defenders.
As car enthusiasts themselves, the founders wanted to change car buying into a more of a fun experience. Their inexperience in the industry turned out to be one of the strongest platforms for the men to build from.
When setting out to build this company, the trio had three main goals in mind: enjoy what they were doing, make fully customized top-to-bottom vintage Defenders and make sure all of that work was done in house.
With a background in business, Wallace and the Humble brothers understood the importance of having a great team. To this day, they spend at least 10 hours a week scouring the country for the best and brightest mechanics and engineers to help grow E.C.D.’s vision.
Anyone who walks into the offices of E.C.D. Automotive Design in Orlando, Florida is greeted by a quote from automotive icon Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the eponymous brand, that reads, “Good design should be honest.
When a consumer comes in to design their new vehicle they’re given a tour of the facility so they can see exactly what their Defender will go through before it is finished, along with meeting the people who will be working on them.
They sit down with John Price, the sales and design lead, and start the digital design process. Part by part, the build begins. This is usually a three- to four-hour process. Price explains the pros and cons of every feature type that ECD offers.
Almost every single aspect of the Defender is customizable.
Typically within a week the client will receive a digital rendering of their initial design. Using video game software, E.C.D. Automotive can give clients a 3D interior and exterior view.
Once receiving the initial build the client has months to go back and forth and change their design plans until they land on their perfect vision. Throughout the process, there are milestones that clients can reach.
E.C.D. will go back-and-forth as much as it takes until the customer is completely satisfied with the bill before they get started sending it through the hundred day build process.
While a full project can take up to 14-16 months to complete, the actual build takes place in the final 100 days. It’s the build up in the design process that creates a unique bond between consumer and company.
Every step must be completed in four days including pulling out and cleaning the frame of the 25-plus-year-old Defender that has been shipped over from England.
The next four days are spent repairing the frame to host a brand new build. In this step, the frame undergoes sandblast tests to expose its weak points.
By this stage all of the parts for the build have already arrived. From here the suspension is added, then the chassis is completed
Once the exterior’s bones are built, the electrical components can begin their integration. Everything is programmed by hand and wired through the same way. Every component of each vehicle has the capacity to be entirely one a kind.
As the build nears its later stages clients can see it being put together over a YouTube live feed. They’re truly along for the whole process.
While the frame of the build is being assembled, the features are being built too. There is a team that sews together all of the upholstery and seating.
Interior panels can be hydro dipped to include any design the customers can dream of and with a color matching machine, any color can be created and used how the client desires.
E.C.D.has seen incredibly unique builds by not limiting their clients, such as a project with several animal hides throughout the interior for a rancher.
The assembly line that follows is essentially putting together all of the components. The assembly line uses a very detailed digital checklist throughout every step of the build. Everything must be approved to move forward or it will hold up the line.
Once the build is completed, each Defender collects a couple hundred miles in test drives and fine tuning to make sure that each client is getting the highest quality product.
Sitting behind the wheel of one of E.C.D. builds is like being transported back in time while retaining the creature comforts we have grown accustomed to.
Because E.C.D. focuses so much on keeping the vintage aspect of their builds, this is felt in the drive as well.
If clients chose to upgrade to the LS4 engine, they would have felt the rumble throughout the cabin. Clients who opt for the Tesla battery swap will hear the purr on acceleration.
Quite different from the modern vehicles that have so much technology – they are nearly driving themselves – these Defenders place the driver back as sole controller of the vehicle.
While they certainly aren’t everyday commuter vehicles, the power and torque of the ECD Defenders make them sturdy off-roaders and fine highway cruisers.
If buyers want to have one built, they can contact E.C.D.’s build experts. A custom E.C.D. Defender D90 or D110 starts at $209,995 and takes a little over a year. Prices go up from there, with E.C.D. saying it has built versions costing close to a half million dollars.