LET'S GO BACK
It's been 47 years since my obsession with 4x4s began, and 38 years since I made it a life-long career. This is my journey through every 4x4 I've ever owned. At this time, the odo reads 14 4x4s. I've driven about 1,3 million kilometers across 20 countries on five continents, including around 550 000 kms off main roads.
August 2020. This is a celebration of my 47-year collaboration with 4x4s.
I believe this is the very first picture of me and a 4×4. February 1974, my father took delivery of a brand new Range Rover. This was photographed outside our home near the village of Eynsford, Kent, England. It marks the official start of an obsession.
The start of an obsession and life long career.
In 1974 we emigrated to South Africa. A trip in the Range Rover to visit the wilderness areas of Botswana soon followed. Here I am again, head out of sunroof, in the Chobe National Park overlooking the Chobe River floodplain. The official start of another obsession - overland exploration. I was 15 years old.
Chobe River, Botswana, April 1975.
My first day driving off-road. March 1982.
The very first pic of me off-road, within days of me taking delivery of 35502492 suffix A Range Rover. It was a 1971 model, had 40 000 miles on the clock and was in very good cosmetic and mechanical condition.
The Range Rover's builder's nameplate. It is still in my possession today.
A second expedition and first time I drove myself out of my home country. This was to the Namib desert and here is me well stuck in the sand. This old super-8 film is the very first time I used a winch. It took two hours to dig myself out after the winching failed. It was October in the Namib, and the hottest time of the year.
The very first time I used a winch. DOn't laugh!
Range Rover. Obsession or mental Illness?
An accident in the bush meant I had to repair the entire front end to be able to get the Range Rover home. It was either that or abandon it in the bush. This was near Ngoma, far northern reaches of Botswana. The insurance company wanted to write it off but I took the cash and repaired it myself. And sprayed it Lincoln Green.
1989. Lodi's replacement arrived. A new Land Rover One-Ten V8. It would be the centre of my 4WD life for the next eight years.
… and purchased a brand new Land Rover One-Ten V8
I married my sweat-heart Gwynn on the top of a mountain and the only way to the top was to ferry all the guests up in a convoy of 4x4s. This video runs from the recce, wedding and honeymoon in an extraordinary place, all alone among elephants and lions.
1993 was the year my first book was published. It went on to be sold in South Africa uninterrupted for 24 years. This was the fist cover.
As a result of the book, I was from then on asked to drive and review a lot of 4WDs. I was even given some long term sponsorships.
Toyota South Africa offered me a long-term loan of a Prado 90. I drive it as my primary 4WD. AT this time I was building a house, and sold my Defender to assist there. The Prado was an excellent, stable, frugal and good performer. Not as good off-road as the vehicles I was used to, but a great all-rounder.
The one and only time I drowned an engine.
Range Rover was called the Classic to distinguish itself from the new P38 which was launched in 1996. For a while both were built, and this one was one of the last. It had the 'soft' dash later to be built into the Discovery, and air suspension designed for the P38. It was a 1996 model. I didn't keep it for long and only did one big trip in it. The air suspension was so expensive to fix, it made me not trust it because how could I fix if if it went wrong in the bush?
pThe Last of the Range Rover Classics
The start of a second love affair with a 4WD. The Mercedes G 461.
The search for my next 4WD that would fulfil my desires was long but fruitful. In 2000 I was offered an ex-demo 290GD by Mercedes South Africa. Offered to me at around two-thirds its real value, I learned to adore the G.
I sold it after 127 000 kms, several major expeditions, and three years after I was made a can't-leave-it offer. But I was then left high and dry. What to do next?
The G was going to be a hard act to beat. And it took several years for that to happen. Next was a two-year-old Discovery V8. I knew when buying it that it would be a stop-gap while I decided on my next path. I kept it for about 9 months and did very little to it or with it.
My first foray into pickup/utes.
My long term relationship with the Land Cruiser began with one that was not a success. My first intro into the ute/pickup was well as mmy first intro into major vehicle modifications was a Land Cruiser VJ79 single-cab converted into a double-cab. (double-can Land Cruisers were not yet available at this time). With its 4.2 normally aspirated diesel, it was grossly underpowered for its weight. I kept it for about 20 months but it appeared in two TV series.
Another Land Cruiser, and this time a new 105 GXL 4,5 petrol. I was going to have no more under-powered 4WDs. I set about to make the engine use less fuel and did a engine top overhaul with new valves, head grinding and a chip. And it made about a 1% difference. What an excellent 4WD. But thirsty. So thirsty that is was no good as a long distance tourer. It couldn't carry sufficient fuel for desert travel.
The Land Cruiser 105 was to become another absolute favourite.
The best off-roader I ever owned. I doubt if it will ever be beat.
Unhappy with the 105s fuel issues, I was thinking about my next move. It arrived in the form of a used 290GD Nato spec for sale in Lesotho. I bought it to try and bring it into South Africa where I lived at the time. It is the best off-roader I've ever owned by quite a long way. Its hill-climbing ability is extraordinary. I sold it after two years because there was no path to legal ownership in South Africa.
In 2008 the new shape 70 series was introduced and Toyota South Africa made getting a new one irresistible. I like it, but missed the 105's handling, space and ability.
The VJ76 was a nice car, but didn't give me what I was hoping it would..
A pre-owned 105 with the 4.2 diesel, which I added a small low-pressure turbo-charger gave me a vehicle that I really loved. I had found the vehicle I had been looking for!
At last I had found a Land Cruiser that I loved driving.
While driving my 105 on a solo trip traversing the Namib desert, while stopped in northern Namibia I came on the idea for a roof tent conversion for a Troopcarrier. Until this time, Troopcarriers were not available in South Africa. Toyota South Africa first loaned, then gave me the very first one imported into South Africa.
My relationship with Land Rover, bettered because of my honest appraisals of their vehicles, was temporarily mended when their brand new marketing chief contacted me and ask if I wanted a long term loan of a Discovery-4. I welcomed this with excitement. The LR4 is a great all-rounder.
It's such a pity about the LR4's inability to run smaller rims and higher profile tyres.
During this time, the family had moved to the UK, during which I did not own a 4WD, although I still had the Troopy in South Africa, which Toyota South Africa donated to me in 2014. It was shipped to the UK, and sold in 2015 to finance the family's move to Australia, which occurred in November 2016
In Australia the huge and diverse 4WD accessory market greeted me, with so many exciting products I had never had access to before. And also the full range of Land Cruiser 70-series with the V8 turbo-diesel engine. So I bought a Troopcarrier and built it with all I had learned from my previous Troopy. It turned out to be the best overland tourer I've ever built, and ever driven.
My first outback expedition was the Canning Stock Route. A baptism of fire, I was told. It was both tough and long, but a revelation too. The Australian Outback is an awesome place for wilderness adventure and I fell in love with it. The Troopcarrier I built was so good, and performed so well, I introduced a limited offer of building these for clients.
Thinking I could make a version of the Troopy Overlander even better, I tried with a Landcruiser VDJ79 chassis-cab 4-door, with a stretched chassis and camper on the back. It was better than the Troopy in so many ways, but in some, worse. Its sheer size was a disadvantage and I was never comfortable with it. More comfortable, roomy, and better equipped than the Troopy, it never filled me with a longing to get in it and go, which is the hallmark of a great overlander.
So I decided not to keep it.
In a quest to find and rebuild my 1972 Range Rover, a 1975 Classic arrived. As I write this, I've yet to see it. This is my third Range Rover, it's mine, and the story continues . . .
I have a new V8 troopy on order. Delivery is due June 2021. This is my third Troopy, it's soon to be mine, and the story continues . . .
1. Range Rover V8 (1970)
2. Land Rover One-Ten V8 (1989)
3. Range Rover V8 (1996)
4. Mercedes G-Wagen 290GD (1999)
5. Land Rover Discovery-1 (1996)
6. Toyota Land Cruiser VJ79 4,2 D (new)
7. Toyota Land Cruiser 105 4,5 P (new)
8. Mercedes G-Wagen 290GD (2001)
9. Toyota Land Cruiser 76 4,2 D (ex-demo)
10. Toyota Land Cruiser 105 4,2 D (2006)
11. Toyota Land Cruiser 78 4,2 D Troopy (ex-demo)
12. Toyota Land Cruiser 78 4,5 V8D Troopy (new) 13. Toyota Land Cruiser 105 4,2 D (1999)
14. Toyota Land Cruiser 79 D-cab 4,5 P (new)
15. Range Rover V8 (1975)
16. Toyota Land Cruiser 78 4,5 V8D Troopy (on order)