Land Rover Restoration Specialist

P icture this. Days of provisions packed, gear spilling from the loaded trunk of a Land Rover Defender 110. Months of anticipation and planning for a once-in-a-lifetime off-roading trip is finally coming to fruition. You’re locked and loaded.

Except, it’s February in Iceland. The area is prone to severe weather, and after you head out, the team is met with a doozy of an ice storm. 125 mph winds thrash against the aluminum body of the vintage offroader. Snowed in, the only option is to tough it out in the truck for the next two days.

Or, Australia.

You’re off-roading on the Monkey Gum Firetrail in New South Wales in a 1982 Range Rover you’ve traveled Down Under to bring home. On the first day, the rear differential and front drive shaft blowout—zero mobility. The only plausible way out is to run it up the trail with a winch line for about five miles, hook it to another Defender and tow it to some guy’s place called “Land Rover Heaven.”

This is Daniel Marcello’s idea of fun.

Okay, maybe not the snowed in part, which he admits was pretty miserable. But for the President and Creative Director of the Defender customization firm Brooklyn Coachworks, the thrill of off-roading one of these vehicles, and the adventure that comes with it, is incomparable.

“It’s a slow-moving train wreck that you’re in control of,” Marcello says. “I like always being on the edge of, ‘I’m not getting home,’ and ‘I just had the best adventure of my life.’”

Marcello isn’t a professional adventurer. He isn’t even a trained mechanic. But because of this, not in spite of it, he’s become one of the most sought-after Defender specialists in the world.

“I like always being on the edge of, ‘I’m not getting home,’ and ‘I just had
 the best adventure of my life.”

His success starts with an appreciation for the Land Rover mystique—the same sense that captivated him the first time he laid eyes on a Defender at 18 years old.

“My jaw was on the ground,” Marcello says. “That presence, to me, was just different. You don’t see these cars a lot in the States—it looked like adventure.”

After school, Marcello landed a coveted advertising job in New York. His gift to himself? A Defender, of course. He took out a loan, and $29,000 later he was the owner of a 1994 North American Spec Defender 90. He flew down to North Carolina with a friend to claim his prize.

After a long journey back up the East Coast, they arrived at the toll booth on the G.W. Bridge. When he went to hand his toll money over to the attendant, she told him it was already taken care of. The man in front of them had paid their way and asked her to simply tell them, “Nice car.”

“Me and my buddy looked at each other like: ‘All right, this is going to work out pretty well for us,’” Marcello says.

Starting with his first car as a young man, a ‘91 Honda Accord, Marcello had a knack for “wrenching” on them. Personalizing and tinkering. Trying to get the right mix of the good stuff to set them apart.

Later, as Marcello’s graphic design and photography talents were flourishing in his career, his budding obsession for all things off-roading, and Land Rover, was consuming his time off. Spending weekends with a close-knit group of friends who shared the same passion, he began absorbing all the first-hand knowledge required to renovate and restore these classic off-roaders.

Soon he began working on cars besides his own, eventually deciding to step out and merge his passion with his profession. His idea for the customization firm was inspired by the British ideology of “coachworks”. Focusing on maintaining authentic exterior paint colors, slightly modifying the interiors and outfitting the vehicle with modern appointments, the goal is always to keep their adventurous, utilitarian spirit.

“We just upgrade little things, like putting AC in, heated seats, backup cameras, electric windows, upgraded suspension,” Marcello says. “I feel like a lot of people will try to bling the car out. I don’t ever want to do that. The car was never a showpiece. It was a farmer’s vehicle.”

The contrasting dynamic of these vehicles, masterpieces of design yet built to tackle whatever you can throw at them, is something that perfectly complements Marcello’s skill set. Incorporating his meticulous creative eye for elevated aesthetics and his obsession with rugged functionality, his vehicles are just as capable of taking you through traffic on the way to a special dinner in Manhattan as they are traversing dicey Upstate terrain. It’s why their home base gives them such a unique platform in the world of restoration.

“To run a Land Rover shop—an off-road shop—in Brooklyn seems a little crazy to some people. But I think it’s smart in the sense of who we are,” Marcello says. “I’ve test-driven my car for the last 16 years, and, because I drive it in the city, I know what it can take on a day-to-day basis. It’s fun hitting the rough roads here. They say ‘New York, New York—named twice, paved once.’ But I can also get in it and drive to the mountains three hours away.”

His unique perspective and talent for capturing these cars beautifully with his own photography have helped grow the business organically. From his foreman, who’s been a friend for a decade, to an ex-military diesel mechanic, he’s now surrounded by a trusted team of specialists at their workshop on Kent Ave in Williamsburg.

On a day to day basis, Marcello and his team are commissioned to repair and customize heritage Land Rovers, largely focused on Defenders with an occasional Discovery in the mix. From sourcing the vehicle, sandblasting the chassis and painting it with a rust-preventative coating; equipping new springs, shocks, bushings and hardware. Marcello’s design muscle really flexes on the interiors—turning these farm vehicles into modern day luxury automobiles that never feel over the top. Everything is about enhancing what he considers the perfect exterior foundation for an off-road vehicle.

“The geometry’s great for an off-road car,” Marcello says. “It’s sad that you don’t see them out as much in the wild. But when you do see one perform, it’s pretty surprising.”

Thanks to an all-aluminum body, as opposed to the steel bodies of other classic off-roaders like Scouts and Broncos, the Land Rover body will never rust. In the same way your grandfather’s handmade 20-year-old wingtips can be revitalized at a quality cobbler, these vehicles can find new life long beyond most other cars’ expiration dates.

These vehicles are incredibly rare in the U.S. for a reason, though. The Defender in particular, he explains, was only imported into the States between ‘93 and ‘97. To get your hands on one today is no small task. The truck must have reached “classic” status, meaning it has a build date of at least 25 years prior to the date you import it to the U.S.

Ultimately, for Marcello and his clients, these extra hoops only add to the intrigue. His team’s success always comes back to that personal connection with the off-road community and the love and care he’s put into his own Defender over the years.

“Trial and error with my own car has taught me, ‘This works, this doesn’t work,’” Marcello says. “I think a lot of people come to us because they trust me. I don’t want anybody to have a car from us that isn’t up to the standards of my personal car.”

Marcello understands that the striking visual presentation of the cars is a big part of their appeal, but he gets most excited when one of his clients is willing to put their new car through the ringer.

“I understand why you wouldn’t take it off-road. But I do like when somebody buys a beautiful car from me, freshly painted, and they’re actually off-roading it,” Marcello says. “That’s what I did with my personal car. I’d actually appreciate it if you banged it up, because I know you’re enjoying it.”

And while the business continues to grow at a healthy clip, Marcello has no intentions of just getting bigger forever. He’s envisioning a future where the work will be steady—30-40 vehicles per year—while still maintaining the freedom to pursue what got him in this business in the first place.

“Success, to me, 10 years from now, means building a certain amount of cars—and that’s it,” he says. “I’m doing this because I like off-roading.”

And what makes for a perfect day in the wilderness for Marcello? It could be a few hours up the road climbing over a minefield of boulders or halfway across the world, broken down, having to use a squashed banana as an improvised oil substitute, but the setting is similar.

“That perfect day of off-roading is a long stretch,” he says. “Miles and miles of nothingness. No cell phone. Nobody can talk to you. You have to rely on that vehicle that you made—it’s making your own shoes and then walking in them, so you really have to trust who you’re with and how you built that car.”

This sense of authenticity, an alignment with the true spirit of these vehicles, has earned Brooklyn Coachworks a well-earned respect from across the Land Rover community. Australia or Africa, Guatemala to Upstate New York, there’s not much terrain a Defender can’t handle, and Marcello is determined to find out their limits for himself.

“I think a lot of people come to us because they trust me. I don’t want anybody to have a car from us that isn’t up to the standards of my personal car.”