Osprey Custom Cars builds the best retro rides for discerning customers like Lindsey Vonn.
It’s fair to say that any man who appreciates classic car icons and style has, at one time or another, craved a classic Land Rover Defender. Not least because Land Rover stopped selling the iconic truck in the US when production of the North America Spec (NAS) Defender abruptly ceased in 1997. Very few examples of the latest legal series of NAS Defenders have been made in the USA – and in fact, they are It is illegal to own a Defender that has since been built, although the original version continued to be manufactured in the UK until 2016.
US Customs will in fact confiscate and crush any vehicle smuggled after 1997 they find out — and many vehicles have met this heartbreaking fate. Hence the completely new restomod – road legal defenders created from a pre-1997 chassis, which has the incomparable style and utility of NAS cars, but with all the downsides of modification. Like the last of the rare NAS Defenders, it’s a left-hand drive (mostly RHD) and features an automatic transmission, making it much easier to use than older models.
With their new engines, transmissions, suspension, and basically everything else, the Defenders (restoration and modification) are reliable everyday drivers, unlike most older cars. And while the original Defender wasn’t meant to be a luxury SUV, you can add as many luxury finishes as you like, from heated seats and premium leather upholstery to exquisite wood finishes and touchscreen entertainment systems. Be prepared to pay a large sum for this privilege.
Prices for some of the most sought-after restomod advocates now run at a quarter of a million dollars or more, which means they’re well beyond the range of many of their most ardent enthusiasts. But one lower-key, longer-running restaurant store—Osprey Custom Cars, based in Wilmington, North Carolina—is quietly making very nice models starting at $140,000 for the “basic” soft-top Defender, with a shorter wheelbase of 90; Which in these days of hyper-inflated cars everything is nothing short of a miracle. It’s less expensive, starting at $90,000, if you stock your donor vehicle (that is, a pre-97 Defender).
Osprey was started by Aaron Richardt, a chiropractor from Missouri, in 2008 after he moved to Wilmington. Be near the beach and start a family. A lifelong car guy, he’s been a fan of Defender ever since he saw his first NAS model in 1993 right after high school, and in 2003 he finally managed to buy his own. He started working on his car and upgrading it, got a lot of compliments on it, and started fiddling with it for other people. Soon his hobby turned into a business.
He now manually builds the Defender 90s, 110 and 130 pickups from the ground up, using original pre-1997 donor cars, in his 22,000-square-foot workshop, which employs 17 employees. Osprey has built over 500 custom guns (only 35 per year on average) to date, and Richardet usually has six of them in various stages of completion at any given time. It’s a mix of custom commissions and spec designs he created using different combinations of exterior paint and interior leather, many of which pay tribute to classic Land Rover color schemes.
Although Richardt is tough on his clients, World Cup skater Lindsey Vonn is known to have an Osprey Defender, as well as a number of other sports stars, models and CEOs, both here and abroad. All standard Richardet bodies are equipped with the new Corvette LS3 6.2-liter V8 engines, making 435 horsepower and 445 pound-feet. of torque, which is a massive upgrade from the NAS power plant, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly to an automatic transmission controlled by a gear selector with an LED display.
Obviously, the more bells and whistles you select, the higher the final price will be. But since the Osprey is initially more competitively priced, it can still seem like a relative bargain. Richardt credits “good relationships with vendors, keeping my marketing and advertising budgets low,” as well as spending as little as possible on overhead — he doesn’t have a showroom, per se — with enabling him to build trucks that people can actually afford. While other newer companies have imitated Osprey designs, they charge much more for a lower quality and sometimes less original product.
Furthermore, Richardet usually has at least one or two designs in his shop that are available for immediate purchase (although they don’t last long), while being able to complete custom commissions in about six months, unless the customer wants something Extra complicated (which he is willing to pay for). He has one of those projects in the works right now, for a customer who basically wants a new Range Rover Sport Supercharged — with a crazy 650 horsepower engine — under the skin of his NAS Defender.
Aside from the exterior paint, wheels, and black or aluminum trim, you can choose from different leather styles, stitching, and finishes, leather or wood steering wheels, various seat configurations, and even a biometric built in pistol safe, or a Negroni bar if you so desire. .
On our recent visit to the Osprey booth, we looked at several combinations before deciding that the dark green—Richardet’s favorite shade is Epsom Green—on saddle brown leather was our all-time favorite. Richardt had one in the shop that the customer wanted to build to fit his dark green Aston Martin. It garnered the most orders for the 90’s soft black and 110 white on the NAS model.
No matter what you get, save for perhaps a 650-horsepower beast, Richardet ensures that every Osprey is easy enough to drive that it only requires “two fingers” on the steering wheel, at least until you take it off the road. And every build is fully capable when the asphalt runs out, with an advanced all-wheel drive system operating in low range via a dedicated cockpit transmission. They’re also built to run a minimum of 200,000 miles with proper care and maintenance, making them future collectibles.
While he rarely rejects any customization requests, Richardt offers guidance. “I try to steer things in the right direction, so that at the end of the day, I’m a thousand percent proud of it,” he tells us. “Most clients know what they want. But at some point they will ask, ‘Well, what do you think?’ And my answer is, ‘Well, what are you going to use it for?’ Let’s talk about practicality and use. Are you just going to sit in Nantucket? Then you don’t need a 575 hp engine. This is just ridiculous.”
He continues, “You don’t even need 400 horses, but that’s what we offer. Are you going to camp in it every weekend and off-road in the mountains? Oh, are you going to be in your beach house, and you’re going to toss the beach chairs and get them out in the sand? Really, you have to.” To build a car and then eventually customize it for a customer’s specific uses,” he laughs, “try to stop them from making bad decisions.”
Business, of course, is booming, not least because Osprey ûber-cool restaurants are less expensive than many of these days’ super new luxury SUV. “You can go out and get a G-Wagen, but they get 50 or 60 thousand on the label now,” Richardt says of the popular German SUV that technically starts at $133,000 for the base model — if you can find one.
The Defender and G-Wagen have similar silhouettes, and both exemplify old-school style, but the classic Defender is much rarer and more distinct. Nobody says, ‘Oh, I couldn’t get a G-Wagen, so I got a Defender? ‘” Richardet points out. They’re like, ‘Oh,’ This cool.'”
Without ads, Richardet relies on word of mouth and repeats business to keep his order history full. “Some people bought six different trucks from me,” he reveals. “They have them in their different homes, across the country or even in the world, and each one is a little different depending on where they are kept and the purpose for which they are used.” Richardt, a very humble and kind guy, always deals with his customers personally, and delivers their trucks to them himself anywhere in the USA.
“What I’ve discovered over all these years at work is that a lot of things revolve around relationships and friendships,” he says. “And people want to see you succeed and they want to help you if they like you. If they don’t like you, you know they can do the exact opposite. So they better like you.” Trustworthy.
Stay tuned for our next feature, when we get our custom Osprey Defender keys and hit the road….
Tags: Aaron Richards Cars Custom Cars Land Rover Land Rover Defender Osprey Custom Cars Prestomods Tours