Registry Tampa Bay

To quote that son of a son of a sailor and chief Parrothead, James William Buffett, aka Jimmy: “If there’s a heaven for me, I’m sure it has a beach attached to it”. 

You can bet that if beach-loving Mr. B were still around, he’d be grabbing the keys to the coolest mode of beach transportation since the surfboard, the new Beach Runner 4×4 from Orlando-based ECD Automotive Design. 

Yes, it looks like a classic, open-top Land Rover Defender you’d expect to see in the latest Jurassic Park romp. But it’s pretty much brand new from its steel wheels up, and powered by a muscley 460-horsepower Chevy V8. 

Beach-ready features include racks for surfboards, paddle boards and bikes, a big Yeti cooler for libations, air compressor for pumping-up beach balls, and a removable boom box. The big, rear-mounted, swing-out Yakima carrier is perfect for mounting a grill or hauling a set of folding beach chairs. 

And, maybe the piece de resistance, a windshield that folds flat to the hood-mounted spare tire, for a full, warm-wind-in-the-face, bugs-in-your-teeth, open air feel.

ECD, formerly known as East Coast Defenders, has been rebuilding, restoring and customizing old Land Rovers since 2013. Its current line-up includes two-door Defender 90s and 110s, the 130 pick-up, Range Rover Classic and most-recently, Jaguar’s E-Type. 

Original examples are tracked down, given a full, nut-and-bolt restoration, and re-powered with new GM “crate” motors or Tesla-style electric powertrains. The level of fit, finish and quality is exceptional. 

For the Beach Runner, old 1980s Defender 110s are taken apart, the roof removed, a safety roll cage installed, and that GM LT1 V8 and 8-speed automatic squeezed under the hood. To ferry the family to the beach, there are individual bucket seats for the first and second rows, and four, inward-facing jump seats in the back. 

I just spent a joyous afternoon cruising a new baby blue Beach Runner up Jimmy Buffett’s favourite A-1A coastal thoroughfare from Juno Beach towards Jupiter on Florida’s Atlantic coast. It was more fun than a day at, er, the beach. 

Of course, these days there aren’t too many places in Florida where you can actually drive on the sand – in Tampa Bay, bits by Gandy Bridge, and the north side of the Sunshine Skyway are the main two. But just driving to the beach or beachfront parking lot, is a blast in a Beach Runner. 

With that big Chevy V8 under the hood sounding as throaty as Bubba Wallace’s NASCAR racer, you’re guaranteed to spin heads as well as wheels. And when pedal goes to metal, you have absolutely ferocious performance on tap. Almost too much.

Me? I’d much prefer ECD’s terrific electric powertrain, which would seem more suited to not-in-a-hurry, beach-road cruising with the windshield lowered. As would its stealthy-silence, zero emissions and instant torque. While electric power is not currently being offered, I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time; the Beach Runner should be an EV. 

On the road it steers nicely, rides smooth and stops with gusto, though the strangely offset pedals can take a little getting used to. Being a true Land Rover, with full-time four-wheel drive and high/low ratios, means you’re never going to get stuck in the sand. 

And of course, it’s a blast sitting up high behind the classy, Momo wood-rimmed wheel with everything open, elbow resting on that low-cut door.

If the sun gets a little too toasty you can clip on a bimini-style canvas top, but there are no side screens to keep out the elements in case of a Florida downpour. Thankfully the leather is marine grade, the body aluminum, and the floor has drains. 

As you might expect of a hand-built, bespoke toy, ECD’s Beach Runner doesn’t come cheap. The base price is an eye-popping $249,995 with production limited to just 18 examples a year. 

But when you’re parked at the beach, flipping those cheeseburgers in paradise, keeping your fins to the left, and sipping a boat drink, a Beach Runner is hard to resist.

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