All the beauty and mystique; none of the worn-out, decaying mechanicals and materials. That, plus modernized and reliable engine components and technology, is what resto-mods are all about. Not all of these vehicles originated in America, but they’ve all been given new life on our shores. That’s why we chose these four to represent our love for the updated classic vehicle, from rugged sports car to off-roader. Any one (or more) of these is always welcome in our garage.
The Keen Project Safari
In pro-race-car-driver-turned-911-reimaginer Leh Keen’s words, his Safari 911s are “more fun, less stress” — vintage sports cars perfectly rebuilt and improved upon so that owners can “drive hard with a carefree attitude.” Owner Michael Pollock’s commission, the Riviera Blue 1982 964 pictured here, was Keen’s fourth project: an all-season car Pollock wanted to drive through New York winters and in rallycross events. Keen transforms 911s — he’s begun the 11th build now — with exhaustive maintenance, depending on the donor car’s condition, and with performance parts galore: suspension, body, exhaust, vintage European interior materials, a fresh coat of delicious paint and whatever else an owner wants realized. Each build is meant to be driven, able to “jump up on a curb, hit potholes, explore gravel roads — do-anything, do-it-all 911s.
Exterior: Riviera Blue
Interior: blue plaid
Engine: 3.0-liter flat-six
Torque: 330 lb-ft
Transmission: five-speed manual
Drivetrain: rear-wheel drive
Estimated Cost: $40,000 (not including donor car)
FJ Company FJ43
Japan’s classic off-road beast, the FJ Land Cruiser, is rightfully lusted after by off-road purists and resto-mod fanatics alike. Each FJ Company project is a frame-off restoration: the vehicle is totally disassembled, made perfect based on customer specification, then reassembled with new parts where necessary. This 1983 FJ43 started life painted green, first as a Latin American utility company vehicle, then as a citrus farmer’s work truck; later, an owner had it painted bright red. Middle-length wheelbase examples of this kind weren’t originally imported to the U.S. The build, now complete and parked lovingly in the owner’s Long Island garage, is thoroughly gorgeous and endlessly iconic.
Exterior: Heath Gray
Engine: 4.2-liter inline-six
Torque: 200 lb-ft
Transmission: five-speed manual
Drivetrain: rear-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive
Starting cost: $55,000
East Coast Defender
Photo: East Coast Defender
Handbuilt in Florida, Land Rover Defender 90s and 110s restored by ECD are modern yet faithful interpretations of properly classic 25-year-old English overlanders. There are three gasoline V8 engine options from which to choose, with a future diesel engine possible. A full-on build will run at least $170,000; from complete strip-down to customer delivery can take up to 12 months and around 1,000 hours of work; there are multiple exhaustive 220-point inspections and 500- to 1,000-mile safety and quality-control test drives along the very meticulous way. One year to achieve legendary on- and off-road status? Worth the wait.
Engine: 4.0-liter, 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8
Horsepower: 190, 326 or 430
Torque: 236, 340 or 400 lb-ft
Transmission: six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Estimated cost: $170,000+
ICON owner Jonathan Ward’s mission: “reviving industrial design priorities in transportation design — a marriage of vintage aesthetic with modern drivability.” He’s been in the business of reimagining classic vehicles for decades; this Bronco is just one of the many handbuilt, “no-compromise” projects his shop has magicked over the years, including FJs, e-bikes, Chevy pickups and upcoming projects, like a concept based on a 1963 Ferrari 250GTE — using 98 percent U.S.-made components. Completed projects are minimalist in that there is no detectable extraneousness; spec lists are miles long, and every last bespoke bit is utterly gorgeous.
Engine: 5.0-liter V8
Torque: 402 lb-ft
Transmission: five-speed manual or four-speed automatic
Estimated cost: $190,000 – $230,000