The building and testing of the Ultimate Toyota Land Cruiser
What began as an idle thought while sitting under a tree in the wilderness, became the thing of dreams. To build the ultimate Toyota Land Cruiser.
In 2010 I was sitting under a tree in the Hoanib River in north western Namibia (while shooting a TV show and looking for desert elephant), all on my own and I began to think. It was hot – about 100F. I had been in the bush and hadn’t had a shower for a couple of days.
‘How nice it would be right now to have a shower,’ I thought. But it being so hot, the effort to set one up seemed too much. So instead, I pulled an ice-cold coke from the fridge, sat and began dreaming.
The vehicle I was driving was a Toyota Land Cruiser 105 Station-wagon. This vehicle is a 100-series, but with an 80-series chassis – to my mind, one of the most outstanding 4×4 vehicles ever produced by Toyota. But being a station-wagon meant it has its limitations in terms of living out of for extended periods. So my mind drifted toward the Land Cruiser 78-series wagon, known in Australia and some other countries, as the Troopy. This basic light truck with its cavernous rear load bay would make the perfect basis for a live-in camper style vehicle, while still being small enough for use as an overland transport that could reach places larger trucks simply cannot go. This would be my 5th Land Cruiser and 11th 4×4.
Jump forward 12 months.
At the time of my musings, the Troopy was due for release in South Africa in a few months time. I had seen them and envied them on many a trip, but had never driven one. But as they were reputed to be one of the best overland platforms available, I thought,
‘How could I go wrong?’ And I was right.
Feature length full HD video
The story of that vehicle and the three years of its designing, building and testing became part of a South African TV series, as well as a number of YouTube videos, first released in 2012. They concluded with the forth one, released this year (2015). Download the video here. It is a large file, as it is full HD. (±5GB).
What I have written here is a bit of background to that story, as I feel compelled to thank those who got involved, and dreamt along with me.
Toyota South Africa marketing
Since 1999, when Toyota South Africa loaned me a Land Cruiser 90 Prado for a year, I have been on very good terms with them. I had over the years, became what they called, a ‘brand ambassador’. While I didn’t mind the label, it probably wasn’t all good. As a journalist, trying to be as objective as possible, and then having a manufacturer claim me as one of their own, wasn’t all good for my reputation. I do not like being labeled a ‘Land Rover man’, or ‘Toyota man’. I am not unhappy with ‘4×4 man’. I love all 4x4s. I just love some more than others. However, what this did mean was that the door was open to working with Toyota on new projects. Whereas with other manufacturers I still had to beat down the door to get it open, with Toyota it was always ajar.
Press fleet vehicles
After homologation, testing and the press release of a new model, several press vehicles normally go up for sale. The timing for the Troopy was perfect. With the press launch looming, I made my move.
There were two Troopys allocated for press duties. One had been earmarked for a wildlife research project, and the second could be mine if we could strike a deal. My offer was that they would extend its press life by one year, and then sell it to me, cost less depreciation. Because I would be doing major modifications to the load bay, they would not be able to sell it as a standard vehicle afterwards, so buying it had to be part of the deal. As usual I had to detail all the media coverage, with column inches, number of photos and TV show broadcast times. They agreed that I would run it for one year, and then buy it.
Cool! I was getting me a Troopy!
There were no limitations to what I could do with this vehicle and never before had I been given so such space and versatility with which to go mad. The Troopy platform is indeed stunning as a overland truck. It has so much going for it. The details, and the motivation for each modification, are quite well explained in the video. And the feedback from those who have seen the completed vehicle has been as gratifying as the project itself.
My fully remodelled Troopy’s first public appearance was at the Getaway Show, Johannesburg, September 2012, South Africa’s largest travel and outdoor expo. I was told by three separate individuals, that they considered it as, The Best Car On Show. This was not the prestigious award of the same name presented by the organizers to a vehicle, which always turned out to be on one of the big, lavish stands. I might not have won the official award, but what I did win was the approval of those who really mattered—4×4 fans.
A year’s frustration turned out to be a blessing in disguise
A year after acquiring the Cruiser, I contacted Toyota Marketing, who, in the meantime, had had a staff reshuffle. The new man on the block was, I think, I little bit too stressed to handle the handover.
“Can you keep it for another year? He asked. Of course I could. Soon, that chap was offered another job so only lasted nine months. By the time another year had passed, another manager was sitting in his chair. I had to re-explain the deal, and resend all the details on all the TV and magazine coverage I’d created. Fortunately she was fully aware of the project, and had been one of those who had voted to do it in the first place. Delays were heaped on delays until it was almost three years since the handover.
“Andrew. Do this last TV series, and I promise we will sort out the takeover.” So I took it to Botswana to shoot for my TV series, and then returned to ‘settle up’. We sat in her office for only five minutes.
“ We are very happy with this project. It’s turned out better than expected,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to stretch it out.” Now, that is what one really wants to hear from a sponsor. But actions speak louder than words. I am pleased to boast, that she then handed me the keys, and said, “That’s it then. The car is yours”.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Yes. Payment settled.” Of course I was over the moon. They had given me the car. The fact I can boast that about a sponsor is worth more than the car itself.
The vehicle has been displayed on another four expos in South Africa and in 2015 I took it to Abenteuer Allrad in Germany, Europe’s biggest expo. I had never seen so many Troopy campers in one place. There were probably ten variations on show. And even there, my one attracted huge attention, particularly from the builders of the others. They came over and took hundreds of photos.
At first, I thought my idea of a lift up camper conversion was unique. It turned out that builders in Germany had been doing something similar for years. But I decided that my ideas could still be fresh. As it turned out, some elements of my design are unique. I think the bed arrangement is far better than anything anyone else is doing. And, as far as I am concerned, so is the overall practicality. Then again, I may be biased. While browsing all the other designs at Abenteuer Allrad, , with the view to improving mine, while there were several interesting alternatives, not one idea jumped out as being better. There was one exception. My water heater solution is the only part of my design that I would not repeat, given the opportunity to do it all again.
In September 2014 I took it into Botswana. I wanted to explore Botswana, to find out if travelers could still enjoy the magic of the Kalahari while avoiding the often crowded and always expensive national parks. The shoot resulted in two episodes, and the final trip for my Land Cruiser in Southern Africa. I then put it on a ship and brought it to my home in the UK.
Generosity and marketing
Of all those who also put their heart into this project, it was Alu-Cab in Cape Town, South Africa who added their soul. They were not the first people that I took my idea to, but they were the first who were as interested in my ideas as their own. Others just wanted to build it they way they wanted it. But I wanted to try my ideas. Alu-Cab poured in their expertise and between the two of us, we built something spectacular. The design was then adapted by them to other vehicles like Defender, and the Troopy and Defender campers are now an important part of their business.
I wish to thank all those who contributed, especially these other significant contributors:
Baillies Off Road: Safari Snorkel and fuel tank.
R&D Gobi-X. Rock sliders and under engine protection.
LA Sport: Rear bumper, wheel carrier, winch and bull-bar.
For the list-minded among you, here is the full list of modifications and accessories.
Toyota Green Dark Olive (Professional repaint from original white. Colour is Toyota 6H9 Greyish olive)
4,2L 6-cyl, 1HZ engine.
Driver and passenger airbags.
Central, keyless locking.
Immobilizer with alarm (electronic with bypass).
Five-speed manual gearbox.
Two-speed transfer gearbox.
Auto free-wheel front hubs with manual over-ride.
Front and rear diff locks (Electric OE)
Two fuel tanks. (more details below)
Modifications and accessories:
Bull Bar. Airbag compatible TJM.
Bash plate. Gobi-X. Protects steering rods.
Suspension upgrade – EFS springs and XSJ gas shocks, greaseable rear spring shackles.
Powerbrake upgraded front brake discs and pads
Turbo-charger. This is a low-pressure turbine, designed to boost power with a limiter to maintain engine reliability.
Steering damper (IFS gas)
VPS Protection film on bonnet, front wings, headlamps, rear wheel-arches
Air-springs (Firestone) on rear axle. To assist stability when at full load or towing.
Battery split-charge system with Ctek DC-DC and Smartpass high-amp charger.
Auxiliary batteries: Two, 70-amp, full deep cycle Orbital Blue-Top.
Awning (Ezi-Awn Batwing 270°) Time to erect ±30 seconds. Time to close ±45 seconds
Water tanks. Two. ±50L + ±30L. One with tap. One with electric pump and shower. External fillers.
Air tyre pump installed in engine bay with hose.
Tinted glass anti-smash on all windows behind front seats.
Wheel Arch flares – colour coded with protective plastic.
Safari Snorkel raised air intake.
Two anti-theft systems. One electronic with over-ride (OE), plus one hidden cut-off switch.
Sound deadening in rear cabin.
Cantek canvas AutoGraph waterproof seat covers with heated seat pads.
Takmat sound insulation floor covering in cab, waterproof, washable.
Rear axle diff lock actuator – heavy-duty protection plate, replaces flexible OE unit.
Replacement rear bumper for twin wheel carrier with towing ball, suitable for jacking.
Twin spare wheel carrier arms and brackets.
Single spare wheel carrier on rear door for city use.
Two fuel tanks. Standard front: 90L. Upgrade back ±175L, with dash gauges. Range ±900 miles (1400kms).
TJM 9500LB winch with plasma rope.
Winch cut-off switch in engine bay.
Centre floor console. Anodized black aluminum.
Centre floor storage box.
Safe (Steel, with lock, well-hidden in the back)
1000W pure-sine wave inverter with ‘shore power’ system.
Load-bay is wired for 220-V system to run laptops, chargers etc.
Side opening (RHS) with gas struts and locks.
LED strip lights int and ext. A total of six.
MadMan engine monitor including EGT.
Tyre-Co tyre pressure monitor. Wireless.
Roller drawer, storage boxes, interior working surfaces.
Rock-sliders (Full length, Gobi-X)
Rear fog light with illuminated dash switch.
BF Goodrich AT tyres. Two unused. Four with ±8000 miles.
Wheel rims. XD Alloys. 17″. Six.
Tent conversion. Flip-up. Time to erect ±23 seconds. Time to close ±30 seconds. Live-in unique camper design.
Reading LEDs in tent (2).
Hella HID spot lights with switch and auto-off.
Fog lights fitted in bull-bar, with switch.
Door pockets – as fitted to 80-series Land Cruiser VX.
Fridge/freezer – 55L double-compartment compressor type with dash remote control.
Fridge – 11L for drinks and snacks between front seats (armrest).
Overhead stowage shelf with power boxes and 220v for charging.
Overhead stowage compartments for light stuff e.g. raincoats etc.(2)
Fire extinguisher rear powder.
Rear access step. Can be swapped for tow ball (included).
Rear access roof ladder.
Solar panel 180W HIT high-voltage.
Blue Sky energy Powerpoint-tracker solar regulator with cut-off switch.
Sound system, integrated Garmin GPS, 4 speakers, DVD player, Pioneer sub-woofer.
Garmin GPS Tracks4Africa software installed.
Privacy roll-up blinds.
Water heater and shower and pump.
Full underbody and chassis anti-rust treatment.
Tie down rails.
Rear door allu panels and boxes.
Rear power sockets.
The end . . . . . . . . . .
Written July 8 2015.
Andre St Pierre White