Half Tesla, Half Classic Defender Review: E.C.D.’s EV-Powered Land Rover Is Epic

This classic Land Rover Defender 110 is powered by a Tesla motor and batteries, yet it still has solid axles and off-road gearing.

E.C.D. Automotive Designs, which is based in Kissimmee, Florida, has been building bespoke classic Land Rover Defenders since 2013. In that time, they went from three guys in a shed, to a full time manufacturing facility employing dozens. In the past, we reported on their ground-up builds that go from an imported Land Rover Defender’s frame (over 25 years old), to an all-new interpretation on off-road extravagance.

Building about 60 vehicles per year, many of their clients will have E.C.D convert these classic Defenders into totally unique interpretations of their desire. As long as they can afford it, the folks in Kissimmee will make it happen. That means they can get a massive, fire-breathing V8 and all the amenities of an old Bentley crammed into a ground-up restoration of a Land Rover Defender 90, 110, 127, 130 and others.

Recently, some of their clients wanted to venture into a different direction with their powertrains.

After working with a British EV company that designs EV conversion kits, E.C.D. was able to design their own powertrain setup. In this case, using Tesla batteries (one forward, one aft) they connected the Tesla motor directly to the running gear, in place of the engine and transmission.

Simply put: it has a “Tesla Motor Direct Drivetrain.”

According to E.C.D. the 100 kWh drivetrain will give this Defender 110 a 0 to 60 mph time in about 5.2-seconds, while delivering up to 220 miles of range. Keep in mind: these numbers are estimates, and this vehicle is in its early production stage. None of these numbers could be verified at the time of the drive; however, it sure felt fast.

(The batteries and motor came from a Tesla Model S – P100D with a 100 kWh battery)

There’s even a tachometer, which is sort of useless given the application — but it looks cool.

Driving a Tesla-powered classic Land Rover Defender 110.

Keep this in mind: this is a customer’s vehicle that costs well over a quarter of a million dollars… so I didn’t get to bash it.

With that being said, I did get enough seat time to get the gist of what this vehicle was about. While the drivetrain is a bit rough around the edges, it does move with authority. Some may be put off by the lack of an engine roaring. Yet, you still hear various pumps, gears and tires buzz away.

It take a few moments to power through the learning curve in terms of making the thing go. You have a dial on the dashboard that has D, N and R on it. Obviously for drive, neutral and reverse – but there is no “Park” on the dial. You have to press a separate button to park it while it’s in neutral. It’s kind of a pain, and I hope they update that system soon.

If you slam your right foot down, the forward motion will instantly pull your head back. Remember: this power (which is around 400 horsepower) delivers gobs of torque instantly. Nothing needs to rev up to speed to make things happen. As such, a smooth motion on the accelerator makes things happen with plenty of urgency – without whiplash.

According to E.C.D., it has over 400 horsepower – and an estimated 220 miles of range

One thing I was very please with was the electric power steering system E.C.D. added. People tend to forget how complex steering assist can be, and how difficult hauling something well over two-tons without assistance can be. The power steering feel in this Defender was quiet good. There’s just enough resistance, without being too heavy, or too light. Color me impressed.

Using a Tesla powertrain means having your braking system augmented by regenerative braking. I should be called “regenerative motoring” as the motor becomes a generator when braking or coasting – recharging the batteries. This, along with the good steering system is something some other EV augmenting companies blunder.

There is a transfer case for those who use the 4×4 system, and E.C.D. can augment it to the buyer’s wishes (lockers, gearing and so on), and the same goes for the suspension system. Unfortunately, being in Florida, there were no real off-road obstacles to sample. Fortunately, E.C.D.’s new facility will have a custom-made off-road testing course on their property. We will get a chance to air out these trucks properly at that time.

All in all, I felt like this truck was extremely well put together. The attention to detail, and the effort put in to the customer’s whims are impressive. It’s unique and (in some ways) progressive in the bespoke vehicle’s world, but improvements can be made.

Mixed tech, and a charging issue.

The gauges is the Tesla-powered Defender were analogue. On top of that, they only passed along basic information. For many, that’s no big deal – as long as you know how fast you’re going and how much battery power you have left. There’s even a tachometer, which is kind of useless with EVs, but it looks cool.

My issue is: I want to know how much power is going back into the battery under all driving conditions.

One issue E.C.D. is working on is the lack of fast charging. That’s right, it will be able to use a standard, Level II charger at the most. It is only capable of accepting a normal SAE J1772 plug, despite having a Tesla battery. In other words, it can’t work with Tesla plugs, and it can’t fast charge – yet. The folks at E.C.D. said they are working on this issue, and hope to have it resolved soon.

Some folks will be disappointed that, despite having Tesla motivation, this Defender does not use Tesla’s driver’s assistance systems. In other words: no Tesla Auto Pilot. I think that’s fine as people tend to abuse the system, and having this massive, lumbering EV driving with a mind of its own gives me pause.

Bottom line: it’s damn cool, but not for everyone.

Classic Land Rover Defenders do not handle particularly well. Even the short-wheelbase Defender 90 has a turning circle of a heavy duty pickup truck. Not all drivers will be comfortable with the interior design, which was meant for ruggedness and utility, not luxury. On top of that, it’s not the easiest vehicle to see out of.

Still, with this type of unique power, serious off-road potential and a completely unique vibe – it makes a hell of a statement. It speaks to those who find perfection comes from the unusual, or hard to define. A truck like this will never be mass produced, and it requires compromise to live with; however, it makes you feel special.

That is what it’s all about, right?

One final note:

I joked with one of the E.C.D. representatives saying that, if they used this setup on an old Defender 127 (which is one of the old pickup truck-style Defenders), they could beat Elon Musk to delivering a Tesla (powered) pickup truck. Judging by the look I got, it may already be on the drawing board!