East Coast Defender breathes new life into an iconic Land Rover

The Land Rover Defender may be out of production, but for some enthusiasts, there is no substitute for this iconic off-roader. While Land Rover mulls a replacement, Florida-based East Coast Defender is turning old Defenders into extensively customized jewels.

The shop’s latest creation is “Project Kingsman,” a Defender that’s literally been rebuilt from the ground up. East Coast Defender started with a long-wheelbase Defender 110, and stripped it down to the frame. Project Kingsman sits on a completely new frame, complete with a corrosion-resistant zinc coating. The chassis was strengthened with an external roll cage, which also lends the SUV a decidedly post-apocalyptic look.

The stock Land Rover engine was ditched as well, and replaced with some American muscle. The new engine is a 5.3-liter Chevrolet V8, which sends 320 horsepower to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. East Coast Defender did not quote performance figures, but the V8 should make Project Kingsman appreciably faster than a stock Defender. East Coast Defender fitted upgraded brakes to keep that power in check, plus a custom radiator and Borla exhaust system.

On the inside, Project Kingsman sports leather upholstery, and a Kenwood touchscreen head unit. While the stock Defender was conceived in an era when no one had heard the word “infotainment,” the Kenwood unit includes features like navigation, feed from a rearview camera, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

East Coast Defender has been customizing Defenders since 2013, and some pretty impressive builds have rolled out of its shop since then. “Project Viper” boasted a 430-hp V8 engine, and a price tag of $285,000. The company didn’t quote a price for Project Kingsman, but you can bet all of those modifications didn’t come cheap. Regardless, East Coast Defender probably won’t have trouble finding more customers.

The Defender is a throwback to when off-road ability defined SUVs. Most SUVs on sale right now are car-based crossovers that aren’t really meant to leave the pavement. Even Land Rover itself is emphasizing refinement and road manners in its latest models. But the Defender remains decidedly old school, and for some die-hard enthusiasts, that’s the only way to go.