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What Makes a $200K Land Rover Worth It?

Remember that car or truck you loved as a kid? The one you saw the rich people on the other side of town driving? You wanted one so badly that you and your brother were, for lack of a better word, obsessed.

This is exactly what happened to Tom and Elliott Humble. Eventually they grew up and scraped together enough cash to finally buy one. When they did, they added some upgrades. Then people kept asking them where they got it and how they could get one too. By this point, these British brothers had settled in Florida, so their childhood dream truck, the Land Rover Defender, had to be imported. People stared, people pointed, people really wanted to buy one. And East Coast Defender was born. 

East Coast Defender

It Starts With the Land Rover Defender

Of course, the story isn’t that simple — mainly because the Land Rover Defender isn’t a simple truck. The Rover company started making 4x4 vehicles in post-WWII England, after consumers stopped buying its luxury vehicles. Eventually the Land Rover earned the reputation as the truck that would go forever. As of 1992, the company claimed that 70 percent of their vehicles were still in use.

But the Defender wasn’t as lucky. Launched in the 1980s, the Defender suffered when Land Rover’s manufacturing partner, British Leyland, got the reputation for poor build quality and unreliability. Very quickly the Toyota Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover as the go-to off-roader for people regularly traversing the African deserts and Australian outback.

But recently, as SUV-obsessed Americans began craving a new flavor of 4x4 luxury, nothing could replace the unique style and heritage of the Land Rover Defender. (The freakin’ Queen of England drives one!) However, getting a Defender here in the U.S. hasn’t always been easy.

Land Rover began selling them in 1993 after a 20-year hiatus. But when the U.S. government started requiring airbags in 1998, Land Rover decided to opt out, focusing on its other models. Then the Defender stopped being produced altogether in 2016, causing its unicorn status to skyrocket. 

East Coast Defender

Evolving the Defender

The Humble brothers may very well be the perfect guys to build a high-end Defender. They are, of course, both Land Rover fans and car guys. Talking to them about the BMW M-cars or the handling of the Alfa 4C comes just as easy as geeking out about off-roading.

Their passion and eye for detail met its match when they teamed up with another Englishman, Scott Wallace, who became their partner and investor. This little import shop did $100,000 in its first year and is on track to do over $4 million in as little as three years. How does this happen? 

East Coast Defender

It would be easy to say they got lucky. It would be even easier to say it was their English accents, but these guys are not in it for the cash. They recently included all of their employees in company ownership and are ridiculously focused on making each build better than the last. They are passionate, obsessed and (all puns intended) truly Humble. Their goal clearly isn’t to get rich, but to make the best possible vehicle they can. 

First Drive with East Coast Defender

I drove one such build in the Malibu hills just following three weeks of rain. The D110 is a pretty great-looking vehicle in the first place, but by the time the East Coast Defender guys got through with it, it was magnificent. I found it almost impossible to take a bad photo. But where the truck really shocked was behind the wheel.

I owned a Defender 90 for a very short while, but was forced to sell when my left thigh reminded me it wasn’t the best commuter ride. But this Land Rover had luxuries, like a 6-speed auto GM transmission, Tarox brakes and a hand-stitched leather interior. Driving this was nothing like the stark, cold metal interior of the 1970s Series or the 1990s Defenders. The upgrades were just enough to make me feel comfortable, but not so extravagant that I forgot I was driving the car that is supposed to surpass pretentiousness. 

East Coast Defender

Oh, and then there was that motor. Thanks to the Corvette’s LS3, we plowed straight through the muddy dirt roads with the 430 hp V8 enabling some serious acceleration. (I could’ve easily outrun the Queen and her secret service.) Our tires were the tough-yet-smooth Nitto Terra Grappler G2s, which looked great with the 18-inch Kahn Special Edition Wheels.

Even after a 2-inch lift, a wide-body kit, performance brakes, a LTT30 Land Rover transfer case and Land Rover axles that have been really beefed up, it somehow still feels like a Defender — just... one that’s gone through extensive anger management therapy to ensure that it puts all its angst into driving fast instead of breaking down.

This therapy results in something really exciting — a truck that may be an even better version of the original. Isn’t that what the perfect build is all about? 

Land Rover Defender

But what about that price tag? Well, let’s remember that due to limited quantities, Defenders aren’t cheap in the first place. Also, nothing about an East Coast Defender build is about saving money. “The Beast” that I drove is priced at $210,000, and the base projects for ECD is about $170,000. Is that worth it?

Well, if you put it up against the G-Wagon and consider that the 416 hp G550 starts at $120,400, and often seems as common as a Prius in some of the fancier zip codes, the East Coast Defender seems a solid investment. Lead times are currently nine months, but that won’t last for long. Despite the high price tag and limited stock, this shop seems destined for a wait list.

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