A muscular, square-bodied British off road vehicle came along at a critical time for its parent company.

In the late 1980s, Land Rover was gaining a reputation for less than top-notch workmanship and had slimmed down to producing just one marque, the Range Rover.

That's when the company introduced the Land Rover Defender. It rolled out about the same time as the Discovery, which continues to be produced. The Defender built a following for its impressive looks, upgraded quality and throwback to the company's 1940s heritage as a rock-solid vehicle that could travel on any terrain in the world.

Land Rover discontinued the Defender two years ago but the model lives on in limited numbers through designers. At the same time, the company looks to introduce the L663 as a new generation Defender but with a completely changed look.

Companies crafting customized Defenders today include ECD Automotive Design in Kissimmee, Florida, which began five years ago and also re-tailors Range Rover Classics. The venture promotes what it calls a "luxury build experience" that works closely with the customer to optimize the planning process from paint, wheel and interior samples to a one-tenth scale model. Each SUV takes about 2,200-man hours to construct, the company said.

“Until our Luxury Build Experience was introduced, the custom car buyer’s voice was largely ignored by the industry,” said Scott Wallace, co-owner of ECD Automotive Design. "In large part, luxury vehicle buyers were relegated to a standard list of accessories and options. Our Luxury Build Experience, however, begins by stripping a Defender or Range Rover Classic down to its chassis and letting the customer decide how it will be built," he said.

The company relies on donor vehicles, and a door hinge from the original vehicle is encased and presented to the client as a keepsake, ECD Automotive Design notes. “From a custom builder’s perspective, it’s incredibly important to be immersed with input from our clients. That simply can’t happen alone via a phone call or through email," said Tom Humble, co-owner.

ECD Automotive Design employs 52 people in a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in central Florida known as the Rover Dome, and has a design studio in California.

The custom business says it intends to expand its lineup "to include a variety of exquisite vehicles that explore the companies' signature British feel and continue to drive their clients wild."

According to an article this month in Highsnobiety online lifestyle news site, coachmaker ARES Design recently unveiled 53 "souped-up special editions Defenders" expected to offer top-end performance and looks.

Modena, Italy-based ARES updated the four-wheel-drive vehicle's body using carbon fiber, and it includes a 475-horsepower V8 engine capable of 93 mph. The front and rear bumpers were upgraded for heavy-duty use. Extras include a front winch, new front and rear LED lights, a bespoke exhaust manifold, upgraded brakes and 18-inch alloy wheels, the magazine said.

Interiors can also be customized upon request, featuring handcrafted panels in leather, carbon and aluminum and custom-made sports steering wheel.

Prices start at around $250,000 and buyers have to provide their own Defender. The conversion work takes up to eight weeks.

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