Francois Beyers’ dream of the ultimate off-road safari vehicle was to have a Toyota Land Cruiser bakkie converted into a double cab, fitted with bigger wheels and a custom-made canopy. Alas, it came with its fair share of nightmares…
Ever since my first overland trip I had dreamt of the ultimate off-road vehicle. I am not a station wagon fan because I hate camping gear or cutlery rattling inside the cab. I prefer a double cab, where you can pack all the “loose” items behind you and enjoy a quiet ride.
Although there’s a variety of very capable double cabs on the market, I wanted a Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up. The only problem was that it does not come in a double-cab version, and I did need the extra space in the back for the kids.
I couldn’t afford to have a new vehicle converted, so I opted for a used version. In Potgietersrus (Mokopane) I found a 1995-model 75 series 4.5 EFI petrol Cruiser, which I bought for R145 000 (excluding VAT) with a 6-month warranty on the engine, gearbox and differentials.
Next I made a booking at an engineering shop in Krugersdorp that specialises in body conversions. I had to leave the vehicle there for eight weeks.
Replacing the 15-inch wheels with 16-inch rims for the fitment of tubeless tyres was another mission. I started searching for a 6-stud 140mm PCD (pitch circle diameter) negative 20- offset 8Jx16 tubeless Cruiser wheel, but couldn’t find one tyre or rim dealer that could help me. Eventually I tracked down a Johannesburg dealer who told me he had the correct rim, and I ordered a set of five. I had the tyres fitted and shipped them to the vehicle dealer in Mokapane.
The wheels did not fit the Cruiser. They were 0-offset rims and not negative 20-offset.
Eventually I managed to find a 7Jx16 with the right stud holes, offset and PCD. I took delivery of the rims and the rim supplier supplied me with nuts and hubcaps as well. I then took the rims to an engineering shop in northern Pretoria to widen them to eight inches. They came back measuring seven-and-a-half inches…
The main thing, though, was that the tyres I wanted (275/75R16) now fitted the rims.
While the vehicle was at the Krugersdorp engineering shop I also had running boards, a 170-litre fuel tank, snorkel and a spare wheel bracket with bumper fitted. I could have asked the same engineering shop to fit a steel canopy, but I wanted something lighter and opted to have a fibreglass canopy made.
The big day arrived and I was very excited to take delivery of my vehicle and drive it home. I filled both tanks with fuel (250 litres) and set off to Port Elizabeth.
About 40km outside of Krugersdorp I heard a funny “whoop-whoop” sound. After the fourth stop I realised that the nuts on the left rear wheel were loose. I tightened them as best I could and stopped every 100km to check.
The long-range tank was fitted with a pump to get fuel to the main tank, operated by a switch on the dashboard. It was, however, not that simple and I almost ran out of fuel just before Bloemfontein. Assuming that the pump might be faulty, I completed the trip without using the long-range tank.
Upon my return I had the wheel studs replaced and fitted a new fuel pump – a metal push/pull type.
It was now two weeks before my first overland trip with the Cruiser, from Port Elizabeth via Upington and Pella to the Richtersveld, returning via the West Coast to Lamberts Bay and from there back to PE.
Time was running out and the canopy wasn’t ready. We planned to leave on the Saturday at 07h00. When I phoned on the Friday afternoon I was promised I would have my canopy by that evening. To cut another long and sad story short, I eventually drove out of there at 01h30 with a canopy on my vehicle which was far from perfect. In fact, it was a mess.
After the trip I replaced it with a steel canopy, which I bought from a well-known manufacturer in Pretoria North. The shape’s not perfect, but it’s much better.
Anyway, we left at 09h00, making our way to Britstown via Richmond. The road was gravel and as we crossed a cattle gate to get back onto the tar road about 10km before Britstown I heard a clanging sound. The long-range fuel tank bracket had snapped.
We managed to fasten it with two ratchet straps and were on our way again. It was getting dark and we still wanted to make it to the Island camping site in Upington.
Alas, just past Prieska there was another funny sound. The right rear wheel was loose!
The stud holes were elongated, and it was clear the rim had to be replaced. The nuts supplied with the rims were too short to tighten the wheel properly. We drove 20km back to Prieska to spend the night at the local caravan park. We found a mechanic on the Sunday and he told us to bring the vehicle to his workshop on the Monday morning.
The damaged wheel studs were changed and I also used some of the old nuts I carried with me to tighten the wheel. We managed to get a replacement rim in Upington, but had to drive from Prieska without a spare.
The long-range fuel tank bracket was welded back in place, and while we were at it, I asked the mechanic to take a look at the fuel tank outlet as well. We took the fuel cap off, put an air jet onto the tank and after about 20 seconds, the “plug” – or whatever had blocked it – let go and fuel came gushing out. Problem with fuel pump solved.
Everything went reasonably smoothly from there on. We did the Namaqua 4×4 Trail, crossed the border at Vioolsdrift and spent a night in Norotsama (Aussenkehr). We travelled to Rosh Pinah, through the Namdeb mining area and crossed the Orange River again at Oranjemund on our way to the Richtersveld.
We got to Sendelingsdrift at about 16h00. We organised our permits, but then the Cruiser wouldn’t start. It turned out that a couple of cables had pulled loose on the gravel road. Once they were back in place, we were on our way again.
We spent four days in the Richtersveld, bathing and fishing in the Orange River, driving down dry river beds, over corrugated roads and over mountains. We left on a Sunday and drove to Port Nolloth, and suddenly the Cruiser was down on power, baulking at every incline.
Come Monday morning, I was again at a garage looking for help. This time it was the fuel filter. The garage did not have the genuine Toyota article in stock but supplied a temporary filter, which we by-passed on the fuel line.
From Port Nolloth we travelled to the Koingnaas caravan park where we spent two nights to do the Diamond Coast Shipwreck Route. We then travelled south all along the coast in a twin-spoor sand track to Namaqua Sands at Brand se Baai before turning inland and heading for Lamberts Bay, where we had a super dinner at the Muisbosskerm Beach Restaurant.
But our troubles were not over yet. Halfway up the Piekenierskloof Pass outside Citrusdal the water pipe to the heater system burst. The local Toyota dealer sent a mechanic, who cut the broken piece off and managed to refit the shorter pipe.
We got back to PE without further problems, but understandably my wife still has negative feelings about my “dream machine”…
Fuel consumption over the entire trip came to 23,35 l/100 km. I took the vehicle for a service and found a leaking pump to be the cause of the high consumption.
I have learnt a few very important lessons. Never tackle a long overland trip before you have sorted out all the teething problems on shorter weekend trips.
Pack your vehicle as if you are going on a long trip. Have it serviced, and do at least one short trip after the service. You can never pack enough spare parts, and make sure you take somebody with you who knows something about cars and engines.
Those interested in more details on the conversion can contact me at 082 568-0123.