Overlanding in a Defender 90 – Part 1
“Overlanding:- Self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, accommodated by mechanized off-road capable transport where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time and spanning international boundaries”.
If you’re reading this you probably already understand the irrational urge that Land Rover owners have of lavishing time, love, tears and of course money on something that non-owners would describe as a “Lump of metal”. What other car owner, when confronted with rust so bad that the chassis may not make it to the welders, would not hesitate spending more than it’s worth on a new chassis? It gets to the stage where you have put more work into your Land Rover than ever took place at Solihull. You just can’t part with it now.
Fortunately I have not yet reached the rotten chassis stage. I have, however, persevered in my attempts to prepare my Defender 90 as an overland/camping vehicle when I should have upgraded to a 110 long ago. But where’s the fun in that?
In April 2009 my wife and I took our 90 to Morocco. The trip also included travelling through Spain and France, a total mileage of 4747. The trip was done on a bit of a shoestring budget and although we managed to live out of the vehicle reasonably well for 25 out of the 29 days we were away (4 nights in a hotel), we realised we could do things a lot better. So when we got the opportunity to do a similar trip in March 2012, we modified the vehicle to take account of what we’d learnt.
This article will detail those changes.
You are probably already aware that the vehicle is converted to run on waste vegetable oil. In 2009 we relied on jerry cans and 2 litre lemonade bottles to transport additional fuel in the form of Veg oil. This time I upgraded the extra fuel storage to an auxiliary fixed fuel tank. I picked up a 50 litre plastic tank at Billing Land Rover show last year and fitted it behind the rear bulkhead. Unfortunately the tank was too long to fit between the wheel arches so some modifications were needed.
I cut a section out of the nearside wheel arch to accommodate the tank. I chose the nearside because it would have fouled the existing fuel filler hose on the other side. The hole was closed off using aluminium sheet, pop rivets and panel mastic.
I cut a strip of camping mat to lay under the tank to prevent rubbing and to provide a degree of insulation from the cold underneath (It’s preferable to keep Veg oil as warm as possible). I riveted 6 strap brackets to the floor and the bulkhead (these are a Land Rover item used to fix canvas hoods in series vehicles) and strapped the tank down with two ratchet straps.
Before fitting the tank I had removed the offside oval inspection hatch in the bulkhead behind the driver’s seat. This allowed me to run the fuel hose through this, via a shut-off valve and down through the seat box. I was then able to run the fuel hose along the chassis rail with the existing pipe from the main tank and into the engine compartment. The details of how this fitted into the fuel system will be given in the “Running on Veg oil” article” elswhere on this site.
The filler cap fitted to the auxiliary tank was too small and in an awkward place to allow easy filling and keep the inside clean as well, so I decided to fit a better fuel filler. The filler cap came from a boat chandlers and is the type used to fit into the deck for filling with fuel or water. The 2″ hose and tank flange came from “Car Builder Solutions” a UK based company specialising in parts for kit cars. I carefully cut a hole in the tank with a hole saw (I coated the saw with petroleum jelly to cling onto the swarf and stop it dropping in the tank). I fitted the tank flange with 8 stainless steel self tapping screws and an oil resistant bonding sealer. This has proved to be very secure having travelled over 5000 miles (some of it over very rough ground) and no leaks.
I then made a mounting plate for the fuel filler cap and attached it to the side of the Land Rover so that it can be accessed through the nearside side locker door (more on these later). I can now fill from outside the vehicle using either a filling station pump or jerry cans. The cable you can see going to the fuel tank cap is a level switch connected to an LED on the dash to warn of a low level. A proper fuel level gauge will be a future project.
The key element to living out of a small space efficiently is to be organised. On our trip in 2009 it was a pain at times having to take out 80% of the contents of the Land Rover just to get to something at the back. To be honest I think there will always be a certain amount of this no matter how organised you are. I was determined to keep it to a minimum though. At the 2011 Billing show I also invested in a pair of side locker doors. When I say invested, I mean invested, they were damned expensive. They have however proved to be a brilliant addition. They were fitted in place of the rear side windows and have really opened up the Land Rover. I am now able to reach in at any point without having to take a ton of stuff out of the back door first.
I then fitted a pair of aluminium rails made out of 1/4″ thick 2″ x 2″ angle. These would be used to support a row of 5 x 19 litre “Really Usefull Boxes” for storage. There was then enough room at the end to take our first aid kit which could be quickly accessed through the nearside locker door.
In the picture above right you can also see 4 x 10 litre fuel jerry cans. I went for the 10 litre size as these are easier to store and handle. They also fitted perfectly under the box rails. These now gave me a total fuel capacity of 150 litres. We numbered the boxes 1 to 5 so that we could make a list of their contents. They were inevitably called the “Thunderbird boxes”. These could be accessed from the rear door, side lockers and even from the front if required. They were held down with a ratchet strap as you can see in the pictures.
The next item of storage was a “Mobile Storage Systems” Store-drawer. Again these are quite expensive but I managed to get one for less than half price from Ebay. With this fitted it gave me a space between the back of the drawer and the auxiliary fuel tank.
I used this space for all the spare parts that I would be carrying. I fixed two pieces of aluminium angle to the wheel arches and made a central support. A plywood lid then fitted on top to give a flush surface. I drilled two holes in the lid to allow removal. I then covered the whole of the rear in ribbed rubber mat with a cut-out for the spares storage.
To the right of the auxiliary fuel tank there was just enough room for a safe (purchased from B&Q). This was bolted to the bulkhead as well as the wheel arch. Nicely hidden but still accessible.