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. 


  1. The bigger may be appealing to some but I think you have the right idea of keep in simple.

    Hope you get opportunities to post during your journey. Safe travels and keep the rubber down.

    You got me thinking 4x4 conversion Combie. ;)…s-south-africa/

  2. I think a lot depends on where you plan to travel. In a lot of South America, eating outside is not an option due to wind in Patagonia for example, or downpours in the rainy season in Peru and Ecuador for example. We're using a unimog in South America, and it's close to ideal. No parks to ban us for our size. :-)

    In Africa, it's different, the weather lends itself to ourdoor living, though you may want that to be in a campsite in many circumstances, for example in National parks that have big cats!

    And I've changed the wheel on the mog more than once, it's not such a bit deal, though I find I've earned a few cold beers after I've the job done!

    The important thing is to be out there doing it. Keep up the good work!

  3. Hi Andrew,

    Awesome post and your rig is looking great! Curious, are you still selling the autograph overland boxes?