John & Jenny
Fri 22 Oct 2010 21:27
We decided on a Land Rover Defender for this trip some 3 years ago. The only real alternatives considered were the Toyota Land Cruiser, which John had owned in Saudi Arabia, and a Toyota Hilux pickup with canopy which we had rented previously for trips to Namibia and Botswana. Overall we decided that the Land Rover Defender was more rugged, simpler and more easily maintained in Africa.
We visited Nene Overland near Peterborough in December 2007, just to have a look at what was available and came away having bought a vehicle! What we purchased was something rather special.
Choice of engine was one of the primary considerations. Diesel was essential, but there have been several changes of diesel engine fitted to the Defender over the years. One of the early ones was the 300 Tdi which was a "low tech" non-computerised turbo diesel. This was superseded by the Td5 under BMW ownership, a much more sophisticated, and more complicated, turbo diesel and later, under Ford ownership, by the Puma engine. We soon decided that we wanted the 300 Tdi engine, but the problem was that this engine was discontinued on European specification Defenders in 1998 so those available in 2007 were normally very high mileage. However, the 300 Tdi continued to be fitted to "Rest of the World" spec vehicles much later than this. We were lucky, in that Nene Overland had a batch of these vehicles which had been built in 2003 and delivered for a contract in the Middle East, but never used. They had sat in a shipping container in Kuwait for nearly 4 years and had then been purchased by Nene and imported back to the UK. They were, in fact, new and unused vehicles 4 years old! They were LHD but had only 300 km on the clock and still had the protective plastic on the seats! We bought one - a Defender 110 County Station Wagon in white - and called her Lavinia, in memory of my Aunt who had recently died at the age of 101, nearly 102.
Kevin Mackman at Nene Overland then took charge of equipping Lavinia for an extensive overland trip. Underneath, we fitted raised suspension, stiffer rear springs, rock-slider bars, protection for the steering rods and for both differentials, and a 120 litre fuel tank. At the front, a massive Australian ARB "bull bar", an electric winch and twin driving lamps. All the wheels were replaced by alloy rims and we fitted "All Terrain" tyres. At the rear, a spare wheel carrier on the rear door and additional lighting, On top, a South African Hannibal alloy roof rack with roof-top tent, an alloy folding table secured under the roof-rack and a second spare wheel. On the port side we fitted a roll-away Hannibal sun awning. We had security grids placed on all the rear and side-rear windows and between the rear seats and the load chamber. Inside we removed one rear seat and fitted a National Lunar fridge in its place. We added a "cubby box" between the front seats and installed a 500 watt inverter and an air compressor. We increased battery capacity by fitting a second battery and a National Lunar battery management system.
In 2008 we took her to Bosnia for a month and had gave her extensive off-road testing which far surpassed our expectations. Early this year (2010) we decided to drive to South Africa and to import the Defender permanently into RSA. As John had obtained South African permanent residence, he qualified to import one vehicle duty-free, but in pursuing the paper trail for approval and for the export licence, it came to light that South Africa does not now permit the importation of LHD vehicles built after 2000. This was a major blow but it appeared that there was no way round this regulation so we "bit the bullet" and forked out the cost of conversion from LHD to RHD, which was very ably performed by Nene Overland. The final test, two weeks ago, was to take her into the hills of North Wales with Protrax for a gruelling "Wild Wales Safari", which demonstrated the amazing capability of these vehicles.