Living With ECD Auto Design’s ‘Project Loki’s Ride’ Land Rover Defender 110: A Hand-Crafted Bespoke Fusion of Classic and Modern

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Filed under Automotive, Land Rover, SUV, Test Drives

I’ve been fortunate enough to have driven a lot of vehicles, with an estimate of having experienced behind the wheel of nearly 1,500 vehicles of virtually all flavors, new and old. In such experiences, I’ve given praise to unique creations that most will never get to drive in their lifetime, and for that, I’m thankful. This week is a special occurrence of having a nearly perfect blend of classic and modern in a Land Rover Defender 110, modernized and customized by a specialty restoration company.

ECD Auto Design, formally known as East Coast Defender, headquartered just outside of Orlando, FL, handed me the keys to one of their unique creations dubbed Project Loki’s Ride, which is the basis of a 1989 Land Rover Defender 110 (4-door). Just a few years ago, this vehicle received a full rebuild to create a bespoke vehicle under the creative hands of ECD Auto Design, giving us Project Loki’s Ride. It was stripped down to its frame and rebuilt with a delicate mixture of refreshed old-school and modernized parts.

The collective of its parts range from the unique dashboard of the Defender to a modern Supercharged V8 LT4 engine (mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission), which is usually found in the new Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, Escalade V, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and even the C7 Corvette Z06. If you know anything about such an engine, you’ll raise your eyebrows at its 650 horsepower, which is a riot for shoehorning it into an old-school Land Rover Defender. There’s no traction control or stability control, just you and the full-time all-wheel-drive setup with a low-speed transfer case, an adjustable-height air suspension system, and BFG all-terrain tires. Flooring the gas is a daring exercise, one that I don’t recommend for the faint of heart as things can get squirrely, even with the weight of the Defender and its riveted bodywork encased in a massive roll cage. Thankfully, you have six-piston Brembo brake calipers biting down on large cross-drill rotors with aluminum hats up front to slow things down. All the added drivetrain work is part of the ECD experience in having something that reliably performs well on and off the road.

There’s a fine line that we’re skirting in calling the ECD Auto Design Land Rover Defender 110 ‘old-school.’ After all, each vehicle produced from ECD’s 100,000 square foot “Rover Dome” facility is unique and never replicated in its design. Built alongside custom Jaguar E-Types, which are also just as unique as the various Land Rover builds, ECD’s Defender 110 takes what’s old and makes it new again. All the specialized design and build intricacies involving a full automotive build happen at ECD, guided by the creative minds of its many clients who look for something truly unique and special.

In my time driving and living with one of ECD’s Defender 110 creations, there’s a lot to appreciate in the attention to detail aspects that go far beyond just rebuilding an older Land Rover Defender. Already, Defenders from such a generation are not exactly luxurious SUVs. In fact, some of the quirks and rugged aspects of the Defender are kept in place and done justice to improve upon the shortcomings of such a vehicle. ECD takes such an approach with care and balance in not just throwing a hodgepodge of aftermarket equipment into a build. Everything works as expected with a newfound level of reliability and quality.

There’s plenty of custom bodywork, carefully selected parts, modern technology, and American muscle that’s all made to work together for a cohesive package. Many of these details are lost in translation by onlookers until they start to stare, and boy, do they stare! Everywhere I went, the Defender was stared upon as if it were the latest bright red Italian supercar. It was not so much the exotic aspects of such a vehicle that attracted attention but the uniqueness to most who have never seen such a creation. For enthusiasts, it was the allure of seeing a 1980s Land Rover Defender look modernized – like it was fresh off the showroom floor, only it retained many of its classic aesthetics. This is another area that ECD shines above most, as they proudly wear the honor of being the largest Land Rover and Jaguar restoration company.

In full transparency, I didn’t fully appreciate the ECD Land Rover Defender 110 on the initial few miles of my drive back to the Automotive Addicts garage. It took a while to find a good driving position for my 6-foot 3-inch frame. (ECD assures me that they can customize the seating for individuals of different sizes, as Defenders were not originally known for accommodating larger folks.) It was not until after I spent a good part of driving the Defender for a couple of hours and into the next day that I fully understood such a vehicle, and it then became well worth its price of admission.

The initial drive of such a vehicle can be a bit much for some, or even intimidating, as there are the typical vibrations, wind noise, body jiggles, heavy steering effort, and other unique traits that you commonly get when driving a Land Rover from the 80’s – though not nearly as bad as what you got in the 80’s. However, there’s an always-growing appreciation that you get in driving a vehicle that has 650 horsepower at your beckon and the charm of a head-turning Defender that’s a one-of-one creation, both plenty capable on and off-road. For those not so adventurous, you can choose different, tamer powertrain setups, which include GM’s 450-horsepower LT1 V8, the 430-horsepower 6.2-liter LS3 V8, a Cummins Diesel, or even a fully electric setup. ECD offers up the two-door Defender 90, Defender 110, longer wheelbase Defender 130 with the truck bed, Range Rover Classic, Land Rover Series IIA, and an open-top Defender Beach Runner.

To keep things proper for today’s expectations, you get many modern amenities in an ECD Defender. Some of those items include cross-stitched hand-crafted leather, heated and ventilated front seats, a decent touchscreen infotainment unit with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and the reliability of a modernized drivetrain that far surpasses the historical traditions of past Land Rovers. The modernization is coupled with traditional dashboard buttons and switchgear to keep true to the classic Land Rover appeal, just as the overall exterior design does. It’s all part of a unique experience, one that doesn’t necessarily come cheap – but a Land Rover experience isn’t cheap to begin with.

There’s a newfound appreciation for the old-school recreation that’s been birthed into something to attract those who know exactly what they want. ECD has a specialized design system and experienced builders to create such. If you ever wanted a classic Land Rover Defender with the level of bespoke customization that you can get in a Rolls-Royce but with a concierge-like personalized experience before and after purchase, ECD is your one-stop shop. ECD Defenders start at $159,995, and something like Project Loki’s Ride, which you see here, comes in around $329,000.


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