reader Wheels TOYOTA LAND CRUISER OVERLANDER
Piet du Plessis is grape farmer at Augrabies, in the Northern Cape. Although he always had a soft spot for bakkies, he was never much into overlanding. That was until a Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5 EFI pick-up, with a couple of aftermarket accessories, ended up on his farm. That’s when Piet started to dream big
Text and photography: Danie Botha
The phone call came out of the blue. The voice at the other end of the line told Northern Cape farmer Piet du Plessis about a Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5EFI pick-up with a handful of accessories, going for an absolute song because the owner was emigrating, and needed to get rid of the vehicle in double quick time.
Piet has always had this thing for bakkies. A few years ago he and a couple of friends went to Namibia, and one pitched up in a big Dodge RAM bakkie. After watching the RAM in action in the Namib sand, Piet ordered his own the day he arrived home.
But he only drove it for about a month. A swing in the rand/dollar exchange rate and a lucrative offer from an interested party led Piet to sell the American pick-up for a profit.
So, being a bakkie lover who is also a successful businessman with an eye for a good deal, Piet bought the Cruiser on the spot.
“The price was really, really good,” he says.
Piet started using the Cruiser on the family farms, as a daily runner. This also meant helping out with his wife’s stunning and classy guesthouse. But he still had his Toyota Hilux double cab V6 4×4 parked in the driveway, and the limitations of the Cruiser’s single cab configuration soon got Piet thinking.
“There was nothing wrong with the single cab Cruiser, but for me its application was limited to hard labour. Essentially it was a highly capable workhorse that could carry a load. The Hilux fulfilled this role too, and was way more practical. So I started doing some research on turning this workhorse into a more leisure-style vehicle,” he explains.
Before long the Cruiser was booked into Meano Engineering in Krugersdorp, and the single cab Cruiser was turned into a double cab Cruiser. From there the process kind of snowballed, as they tend to do.
“I decided to create an overland 4×4 that would make camping in the wild as comfortable as I could manage. My wife is not world’s biggest camping fan, so I tried to give her as comfortable an abode as I could,” says Piet.
After Meano extended the chassis and manufactured the extra bodywork and doors to turn the workhorse into a leisure vehicle, Piet decided that, since the new panels and sections needed to be painted, he might as well repaint the entire white Cruiser in a colour he preferred.
So the Toyota was finished in a striking yet practical light brown hue.
To turn his new double cab Cruiser into a comfortable camping machine, Piet turned to Morne Claassens at LA Sport’s West Rand branch. When Piet bought it, the Cruiser was already fitted with a TJM suspension upgrade (including an air-system at the back), as well as a TJM bull bar. So it was a natural step.
Together they schemed and planned and chopped and changed – and finally settled on the current formula.
A custom-made Alu-Cab canopy with a built-in roof-top tent was fitted. So were a dual battery system linked to state-of-the-art solar panels, a fridge, a two-burner gas stove, a custom-made kitchen cabinet and a practical yet stylish canvas storage bag system – one for clothing and the other for supplies, utensils and so on.
There is a slide-out drawer system under the main deck inside the canopy, with ammunition boxes that provide more storage space. An awning system for the kitchen area and an extra water tank (60 litres) were added, too. Another addition was an LA Sport rear bumper with two spare wheel carriers.
An interesting addition for the interior is a custom-made stainless steel centre console. It’s cup-holder, cooler (with a draining point) and armrest, all in one. It’s also an accessory that is exclusive to LA Sport West Rand, says Morne.
Since his Cruiser was looking the stylish overland part with its new paint job, the cool Alu-Cab canopy and tent system, and all the other accessories, Piet decided that the wheels should also look the part. He added a set of stylish wheels, shod with rough-and-ready BFGoodrich all-terrains.
Next, Morne suggested that, since the Cruiser looked so good, it might be an idea to visit Hennie van der Line for an engine upgrade. So now the Cruiser breathes through a free-flow exhaust system and the engine boasts a few more horses, courtesy of an aftermarket performance chip.
Never mind the extra horses – this Cruiser sounds like a million dollars, what with that exhaust system playing a most delightful automotive tune.
Finally the Cruiser was ready and Piet and his family took it camping.
“Everything worked like it should, and as expected. Sure, there probably are a few details that could still be improved. But…”
Piet pauses for a moment, and looks over his shoulder at the Toyota, gleaming in the late afternoon sun.
“I’m actually thinking of selling it,” he says. “I’ve got new ideas about a motorhome-style overlander that I want to explore. This is mostly because of comfort. The Cruiser will be awesome for more hardy off-road trips and camping experiences, but at the moment we’re not planning any tough off-road trips. So a more comfortable motorhome-style option seems to be the way forward for now.”
We can just imagine a classy and upmarket Autovilla motorhome with BFGoodrich all-terrains, TJM suspension and a big bull bar and winch! After witnessing the attention to detail on this Cruiser, the motorhome overlander will – no doubt – be an amazing piece of hardware.
- Morne Claassens, LA Sport West Rand, Tel. 011 768-1678, e-mail [email protected]; www.lasport.co.za.
- The Falls Guesthouse, Augrabies (Northern Cape), Tel. 082 928-7938; e-mail [email protected]; www.thefallsaugrabies.com.