Welcome to our forth and final installment of Land Cruiser Troopy Camper Conversion. In Part 4, Sheri and I return to Cape Town to oversee completion of our build and prepare for departure. During the final two months, it's all hands on deck as we work with Paul and the teams at R&D Offroad and Alu-Cab to smooth out the rough edges and undertake the tedious business of transforming Maggie into a comfortable and road ready overland camper.
Completing the Build
With Southern Africa’s winter looming, we were eager to complete work and hit the road. Launching our trip at the beginning of Southern Africa’s winter was always the goal. It’s an ideal time for wildlife photography as temperatures are mild, skies are perpetually blue, and wildlife is easy to spot.
In May, we returned to Truckee, CA to prep for our return to Africa. Once again, our stay was all business as we sourced equipment for our Land Cruiser and prepared for another extended trip abroad. It was a month long blur as we traveled to Santa Barbara for doctors visits, picked up camera equipment in San Luis Obispo, and made runs to Reno to winterize motorcycles and take care of a myriad of other to-do’s. In between, we managed an overnight in San Francisco to visit friends and that was pretty much it. It was time to return to Cape Town.
In early June, we were on a flight to South Africa and, once again, we were loaded down with as much as we could carry. Much of it was equipment needed to complete the build. The rest was gear for our upcoming trip. Most of it arrived with us. What didn’t arrive received an all-expense-paid holiday to Seattle courtesy of American Airlines.
Returning to Cape Town energized us. With no return ticket, it was time to wrap thing up and hit the road. To kick things off, we met with Paul and the team at R&D to walk through progress made while we were away. I admit we were on edge - flush with nervous excitement. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what we’d find. At the start of the build, I wasn’t completely confident the fabrication team at R&D got our vision. In retrospect, my uncertainty likely came down to the level of customization, which was a little different than R&D’s previous projects.
So what then was our reaction? In short, we were quite pleased. With her pop-top roof and custom interior installed, Maggie looked transformed. Everything was polished perfect. I have to hand it to Paul and the team at R&D. They understood our vision and clearly worked overtime to ensure our first impression was positive. It worked. Maggie’s unveiling exceeded expectations.
On the surface, Maggie appeared ready for departure. But, as the saying goes, beauty is skin deep. Under the hood, much remained to be done. At the unveiling, Maggie was ready in much the same way a prototype supercar is ready when unveiled at the Geneva auto show. She was photo perfect but unfit to drive off the stage.
The next few days were the hardest of the build. Following the unveiling we were excited. Soon, however, our excitement was replaced with nervousness. We were overwhelmed. Digging back into the project, it didn’t take long to realize just how much work was yet to be done. Our longstanding goal was to be on the road by June. But with (at the very most) three week to go, it seemed unlikely we would be departing anytime soon.
In the days following Maggie’s unveiling, we progressed backward as our picture perfect Land Cruiser was deconstructed to make everything work. First, part of the storage system came out. Then the water tank came off. Soon after the seat covers were removed… Somewhere along the way, the exhaust was missing too. It’s a great example of how going forward sometimes means taking a few steps back.
I liken the remaining work to the ‘details’ when planning a wedding. If the fitment, pop-top roof, and storage system are analogous to selecting the date, church, and reception site, then what remained was akin to ironing out details like the guest list, photographer, and invitations:
“Do we really need to invite your Aunt Mabel? Don’t you remember how she stripped off her clothes and danced on the picnic table at the family reunion? How did that even happen? There wasn’t even any alcohol. Can you imagine what she’ll be like with alcohol? Let’s not invite her. Your mom probably won’t even notice she’s missing.”
“$5,000 for a photographer? What the %$#@?? Where do we draw the line on all this spending? Can’t we save some money and just have everyone take selfies? Maybe we can put a selfie stick on each table or something. We could tie cute bows around them. They’ll look lovely.”
“OK, so we really need to make a decision on invitations? Which one of the 832 different stationery options do you like? Maybe we can start with the finish? I was thinking linen but could totally do matte as well. Before we decide, maybe we should finalize the weight. I think I read somewhere you’re supposed to select the weight first. Or do you want to figure out the thickness first? No, let’s just decide on weight. Didn’t you say you like the 80lbs? Or was it 60lbs? I told you we should be writing this stuff down. Now I can’t remember. I don’t even care anymore. Let’s just go with some paper from our ink jet printer."
Our details ran the gamut. The storage system and pop-top needed refinement. The water system needed to be installed. The windows still needed security film, tinting, mosquito protection, and blackout shades. The seat cushions needed to be sewn. The exhaust system needed to be re-routed. The flooring needed to be laid. The driving lights replaced with HID. The airbag light debugged. And on it went. It was a lot, and we soon raced straight past our June departure deadline.
The Daily Grind
In June and July we were all over the place. Bouncing back and forth like ping pong balls between R&D Offroad, Alu-Cab, outside vendors, and an ever growing list of retailers supplying everything from flooring and window treatments to magnets and security locks. Here are some excerpts from our journal for June and July:
Wednesday, June 15:
Met with R&D team about window security. Many ideas discussed but no decisions. More thought needed.
Seat cushions back from the upholsterer. Look nice but center cushion too big and doesn’t fit. Side cushion doesn’t split to allow access to the toilet. Will have to be reworked.
Got Maggie back from Toyota after second failed attempt to identify airbag light issue. Johan said he’d take a look. Maggie has been pulled apart by R&D trying to ID problem.
Wednesday, June 22:
Took Maggie to Powerflow to re-route exhaust. Everyone loves the sound but after driving concluded it’s too loud. We’ll be lucky not to scare an elephant into charging. Will return tomorrow to have Powerflow quiet noise.
Met with Soundmatch to discuss speaker options. Thought it would be an easy install but they couldn’t find place to mount. How on earth did our tiny car in California have nine speakers yet we can’t find room for two in a Land Cruiser. Back to the drawing board.
Met with Paul to review tools & spares. Paul added to our list. Revised version looks long enough to fill half our storage with spare parts. I thought the whole point of buying a new car was that we didn’t need spares.
Saturday, July 2:
Picked up Maggie from Alu-Cab. Big improvement. They replaced tent closures, installed mosquito net and sunshade on hatch, added pockets to tent, and fixed runs in paint. Forgot to replace bed board, which is still too big. Will return to address later.
Friday, July 15:
We’re now one month past June 17 target departure with much left to do. Getting nervous about missing cool/dry months in Southern Africa.
Dropped Maggie off at tinting company for the third attempt at fixing botched security film. Let’s hope third time is the charm!
Took Maggie home for quick test. First night sleeping in tent. Major milestone. Tent works great. Very pleased with ease-of-access and fairy lights (nice warm light).
Wednesday, July 20:
Delivery day! Picked up Maggie from R&D and went for celebratory lunch at Primi Patty. Party was short-lived. Started raining when we arrived at restaurant. Tent leaking in two places. Called Alu-Cab. Warwick said bring truck ASAP and they’d sort it out. Jeremy offered his Ranger to drive until they fix the problem. Thankful for that. Fingers crossed it will be ready tomorrow.
In a nutshell, June and July were all about ironing out details, tough decision-making and problem-solving. Progress was slow, which put pressure on us to get it done and depart. It was a phase we found simultaneously exhilarating, frustrating, challenging, and stressful. Emotions that my brother, fresh off his home renovation, reminded me are the norm rather than the exception. It’s something we knew going into the project but often forgot. Custom building anything – a home, car, sailboat, or whatever else – almost certainly comes with an endless sea of difficult decisions, construction hiccups, and production delays. In effect, it’s all par for the course.
The truth is, while frustrating at times, the whole experience constitutes one of those memorable times in our lives we now reflect on with nostalgia. Cape Town is a wonderful city, one of our favorite places on earth, and staying longer than expected was no hardship. It’s one of the reasons we chose to do the work there in the first place.
Returning home to Stellenbosch after a long day did much to keep things in perspective. Picturesque vineyards, backed by mountains, line the road on the drive home from R&D Offroad. Returning home from Alu-Cab offers a stunning drive up the coast. Put simply, it’s the type of pinch-yourself perfect daily commute we dreamt of during the countless hours spent sitting in traffic in DC and Chicago.
Our daily routine was pretty ideal. We usually started the day with a flat white or latte at Deluxe in Stellenbosch. It was the perfect way to prime the brain for a long morning of problem-solving at R&D Offroad. Lunch was hit or miss. Often there was only time to scarf something down. Time permitting, however, we tried to find some place interesting to break up the day. Often this meant lunch at Caffe Neo on the water in Sea Point or one of the many vineyards around Stellenbosch. Our afternoons were frequently spent running errands between stores, vendors, R&D Offroad, and Alu-Cab before returning to Stellenbosch at the end of a long day.
Stellenbosch, and to a lesser extent Constantia, have always been our locations of choice during extended stays in South Africa. Tucked just out of reach of the hustle and bustle of Cape Town, Stellenbosch is our oasis. It’s the place we go to unwind at the end of a long day in the city. And to unwind, we often grab a beer or glass of wine at one of Stellenbosch’s many cafes like Manoushe, Thirsty Scarecrow, or Craft.
From the time we officially took delivery of Maggie on July 20th, it took another three weeks to prepare for departure and work all the little post delivery bugs out.
The Finished Product
On August 11, we were ready – departure day at last. Behind us was a yearlong process, which had been challenging and indeed trying at times. The end product, however, was well worth every bit of effort and expense.
As I write this post, it’s been nearly a year since we left Cape Town and we couldn’t be more pleased with Maggie’s performance. In Southern Africa we put Maggie through her paces traveling over 70% on unpaved roads (the majority of that in the bush) as we photographed wildlife in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. With temperatures topping 113 degrees, it was a hot and dusty slog through a relentless combination of sand, rock, and water. In November 2016, we shipped Maggie to South America to continue our journey, heading for Patagonia to photograph pumas, condors, sea lions, and penguins. Currently, we’re on the Carretera Austral where it’s winter and Maggie’s battling an entirely different environment. It’s a land of snow, ice, and bitter cold that’s challenging us in new ways. Through it all, Maggie’s proven every bit as comfortable and capable as we hoped. She’s our perfect overland vehicle – the manifestation of a decade-long dream.
Below you’ll find an overview of the finished product with detailed specs and photos. Want to see Maggie in action? Be sure to follow our journey here on wanderlibre.com, as well as Facebook and Instagram, as we’ll be posting regular photos and updates on Maggie as she negotiates the world by road.
Detailed Build Specs:
- 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser 78 Series Troop Carrier
Engine, Air, Fuel & Exhaust:
- 4.2L (model: 1HZ) 6 cylinder diesel (naturally aspirated)
- 180L Fuel Capacity (90L main tank + 90L sub tank)
- 2x Fuel Filters (1x Racor filter 445T 10 Micron + 1x Toyota factory filter)
- Custom Side Exhaust (necessary to make room for SS water tank)
- Safari Snorkel: Cruiser 70/76
Transmission & Differentials:
- Factory Five-Speed Manual Transmission
- Manual / Auto Locking Front Hubs
- Front / Rear Factory Locking Differentials
- Raised Breathers (Diffs & Transfer Case)
Wheels / Tires:
- 6 x 16” Tubeless Steel Wheel
- 6 x BFG Mud Terrain KM2 (285/75/R16)
- Gobi-X Dual Wheel Carrier (w/ custom Hi-Lift Jack & shovel mount)
- Viair 400H Air Compressor (installed under hood)
- Koni Heavy Track Raid Shocks (Rear)
- Old Man Emu Coil Springs (Front)
- Old Man Emu Sport Shock (Front)
- Old Man Emu Steering Dampener
- Old Man Emu Leaf Springs (Rear)
Protection and Recovery:
- ARB Commercial Bumper – Non-Flared
- Gobi-X Steering Guard
- Gobi-X Rear Bumper
- Warn 9.5XP-S Winch (w/ 90’ Plasma Cable)
- Blue Sea Winch Cut Off Switch
- MaxTrax (4x)
- Hi-Lift Jack 1.2M
- Mean Green Recovery Hitch
- Assorted Recovery Equipment (tow rope, snatch block, shackles, etc)
- Dual USB Dash Socket
- BMW Nav V GPS w/ Hardwired 12v Mount
- 3 socket holder with 2xHella and Dual USB
- USB on underside of roof shelf
- Custom Vented Electrics Box mounted behind passenger seat
- 220v Marine Quality Caravan Plug
- CTEK D250S DC to DC Charger
- CTEK MXS10 220V Charger
- Victron BMV-702 Battery Monitor
- Victron 800W Pure Sine Inverter
- LED Exterior lights
- Lead Crystal 120Ah battery
- Solbian Flexipanel 100W Solar Panel
- National Luna lights on sides and back of truck
Cooking & Water:
- Engel 32L Fridge/Freezer
- Stainless Steel Countertop for easy cleaning
- Dometic VA 8005 SS Marine Sink
- Shurflo Aqua King Jr Water Pump
- Nature Pure QC2 Water Purifier w/ Pre-Filter
- Stainless Steel ~75L Water Tank (Chassis Mounted)
- Gobi-X Stainless Steel Folding Table
- Origo 3000 Non-Pressurized 2 Burner Alcohol Stove
- Outback Adventures Trailgater Stainless Steel Drop Down Table with Bamboo Cutting Board
- Alu-Cab Custom Pop-Top Roof
- Webasto Airtop 2000ST 12V Heater
- Custom Cushions for Living Area with Melvill and Moon fabric
- Melville and Moon Passenger and Driver Seat Covers
- Custom Made Mosquito Window Coverings
- Sony Touch Screen Stereo
- Toyota Black Rubber Floor Mats
- Dometic Marine Toilet
- 12v Hella Turbo Fan
- LED Interior lights
- Fairy Lights (Warm White)
- Built-in Shower w/ Removable Hose at Back Door
- Lewmar Marine Roof Hatch
- Front Runner Chairs
- Gobi-X Fold Down Rear Step
- HID Driving Lights w/ +4k Lumen Spotlight
- Custom Made Window Covers
- Security Mesh Guards at Rear Doors
- Drop-Down Lockable Cargo Barrier
- 6mm Removable Security Bars (Side windows)
- Llumar 200 Micron Security Film w/ 15% Tint Rear / 70% Front
- Rear Spotlight with Emergency Switch
- Tuffy Series II Console (Lockable Box)
- Fuel Shut-Off Switch
- Main Battery & Auxiliary Battery Cutoff Switches
- Basic Alarm System (No Immobilizer)
Camper Conversion Highlights:
- Pop-top serves as bed for two adults, expanded headroom / living area (when bed is stowed) and an elevated game viewing platform.
- When closed, Lewmar marine hatch provides access to roof for game viewing / photography
- Checker-plate roof surface is capable of supporting the weight of an adult
- Roof has flexible gear rails / tie down system for two kayaks, 2 pairs of MAXTRAX, and a solar panel
- Tent windows can be opened / removed for game viewing / photography
- Roof can be opened / closed from inside vehicle
Storage System / Living Area:
- Integrated storage system in cargo area doubles as comfortable living area with built-in seating, kitchen, and toilet
- Seating area easily converts to second bed for 2 adults
- Easy access from front seats or cargo doors via center isle
- Ample lockable storage for photography equipment, electronics, and other gear
- Generous in-wall storage compartments capable of holding spare parts and other supplies.
- Full indoor kitchen with removable stove (for outside use), sink, refrigerator, storage for cookware and food, and stainless steel counter space for food prep inside and outside vehicle
- Built-in water purification system with minimum of 95L capacity (~75L SS Tank + 20L Swiss Military Bag)
- Integrated marine toilet and outdoor shower
Special Thanks to Paul Marsh and the Guys at R&D Offroad and Alu-Cab
To be clear, we are demanding and particular. To that end, we’re grateful for the significant support provided by Paul Marsh, as well as Chris, Johan, Shane and the entire R&D team, Jeremy and Warrick at Alu-Cab, and the many other contributors that made our project possible. Our Land Cruiser build was truly a collaborative team effort.
Paul was the glue that pulled all the pieces together. With his help, we sourced our dream vehicle and transformed our vision into the plan that guided R&D, Alu-Cab, and numerous other vendors' work.
Thanks to Alu-Cab for quite literally putting a roof over our heads. We’ve now lived in Maggie nearly a year and our pop-top has proven an invaluable contributor to the comfortable little place that’s our home on the road.
And special thanks to Chris Ingram – captain of the R&D team. Through it all, Chris demonstrated an unyielding commitment to ensuring our satisfaction – reworking anything we requested, as many times as necessary to ensure our complete satisfaction. He is an excellent example of exceptional customer service and a major reason we’re pleased with the end result.