I will not go into great depth on how to choose an overland vehicle, people much cleverer than I have already written tons of literature about this subject. But in my search for the perfect overland vehicle, I quickly realized that there is no such thing. It is always a compromise in budget, size, accessibility, comfort, and drivability, just to name a few. How cool would it be to call Bimobil (a German expedition camper builder) and order a brand new customized Unimog EX 435 camper with all right specs, including eight forward gears, six reverse gears, portal axles, a luxury bathroom, lifting bed, Corian kitchen table, build-in generator etc.? But with a supercar-like price tag of around Euro 300,000, it’s out of range for me, and even if it wasn’t, the running costs would probably make my trip short.
As I plan to travel alone most of the time, I downsized my needs to a car that can be shipped in a container (safer, easier, and mostly cheaper, especially if you can share a container with someone), is reliable (a relative concept, though), can handle rough roads (4×4 and high ground clearance), not too electronic, and preferably already converted into a camper. That still left me with a lot of choices, as in this range you can go with everything from a Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 to a Lada Niva.
In summer 2020, I coincidentally stumbled across an ad on the French internet site www.leboncoin.fr in which a 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ 80 was put up for sale. It was camper-modified by a professional and seemed to satisfy most of my needs. The only problem was that I was about to leave for vacation, so after a few e-mails with the private seller, he agreed to hold the car for me if I transferred a deposit to him. He was communicating in French, I in English, but thanks to Google Translate our correspondence at least seemed to make some sense for both of us. He sounded trustworthy and sometimes you just have to follow your gut. So, I transferred a relatively large amount to his account, went on vacation, and immediately after I came home, I flew to Southern France to check out the car. The seller, Jean-Marc, turned out to be a fantastic guy, living with his family in a beautiful house in the mountains between Cannes and Frejus. We spent most of the day checking the car, including on a lift, test drove it etc.
My main concern was rust, but as they rarely have snow in Southern France, the car was amazingly rust-free. In Northern Europe, where I live, you will never be able to find a 28-year-old car without serious rust issues. Considering the age of the car, the rest of it was in good shape too with nice modifications such as a 2-inch lift, Koni shocks and OME springs, a 100l auxiliary diesel tank, a built-in compressor, Recaro seats, BFG A/T KO2 tires, Kaymar rear bar with swing arms, ARB front bumper with a winch, as well as an engine that had been rebuilt less than 35.000 km ago. Jean-Marc had a folder with all the receipts for what he had spent on the car during his ownership detailing how well he had taken care of it. The camper conversion was some years old, made professionally by a boat builder in Bretagne, France, and with some nice solutions, including a pop-up roof, kitchen section, Waeco shelf fridge, aux battery with an IBS-Tech dc to dc system, a 100l built-in water tank with pump, Webasto heater, and a solar panel on the roof.
The sole reason for selling the car was that Jean-Marc had bought an Iveco 4×4 camper as the family needed more space for their camping endeavors. So, I concluded the purchase, transferred the rest of the money to Jean Marc’s account and after signing a few papers the car was all mine. The family took me out for dinner in the evening, and after a short night’s sleep in a hotel nearby I was up and ready for the exciting 1,700 km drive home, the maiden trip in my first ever overland vehicle.
The drive home was a good way to get used to the car. I camped two nights in it on the way home and everything worked perfectly. I also decided to name the car “Toto”, as it in legal jargon (and in Latin) means “all included”, which fits perfectly with an overland vehicle that suits all your needs.
Sleeping below: Next thing was to make it possible to sleep “downstairs”, so to speak. Having a pop-up roof in fiberglass with tent fabric on the sides to sleep under is lovely and meets most of my needs. However, in very windy situations, or if you just want to lay low when sleeping in a big city etc., a possibility to sleep in Toto without popping up the roof can be useful. There was a bench downstairs already, but the bench was way too narrow for it to be a comfortable sleeping area, even for one person. So, I mounted flight tracks in the aisle between the bench and the kitchen section allowing me to use the portable tabletop in combination with a stack of two modified alu boxes as the foundation for an extended bed. I then ordered a mattress to fit, and Eureka!; an alternative and comfortable sleeping possibility had been created. Lastly, I mounted a curtain between the front seats and the camper area so that I can conceal the camper area from outside glaring if I ever want to go stealth camping.
The folding table is awesome. It folds down and out, creating a table with either one or two shelves with sides. Great for cooking in windy situations. For cooking outside, I bought a cheap portable camping stove to be used with small propane cylinders that can be bought at most places around the world. This will work as a supplement to the two burners in the inside kitchen area which are fueled by a 2 kg Camping Gaz bottle that is placed in a holder inside the car.
The jerry can holder is not for carrying fuel since the 200l capacity in the built-in diesel tanks is more than enough as it gives a range of about 1,300 – 1,600 km, depending on terrain and driving style. Thus, the holder instead carries a Spectre plastic jerry can for water, and another jerry can that looks like a can in appearance, but is for storage of stuff that is convenient to be reachable from the outside.
The Spectre can is pretty neat as it has a large opening in which you can dip down a 12v submersible pump and use it as an outside shower, or alternatively just doing the dishes. The can is black and in sunny conditions, the water in it will heat up very quickly. If the water is not as hot as you would like, you can easily boil a kettle of water and pour it down in the can to increase the temperature.
The look-alike jerry can is of metal and can be opened from the top by releasing the two hitches on the front. It is also lockable, and I use it for storing the submersible pump as well as other not-so-valuable stuff. You can even put a watertight washing bag in it and wash your clothes while on the go.
The two jerry cans are fastened by a steel wire with a lock. If you want to steal the cans, it is possible, but you will still have to cut the steel wire to get the cans out of the holder. Not top-notch security by any means but that’s how it works. The jerry can holder itself is bolted onto the swing arm with locknuts.
As opposed to a normal Landcruiser 80 series that is born with either barn doors or horizontally split tailgates, Toto has only one tailgate made of fiberglass. It was part of the camper conversion and I haven´t seen such a tailgate before. It is about 30 kg lighter than the metal door and rust is not an issue by nature. It works especially well as it without the lower tailgate part gives much easier access to the rear of the car, and the door gives you better protection from both the rain and the sun as it is much longer than the upper part of the split tailgate.
To get some protection for the mosquitoes and other annoying insects, I made a mosquito net with an elastic cord that fits the opening on the rear. It works like a charm.
On the inside of the rear door, I mounted 4 sucking cups with hooks, handy for a shower curtain in case you want to shower in natura.
On the other swing arm with the spare tire, I mounted a Bison Gear wheel strap with two brackets for a shovel and other stuff. On the tire itself, I mounted the infamous Traheroo trash bag.
Although I already have some storage place in the camper section (under the bench, in a cabinet beside the kitchen section etc.), I decided to buy two stackable alu boxes that can be strapped either in the aisle or behind the driver seat. As earlier mentioned, these alu boxes, when placed in the aisle, can also be used as a foundation for the extended sleeping area below.
Toto didn’t come with an awning but was prepared for one. Because of the longer tailgate, re. above, I did not need a batwing 270 degrees awning, so I just bought a 2x2m awning in the same color as the car.
When I bought Toto, he had a Ham radio as well as a UHF radio. The Ham was below the 1 Din stereo in the dashboard, so I removed the Ham and replaced the stereo with a 2 Din Pioneer stereo compatible with Apple car play etc., and including new and better speakers in the door panels and the dashboard. In addition, I connected a rear camera to the Pioneer, which activates whenever the car is put in reverse. It can also be activated manually on the stereo screen at any time. It is convenient if you want to check what is behind you, even when you go forward, or just want to be sure that you haven’t lost the spare wheel of the jerry can holder.
To mount various devices, I got hold of some Ram mounts to mount a mobile phone, a tablet, a Go-Pro camera and a Garmin Inreach. For the dashcam, I bought a Garmin Mini, which is mounted on top of the windscreen with a permanent power connection from the car battery. The dashcam has a micro-SD card and is connected via Bluetooth to the Garmin Mini app.
For the center console, I threw away the cheap factory plastic console and bolted on a lockable center console from Delta.
For a more comfortable ride, I managed to source an armrest for the Recaro seat on the driver’s side, but only for the right side as you rest your left arm on the door panel.
Finally, I mounted a fire extinguisher under the passenger seat. In some countries, it is mandatory by law, and in any case handy to have if something catches fire.
If you want to check where to get hold of some of the stuff mentioned above, please check the Gear-section. In the Gear-section there is also some camping stuff that I use when on tour.