“Final 12 months I impulsively positioned an order for a brown-over-brown Audi Q7. About two months later I got here to my senses. I canceled the order and purchased 12 classic Land Rovers.”
So reads an Instagram caption Rafe Churchill posted quickly after he launched a used automobile enterprise, Ellsworth Classics, from his home in Sharon, Connecticut, in 2022. Churchill had offered some actual property and “was within the uncommon spot of getting additional money available.” His first impulse was to purchase himself a brand new automobile (the brown Audi). His second was extra sophisticated.
Ellsworth Classics options only one model of used automobile, however not (normally) the marque’s most costly (i.e., probably worthwhile) collector fashions. As an alternative it affords fairly priced Land Rovers and Vary Rovers manufactured between the late Nineteen Seventies and the early 2000s. Churchill buys them one after the other from house owners all throughout the nation. He has a mechanic restore the autos to good working order after which offers them to a element man to wash—however with directions “to not break the patina.”
To higher perceive this enterprise enterprise, it helps to take a look at Churchill’s different occupation. He’s one half of the structure and inside design agency Hendricks Churchill, which he based together with his spouse, the inside designer Heide Hendricks. Their work seems usually in prime design magazines, they usually have been included on Elle Decor’s coveted “A Checklist” for 2 years working. The agency takes on all types of tasks, from new builds to restorations, however a lot of Hendricks Churchill’s standout commissions have concerned exquisitely constructed older constructions that they carry again to life in ways in which concurrently protect and reimagine current designs. Churchill, who was additionally a builder till he gave that up a number of years in the past to give attention to residence design, has a selected appreciation for well-made previous issues. “I’m the third technology in my household to work within the trades,” he stated throughout a current cellphone name. “I can spot good development.”
Land Rover started importing automobiles to the U.S. in earnest within the ’80s. Its Vary Rovers have been early hits; the Discovery got here later and lured a brand new technology of patrons. These have been well-built and splendid SUVs that turned favorites with folks with giant nation homes and/or stables. “I noticed them round after I was rising up in Woodbury, Connecticut, however I didn’t get to take a seat in a single till I used to be an adolescent engaged on a job.”
Churchill purchased his first Land Rover in 2009 and has owned them on and off for years. “I used to promote them after they acquired to 120,000 miles as a result of they’ve a repute—underserved, I might say—of being unreliable. However I used to be incorrect. You simply have to begin taking good care of them then.” He isn’t the one one obsessive about previous Land Rovers. Plenty of restoration and rebuild corporations have sprung up lately that take previous fashions, normally Defenders, and set up new aftermarket engines, suspensions, and high-tech electronics—tasks that may value within the six figures.
That nook of the enterprise holds little curiosity for Churchill. “I used to be out in Montauk for per week or so this summer time, and each different automobile was a rebuilt Land Rover,” he stated. “I walked as much as one man to go with his Defender, and all he wished to do was listing for me all the things they ripped out of it and changed with one thing new. I imply, what’s the purpose?”
Generally Churchill is pressured to do some restoration, however he attracts the road at any type of modernizing. “I simply needed to substitute the leather-based upholstery on a Vary Rover, and I’m okay with it,” he stated. “However for me there’s a parallel with my different work. I might by no means purchase a historic home and intestine it past recognition. As an alternative I might attempt to honor the home.” That is an concept Churchill finds himself repeating typically—together with his mechanic, his detailer, and generally even his spouse. “We have been driving in a Vary Rover and I pointed to its previous clock, and I used to be like, ‘I like this clock. I like it!’ And Heide replied, ‘Is that actually vital so that you can say?’”
On a breezy day final April, Churchill held a gross sales occasion behind his and Hendricks’s superbly restored farmhouse and barn in Sharon. Round eight Ellsworth Classics autos, together with a hunter inexperienced Vary Rover with a rooftop tent, have been arrange in a subject out again. There was a firepit the place folks grilled handmade scorching canines the couple had purchased at an area butcher. A small crowd, a lot of whom arrived in Land Rovers, have been darting among the many impeccably preserved Rovers and asking Churchill about each’s historical past. “You positively need to take pleasure in speaking to be on this enterprise,” Churchill stated. “Generally it’s simply listening to folks inform tales concerning the Vary Rover they grew up with.”
Fairly quickly guests started cornering Churchill to debate costs. One man requested if he might take an nearly flawless diesel 1981 Collection III for a check drive. A pained look crossed Churchill’s face as he drove off. “I actually assume he’s going to purchase it,” he stated. “I imply, that’s nice, however I’m going to overlook it.”
Norman Vanamee is the articles director of City & Nation.