Ever dream of owning your very own bespoke car? Osprey Custom Cars, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, builds one-of-a-kind vehicles for clients worldwide. What started for chiropractor Aaron Richardet, as a hobby to keep him close to home when his kids were young, is now a multi-million dollar business refurbishing and custom building overland vehicles.
By Chris Martin
Pursuing his passion for vintage Land Rovers and staying true to his favorite quote, "Fear is the disease, hustle is the antidote," Richardet created Osprey Custom Cars, based in Castle Hayne, North Carolina, in 2004. With his team of 22, in a 22,000 sq/ft workshop, they design and build cutting-edge, highly specialized overland vehicles that can be seen in collector's garages from California to Martha's Vineyard or even the showroom of SEMA in Las Vegas. Richardet and his team take pride in the notion that 'if you can dream it, they can build it!'
Few could argue that there have been many remarkable advances in motor vehicle technology in the past five years, from driver-assistance to infotainment. But, what may have been lost in the process, is timeless charm and simplicity in design, found in the 80s or 90s Land Rover Defender. Who wouldn't want to preserve the history of a trailblazer? This is where Osprey Custom Cars come in. They can combine the old charm with the latest automobile technology, and custom builds a vehicle from the ground up. They focus on classic Defenders, Broncos, and old FJ restomods.
"I have had a deep passion for the Land Rover Defender ever since I first saw them in 1994 on my way to a concert," says Richardet. "It's a vehicle whose family tree can be traced back to the original 1948 Land Rover."
"The US stopped selling the Defender in 1997, so prices went up. Many people held onto these vehicles knowing their value would increase, and are now looking to restore them. Most of the cars have a story behind them and have been in a family for years, and are ready for a second life."
Richardet, a practicing chiropractor in Wilmington, started Rover Recycler company, stripping down old Land Rovers and selling them for parts on eBay. The business evolved into working on Discoveries and fitting them for off-road vehicles with racks. Soon he had a few clients that were looking for modifications and customizations. "I grew up on a farm, so I was always tinkering with machinery. I wanted to start a business that I could have fun with and turn my hobby into something more. I also had a young family, so I wanted something I could do at home in my own time, that didn't take time away from them on the weekends." says Richardet. Now, he balances (his self-admitted) very-scheduled-schedule, between his practice and the Osprey workshop.
Richardet handles all of the clients personally, from start to finish. "Most of my day is consumed with parts location and design of new projects, as well as discussing projects with potential customers. I meet with clients, mostly virtually these days, and we develop a game plan of what they ultimately want. Most of our builds are 100-175k, so people are placing a lot of faith and money in me."
Paying attention to every last detail is what has garnered Osprey their stellar reputation. Their builds have involved everything from laying down African teak flooring, adding secret gun compartments, custom engraved exteriors, installing biometric scanners, and painting jobs that match houses.
"I once had to drive one of our vehicles onto the Fox Studios set for "Planet of the Apes." We had to make a truck look post-apocalyptic and worn out. A totally new challenge for us because the things we normally have to fix had to be added to these trucks," laughs Richardet.
Every detail and add-on to each build are carefully recorded before the Osprey team draws it up and presents the design renderings to a customer. The process, depending on the amount of work, takes anywhere from 4-6 months and all of the vehicles, regardless of the customizations, come with a GM LS3 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, heated leather seats, navigation, backup camera, Bluetooth, keyless entry, and remote start.
Richardet's latest project is the all-new build, 2021 OC90 Soft Top, which has been re-imagined in the footsteps of the classic 90s Defender. The body is a deep Santorini Black with matching wheel arches and trim, were carefully mated to the chassis. The power comes from a high-revving 62. L Corvette LS3 engine. The 6-speed automatic transmission is controlled by a custom push-button gear selector with an LED display, conveniently mounted in the custom center console. The heavy-duty transfer case with central differential lock (CDL) distributes constant power to all four wheels, ensuring 435 horsepower. It rides on rugged, matte black 16" 'Wolf-spec' steel wheels wrapped with 285/75R1 Cooper® Discoverer® AT3 XLT all-terrain tires.
A wire mesh grille was added to the front end, along with gloss black light surrounds, a black side intake vent with gray wire mesh insert, and gray chequer plate wing top protectors. To tow the requisite "toys," the vehicle is fitted with a NAS-style rear step bumper, complete with a 2" hitch receiver, jacking/recovery points, trailer wiring harness, and a color rearview camera. A heavy-duty swing-away rear tire carrier brings up the rear, allowing full access to the cargo area via the drop-down tailgate.
The bespoke interior is complete with heated XS-spec Black Rack & half-leather front sport seats with contrasting white stitching and a dark wood-rim steering wheel with polished aluminum spokes. It also comes with a touchscreen infotainment system compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The tight-fitting black soft hood with zip-out rollable windows nicely tops things and gives it a classic "safari" look at home at the country club as it is offroad.
Osprey Custom Cars now builds 40-50 cars per year and more than 500 in the decade since the business started. Richardet credits a lot of his success to establishing the company in Wilmington. "It's where I call home, and it's been an awesome place to raise a family. But, it's also been great for finding qualified people in a niche market and luring them into the area. There is a wealth of knowledge to tap into, with so many successful entrepreneurs who have retired here, networking goes a long way."