A Defender Super Camper Built to Conquer the Globe
We converted our trusty Land Rover Defender double cab 130 into a bespoke camper. With our own hands!
(Please read before contacting us with questions!)
We loved our Howling Moon roof top tent - it was massive, the largest roof tent on the market in 2011 when we first installed it, and the 2.4m x 2.4m sleeping area was perfect accommodation for my wife, I and two young children. Fast forward to 2016 and, though we still loved the tent, we realised that it was time for a change if we were to continue travelling the planet in our Land Rover Defender 130. We had been living out of that tent permanently since we had shipped from South Africa to Uruguay in 2012, camping an average of 330 days of every year, cooking off the tailgate of the Landy and living outdoors.
In 2015 we had driven up to Alaska and were returning south along the west coast when we were invited to a gathering of Defenders in the Alvord desert, Oregon. There we met Good Guy Steve, a tall, handsome, rock climbing Berkley professor who headed the paediatrics cancer research team. Yall should clone him. He had converted his Defender into a live in camper by grafting on a Marshall ambulance body from a Series 3 109. A sandstorm assaulted us after sunset and Steve’s camper was the only refuge from the melee, the insulated walls housed nine dusty people that evening and he later slept like a baby while the tented herd stuffed their ears with cotton wool and prayed for morning. Good Guy Steve gave us a tour of the rig once the dust settled and the sun rose. He had a single box bed which converted into a double bed, a small kitchen area, a fridge, a safe and low level storage. It was perfect for two people and with some modifications (specifically a pop top) could comfortably accommodate four. A seed had been planted. We had three options - sell the Landy on the black market in the USA for a pile of greenbacks then buy another Land Rover in South Africa and rebuild it, or we could convert our Defender. Breaking the law is not usually an option for us and we could not bear the thought of parting with the Landy. The third option was to continue travelling with the roof tent but we were seduced by the freedom and comfort of a camper. We knew that a build would not be cheap and we were on a first book sales budget, somehow we have to earn enough to not only build the camper but also ship it to Europe and travel to Asia.
YouTube Videos Featuring the Rebuild
These videos greatly help explaining and shedding light on the reasoning and process of our camper conversion. The one featured to the right is our most popular video of the rebuild with over 830K views that features the rebuild start to finish. The other two featured here show how to choose the right vehicle for you and how we upgraded the suspension of the Landy.
Land Rover Defender 130 Camper Conversion: 16:44, 835k views
Choosing Your Overlanding Vehicle 17:39, 10K views
Airbag Installation: 6:11, 10K views
Click on any of these to be taken to that section of the rebuild.
After travelling Argentina to Alaska and having to experience everything from the blistering hot temperatures of The Atacama Desert to the freezing nights in Patagonia totally exposed and un-sheltered from the elements. Rooftop tents are great but we needed to make a live in situation sheltered from the elements that would not reduce our offroad abilities and be small enough to fit within a Hi-cube container. After roughly a year of planning and exploring our options we decide to build our own Box onto the rear of the landy that would let us freely pass trough from the cab to the box.
The Landy Loses some weight!
The Beauty of the Land Rover Defender 130 is the Possibility to disassemble the vehicle completely like Adult Lego, we started with removing the Rooftop Tent and rear Canopy. From that point we removed the rear doors and rear bench to give us easy access to the roof of the cab, after removing all connections between the roof and mounting points we lifted and removed it. Then we started dismantling the rear Tub. We removed all bolts mounting it to the Chassis and disconnected all cables and tubes on the tub then used a forklift to carefully lift the rear tub up making sure no cables were getting snagged or caught and slowly lifting it off till it was fully removed. The Cab off the vehicle is actually split in to multiple parts so all you need to do is remove the rear section of the cab which is essentially everything behind the Centre Support beam.
We were sure not to remove anything from the landy until the panels arrived from Total Composites at that point we loosely built the box in the workshop and checked all dimensions before deconstructing the box and leaving it off to the side while we dismantled the landy. The Design of the rear box was a long process that we had been planing for over a year,everything from how tall the box was going to be to how the box would mate to the Cab and Chassis of the 130 were debate and discussed down to the finest details.
Peparing Cab for Mating
After Dismantling the rear of the landy until the center support beam, we determined that cutting the Cabs roof down inline with the Center support beam would be best for mating Cab to the rear box. Using scrap pieces of wood from the containers the panels arrived in, we sketched and cut them down to fit the internal dimensions of the rear half of the cab. We used the lip Behind the Beam that is originally designed to hold the rear doors flush when closed as the borderline for our cab and constructed a frame the increased both the strength and surface area at the rear of the vehicle so we could mate the box to the cab
We used 1”x 2” steel for the subframe, 2”x2” would be very heavy and too rigid, allowing no flex at all. We cut the steel to lengths and began to weld on top of a large metal table. With the frame welded and structural gussets added for extra strength we took an angle grinder to the uglier welds, scrubbed the frame with a metal brush and painted the clean frame with four coats of rust inhibitive primer and four coats of rust inhibitive top coat, gloss black. After that we mounted a strong layer of wood to the Subframe that acted as mating surface between the Subframe and the Floor panel. That additionally protected the semi-fragile floor panel from cracking and being exposed to the elements.
Floor & body
The subframe wood and the floor were both measured and cut to provide easy access to the fuel pump as trying to replace the fuel pump in a stock 130 is already difficult enough whereas with the Subframe in place it would be Impossible to replace it. We used Sikaflex to glue all of the panels and the 90° angle extrusions except for the rear where we had to use bent steel plate to secure the angled lower plate. The Walls each have two decently large windows that gives the box enough natural light that we feel like we're inside and outside at the same time. The Rear door was made last minute as our schedule and deadline were nearing mercilessly. We needed to have the landy in the Shipping yard before the end of our last day, as Luisa and Keelan packed everything into the rear box as quickly as they could Graeme was finishing the latching systems on the rear door.
We built the roof in the nick of time along with the rear door as time was running out to get the Landy on a ship to Europe, we designed the roof to fit over the body by intentionally making the roof slightly larger. After arriving in Europe we planned to make the roof lift a extra meter but after seeing firstly how it was nearly too tall for us to touch and secondly how high-speed winds would most likely turn our roof into a oversize kite, we decided that the extra height wasn't that important. The reason we planned to raise the roof that high was so that Full sized Keelan could sit upright in the top bunk.
We Built the Interior in a fully modular fashion so at anytime we could remove everything in the box easily and fairly quickly. We used aluminium square tubing and Connect-its to create the shell of the cabinets and benches without welding or any nuts and bolts. After the shells were made we fastened wood onto the exterior facing parts of the shells. In the Kitchen area we used steel right angle profiles to let the draws rest on so they could easily be removed or repaired since there are no complex rail systems being used like we had done with the rear draw system since 2010. At first when we built in the United Kingdom the Drawers didn't have any sort of latches or locks which proved to be no problem on the English highways but when going offroading we had a rude awakening as the kids had to jump out of their seats while being thrashed around to stop all our cutlery and glasses from flying straight out from the railing. The bed on the left side of the box also acts as our main storage area, being the home of all Clothing, Technology, and other assorted chaos.
*The Interior is currently being renovated!
Life After the Rebuild
On a day to day basis the comfort, convenience, safety, and adaptability of the rebuild make it worth it. We can safely travel anywhere regardless if there's a massive heatwave or chilling thunderstorm we know that we'll be okay. We often compare the Rooftop setup to the rebuild and in almost every situation we're happy that we did the rebuild, sometimes we wish we had done it sooner!
Frequently asked questions
These are the most common questions about the build. It's easier to answer each one here then in Private FB/IG messages.
Q: How much does it weigh?
A: 3 tons~ We aren't entirely sure because every Weigh Station we've been to has given us vastly different results.
Q: How much did the build cost?
A: Roughly 20,000 USD
Q: What are the dimensions?
A: The dimensions of the box are L: 3.3m W: 2m H: 1.6m~
Q: Do you experience body roll?
A: Body roll is quite bad sometimes when we are at low speeds off-road. While in Europe we installed airbags in the rear suspension and that Significantly reduced body roll while driving in all conditions.
Q: Where did you source the materials?
A: The Panels came from a company called "Total Composites" and the rest of the materials were sourced from multiple online stores.
Q: How did you make the roof?
A: The roof was made to be slightly larger than the body so that it could be slotted over the box. Doing it this way made it waterproof and more secure when closed.
Q: what would you have done differently?
A: All things considered the main things that we would have changed about the build Aren't actually the build itself but Tools and time restraint we had. If we were to do it over we would make sure we have a full workshop of tools and more time. Our Composite panels were late to arrive and that threw all off our timings out. We ended up having to put our baby in a Shipping container without even having a test drive.
Q: Did you have to re register the vehicle
Q: Where do the children sit/ sleep?
A: Behind the front seats we made inward facing seats that are inside a steel security cage that doubles as a bunk bed platform. The inward facing benches fold down to make a bed that Keelan sleeps on. When the roof is lifted there is a bed on top of the security frame that Jessica sleeps in. In situations where we can't lift the roof Keelan's bed is wide enough that Luisa and Jessica sleep there and Keelan sleeps on luisa's bed.
Q: did you modify the suspension?
A: Yes, we installed Heavy Duty springs from BearMach and custom Shocks from Cibex.
Q: what is the fuel consumption?
A: It depends on a couple factors but mostly it depends on which way the wind blows! We get a average of 8.5km/L.
Q: Did you make any changes to the engine?
A: The only notable change we made was installing a Little Black Box which you can find a review of here. Although that was a changed made when we bought the vehicle!
Q: what spares do you carry?
A: We carry a wide range of spares
Q: does it fit in a shipping container
A: Yes! We specifically Designed it to enter a 40ft Hi-cube Shipping container.