- Classic Range Rovers have an unexplainably cool aura around them, but its stateside reputation as an unreliable means of transportation discourages many from ownership.
- Stray Dog Classics is a NY-based restomod shop dedicated to sourcing and backdating timeless Range Rover classics.
- Darren Lilien, the owner and founder of Stray Dog Classics, built the idea for the shop out of a personal passion project that attracted the attention of like-minded enthusiasts on Instagram.
- Lilien considers these Range Rovers the “stray dogs” of the car world, which served as the perfect name for his shop.
The COVID-19 pandemic was an interesting time for car enthusiasts. Suddenly, we couldn’t think of any more excuses for why our project cars weren’t finished. In other cases, the boredom of sheltering in place inadvertently served as a catalyst for an upsurge in classic and dream car purchases. For many, it was an opportunity to ask themselves a very important life question: What do I do now?
Darren Lilien wasn’t necessarily one of those individuals asking that question; he didn’t have any project cars. He did, however, grapple with a far less cerebral query: Which car should I get next? He didn’t have the answer off-hand, but he knew it was time for a change.
A BRITISH ICON
While working from home in the eyewear space, Darren thought critically about his current mode of transportation: an Audi Q7. Those critical thoughts revolved around one central idea: replacing it. To him, the Q7 was boring, soulless, and just like every other SUV on the market. And since the world was supposedly coming to an end, he figured he might as well get more from a vehicle.
For Darren, it was always the classic Land Rover Defenders and Series trucks. There’s an endearingly religious following to these timeless, boxy, British icons — even with a less than stellar reputation for reliability. Admittedly, that caveat was still important to Lilien. After all, he was looking to replace a modern SUV with one that would, in some cases, be approaching a mid-life crisis in human terms.
With that in mind, the Defender was out of the question. His narrowed focus proved beneficial soon, however; he landed on international Range Rover Classics, which he discovered (pun intended?) during his online research sessions.
CAR HUNTER, INTERNATIONAL
I know what you’re thinking and it’s true: in the United States, Range Rover Classics don’t have a great track record either. But remember, these utility trucks were marketed and sold as luxury SUVs and these luxury add-ons often proved to be the Achilles’ heel of their operation. Outside of our luxury bubble, Range Rover’s utilitarian personality still reigned supreme abroad, which meant fewer electronic nick-backs and a robust manual transmission.
Sourcing an international model seemed to be an untapped loophole, then. The only question that Darren had left to answer was: “Can I really make a Range Rover Classic into a reliable, commuter vehicle for the streets of New York City and beyond?” A detour to Spain on the way home from a work trip in Italy confirmed that the answer was, in fact, “Yes!”
It didn’t take him very long to source or purchase one and, thanks to his work in the eyewear space, Lilien was already well-versed in the logistics of importing goods from overseas. What would be a challenge, however, would be finding a local, trustworthy shop to refurbish the vehicle, which he eventually found. As Darren put it, “I wired the money and hoped for the best!”
PROJECT WITH POTENTIAL
At this point, you’d expect us to make a grand introduction to Stray Dog Classics as Lilien’s new Range Rover business, but you’d be wrong. Stray Dog Classics wasn’t meant to be a business in the first place — he wanted a reliable commuter for himself, remember? — but passion projects like this often find their own niches.
Lilien started an Instagram account for the vehicle and proceeded to make it his own. He added some creature comforts like Apple CarPlay, drove it around, and immediately piqued peoples’ interest. The follower count grew like wildfire and Darren joked that it was easier to gain traction for his Range Rover than his eyewear business.
A DECENT PROPOSAL
After people started to make offers to buy his truck, Lilien had that “Maybe I have something here” epiphany and decided to approach his cousin with a business proposition. “I think I want to build five more of these. You in?” was the jist of it. His cousin was sold and, after documenting each build on the Instagram page, literally every one of them had an eager buyer before they even landed on our shores.
With that, Stray Dog Classics was officially born. But a new question arose: “What if I leave the eyewear industry and do this full-time?” Given the high amount of interest, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility but, since New York State requires an automotive reseller to have a physical space, Darren needed to find his “Stray Dogs” a home. Serendipity paid off when the office he found happened to be down the street from where he lives.
Now, you’re probably looking at the images of his yellow-on-yellow SL and “Widowmaker” 930 and wondering, “Wait, does he sell classic cars too?” Although he doesn’t openly advertise it, the answer is also “Yes.” The famous phrase of “Everything always has a price” comes into play here. In fact, as this article goes live, The Widowmaker has likely already been listed for auction and the SL sold to a friend.
So, what does the future look like for Stray Dog Classics? Well, aside from having a full-time, Spain-based employee sourcing each truck, coordinating refurbishments, and shipping the “stray dogs of the car world” — as Lilien affectionately calls them — to the U.S., he wants to help people get into classics. He wants people to understand that old cars don’t always mean wallet-draining maintenance, especially in the case of Range Rovers. Yes, at the end of the day, no vehicle is entirely problem-free, but Stray Dog Classics will convince you that owning a refurbished Range Rover Classic is a lot less daunting than it seems.