Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Minds narrowed by brand loyalty, or FMAS.

My You Tube channel has become my largest audience, now eclipsing my web site visits, TV show viewers and book readers combined. (Over 2,5 million views) And the great thing about YouTube is that I get feedback. Some feedback is positive and some negative.

To read the rest of this article, go to:

I have needed to moved my regular blog into my own website, to drive more traffic to it.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

I've found the 4x4 I want to buy. However . . .

It's been an uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling, having had a 4x4, and sometimes two at my disposal, without interruption for 31 years, and now nothing. My Cruiser still sits on display in a showroom in Johannesburg, while I'm in England. I have some plans to shoot some new shows, so I need a 4x4 for that, and to keep from dropping into a deep, dark depression and feeling of abandonment, and . . .

I've been toying with a number of vehicle choices. My conclusions are:

Land Rover Defender. An exciting thought, but my budget doesn't reach to a new one. And used Defenders hold there value quite well. And as my main use for the vehicle is overland expeditions, I'm not convinced the Defender is the best option. If I was going pure off-roading, then it would be at or near the top of the list. And rust is a problem. Land Rover owners who reckon that they don't rust need to come to England. The body may survive a little longer but the chassis, floor pan and firewall are prone to rust in a big way. I looked over a five year old Defender last week and was shocked.

Toyota Land Cruiser-80. They are all old, and to find a good one, with mileage under 100K, is a real challenge. And rust is a huge issue. Unless the owner has had a love affair with the vehicle and maintained it exceptionally well, it will likely have serious rust. And if I miss rust in a vital place, it being covered up by the seller, I could easily have myself a very bad purchase, only good for scrap. But if I get a good one - they are cheap.

Toyota Land Cruiser-100. The Td 4,2 VX, called the Amazon, are here in large numbers and prices are very keen. The most expensive would be a 2007 model (the last year they made them), with all the luxury stuff, with 60 000 miles (100 000 kms) would sell for around R370 000, about R100 000 less than in SA. The trouble is, they are heavy, not particularly good off road, although not bad by any standards, and are tricky to modify for overland use. The air suspension has to be removed, and replaced with coils. This is expensive, and the lift cannot be more that about 40mm without risking CV joint damage. But I have travelled with these on expeditions and they have always been absolutely trouble free. And of all on my list, they are by far the most luxurious, and better in so many ways than the 200 series. But England is crowded and such a large vehicle as my everyday transport is not idea.

The Nissan Patrol is another thought. As an overlander, it is brilliant in so many ways. But the standard ride is horrible, the petrol engines are too thirsty and the diesel engines too sluggish. I've never been a big fan of Nissans, and so I have not taken this option too seriously.

Mercedes G-wagen. There are quite a few available here, and they hold their value exceptionally well. There are a few G500s, about ten years old, and the price is in the ballpark, but a G500 would be useless for expedition use. Most others are too old, and while the G is one of the most rust-resistant vehicles on the planet, they do rust. So while I can buy older than a Defender or Land Cruiser, they are expensive, and anything pre-2000 or with a manual gearbox, I would not consider it.

But the good news is, I've found what I would like to buy! I'm not saying what it is right now, because I may not get it as I must sell the cruiser to pay for it. All I am saying is, it's ten years old, only has 25 000 miles on the odo, is in exceptional condition and it's dark grey. So forgive me if I ask you to share this link:

My best as always

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Thing. Is it enough for me to buy another Defender?

I was watching an interview with Jeremy Clarkson on YouTube the other day, and he said something that peaked my interest. He spoke of the new Audi R8, saying all kinds of good things about it. I’m paraphrasing, but he said,
“It’s perfect, the ride is brilliant, power and handling outstanding, the seats, the controls, the feel. It could be the best car in the world. But I would not buy one. Now the Lamborghini Gallardo; it’s not as good in so many ways, and will probably break down, but I would buy one in a heart beat. Because the Audi is missing something, that the Lambo has buckets of”. ‘The Thing’.

I would like to take this theory at put it at the door of the 4x4, and specifically Land Rover. I believe it explains why Land Rover is what it is, and why it is still such a great car-maker and why it is one of the world’s leaders in automotive design.

The Thing is not obvious; you can’t see it, touch it, or even feel it. It can exist for one person and be utterly absent for another.

To me, some 4x4s have The Thing and others have none or little. I doubt if I am too different from most 4x4 lovers in seeing it this way. But because The Thing, to some means everything, and to others, nothing, people buy a Land Rover for the exactly the same reason that they buy a Land Cruiser, or an X5 for that matter.

I’ve lost count of how many 4x4s I’ve owned. I think it’s nine. My first was a Range Rover. Range Rovers, even the relatively boring P38 version, have The Thing. The early ones, I think it is safe to say, have far more than the newer ones, but they all have it. For me, almost all of the Range Rover’s competitors have very little of it, if any. Take the Q7, X5 or the Land Cruiser-200. The Thing is conspicuous by its absence. In my book, Range Rover Classics drip with it.

Then came my Land Rover 110, later called the Defender, that I called ‘Darien’. This has become the most unchanged, familiar design, maybe in the world, unchanged externally, other than a bulge in the bonnet, since 1985. How can anyone still be interested in this car? I know why. Because few vehicles ever produced anywhere have as much of The Thing as a Defender. Every time I pass one, I always give it a second look.  Once a Defender lover - always a Defender lover.

My next 4x4 was a Mercedes-G. I chose it because of The Thing factor. I loved the looks. But I knew nothing of its performance, and at the time I didn’t really care.  For me, the G is one of few vehicles that approach the Defender when it comes to The Thing. But sadly the pimped versions like the G500 have taken The Thing, and turned it into The Bling. I don’t like them at all, although they do attract my gaze. My G turned out to be a revelation performance-wise and they are my first love!

Next was a Discovery. Nothing. Not one ounce of Thing. But something unusual has happened. Now with the passing of Discovery-2 (even less Thing than Disco-1’s, if possible) and Discovery-3/4, old Disco-1’s, especially those taken from the scrap heap and given a new lease with some big wheels, glow with Thing. I think they are great, and I can’t think of a better, cheaper way to have endless fun off-road.

My first Land Cruiser: Nudda. Nothing. Zitch. No trace of Thing anywhere to be found. This was a 79-series pick-up that I converted to a double-cab; and still, with all that work, I could not squeeze a drop of Thing out of it, no matter how hard I tried. And it wasn’t a great performer, so there was nothing between us. So I sold it.

Skipping a few vehicles, back to Land Cruiser, this time a 105 series. Now this is not a pretty car. When I took delivery, I thought there was a hope of good Things to come, and I was right. As I got to own it, it grew on me, and for me, it started to develop its own personality. The trouble is with Land Cruisers, most of them anyway, is that they are boring. They are like the student that gets high marks, never misbehaves, is not tardy and never dresses inappropriately. But are they ever remembered? Not often. They are dull. When you put the key in, they start; and when you take it out, they stop. And they do it year, after year, after year. They have little character, and because of this, The Thing has to be generated by experiencing it. When I eventually sold mine, I was sad, not because of a loss of a friend, but because it was so damn bloody good at everything. And never the slightest hint of mechanical trouble ever. It grew The Thing, and the 105 for me always will have it, but it had to earn it.

I sold the 105 to build what I called the Ultimate World Cruiser, with a camper conversion of a 78-series Troopy. As I began building this vehicle, I realized that this was the very first Land Cruiser that had The Thing, even in its very plain, rock-hard suspension, drab, plain, uninspired self. It was because of the promise of what it could become. I fell in love with this vehicle.

How do you tell if the vehicle you drive possesses The Thing? To answer this honestly, you need to ask yourself, “Would you take it for a run, for the sole purpose of taking it for run – for no other reason than to be with it? If the answer is yes, then it has The Thing. I would run the Land Cruiser up to the shops because it was there, go down to the beach and sit in it with an ice cream, watching the passers by checking it out. There were times, I admit, that I considered going outside into the garden and sleeping in it, just because I could. I really miss that car.

I am currently in the UK with a dilemma: What 4x4 to buy? I won’t buy new, and to be truthful, I think the only new 4x4 available here that interests me is a Defender. It has plenty of Thing for me, but I am not sure if it has everything else that would make me spend that much. 105-series Land Cruisers were never sold here, so they’re out. 100-VX Land Cruiser are a serious thought. They have for me, a small dollop of Thing, but not much. But a low mileage 80-series is a serious option, and although they have limited Thing, ugly things that they are, they have within them the promise of a long, reliable and rewarding life. The 80-series is, for those who don’t know, considered by most Land Cruiser lovers to be made in, “Toyota’s finest hour”. They are truly brilliant machines – but like the good student – a bit dull. For the same price as one of these, I can buy a tired Defender. Now a tired Defender might mean me spending my Saturdays under it, keeping it running. I did this throughout the ‘80s, with my Range Rover, and the thought if it now doesn’t excite me one bit. The other part is, what I am doing in the UK. Followers of my work, most of them here anyway, would love me to return to the fold. So now, the big question is, is The Thing that the Defender possesses, enough for me to truly enjoy the vehicle as once I did, having now tasted the other, albeit less interesting, alternative?

Check out my latest video on YouTube. It's on the homepage, near the bottom.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Lonely, busy, overwhelmed and excited.

One week in the UK and I am lonely, busy, overwhelmed and excited.

I'm lonely because my girls are wrapping things up in SA and they very sad about leaving. And I am alone here in Knebworth, a village north of London, sorting things out like bank accounts, a car, insurance and of course, looking for a house. It's keeping me busy.

My first few days were overwhelming. If you think Jozi is fast-paced, think again. Everyone even walks fast. 

And I am excited because of doors that are already opening and new opportunities presenting themselves.

Before I packed up, I decided to have one last stab at a TV series in SA for 2013. I sent proposals to eight vehicle manufacturers, namely Ford, VW, Mercedes, Isuzu, Jeep, Land Rover, Suzuki and Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Jeep said 'No', I think without it even being given a second thought. Mercedes at least asked questions. Isuzu, VW and Land Rover also appeared to give it some serious thought. Only Ford hadn't made up their minds by the time I cancelled the project. Toyota was not approached because they had already donated so much to my other projects, that I planned to shoot two programs for them at no charge.

What did they say no to, you may ask?

For the price of a just two ad pages in a magazine, I would produce and broadcast for them, on YouTube and Ignition-TV, two half-hour programs, with their vehicles having complete exclusivity. It would be shot in a remote and spectacular part of Southern Africa like my other shows. I pointed out that last year's series, excluding the South African TV broadcasts, had been viewed by over 200 000 YouTube viewers. Now these are serious numbers, and the funds requested paltry by comparison. For me, the amounts asked for would not even be enough to cover expenses.

What it did for me is vindicate my conclusion that doing what I do best, in South Africa, is no longer viable. I can always return and do more, but it has to be paid for some other way.

Yearning to do something TV wise before leaving , I went to the Kalahari to shoot a mini series called, Overland Workshop. It’s a series of discussions between myself and Paul Marsh, and we discuss in detail over-landing and all that it means. There will be at least 10 episodes, all about 10-12 minutes long. Subjects include security, border posts and officialdom, containers, food and cooking, maps and GPS, solar energy, tyres, overheating problems and many more.  Half will go on YouTube and half will be for 4xforum subscribers only. The first ones will be released toward the end of August.

In addition, the trip was to prove that it is not necessary to go into Botswana’s very expensive National parks in order to find animals and solitude in the Kalahari. I succeeded beyond measure. Actually – doing it this way, there is more solitude and for me, it’s much more enjoyable.

We ended up on the hard-to-get-to South Island in the Makgadikgadi Pans where I shot my new showreel for the UK.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

It's hard to go

I'm leaving my beloved country after 39 years, and it's hard.

What will I miss the most? Sunshine, Afrikaaners, being near the bush, African smells, wide open spaces nearby.
What I won't miss? Do I really need to go into that? SA has its problems, like everywhere else. Perhaps there are just more of them here - but who knows.

The South African summers, no matter where you are, are just brilliant. But I live near Cape Town, and the winters are miserable, mostly. When it’s cold, it’s cold and the trouble is, like in the rest of the country, the houses are built for summer. So it's cold even inside, particularly now with Eskom running the country’s economy. So, in a funny way, I’m looking forward to an English winter. I grew up in the South of England, and it’s here that I am moving to, albeit a different part. And my childhood memories are of glorious summer days playing in the Downs of Kent. We walks, fished, rode bikes and loved every minute of it. I draw a complete blank when trying to remember the horrible winters.

Without a shadow of doubt, Afrikaans in the finest language on earth when it comes to descriptive colloquialisms.  One of my favourites is, “Die drol is in die drinkwater”.  It means, literally, the crap (animal droppings) are in the drinking water. And I have come to enjoy the company of Afrikaaner folk I think a little more than my Anglo-saxon counterparts.  Don’t ask me why, but when reminiscing about my adventure in Africa, these people are one of its highlights.

Being near the bush
With fuel prices as they are, getting into the bush for most of us is becoming rarer and rarer. Even I, who has made a job of being in the bush, has found it so hard to get into, and do what I love the most, I’ve had to leave it, to get closer to it. To explain myself – I am going to the head of the world’s non-fiction TV industry to find the funding needed to do more of my shows, and no doubt some of them will be right back here. But the comfort of not being near the bush physically, will I hope, be made up for the fact that I will be closer to it, financially.

African smells
What can compare with the smell of wind sage in the Kalahari?  Or boeries on a braai? Nothing in the world. Nuff said.

Wide open spaces nearby
This is the one I fear the most. England is crowded. Will I be able to find solitude? Only if I go running on the Fells of northern England, or climb mountains. But in my 4x4? No. I doubt it very much.

Leaving soon
I will be leaving early August, after I have shot my YouTube mini-series with Paul March mid July. Meanwhile I have put out eight proposals to motor manufacturers, to produce another series for TV. I’ve approached Mitsubishi, Ford, Isuzu, Suzuki, Land Rover, Jeep, VW and Mercedes Benz. I’m offering two episodes shot in an exotic Southern African location, vehicle exclusive, which includes a vehicle test feature on YouTube. The cost is less than a double page spread in an average magazine – the type that gets chucked away after a week or so. Last year’s TV series vehicle reviews on YouTube alone have received over 200 000 views, and the number still climbing. I think what I am offering is outstanding value.

The reaction after 10 days since sending the proposals is one ‘no’, one ‘no thanks’, six no reaction and one that looks promising. Three yeses means I come back in September and shoot it. Less than that, and it’s not worth it, and all I have to do is the YouTube series, which Alu-Cab and Toyota are sponsoring. Within a few weeks, I’ll know if the TV series will happen.

One of the places I am going to try and reach next week in the Kalahari is South Island, in the Makgadikgadi Pans. Since going there in 2006, I've tried three times to reach it, and failed. This time, I'm determined to succeed. The picture below was taken there - a 2000 year-old baobab.

In case you are wondering, ITSALONGWAY trans-Africa has been postponed indefinitely.  But don’t think I have given up on it. Far from it. I’ll be back!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Andrew White leaving SA part-2

I am scheduled to leave for the UK early August to enroll my girls in school by September. Work wise, in the UK I will be close to the large non-fiction TV networks and I have a much better chance of success in getting my shows financed. However, right now,  I'm relying on a miracle of the Internet age - Kickstarter.

In their own words, ‘It’s a funding platform for creative projects. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others. Since [the] launch on April 28, 2009, over $500 million has been pledged by more than 3 million people, funding more than 35,000 creative projects.’ The way I see it is that it is helping thousands of hugely talented people get projects completed that big corporates either scoff at, or put oversized restrictions on, that it stifles the people who create them. Try and pitch an idea to the big TV network. Getting the door ajar is incredibly difficult, even if the idea is earth-orbit-altering, but with Kickstarter, if your project is really good, the viewers will decide, instead of grey-skulled management and accountants in big firms. Kickstarter is brilliant in every way, and perfect for our plans. If the fans of the shows love them as much as I hear they do, then they alone will be the ones to enjoy them. On Kickstarter, there are US and UK TV shows that have ditched their previous broadcaster’s huge contracts in favour of broadcasting their shows only on the Internet. Here, their audience can view when they want, never be bombarded by commercials, and even get to see things that the broadcaster would never dream of running. The fans actually become part of the inner circle; get what they want and not what they don’t, and get a T-shirt and a mug if it’s their thing. And the price for this luxury is no more than the price of a DVD, or a TV subscription. The way we are being entertained is changing so rapidly; traditional TV channels are being moved from lounge-based TV to the Internet. Some day soon, all TV will be internet based. There will be no need for a dish and the way TV shows are financed is changing with it. Hello Kickstarter in opening that door.

Thousands of creative projects are funding on Kickstarter at any given moment. Every project creator sets their project's funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

ITSALONGWAY Trans-Africa is the name given to my Kickstarter project, and it will be launched mid June. We will have just 30 days to raise the funds. Fans who have already donated, and there are quite a lot of you, there is no need to donate again, just send out this message – to everyone you can think of. This may be worth much more.

What makes ITSALONGWAY special is that it is reality TV - no, I mean really real! Because isn’t adventure travel within the reach of ordinary men and women? Personally I am tired of the hype on TV right now. Is it really necessary to jump into a frozen lake and then eat a bug to prove you can enjoy the untamed wilderness?

I guess everyone has heard of Long Way Round, the crazy duo that rode motorbikes around the world – the long way. It was fantastic in every way and incredibly popular, and this is the kind of programs I like to make. As an iron-clad rule, I never set up anything and nothing is contrived. If it happens, you’ll see it. If it doesn’t, you won’t. But what does happen is real! This is where ITSALONGWAY and our slogan: Go Overland – Be Real – No Hype, comes in. We produce real Reality Adventure Travel programs without all that hype.

Keep a lookout on for the ITSALONGWAY project banner. It will ne announced here, so subscribe to this blog to get the news as it breaks. Don't miss it.

Best as always

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Andrew St.Pierre White is leaving South Africa

The recession has hit everyone I guess. Far and wide, old and poor, rich and young. For me, young and poor, I’ve relied on the participation of corporate sponsors for making my 4x4 adventure TV shows for years now. I’ve managed five 13-part series and I have been told, and don’t need reminding, that I have the best job in the world. When I am not sitting editing and writing my shows, (Which I love) I am out in wild places shooting them. (Which I love even more) But there is a snag. About a third of my time is less glamorous than it sounds. That’s the third of a year when am I in the dreaded GP with my begging bowl. Finding sponsors has never been easy. I am better known in the country now that I have ever been. I get stopped almost every day if I go out – in shopping malls, the petrol pumps, in a crowd and even once getting my hair cut. And yet getting the funding for each series gets tougher and tougher.

Last year was the turn of Four-Wheel Drive, the combination travel and technical 4x4 show. I do think that every time I do one of these series, my work gets better, and this is by far the best of all the Four-Wheel Drive series. This year it’s the turn of 4WD-Take A Deep Breath. I’m driving an especially built Land Cruiser across Africa to the UK, in 13 shows, while my brother-in-law rides his bicycle the same route. But the normal sponsorship channels have dried up altogether. One large sponsor who agreed earlier in the year, pulled out despite me securing national newspapers, magazine and radio to supplement the TV. They decided that TV wasn’t the best channel this year – so I was left to find other means to procure the funding. This all sounds like a sob story – but it isn’t. My fans have come to my rescue in a huge way. Of these, right now, the only corporate is Toyota. They made the most significant contribution and Alu-Cab, the company with whom I worked to design and build the vehicle, have come in too.

Albert Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So, like any sane man, things have changed and the cheese has moved. And so must I. Unfortunately the cheese has moved overseas.

So I will be leaving this wonderful country to find pastures new. There are a few reasons, and putting the more obvious ones aside: South Africa’s broadcast industry is unlike most others, in that I have to pay large sums for my shows to be flighted. Last year’s series, one third of the entire budget went to the broadcaster, one third went to production costs (why I can’t take a proper crew on my shoots) and one third goes to pay for my kid’s education and a roof over their heads.  I’m simply not making ends meet.

In the UK there are networks that will pay for the shows, and in 2005/6 my first two series were broadcast there, and I was paid – not a lot, but money did change hands, and in the right direction. The UK is also the centre of the world’s non-fiction film industry and with my experience there is lots of freelance work with networks like Discovery and Nat Geo, to mention just two.

I also decided to move to the UK because I was not about to give up on my drive across Africa. I was also not about to give up on my future plans; I want to follow in the tracks of the 1972 Trans-Americas Expedition from Alaska to Cape Horn - driving the very same Range Rovers that did it then. I want to go to Burma, find two pre-'70s Land Rovers, rebuild them and drive back to where they were built in Solihull, England. And what about the USA? I simply cannot do this based in South Africa. Will I miss South Africa? I don’t even want to think about how much. And as far as my South African followers are concerned, I will do everything to get my future shows broadcast here.

So what now? For my fans in South Africa and subscribers of, this is the route I must take if I am to continue to provide the shows that are already so popular. But the route to funding with be different. One route is Kickstarter. (Google it)  In their own words, ‘It’s a funding platform for creative projects. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others.'

Keep a watch here. My Kickstarter project is about to be launched.

best as always

Monday, 22 April 2013

Default What keeps 4x4 businesses in SA alive?

It's their customers dreaming. And what makes them dream? It's the magazine articles, Internet sites and TV shows like mine and Johan's. People react to them by deciding on doing a trip or even buying a new 4x4 and equipping it. Then they arrive at the Safari Centres and LA Sport's and R&D Off-Road and then they buy stuff! And of these medias, which is by far the most powerful? TV! Nothing compares to TV, especially if it is entertaining and inspiring. So, without good 4x4 TV shows - this industry will shrink and there are many 4x4 businesses that will not survive this recession. Johan [Voetspore] is paid by the SABC. I have to pay a commercial broadcaster because I cannot speak Afrikaans and nor do I have a black man travelling with me. I have to have sponsorship, either from large companies, or from the viewers.

But why should you support me you may ask? 4x4 businesses that still waste money on old-school magazine advertising need to wake up to the reality that it doesn't work. The Internet has changed everything fundamentally. Magazine advertising is the least effective way of attracting customers in this market but remains by far the most expensive. What works? TV, and a powerful YouTube channel and the Internet. Here is proof: A 3-page Leisure Wheels article on my Cruiser attracted one email. Just ONE!!! Within 24 hours of a 8 minute YouTube clip, we had over a dozen calls. That video has now attracted over 52 000 views to the most highly-targeted audience imaginable. (Alu-Cab have seven such cruisers in the workshop and have many orders for more. That business is thriving!) And tomorrow, when you read this, that viewer number will be higher. It never stops. 20 days after the magazine is read, it is tossed away. But the Internet never sleeps. Think about it and call me if you want me to make another TV show that brings people into your workshops.
Think about it and call me if you want another Andrew St.Pierre White TV show.

4x4 industry players need to feed the players that support it.
Check out

Friday, 5 April 2013

Are spectacular Unimog camper giants all they seem to be?

Right now my mind is so focused on my impending trans-Africa journey that little else seems to matter. I’ve been spending weekends working on the Cruiser, and never have I ever had so much fun preparing a vehicle. During this period I’ve digested inspiration from many overland vehicles, including the Isuzu N-series 4x4 and some spectacular Unimogs. And I have decided that these vehicles, as grand as they are, are trying to take the outdoor experience inside. In reality, how much of an overland trip is spend inside the vehicle. Quite a lot, but of that, 99% is when the vehicle is moving. Otherwise, unless the weather is truly lousy, time is spent outside. So why are these grand vehicles so appealing?

When it comes down to it, large vehicle are a hindrance most of the time that are used – when driving. Many game parks won’t permit entrance to trucks, and they are mostly slow and cumbersome. And they are thirstier (a major factor in any ones’ language), although not by much, as the Unimog and Isuzus have modern diesels that are much more economical given the weights they are pushing. Here’s a thought: Have you ever had to change a wheel on a Mog? I haven’t, but I imagine doing it on my own is a physical impossibility. I have enough trouble getting the wheel back onto the rear carrier on the Cruiser, and that’s one reason why I fitted alloy rims. (I reckon they may be have reduced as much as 30% of the weight of each wheel)  And what if a Mog bogs down? Only a bulldozer will be capable of pulling it free, especially if it’s mud – and while a Mog stuck in sand is a rarity, they do bog in mud. The vast space inside these vehicles is very appealing; but there is a trap; because the result is what happens to many trailer-pullers. There is so much space that it attracts stuff and weight that is not needed.

So where do these mammoths shine? Off-road they are for the most part not as agile as smaller vehicles, although the massive clearance and high body do provide significant advantage in central-Africa rainy season situations, where the roads are flooded and the ruts are huge. Yes, a Mog will get through and the Cruiser won’t. I have avoided the worst of the rainy season, so I am not anticipating needing that kind of advantage. If I were to live in one spot for months at a time, then I would prefer the larger ‘home’ of the Mog. No doubt about it.

My approach is to take the concept of the Unimog camper and make it fit on a ‘compact’, tough, basic chassis. As a result my Land Cruiser can also be ‘lived in’. The Troopy is huge inside and as far as packing space is concerned, I have never had such luxury. The conversion means that I can live inside if the weather turns foul, and when driving it is maneuverable, easy in town and good on the open road (I can reach the speed limit). While the Troopy is roomy, I have spent time chucking out the not-needed and carefully creating packing spaces, some that are easily accessible and others less so. Spares I am carrying include fuel and oil filters, oil for one oil engine change, fan belts, bulbs and fuses and a set of shock absorbers. And that’s it. They are not particularly easy to access, so I using up all the packing space wisely.  I begin by packing the items needed less often, all the way to those needed on the road. It’s common sense.

Next week I shall list all the many people and companies that have assisted and contributed to the Trans-Africa expedition. And the list is long! Check out


PS. Oh, and it appears I guessed right. The V8s are coming, but the 78-Troopy will not be part of Toyota SA’s V8 offerings. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dreams of adventure

What began as an idle thought while sitting under a tree in the wilderness has become the thing of dreams.

In 2010 I was sitting under a tree in the Hoanib River in Namibia (while looking for desert elephant), all on my own and I began to think. It was hot - about 35°C. I hadn’t had a shower for a couple of days and I thought, ‘How nice it would be right now to have a shower’. But it being so hot, the effort to set one up seemed too much. So instead, I pulled an ice-cold coke from the fridge, sat and began dreaming.

The vehicle I was driving was a Toyota Land Cruiser 105 Station-wagon. This vehicle is a 100 series, but with an 80-series chassis – to my mind, one of the most brilliant vehicles ever produced by Toyota. But being a station-wagon meant it has its limitations in terms of living out of for extended periods. So my mind drifted toward the Land Cruiser 78-series wagon, known in Australia and some other countries, as the Troopy. This reliable light truck with its cavernous rear load bay would make the perfect basis for a live-in camper style vehicle, while still being small enough to be used as an overland transport that could reach places larger trucks simply cannot go. This would be my 11th 4x4. To cap all this dreaming, I thought, why not design, build and then market such a vehicle?

Jump forward two years.

I have started AutoGraph4x4. ( My Troopy is complete and I’ve already taken it to the Richtersveld for ‘builder’s trials’.  And now I have the ultimate trip planned – to drive from Cape Agulhas, Africa’s Southernmost tip, to John o Groats, Scotland’s Northernmost tip. And I am to do it in my Troopy and make a TV series about the adventure. So here I am, three months from departure and I have orders for four similar such vehicles for clients.

The vehicle began as a South African-spec Land Cruiser-78, with a 1HZ normally aspirated, 6-cylinder engine and four-speed manual gearbox and auto-locking front hubs. As standard equipment it came with double 90L fuel tanks and front and rear differential locks.

Work began about six months after receiving the vehicle, when I handed the vehicle over to Alu-Cab, a Cape Town company doing very nice custom work. They were one of very few companies who were genuinely interested in my ideas, as opposed to some who were hell-bent on letting me know how good their deigns were and wanted to push them on me. While I respect them for pride in their own designs, I wanted it built to my specifications, not theirs. Alu-Cab on the other hand were excited about what we both as a team could bring to the project. And the results are, I think, superb. My design ideas were not complex and I wanted it simple and efficient with a mandate that I should be able to erect my tent, have the bed made, have the 270° Ezi-Awn shade awning out, a fire going and a cold one in the hand all within five minutes. And, packing away everything should not take any longer than 10 minutes. Proving camps in the Richtersveld showed that this set-up easily betters these times.


First, the interior was stripped and then the roof was cut open like a can of beans. It was very painful to watch. An inner steel chassis to strengthen the roof was then build, rust-proofed and inserted, glued and bolted in place. The tent unit was then built to fit. It makes one of the roomiest roof-top tents I have yet seen, and requires very little effort to erect or pack away. Inside the back, the tent lifts up, increasing headroom so that one can stand and walk around. The load-bay benches permit me to use the interior for anything other than aerobics; writing, editing or to watch a movie in the evening should the weather turn foul. Access to stuff is via two slide-out drawers. I have not fitted a kitchen because I want to be able to choose to cook inside or out. There are two Snomaster fridges: a 70L fridge-freezer combo in the back and a small, cool-drink fridge between the front seats that doubles as an arm-rest. Two 70-AH Blue-top Orbital batteries run things. A CTek charger handles the current and a 180W Sanyo HIT solar panel on the flip-up roof helps keep them going. There is a 1000W pure-sin wave inverter and 220v plugs in the front and back. I can charge camera batteries without having to find chargers etc., as they are all in place, as is the power supply for the computer.

Going mad

There were no limitations to what I could do with this vehicle and never before had I been given so such opportunity to go mad. So I did.
A gas geyser and water tank and pump feed a simple shower device, that provides hot water in about 30 seconds. Takla, a South African company making superb seat covers provided those, as well as helped me develop a sound insulation flooring cover. The standard flooring is ugly and the cab can be quite noisy, and this did the trick. While we were at it we developed the same product for LR Defender, Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes 290GD Pro. Underside protection is minimal, but includes Goby-X side step rock sliders and a steering protection plate.

I upgraded the springs and shocks, but found that the standard product I was considering was too firm at the back, and so I removed one of the eight rear leaves. Now the ride is pliant and very nice on the open road, while also not too soft for rough tracks and a heavy load.  I added Firestone Air-springs. This is for when I am particularly heavy and acts as a great help to the springs during very rough going, and goes some way to prevent rear spring breakages.

I changed the wheel rims from the very heavy split rims, to wider rims originally supplied with the 105 series. But they are also extremely heavy, so I have decided on a set of alloys. These are still to be fitted, but will be KMC XD series with BF Goodrich AT tyres. I carry two spares on a replacement rear bumper. The alloys don’t just look nice, but are proper off-road rims.  Combined, they will reduce unsprung weight quite considerably and, more importantly, may make the difference between me being able to lift one of them onto the wheel carrier – or not. The expanded wheel arches are made by a company called Onka, and while not quite the quality of the Australian equivalent, do the job just as well.

I’ve enjoyed my summer break with my kids, and in between have been tinkering in my workshop, preparing the Cruiser for the huge undertaking ahead of me. I’ve mounted torches, easy-access boxes for my camera gear, fire extinguishers, pepper-spray cans, an extra light or two, a back-up inverter, and a decent sound system. I up-rated engine performance by a low-pressure turbo charger fitted by SAC. I elected to upgrade the exhaust to a wider bore, but in an effort to keep things as simple as possible, did not fit an intercooler. Small Hella HID spot lamps were selected because of their size. A turbo-charger is going to need all the cooling it can get and large lights are out of the question. These Hella units produce an unbelievably bright, white light, more than enough for my needs. They stand on a TJM winch bar in which is a TJM 9000lb plasma-rope winch in mounted. Lastly, I upgraded the brakes by replacing the front discs and pads with those made by Powerbrake. It’s made a remarkable difference.

And now it’s mid January and this big trip is looming, but with still so much to do!

The last bits and pieces include auto-armour anti-smash-and-grab window tint, a Baillies Offroad 180L tank at the back (To extend range from 1000kms to 1500 kms) a secret, diesel anti-theft cut-off switch, and some security measure to prevent the rear slider windows being forced open. And I think that is it!

The vehicle will be on show at the Beeld Holiday Show,  15-17 February at the Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand. See you there.

After this, I’m gone!