Vehicle and modifications

Our vehicle of choice is a Toyota Land Cruiser HJ47 from 1984. I bought it back in 2010 near Murray Bridge in South Australia. Initially wanting to drive back through Asia and the Middle East to Europe I was searching for a reliable companion for that journey and opted to go for a 70 series troop carrier when I found our Oldie on the internet. It was love at first sight and the Cruiser accompanied us for another year in Australia. Unfortunately the funds didn’t allow for a drive back so in January 2011 the car was put on a Ro/Ro ship in Perth to arrive 3 months later in Bremerhaven, Germany. After the not so easy progress of registration and import we drove it for another year during our stay in Norway but it didn’t like the constant rain too much so now it’s time to put it back to use where it belongs – the deserts and tropics of this world!

The advantages of choosing this particular model apart from the obvious charm of the 40 series Land Cruisers in general of course 😉 are mainly its ruggedness and reliability proven over several decades. Us not being mechanically particularly knowledgeable it is still easy to perform most of the repairs and service work ourselves as everything is built fairly simple and no electronic parts are to be found. Leaf springs all around carry the 3tons weight when fully loaded but are certainly not delivering best comfort. The 4l 2H diesel engine is known for running forever but obviously lacks in acceleration and highway speed. Also driving up hills is hard work for it at low altitude already and becomes harder the higher it gets. But time is what we have most of anyway so we are taking it fairly easy and are rarely exceeding 90kph also to be able to have a normal conversation. Another disadvantage is the spare part situation for this particular model as it has never been sold in that configuration in Europe. 12V parts like the starter, alternator or glow plugs had to be ordered from Australia as most Diesel Land Cruisers in Europe run on 24V.

 

+ sturdy and reliable

+ easy to service and repair due to mechanical simplicity

+ no electronics

+ spacious interior

+ old and charming, many conversations start because of the car 🙂

+ high clearance, solid axles, good offroad capabilities

+ fairly inconspicuous

+ size and weight lets us reach most places

+ good torque

+ famously reliable engine without turbo and therefore less strain on drivetrain components

+ diesel and not picky when it comes to fuel quality

 

– noisy (engine and rattles)

– high-ish fuel consumption with 14-15l/100km

– not exactly comfortable due to leaf springs

– not the best departure angle due to rear overhang

– not 100% sealed, rainwater finds its way inside sometimes

– spare parts are becoming more rare these days (that said many parts are interchangeable with other models)

– acceleration and top speed are fairly poor

 

 

Modifications:

Tires and rims

We chose to go for Coopers STT tires in the size 235/85 R16 as we had good experiences with Coopers in Australia and wanted to be prepared for the wet seasons we are certainly going to hit with our slow traveling speed. That’s why we decided for mud terrains over all terrains and sacrificed better mileage. We also swapped to 6×16 rims as tires in 31×10,5 R15 as we had before are very difficult to find in Africa and 235/85 R16 is the most common size and interchangeable with truck tires in case we will have to replace any.

Update: After 20.000km in Togo the tires still look very good and have plenty of tread left.

Update 2: After ~37.000km we replaced our tires in Windhoek, Namibia. The tread had gotten low on all of them but especially our detour through the Angolan Namibe desert and along the Kunene river took its toll. The sharp stones cut out chunks of rubber but never managed to penetrate the tires.

All in all the STTs performed extremely well on our trip and we can only recommend them. The only time we got really stuck in mud was when the transmission hit a big rock. Otherwise we crawled through every mud pit. Also the only two punctures we had on the trip were completely unavoidable. The first time a sharp metall frame sliced open a side wall. Funnily enough we fixed the 5cm long cut with our tire repair kit and drove another thousand or so km on it (not to be recommended when the side walls are damaged). The second puncture was due to no remaining tread at all on the tire and a bit uneven wear as we did not get the chance to rotate the tires as frequently as we should have.

In Windhoek we could not find the STTs anymore as they were about t0 be released in a new version. We therefore replaced them with BF Goodrich Mud Terrain KM2 tires which are a popular overlanders choice. So far they performed well in Namibia and time will tell how many kms they will last us.

Sleeping arrangements

We chose to buy a roof top tent to be away from the heat and insects closer to the ground and have more space inside the car. Ours is a model from Primetech – fairly cheap but we impregnated it additionally and so far it did its job well. If it won’t prove to be reliable we will replace it with a different one from Eezi Awn in South Africa.

Also we wanted to be able to sleep comfortably inside the car in cases like very strong winds or rains, thunder storms and nights in more sensitive areas or where we don’t want to stick out too much. That’s why instead of building whole wardrobes the decision was made to keep the whole length and width of the cargo area as a sleeping space with storage underneath.

Update: The roof top tent has not served us as well as it should have. The velcro tapes and zippers broke a couple of months into the trip, the madress had to be replaced in Gambia and the mosquito mesh was so thin that we had to fix it many times. That said the ladder was sturdy and light and we never got wet inside even during Central Africas rainy season.

We replaced the tent with a Tesco model in Windhoek, Namibia. For marginally more money we got ourselves a much sturdier product with thick mosquito mesh, timber base and much stroner poles. Also the cover is attached with an elastic rubber band instead of a zipper which easily collects dust and sand and becomes unfunctional.

 

Cooking arrangements

Many people go for a Coleman multi fuel burner but we decided to stick to our two burner gas cooker. It will certainly be difficult to get our 5kg gas bottle filled up so we might have to replace it at some point. Cooking on gas is fairly simple otherwise and we attached the cooker to one of the rear doors. Its quick to set up and the roof top tent provides cover from rain.

Update: Our cooker has served us well and is still as functional as in the beginning. We refilled our gas bottle in Morocco, Gambia, Ghana and Namibia. In between in Central Africa we ran out of gas but due to traveling with Marc & Doro we were sharing their Coleman stove. We did not look extensively for places to refill so cannot give reliable information on that area of Africa.

Fridge

Our fridge is from Engel and roughly as old as the car itself and has been with it almost from the start. The lid is bended, the isolation clearly improvable, its noisy and the ampere draw relatively high. Nevertheless it has been around the block and when we had it checked once in Australia it was still freezing down to -11°C with an outside temperature of over 45°C. So we couldn’t bring it over us to replace it and placed it in the center of the car between the axles to prevent it from shaking too much. We attached two wheels on the bottom to be able to move it to the rear doors when being camped for longer time.

Update: We replaced the Engel fridge for a National Luna Twin Weekender with 40l fridge and 10l freezer compartment in Windhoek, Namibia. The old one was simply too noisy and had a too large current draw to be sustainable for much longer. We are extremely happy with the National Luna which works very economically and being able to freeze some meat and have ice cubes is just great.

Electricity

To be able to run the fridge, charge all the accessories and have interior lights and radio running when camping for longer time a dual battery system needed to be installed. Additionally to the 80Ah starter battery we installed a 90Ah deep cycle AGM battery inside the vehicle. The first and second battery are connected by a Ctek 250s Dual charger which alters the voltage according to the needs and temperature of the second battery. AGM and gel batteries also need a different charging cycle to be fully loaded which is being provided by the charger. On top of that it doubles as a solar regulator and charges both batteries without the need of running the engine of the car everymonce in a while. In the front of the roof rack sits the corresponding 150W solar module. We also replaced the 40amp alternator by an 80amp model.

Two 12V plugs and two USBs in the front and three 12V plugs and one USB in the back keep all the cameras and the laptop charged. In the rare case of needing 230V instead a 600W inverter was installed. On the ceiling 4 LED lamps were placed which light up the interior and a LED work lamp provides us with better light when cooking at the rear or reversing. Of course all the additional electrical devices have been properly secured by an extra fuse box.

Update: The solar panel and Ctek charger have been working really well to keep our batteries charged and we did not run into trouble as long as the panel was sometimes exposed to sun light. Especially after replacing the fridge everything is quite well balanced. The rear light could have been a better one with more lumen so we might replace it one day.

Water

We decided for jerry cans instead of a permanently installed water tank to be able to fill up at taps without the need of having a hose. Two 25l containers find their place in the rear right storage box. Additionally to them we still have a ~30l tank placed under the car with a tap under the rear door for emergency use. One of the jerry cans is connected to the Shurflow water pump which pumps the water with 3 bar pressure through the ceramic filter towards the tap at the back of the right storage box. The filter gets rid of most of bacteria and viruses and makes us independent of bottled water.

Update: 50l of water were a good amount to have for us. Only on our trip through the Namibe desert in Angola did we take some more with us and even then just in case of an emergency. Unfortunately the Brownchurch water filtration system let us down many times. The screw on filters broke off several times without us noticing so we drank contaminated water with the corresponding results. It may not have happened so often if we had installed the system between the axles but we were nevertheless shocked just how badly the filter cartridges were glewed to the plastic lid and thread. For large parts of the trip we used water purification drops instead. The Shurflow pump worked really well and we will replace the filter system with a UV solution soon.

Storage

To both sides of the cargo area we installed wooden storage boxes which are divided into 4 sections with independent lids. These leave enough space in the center to be able to walk inside the car and are still able to carry most of our equipment. We kept them quiet low to be able to sleep comfortably on them and sit inside if really necessary. There is a small shelf in the left rear and a longer one on the right for books and fishing rods. One of the previous owners also built an overhead shelf which fits our maps and more books. Behind the front bumper sits a metal box carrying our recovery gear.

Update: The storage solution has worked quite well on our trip. Sometimes we do long for a drawer system though to not have to climb inside the car for everything but that would be luxury. 😉

We did add a roof box to our setup for rarely used and light stuff.

Seats

As we will be sitting and driving for long stretches on the trip we wanted to have more comfortable seats. A previous owner already replaced the passenger seat with a sport seat of unknown brand but the driver seat was still original so we installed a Recaro sport seat. Back pain is a thing of the past now but it sits a lot higher and makes traffic lights and the surrounding harder to see. Ah well, there is always advantages and disadvantages and we are happy enough with our choice so far. 🙂

Update: The seats proved to be quite comfortable. Nevertheless sitting for such long stretches of time is never great no matter the comfort. 🙂

Sun shade

We bought a Gordigear awning for a decent price which provides us with 2,5mx2m of shade which makes a huge difference after a long day of driving or when camped when there is no other shade to be found.

Update: The awning was one of our better investions. Very easily and quickly set up and taken down and used as sun shade as well as rain cover plenty of times.

Navigation

Instead of a small handheld GPS unit we decided for a netbook with a bigger screen and more versatility to navigate us through Africa. We bought a used Asus EeePC with a touchscreen and all the necessary programs already installed. We will mainly use Garmin Mapsource with Tracks4Africa, OpenStreetMap and the Garmin South Africa Map. For Navigating with different maps and on smaller tracks we have TTQV installed.

Update: The battery and charger of the netbook gave up on us in Ghana and we were generally not happy with the usb mouse connection either. We replaced the system with a smartphone (Galaxy Note 3) with a large screen and the app OSMAnd. This worked very well but did not allow us to use Tracks4Africa as easily anymore.

Snorkel

We ordered a cheap snorkel from France to provide the engine with cooler and less dusty air. It also prevents water from entering the engine through the air intake in case of deep water crossings.

Update: Nothing to complain here. Only once so far did we cross water deep enough to make a snorkel neccessary but the higher and therefore less dusty air intake is a good thing either way.

Fuel

The car came with an extra 80l diesel tank installed. A switch on the dashboard determines which tank we are using. On top of that we carry three 20l jerry cans on the roof when empty and inside when full which gives us a range of up to 1500km.

Update: The magnetic fuel valve which regulated which tank we would take from broke in Europe already and we did not find a suitable replacement on the way. In Gambia a welder soldered some break lines together in the form of a t-piece which we installed instead of the valve. Unfortunately the tanks were still emptied very unevenly. On our work break in Europe we ordered a replacement valve which we got installed in Windhoek, Namibia.

We reduced to only two jerry cans in Senegal and installed a proper bracket in Namibia instead of cargo straps. The only time when we needed extra fuel carrying capacity was in the Angolan and Namibian Namibe desert. Elsewise one tank would have been sufficient.

Sound and heat proofing

To be able to have a decent conversation once in a while when driving we put sound and heat insulation under the bonnet, inside the front doors, on the firewall from inside the car, on parts of the side walls and under our seats. It doesn’t do miracles but makes just the difference between shouting and talking in normal volume and our feet stopped frying away too. 😉

 

Mechanical work performed (done ourselves if not stated differently)

Replaced engine, transmission, transfer case and axle oil

Replaced oil, air and fuel filter

Replaced brake fluid and front brake hoses (@mechanic)

Replaced front brake pads and rear brake shoes

Replaced clutch with Tuff Clutch model from Australia and replaced rear main seal at same time (@mechanic)

Sealed oil sump leak

Checked diff and axle breathers

Replaced steering idler arm assembly due to steering slop

Reduced steering slop at steering box and topped up steering box oil

Replaced steering damper

Replaced starter and alternator (80amp)

Replaced starter battery and tray

Overhauled complete front axle including all seals and bearings

Replaced shock absorbers front and rear

Complete grease up

Checked universal joints

Installed new radio and speakers

Replaced fuel lift/hand pump due to leakage when in use

Replaced glow plugs

Shortened roof cage to be able to fit roof top tent

Replaced front and rear door seals

Replaced fan belt

Replaced radiator, water pump, thermostat, fluid fan coupling, cooling hoses, radiator coolant

Replaced, cleaned up and insulated wirings

 

Most of the work done was just as a precaution and not immediately neccessary but we wanted to start with some peace of mind concerning typical problems that can occur on the road. We also learned a lot in the progress and got to know our car better which can only be helpful.