Category Archives: Preparation

Customizing the Truck: 4.2 Diesel Toyota Landcruiser LC79

It was during my last trip to Africa, a wonderful self drive through Kruger, Sabi Sabi and Motswari that I really became aware of the limitations of rental 4×4 campers. Almost all of them are set up with roof tents or fabric sided pop tops. While those work fine when one is staying in secure designated campsites, they offer no real security for anyone camping in rural or urban areas where thieves are always on the look out for easy pickings. If I was to undertake a major expedition traveling by myself through several different countries, my security would have to be a major concern.

Be sure to check out the full GALLERY of images that show each stage of this story

When I returned to the States I began looking in earnest for viable options. I flew down to the Overland Expo in Arizona to check out the latest and greatest in overland vehicles and the selection was impressive. There were trucks and jeeps of every size and shape on display. Huge Unimogs capable of traveling over virtually any terrain costing several hundred thousand dollars would certainly provide adequate security but apart from the cost, just changing a tire would be a monumental task. The size and weight of the vehicle would limit its ability to cross rivers on small bridges and primitive barges. And if one did get stuck good luck getting it out on your own!

Over the next few days I looked at everything, discussed the pros and cons with all the experts, and left with a huge pile of catalogs and several potential options, or so I thought. Back home I wrote down all the things I was looking for in a vehicle and came up with the following list.

It had to be big enough for me to comfortably live in for several months at a time but small enough that it could negotiate small bush tracks and not appear so overly ostentatious that it would attract a crowd wherever it went.

It had to be a Right Hand Drive, the norm for most African countries. If you’ve ever tried driving a left hand drive in a right hand drive country you’ll know how dangerous it can be, especially when you’re traveling by yourself. Pulling out to overtake or to go around anything can be suicidal. You simply can’t see what’s coming until it’s too late. Some manufacturers offer special cameras that let you see the road ahead but I wasn’t convinced. Africa is already full of crazy drivers – I didn’t want to add to that number!

It had to be a diesel – they really are the best for extended low speed driving through the bush – and it had to be capable of running on African diesel, a high sulfur formula that would quickly clog the filters in any modern American truck. And of course it had to be a four wheel drive.

It had to be easy to work on. African mechanics are incredibly talented at fixing just about anything but if it requires a computer to analyze it, or special parts to fix it, chances are you’ll be stuck for a long time. Even if you’re a talented mechanic, traveling with the requisite tools and replacement parts for American made trucks is a very difficult thing to do.

It had to be wired for African electrical requirements. Unlike the USA where 110 volts are the standard, in Africa it’s all 220 volts or more. This can be a very big deal in a campsite situation and not something I wanted to have to deal with. Besides every appliance purchased in Africa is set up for 220 further limiting ones options.

It had to have sleeping quarters inside the shell of the camper. Pop tops and camp on top options, while offering great views and comfortable beds don’t provide the level of security I was looking for. I wasn’t worried about the wildlife, I was way more concerned about the temptations these options would offer to those looking for an easy break in, and Africa has more than it’s fair share of thieves and thugs.

It had to have direct access from the camper into the cab. I wanted to be able to get the hell out of Dodge if things went south and I found myself in a situation I needed to leave in a hurry. Having to exit the camper to access the cab totally defeated the object of the exercise and eliminated slide in campers as an option as none of them offer cab access from the inside.

As I worked through my list I realized it pretty much discounted every American manufacturer, at least any that I could afford. Driving or shipping a vehicle from Europe, which has the same power base as Africa, remained an option, especially some of the very nice German campers, but with prices starting at $300,000 they were all out of my league.

I came to the conclusion I had to search for a vehicle within South Africa. The problem that this presented was finding one that met with all my requirements. There are plenty of overlanders who sell their vehicles at the end of their trip and oftentimes that’s in South Africa, but buying a used four wheel drive is always a dicey option especially one that has been driven several thousands miles in the bush.  Besides that I couldn’t find any that met with my criteria.

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By this time I was pretty certain of one thing.  The best vehicle for the job was the 4.2 Diesel Toyota Landcruiser LC79.  It’s as tough as nails, easy to work on, and almost as easy to find parts for.  Its not the most high powered vehicle but it has a reputation for running forever. It would however be no easy job getting one as this is also the favored vehicle of the ISIS army and they have been actively buying every one they can get their hands on.  They’ve been so successful in this regard that President Obama had to ask Toyota to take measures to prevent them from buying any more!

After much additional research I was able to locate a firm in the eastern Cape who claimed to have the ability to convert these Toyotas into four by four campers and when they sent me photos of their work, I was sure I had found the right company.  They also agreed to help me locate and purchase a Toyota, and after spending a considerable amount of time going over all of my equipment needs and desires we signed a contract and began searching the country for our vehicle of choice.

anewIt took six months and when it arrived it was white instead of the hoped for beige.  The dealer was apologetic but said if we chose to wait for the right color, it could easily take another six months or more.  We decided to go with the white – a color that many wild animals are very wary of – and we would have it sprayed khaki at a later date.

And so the work began.  The first thing they did to my lovely brand new truck was to take the bed off and cut it in half!  They needed to extend the base by 15 inches to accommodate their custom camper shell that they would build out of high impact resistant, corrosion free GRP material.  The first photos I received were more than a little alarming but not to worry they said, we’ve done this lots of times! acutchassis2

Fast forward almost eighteen months from the date they took delivery and the vehicle is almost totally complete.  I can’t wait to take delivery of in January to put it through its paces on a couple of short test drives before I set off on The Quest.  I’ll go over all the equipment we’ve outfitted it with in another post.  For the moment enjoy the pictures of the work as it unfolded.

On to Africa

ele1When I turned twenty one I was living in California thousands of miles away from my family in South Africa. For the past few years I’d been slowly working my way around the world and it was the first and only time I ever received a letter from my father. Mum was always the designated letter writer but on this auspicious occasion my father decided a letter directly from him was warranted. In it he encouraged me to put whatever God-given talents I had to good use and he ended the letter with the following quote:

“No man is born into this world whose work is not born with him. There is always work and tools to work withal for this who will, and blessed are the horny hands of toil. The busy world shoves angrily aside the man who stands with arms akimbo set and waits until occasion tells him what to do, and he who waits to have his task marked out shall die and leave his errand unfulfilled. Our time is one that calls for earnest deeds.”

This was pretty heavy stuff for me to digest especially as my primary focus at that time was getting to Hawaii to surf its legendary big waves. However over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on this quote and wondering what my particular task was intended to be. For as long as I can remember I have loved all forms of wildlife and throughout my professional career I’ve always endeavored to introduce it into my presentations. However until quite recently I’ve never been willing to devote all of my time and energy and resources towards its conservation. Living in Hawaii for twenty eight years it just didn’t seem like a viable option, but with the passage of time my perspective changed.

As I travelled back and forth to Africa and saw first hand how quickly things were changing and how drastically the wildlife was being impacted, I grew more and more convinced that I needed to join in the fight against the greed and corruption that was decimating this extraordinary heritage. When you reach a certain stage in life one’s strengths and talents are self evident. Mine were obvious to me. I was very passionate about wildlife and my public speaking skills were as good, if not better, than most. How to put these to work for wildlife conservation was the question I struggled with for many years.

Thanks to social media I was being inundated with reports from a host of organizations and individuals all committed to saving Africa’s wildlife. All of their time and expertise were devoted to the cause with occasional fund raising trips abroad. I had the opportunity to listen to several of them and it became increasingly obvious that in most instances public speaking was way outside of their comfort zone. It is after all an art form in itself, one that I have spent years refining and practicing. And the more I listened, the more I realized what my task would be. I would offer my time and talent and become a voice for these organizations, or at least for the ones I felt were doing the best work, making the biggest difference, and deserved the most help. To do that I would need to spend a considerable amount of time traveling through the bush, visiting as many of them as possible, seeing them in person and working with them on the front lines.

And it was out of this that The Quest For Hope was born.

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