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Overland vehicle build


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Not necessarily Africa related but at the urging of GW and AB here's some info about an overlanding camper I plan to build on a Landcruiser.


I currently only plan to use it in Oz but I've always wanted to overland through Africa so you never know.


The vehicle

I've had two Landcruisers before. I bought the first one because I looked at what farmers, telecom companies and mines use and 9 times out of 10 they use a Cruiser. There's a reason for that.


So what model? It has to be a tray back so forget 60/80/90/100/200 series. I love 40 series but realistically they are a bit long in the tooth these days. That leaves 70 series, I can't afford 78/79 and don't want all the electronics anyway, so we are down to the old faithful 75 series. I bought this.




I will remove the tray and canopy and build from the chassis up.


The capability


It should be able to do this



and this



and this



Not the Rubicon trail and not the stuff of legends but that's about the level of off-road ability you need to see most places in Oz. And remember this is an "overland vehicle" to live in, not a rock-crawling-bog-beating-no-guts-no-glory rig.


A standard 75 is pretty much ready to go really. It's already got duel tanks and I'll probably add a winch and lockers and when the job is finished I assume a lift and/or air bags. We'll see how low in the arse it is at that point.


The plan

I plan to build a subframe on a kinetic mount then a monocoque body using composite panels. I've only been working on the design for a couple of weeks but currently it looks like this




It's a "tilt top" hinged at the front with solid sides (I hate canvas although there might be some).


I could start building next week but will probably wait until the new year, better to do more research and planning and hopefully I'll get some more ideas before it's set in stone.


That will do for now, I've designed most of the mounting systems and a lot of the house plus researched the solar etc so can show a lot more if there's any interest.

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Nice project! Are you going to fit a bull-bar at the front? And what about a build-in watertank?

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Are you going to fit a bull-bar at the front?

You can't buy a vehicle in Oz without a bull bar :), well OK you can but yes it has one already.


At this point we should have 200ltrs of water, I'd like more but it's a pretty small vehicle so we'll see.


Here's a cut and paste from another forum with the basic design criteria



So what's the basic design criteria for the Graynomad Overland Vehicle (GOV ? smile.gif) and why build one at all when I already have a fantastic 6x6 overland vehicle?


A few years ago we spent three months living in (or rather beside) our 45-series Landcruiser (story here if you're interested). For the first two months or so of that trip the weather was great and we wondered why we needed a motorhome at all. Then the weather turned to crap and we knew, there's no substitute for a hard-sided warm box when you get hit by a storm or freezing temperatures.


Still the freedom you get from having a small vehicle cannot be overestimated. You can just poke you nose down any fire trail with little thought about getting back out. The same cannot be said for a 14-tonne truck.


So as you may know on our return from that trip we pulled Wothehellizat Mk1 apart and rebuilt it as Mk2 which was a lot smaller. Mk2 is great but it's still too large to go to many of the places we know and those we don't for that matter.


Therefore a small Landcruiser-size vehicle with a house that can be lived in is what we want. We'll be keeping Wot Mk2, think of the Cruiser as a holiday home.


So the basic criteria are




The house should be as small as possible while remaining practical. This is one reason a Landcruiser has been chosen as the host chassis, I think that's as small as you can go and still be comfortable for two people to live inside for long periods.


If possible the body should not protrude from the cab's lateral envelope (the what?), in other words it shouldn't be any wider than the cab. This means about 1700mm (67").


Overall hieght currently calculated at 2350mm (7'10") but that still depends on a lot of things.





The body should be a light as possible. I always over-engineer things but this time I really hope to make a light-weight body. To this end it will be a monocoque design using composite panels (foam/fibre glass), the only steel will be in the sub frame and a few reinforcing points for spare wheel hanging etc. The sub frame should be light enough for me to lift, not that I have to lift it, that just seems like a good a design goal.


The Cruiser has a payload capacity of approx 1200kgs (2650lbs), the finished product including all fittings, water etc should be well under this limit. I have a target mass of 1000kgs (2200lbs) but that's just a wet-finger-in-the-air guesstimate.




We do not plan to live "beside" the rig as is common with smaller 4x4s. The house must be comfortable enough for us to live inside regardless of the weather.


This isolates you from the crap on the ground and means you can camp anywhere you can find a few square feet of flat land while paying no attention to long grass, mud etc.


Being off the ground also keeps you away from many annoying insects, most notably sand flies.


Pop top


The primary pop top (or is it a tilt top) will be raised and lowered by 24" electric actuators. The secondary tilt top will be raised manually, it may or may not have gas struts.


A backup system has to be devised.


Solid sides


I do not like canvas, I know it's light but it is noisy and almost impossible to insulate. So the primary tilt top has solid sides. However the secondary tilt top (over the Luton peak) may have to have fabric sides, this is TBD.




Of course these will be fabric. There is no obvious way to incorporate roll-out awnings into the body such that they are not exposed to trees etc, so I plan to add sail track on both sides and run tarps through that.


Charging sources


Solar and the vehicle's engine (via a DC/DC charger) will be the only sources of power. There will be no generator.


Depending on the inverter chosen it may be possible to charge from shore power as well but this is not a necessity as I can't see us being plugged in more than a few days a year.


Solar panels


We will be using the new semi-flexable panels, these are about 25% of the weight of standard glass panels. They will not however be glued to the roof despite this being a commonly-touted feature. This is a double whammy that stops heat dissipation from the panels (bad for them) and also looses you your tropical roof.


There will be provision for 1 or 2 remote panels that can be placed out in the sun.


At this point I'm looking at 720 watts on the roof and possibly another 480 watts remote.




The only fuel required will be diesel, there will be no petrol or gas (propane) used. This is for a few reasons, safety, space, convenience and cost. As the vehicle already has allowance for 180ltrs (47usg) of diesel it makes sense to use that to the best advantage. Any other fuel requirements mean the need for jerry cans, gas bottles etc, all of which take up room.


Propane can be difficult to get in the outback and even if it's available it can cost a fortune. Also all propane work has to be done by a tradesman and certified.


So I plan to add a third diesel tank, this of course takes up room as well but it is multi-purpose in that while the diesel in that tank is primarily for the cooker it can be siphoned into the vehicle tanks.


As for cooking on the diesel cooker, nowhere near as good as gas but then I don't do the cooking, I do make the coffee but I'll have an electric kettle for that smile.gif





It would be nice to have allowance for about 200lts (53usg). This should be achievable by building the tanks into the body. There will be 2 tanks, one for potable water and one for other water. It will be possible to transfer water from the "potable" to the "other" tanks.


The potable tank will in fact be two tanks with a balancing pipe, thus if one fails it can be isolated.




Two 24v DC water pumps, nominally one for drinking water and another for fresh water. But valves to allow each to work on either tank as a redundancy measure.


External pump-in-a-box for filling from rivers etc.




A range of about 2000km (1240 miles) is the goal. With the standard two fuel tanks and the third tank I install this should be achievable.


Why such a long distance? Are there no service stations in Australia? There are plenty of course, I suspect that a 400k (250 mile) range will get you between services stations just about anywhere except a couple of long desert crossings. But in the outback the fuel costs are extortionate. Much better to fuel up in a large town and not have to do so again until the next large town. That can easily be 1000k (620 miles) but if you do any off road work and/or make some detours you will use a lot more fuel.


Hense the 2000k range.




Assuming you are in the right place at the right season in Australia one would expect to encounter temperatures no higher than the low 40s centigrade and anywhere in 30s would be the norm. Heat is difficult to get away from, best not to bother trying and live with it, but there are things you can do in the design to help.


Ventilation — There are three important features for a living quarters, ventilation, ventilation and ventilation. You can can any two of these as long as one of them is ventilation. This means big shutters that open 100% and plenty of them, not the poky little windows common in European overland vehicles.


Tropical roof — A second skin to your roof with an air gap, the larger the gap the better but on a motorhome usually 25mm (1") is all you want to do to keep the height down. This tropical roof is easily obtained with no extra hardware by covering your vehicle with solar panels.


Fans — They use naff-all power and really help when there's no breeze. In general AC fans are better than DC and the larger the quieter. Small DC fans make a heck of a racket which is annoying during the day and impossible to live with at night when you are trying to sleep. That said I have an idea to used an array of computer fans with PWM speed control. More later.


Air conditioner


What for?




This vehicle is designed only for use in Australia, as such it should never see serious cold weather. While it is possible to have snow even in summer in some places the temps will seldom get below freezing, so all the stuff the guys in the northern hemisphere have to address (lagged pipes, heated grey water tanks etc) is not relevant to this design. That said it can get pretty darn cold in the desert at night (I have seen bowls of water freeze over when left outside) and we do plan to spend a lot of time in the high country (with the above possibility of snow) so the house has to be well insulated.




None as such, but I may have a clever idea to use the diesel cooker. Watch this space.




The back wall will have a Dometic double-glazed window with builtin fly screen and blind. In bad/cold weather this will be our window to the world.


All other openings are just that, openings with no glazing. Shutters provide protection from sun and rain and I'll make magneticly-attached screens to stop the bugs.




The house electrical system is primarily a 24-volt system. 12 volts will also be available as will 240. At this point a 1000-watt inverter is planned, this will allow the use of small power tools such as a 4" grinder and our 800-watt kettle.


24 volts is chosen over 12 mostly because that allows me to run my DC MIG welder directly from the battery bank but also because it halves the wire sizes required.




Lithium, specifically 8x 160Ah LiFe04 cells. People will argue about the numbers but these batteries have roughly 2-3 times the capacity of lead acid batteries for same Ah rating and they are much lighter.


So using a figure of 2.5x 160Ah of Lithium batteries is the same as 400Ah of lead acid batteries. The lithiums weigh 45kgs (100lbs) and the lead acids would weigh 120kgs (265lbs).


Lithiums are a bit harder to work with in a couple of ways but they have other features that makes them far superior to lead acid.




I don't want this to get too complicated, but then I am an electronics engineer and a guy's gotta have some fun.


I have no interest in fancy sound/video systems or the like but do like monitoring and control networks to keep track of the solar etc. So I may design a serial network of intelligent nodes for this purpose. (Actually it's already designed really).


Apart from that all the usual battery, water, temp monitors.




All LEDs of course. External work/security lights as well.




At this stage I plan a 3-point (triangle) mounting using the same of resilient mounts I used on Wothehellizat, just a smaller version.




Aluminium Kubelok with 8mm Coreflute infill.



  • 2x 70ltr DIY fridges, either can be set as a freezer.
  • Eberspacher X100 diesel cooker.
  • Electric blankets.
  • 800-watt kettle.



Porta potti, possibly a second cassette. Maybe a "composting" toilet? That needs some research.




None inside, sparrow wash or Whale pump with bucket outside.




Four toolboxes below sub frame level (actually part of the sub frame) and a single locker at the rear of the body for recovery gear, camp chairs etc.


Foot locker near entrance for shoes (assuming I buy some).


Hopefully heaps of internal storage.




Provision to apply a positive pressure to the house while driving to keep the dust out.




Provision for storage of 46 homebrew bottles and the drum.




Standard steel split rims with pizza-cutter tyres.




All appropriate belts and hoses. Spring and shocky bushes. Power steering, engine and diff oils, enough to do an oil change in the field. Two complete spare wheels/tyres and a couple of tubes.




Probably leave standard springs but add airbags on rear.




A good selection of tools, tyre levers etc. Electric rattle gun. Also 24V DC MIG welder.




ARB dual 6CFM compressor with 5ltr receiver.


Recovery gear

All the usual I guess, including

  • Electric winch.
  • Tirfor (because I already have one).
  • Snatch, extension, tree protector etc etc straps.
  • Ground anchor (Army spikes, DIY rack).
  • Front and rear e-lockers.
  • Maxtrax (or aluminium sand ladders).
  • High-lift jack.


  • Powder fire extinguishers,
  • Reusable water fire extinguisher.
  • First aid kit.
  • Iridium satellite phone.
  • Spot or InReach tracker gadget.

So that's a rough outline of the plan and all I can think of right now. I don't know if I can really afford things like the lockers so probably better to buy them first while still in a building frenzy, if I leave them till last I'll be gun shy of spending.



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armchair bushman

Very Keen to keep tabs on your progress. What computer programme did you use to build that model?

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After trying a lot of 3D packages and dropping them as being just too damn hard to learn I recently discovered Sketchup. It has it's quirks but I very simple to use and it's free.


I know I bang on about this only being for Oz and realistically that's probably as far as it will go, but taking to Africa is a possibility, a very slim one but possible none the less. So if anyone can think of something about this that is not suitable for Africa or alternatively think of something I haven't done that would be good please let me know.


One obvious thing I guess is the inability to climb over to the back from the cab, this would be very useful when spending the day with a pride of lions. Unfortunately I can think of no way to do that without losing too much storage.

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This looks fantastic. If I ever build such a thing (and I'd love to), I'll certainly modify a successful design by someone else. That could be yours :D

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armchair bushman

ya the lion thing is a bit of an issue. but not a situation that happens every day.

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Looking great.


I am busy with something similar.

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ya the lion thing is a bit of an issue. but not a situation that happens every day.

No, not enough to make a big change like that.



I am busy with something similar.

Maybe we should compare notes some time. (or even do a swap one day, ever thought about coming to Oz?)


Actually, I think I've just decided to totally change it and make it a more normal "live outside" design. This will be a lot simpler and cheaper. All subject to 'er indoors' approval of course.

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I am planning on taking mine to Oz one day. At one stage I was considering hiring a vehicle, but I am putting so much effort into this one that I have considered crossing NZ and OZ with it. I dont know the bad news with duties. I did put some ideas on the other thread.

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@@graynomad Each person has different needs. In South Africa they make the best off-road trailers with pop up tents, they also do a sort of bridge between off road trailer and caravan. The best off road trailers are made by http://www.metalian.co.za/ and the best off-road caravan trailers are http://www.bushlapa.com/


I visited both factories, and learned a great deal to help incorporate everything into a vehicle. Take a look at their systems and you will see how you can fit the same in vehicle. A great idea for an awning is here - http://www.headout.co.za/Headout%20adventure%20gear.html


i have realized that as clever as a roof top tent is, it has its draw backs. Firstly I am 50 yr old, and need to make the trip up and down the ladder a few times a night. Secondly as much as they advertise how easy it is to pop up and down, it is still a schlep and a ground tent is just as easy, especially as you have to pack up each time you want to drive. Thirdly it sucks fuel on your roof and weighs over 60kg. 4th you still need a tent for the lady to change, and as a base. So we opted for ground tent and comfortable stretcher beds and a few deck chairs and table to make a camp spot home.


Many people use a gas heater with pump for a shower. http://www.karibaproducts.co.za/kariba.php easy portable shower heater. We just have a black bag filled with water left in the sun for the day. - failing that working, cook a pot of water on the fire.


In my setup, I have one complete cupboard for tools, recovery equipment and medical stuff.


Compressor is essential, consider a fini 12v compressor. Its a great investment.


Although I fitted an electric winch on my vehicle, a Hydraulic winch is worth considering. I have the hydraulic winch on my one Jeep, and it will tow you hale way round the world without heating up.


I am not a great fan of air bag suspension. I have fitted it to my previous isuzu and to my jeep. Rather get stiffer springs or adjustable shocks to level your vehicle.


I love your choice of tyres - you are right of course. I went a bit overboard here. :D


Airconditioner is essential unless you are planning on leaving your wife behind.


Enjoy building.

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The best off road trailers

Some serious trailers there, I'm not a fan of trailers but they are nice in many ways and as you say they are a good source of ideas. I'll have a good trawl through their sites.


We have some pretty good trailer manufacturers here as well.


I also do not like RTTs although I can see some benefits to them.


I plan to sleep in the back of the vehicle, but live on the outside. It's a system that's worked well for us in the past




So (subject to the missus agreeing, I haven't told her yet) I plan to ditch the above design and do something similar to our old 40-series but with more allowance for bad weather. That was a quick bodge job on an existing canopy, it worked well in warm weather but there was almost no provision for living in cold rain for example. This time I'll strip the tray off and start from scratch.


For a shower we used to heat water on a fire, poor it into a bucket and use one of those Whale submersible pump and shower head gadgets. The solar shower you mention work well to. Bottom line is you don't need much.


I had a look at the ARB twin compressor the other day, 6CFM, 100% duty cycle and with a receiver can be used for small air tools. I reckon I'll be getting one of them.


A hydraulic winch would be better I agree, last I looked that were way more expensive though, even 2x the price. I will revisit them though.


Re the air bags, I'm thinking of just helpers for the rear springs, so if they fail you still have your springs but they will be running a bit lower than you'd like. You can of course get the springs reset or just get a lift kit with better springs, I've done that maybe 3-4 times over the years and they have all eventually sagged, often differently on one side to the other.



Airconditioner is essential unless you are planning on leaving your wife behind.


Now there's a thought :)


The car has AC in the cab but even that's new for us. We've been living (full time) in vehicles for about 13 years now without AC and never missed it. Of course we get out of the tropics by about October and don't go back until May.


If you come to Oz please let me know, I can certainly point you to some of the better places and/or advise on an itinerary. At least coming from a large country you won't expect to do it all in a week :)


I've been looking into shipping a vehicle as well, but the other way around Oz to SA. It seems that all you need is a carnet to cover the risk of you selling the car before you leave. But also foreign vehicles can be given the 3rd degree about colour of tail lights etc. I gather Oz is not the easiest of places to get a car into. Read this




And Dick Smith is a famous Aussie.


Like you I'm thinking after all this work getting a vehicle just right I'd rather take it with me, for a short trip it's not worth it but a full overland job over 6 months or more maybe.





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Thanks for the Dick Smith link. Not so sure I want to go to Australia anymore.

I met this couple in Cape Town - If you thinking of low tech you should check them out. I wonder how they were allowed to drive in Australia? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2300179/Herman-Candelaria-Zapp-Couple-traveling-world-13-years-multinational-children-signs-stopping.html

Edited by dikdik
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Yikes, that sort of thing makes a mockery of us "needing" diff locks, winches etc etc eh?


Actually 'er indoors and my good self have just been discussing the camper, looks like we're staying with the design. We have to be able to live in it (possibly) for years and sitting out in the weather gets pretty tedious pretty quick.


Why so long? Well I'm 59 and I can see that before long I will not want to deal with the truck, for example the wheels weigh about 150kgs each, they are hard enough to deal with now I can't imagine changing them in 10 years time. So it's on the cards that we'll move into the Cruiser full time in a few years. That effects many design decisions.



I wonder how they were allowed to drive in Australia?

Vintage car, different rules, maybe you should get an older vehicle :)

Edited by graynomad
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armchair bushman

On the topic of roof-top tents and awnings:

This is my old man's landcruiser. Great car and I have to admit, the tent is extremely comfortable. But I hate having to pack everything away every morning just to put the tent down, even if I'm coming back to the campsite in a couple of hours. I personally much prefer a separate tent on the ground, and a game-viewing roof-hatch instead of the tent. my girlfriend, on the other hand, sees things very differently.
The awning is great, which-ever way you look at it. Easy to roll out, easy to pack away. An instant shade in the heat of the day with minimal work. Any 4x4 I have in the future will have one of these.


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RTTs are good in many ways and not so good in other ways, for example they are usually heavy which is not good for off-roading.


Tents are good because you can leave them set up, that's less work and you don't lose your camp site during the day.


And of course in Kenya an open roof is a real benefit, not so much in Oz, we can get out of the car to view our wildlife :)


Maybe a slideon that is easy to remove is the best of both worlds. You can keep camp set up and the girlfeind (sic) happy in relative comfort but still go game viewing during the day. Put a removable sunroof in the cab for photography. Some sldeons can be removed in minutes, probably as quick as putting up a tent.


And then there are camper trailers.

Edited by graynomad
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I'm feeling the freedom in this thread and the stress reducing. Wish I'd married a mechanically competent man, or was mechanically competent myself.

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Just imagine if you'd saved one of the old Kenya VW splitscreen buses @@twaffle...

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Honestly, for travelling in the bush (and short riding a horse or walking with an alpaca) I reckon is hard to be more free than travelling with a small well-prepared vehicle. And the horse won't get you over to the Kimberley, well not in a reasonable time frame anyway.


There is always the spectre of a breakdown, but then your horse can die as well :)




mechanically competent man, or was mechanically competent myself.


The other option is to earn enough in your chosen fields to pay someone else to do this sort of work. Get a new car (although I hate new cars, they have their own problems that can't be fixed in the bush), buy a camper rather than build one etc etc.


That doesn't help much when you get out in the bush though unless you're rich enough to fly in a mechanic, the best thing then is probably to travel with someone who is proficient in bush repairs. Almost all problems are hugely reduced when shared by 2-3 parties. This is one reason I advocate (on another thread somewhere) using two vehicles when/if I ever return to Kenya.

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armchair bushman

And then there are camper trailers.

Yes I was looking at the links that @ had posted for the two SA based trailer companies. I've seen some nice ones when I've been down to SA in the past, but those Bush Lapa ones are next level!


I reckon even the most basic 4x4 safari trailers available in SA would be a huge hit here in Kenya if someone had the capital to start importing them. Small scale safari companies running camping safaris (proper camping) would eat those up! And nairobi weekend warriors would love them.



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Just imagine if you'd saved one of the old Kenya VW splitscreen buses @@twaffle...


along with the 2 Aston Martins, 2 Alfa spyders, a Jag, several old vintage thingymys


I could afford a fleet of 4x4 safari vehicles along with drivers and mechanics. Sigh. :unsure:

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My first car was an MG TD, I wish I still had that.


Everything become valuable in time, we should be saving the stuff we have now :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Great read. I am also building my vehicle for overlanding. After try both RTT and ground we settled on a combo. Hardtop roof and a small ground for living space. We can quickly pack for game drives and the same time not lose our camping spot.

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We can quickly pack for game drives and the same time not lose our camping spot.


We have the same "losing the camp spot" problem but of course game viewing is way different in Oz so the vehicle requirements are different.


Many people just leave a couple of chairs in their camp spot, they can get nicked of course but overall it's pretty safe.



After try both RTT and ground we settled on a combo.


It can take a few iterations to get the perfect setup.

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