In Florida, Classic British Cars Get a 21st Century Facelift
ECD rebuilds Jaguar E-Types with Tesla power and old-school Land Rovers with modern amenities, and even lets buyers watch the process live online
If there was a Mount Rushmore for automobiles, one car would steer clear of any debate and claim its spot in stone. While classic rides come and go, the Jaguar E-Type rode the waves of its sweeping lines and narrow, piercing bonnet to become one of history’s most iconic vehicles.
Now, a Florida company with British roots is taking in E-Type relics from across the hemisphere and transforming them into highly bespoke luxury machines with gleaming 1960s charm coexisting with 21st century technology.
In a bustling industrial park outside Kissimmee, ECD Automotive Design searches the world for Jaguars and Land Rovers in any condition before stripping them down to the bone and rebuilding them into refined fantasy cars costing north of $400,000 in some cases. They have completed and shipped more than 500 rides since the company’s inception in 2013, and are preparing to take the company public on the NASDAQ this year.
Founded as an expanded family affair with one vehicle in the shop, ECD now employs about 80 mechanics, researchers, designers, part hawks, salespeople and support staffers. CEO Scott Wallace came from a private equity background to work atop the company alongside the Humbles — Chief Technology Officer Elliot Humble, brother Tom (chief experience officer) and Tom’s wife, Emily (chief product officer).
Shouting above the Spitfire fans roaring to keep the Florida heat at bay on the assembly floor, Wallace makes it clear the chain of command works backwards at times within ECD.
“When it comes to the vehicles, [the executives] answer to the people on the floor,” Wallace says. “Anyone here can stop the work at any time on any project if he or she sees a problem. Even once a vehicle is completed, our creations undergo a 670-point quality control check after assembly.”
The company delivered its first E-Type creation in August. Codenamed Project Dallas, the Series III Jaguar Roadster drove off with a new Chevrolet LT1 V8 engine standing in for the old V12 that originally shipped with the car. Polished up in Sherwood Green and sporting ample chrome, Project Dallas carries the modern upgrades of enhanced sports suspension, Fosseway high-performance brakes, 15-inch Borrani wheels, a sound system with JL Audio speakers and a Kenwood subwoofer, four USB ports and Bluetooth.
While buyers can choose that Chevy small-block V8 or an original, rebuilt and retuned Jaguar V12, ECD’s E-Types can truly move into the modern era with a Tesla electric motor kit that transforms the ‘60s supercar into a plug-in EV for a premium up-charge. Regardless of the power plant chosen, ECD takes about a year to complete a project amidst 700 specific tasks involved for every creation.
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“Our customers represent more to us than just their cars,” Wallace explains. “Clients enjoy a seven-month design process in which they can select every option and detail in their vehicle right down to the color indicating ‘Full’ on the fuel gauge. We make the process of building their project into a personal experience.”
ECD keeps its customers involved throughout the construction — and they can watch their vehicle come together live online. The result is a business boasting 20% repeat customers in their six-figure market, with one buyer coming back six times for new projects. Once in the ECD family, buyers enjoy 24-hour remote standby technicians and a network of licensed mechanics around the world.
Recreating and individualizing E-Types is a new niche for ECD, as their company name once indicated their first love. Originally known as East Coast Defender before Land Rover raised a touchy trademark eyebrow — everybody is back on friendly teatime terms again now — ECD built its business model on revitalizing the classic Land Rover Defender utility vehicle.
While today’s Defender is a rugged luxury machine favored by big-screen Bond villains, the ‘60s and ‘70s versions have two identities depending on what side of the Atlantic takes possession. It was strictly utilitarian in the U.K., but held a mystique in the colonies across the pond. While denizens of England’s mountains green grew accustomed to the site of a sheep herder chasing askew ewes in a Defender, or members of Her Majesty’s armed forces heading to duty in one of the drab symbols of British fortitude, Americans found something regal about the workhorses.
“In Britain, the Defender is a working vehicle that you saw on farms,” Wallace confirms. “But [Defenders] are some of the most elaborate and luxurious builds we’ve done here. The U.S. customer projects often break down into two categories. There are the purists who want that Land Rover Green and the old oval badge on the grille, and we get the buyers who want the more elaborate, modern look.”
ECD has a dedicated team tasked with sourcing everything from entire salvaged vehicles to individual parts (original or refabricated to order). When acquiring a Defender or E-Type from a collector, an auction or salvage outlet, ECD pros strip the vehicle down to its bodywork shell upon arrival. They keep every part they remove from an old source assembly, creating a popular inventory stop for Land Rover and Jaguar enthusiasts around the world.
From there, the husk is galvanized, retreated and repainted — resuscitated en route to becoming a one-of-a-kind prize for the well-heeled gearhead. The buyer can choose any mix of original parts and modern upgrades while working with designers. While Wallace and the Humbles want their customers to make their own choices when forging their big-money Defenders and E-Types, the ECD staff will urge every customer to consider safety-centric options such as roll bars and modern vehicle warning systems.
“We maintain a six-vehicle cycle of locating, buying, shipping, building, loading, testing and delivering our projects,” Wallace explains. “It’s naturally easier to locate starter vehicles amidst the 200,000 Defenders Land Rover made over the 18,000 E-Types Jaguar sold.”
In the future, Wallace and company want to build a nationwide network so their customers can share romantic tales of their dream machines.
“We want to open ECD Driver Clubs in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta,” Wallace says. “The goal is to make creating a project for our customers an experience of joining a very select community.”
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