Vehicle & Equipment

Why Land Rover? | Mechanical Preparation | Expedition Preparation | Equipment

:: Why Land Rover?

My dad did his 1969 trip in an MGB convertible sports car. While I am sure they earned a lot of street cred on the way down, it is perhaps not the most practical choice nowadays.

From our research of other overlander trips it didn’t take us long to realise that the Land Rover Defender is the vehicle of choice. While many other 4x4s might very well be competent, it is really only the Defender and the Toyota Land Cruiser which offer the robustness and capability that is needed for an expedition like ours.

We didn’t really consider the Land Cruiser. It appeared to be more expensive to maintain and just doesn’t have the character of a Land Rover.

Land Rovers, while not the most comfortable, are far easier to service and maintain. Given that they are also widely used throughout Africa, this should mean that spares and mechanics will be more readily available on our trip. From our research, it also appeared that there are far more equipment options available for Land Rovers as well as an extensive Land Rover community in the UK.

We went looking for a pre-1998 model, which was the last year they made the 300 TDI engine. This is the last turbo diesel that is purely mechanical – all you need is a hammer and some basic tools and they can be fixed. After this model, Defenders were manufactured with Electronic Control Units (ECUs) which require computers to diagnose problems. Not a great idea for the bush! For this reason, the later 300 TDI models often fetch a premium on the second hand market, as we soon found out.

We also decided on a long wheel-base model (110) over the short wheel-base (90). This was to allow for the storage space we will need for the trip.

Aside this, we did not really have any specific requirements except to pick up one that appeared to be in fairly good nick. This would ideally be with a lower mileage but in Land Rover terms, an off-road mile can often be far more damaging than a tar-mac mile. As we learnt, mileage is not necessarily an indicator of a happy Land Rover.

We were quite blessed and did not have to spend too long looking before we found Mpudi on Autotrader. He was being sold in Chorley in Lancashire, which is very close to Catherine’s sister and brother-in-law, Jo and Adam, who live in Clitheroe. We happened to be going up for a visit anyway and took a look at the Land Rover on the way.

Being absolute novices, we really did not have a clue but the seller assured us and it seemed like a good deal. After a couple of visits and some negotiating, we settled on a price and took the first concrete step towards making the dream a reality.

For those who know me, it wasn’t exactly an impulse purchase – it’s just not my style! To put my mind at ease I created a checklist to make sure there were no obvious show-stoppers with the car. It turned out to be quite useful. Feel free to download and use this for your next Land Rover purchase.

Mpudi is a 1997 Land Rover Defender 110 300 TDI. There were 134,000 miles on the clock which at first seemed to be excessive. However, with some service records we saw that he had been relatively well maintained. He had already done one trip in the Sahara and so was familiar with the territory.

:: Vehicle – Mechanical Preparation

We have decided to tackle the vehicle preparation in two phases. Phase one was to get the vehicle mechanically sound for the trip. It is far easier to take some preventative steps up front to make sure the vehicle will be as reliable and safe as possible en route. Phase two was to kit the car out with the expedition equipment such as tent, fridge and electrics.

On the surface, while we appeared to have bought a decent vehicle, it would really only be clear once we looked under the bonnet properly and stripped some of the key components.

I took the week off work to spend time with Paul Marsh at Footloose 4x4 to work on the car. In summary, there were no critical issues but it did need a little more work than we had hoped for. We nevertheless feel comfortable that we are heading off with a completely sound car.

The following work needed to be done:

  • Rebuilt swivels, hubs and brakes (new half-shafts, new brake assemblies)
  • Replaced steering ball joints
  • Replaced water pump housing to block 'P' gasket
  • Fitted new timing belt kit and replaced key hosing in the engine bay
  • Adjusted tappets and refitted with new gasket and breather
  • Replaced power steering pump
  • Replaced alternator assembly
  • Replaced rear crankshaft oil seal
  • Fitted new clutch kit
  • Fitted new clutch slave cylinder
  • Stripped out transfer box intermediate shaft and replaced 'O' rings
  • Changed front and rear output shaft oil seals
  • Replaced exhaust down pipe
  • Replaced clutch master cylinder
  • Replaced air, fuel and oil filters
  • Replaced alloy rims for steel rims and fitted four new BF Goodrich A/T tyres (managed to sell the old alloy rims second hand)

:: Vehicle – Expedition Preparation

We have done much of the expedition modification and equipment preparation ourselves as this is the fun bit and also slightly less technical. 

In summary, we have fitted the following:


  • Roof rack (fitted through Brownchurch)
  • Roof rack modifications for spare wheel and spare fuel jerry cans
  • Rooftop tent
  • Side awning
  • Winch bumper
  • Electric winch (Superwinch 9,000 lbs)
  • Front steering/sump guard
  • Additional front spot lights – on winch bumper
  • Vinyl blackout for side rear side windows
  • Mud flaps
  • Air horn
  • The following were already fitted when we bought the car:
    • Raised air intake
    • Front and rear differential guards
    • Mantec security grills for rear windows
    • Dog guard
    • Mantec rear wheel carrier


  • Cubby box
  • Life hammer
  • Additional battery – deep cycle to power fridge and power inverter
  • Battery split charging system – dual battery charging management system (National Luna)
  • Durite 220 volt inverter (250W) with UK sockets
  • Fridge/freezer (National Luna 40L)
  • Fridge mount between rear passenger seats
  • Fire extinguishers - one interior cab section and one rear boot space
  • Interior lighting and power points (additional lighter and Hella DIN sockets)
  • Rear storage - one base level across wheel arches & one eye level shelf for soft items
  • Rear fold-down shelf for camping stove
  • Lashing points for boxes, gas cylinder and water tanks

:: Equipment

There is a seemingly endless amount of equipment that can be bought and fitted to Land Rovers for use on expeditions. Therefore, we have regularly found ourselves weighing up cost against the temptation of gadgets and luxuries. We heard about one chap who had his Land Rover fitted with a washing machine and a microwave!

Given the duration of our trip we will obviously be investing in some basic comfort items that will make the trip enjoyable but we will not be going for anything excessive such as a flushing toilet!

These are some of the main things we’ll be taking with us.

Camping Equipment:

  • Roof top tent – Eezi-Awn 1.4 T-Top with awnings
  • Side awning - Campmoore
  • Fridge/Freezer – National Luna 40 litre
  • 12 volt/220 volt power inverter (Durite)
  • Aluminium camping table and chairs
  • Water pump and purification system - mounted in rear of vehicle
  • Portable pressure shower (Hozelock)
  • Solar shower (20 litres)
  • Portable toilet seat – home made invention (see the pictures!)
  • Campingaz - Camping Chef Stove standard
  • Propane cylinder and regulator (6kg)
  • Plastor storage boxes (excellent modular boxes and great value - see their website
  • Camping pots, pans, cutlery & kettle

Navigation & Communication:

  • Compass
  • GPS - Garmin Colorado 300
  • Garmin maps – City Navigator Europe
  • Tracks 4 Africa Maps - Traveller’s Africa complete set
  • Michelin National Maps (741, 745, 746, 705)
  • Motorola Iridium 9505 satellite phone
  • Hand-held two way radios
  • iPod socket for car radio (already fitted with vehicle)

Tools & Off-road Equipment:

  • High Lift Jack 4 ft (HL 484) plus base plate and Defender jack adapter
  • Recovery Kit – tow ropes, bow shackles, snatch block, kinetic rope and gloves
  • Sand ladders
  • Shovel
  • Axe
  • Bow saw
  • Jerry cans - water (4 x 20 litre)
  • Jerry cans - fuel (4 x 20 litre)
  • Seat covers
  • Tyre repair kit
  • Spares kit (filters, oils, hoses and various parts)
  • Tyre pressure gauge
  • T-max air compressor
  • Tools
    • 150 piece socket spanner set
    • Screw drivers
    • Pliers
    • 5 pound hammer
    • Allen key set
    • Jump leads
    • Vice grips
    • Files
    • Hacksaw
    • Stanley knife
    • Feeler gauges
    • Wire cutter & crimping tool
    • Wading plugs
    • Oil filter wrench
    • Test light
    • Multimeter
    • Grease gun and cartridges
    • Brake bleeder kit
    • Vice

Books & Accessory Equipment:

  • First aid kit
  • Lonely Planet: Africa
  • Lonely Planet: Africa Healthy Travel
  • Cicerone Pocket First Aid And Wilderness Medicine
  • Vehicle Dependent Expedition Manual (Tom Sheppard)
  • Four-by-four Driving (Tom Sheppard)
  • The Complete Guide To Four-Wheel Drive (Andrew St. Pierre White)
  • DVD series: 4x4 Driving Skills, 4x4 Recovery Skills, 4x4 Overlanding (Andrew St. Pierre White)
  • Sahara Overland (Chris Scott)
  • The Digital Photography Handbook (Doug Harman)
  • Workshop manual – Official Land Rover & Haynes manuals
  • Robert’s R9921 short wave radio (for BBC World Service)
  • Canon EOS 450D SLR Camera (plus Canon 18-55 and 55-250 lenses)
  • Pocket digital cameras
  • Video camera (still needed)
  • iPod (still needed)
  • Nikon binoculars 8x25
  • Head torches
  • Uniross Smart Charger + AA 2700mAh Performance Batteries (these are the best rechargeables!)