All about the Landy, and 'why this one?'

It's a good question. It's also a very personal choice analogous to a preference for a particular fine malt whisky: tastes differ; personal preferences are diverse; yet somehow it remains important to be able to describe why.

When speaking and listening to folk more experienced than we are in matters of overland travel, there is a clear division of opinion - to put it mildly! Prevalent opinions narrowed the selection down to the Toyota Land Cruiser - which is arguably becoming the king of trans-Africa travel - and Land Rover, which has been in Africa for decades. Factors guiding the decision include the availability of spares and expertise, reliability & reputation, its ability to traverse all types of terrain and - crucially - the ability to maintain it ourselves.

This last point cannot be underestimated and if Dennis Wilson reads this will surely bring a wry smile to his face. Our knowledge of mechanics is patchy - or was patchy until we took an evening course at Stevenson College in Edinburgh. So it is now more like a patchwork quilt of basic knowledge, coupled with experience of driving and getting to know the vehicle.

What we were looking for was something basic to minimise the number of things that can go wrong and that require professional expertise to repair: so normally aspirated, without fuel injection or power steering was the benchmark. The down side of that is that the vehicle will be older, and there will be the problems associated with age.

In the end, we heard about this one for sale, having already done the trans-Africa after being rebuilt on a new chassis, and was given the provisional name (to see if it fits) Hombwe. It means snailin Swahili, and is fortuitously onomatopoeic ... However, that never felt right, and the name Puff seemed more appropriate - yes, yes, of Magic Dragon fame ...

This is a Land Rover Series IIa, 2.25 litre petrol, complete with such things as a dual battery system, fridge, solar panel, long range fuel tanks, bull bar, winch and other extras which are detailed via the drop-down menu, top left. According to the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) it was built in Solihull in February 1971 as a left hand drive diesel pick-up, and dispatched to Milan. It subsequently found its way to South Africa and was rebuilt by Dennis Wilson and driven through Africa to the UK, in 1999-2000. We bought it off him in Essex in August 2003.

Since then, we've had to do quite a few things, to get the vehicle on the road. The DVLA had things to say about it having been "imported" and tax being due, there was an issue surrounding the MOT and, of course, insurance, which given the age means we have Classic Car Insurance (it's cheaper, which is nice).

Mechanically, it is sound, although work has been necessary on the front brakes, fuel lines to long range tanks, instrument cluster, speedometer and transfer box. A particularly expensive event has been the end of the water pump, (see spares required!), with detrimental consequences to the head gasket! This in turn led to two of the push rods getting bent and the guides damaged. The upshot of that has been a very costly repair (labour mostly; this is Britain), but on the bright side, it means we have a new top end, as well as new water pump and fuel pump. Further work has been done on the electrics - most recently on the alarm, and on the spotlights and interior lights and the addition of a 12v-220v inverter to run the laptop and possibly a shower. Other electrics that needed to be relaired incuded the interior lights, horn, and power supply to some of the guages.

It's a long process, but the stoic needs must see this as all part of getting our mobile-home-for-a-year ready for the trip for which she was built and rebuilt.

A major part of that has been played by one Alex Lindsay, a Land Rover mechanic in Broxburn near Edinburgh - and 8x Scottish champion at racing the things! He has agreed to let Murray do work on the Landy, under his guidance and tutelage, to better understand what is essentially a giant Meccano set ...

This work has included taking out the seat box and replacing the clutch, front and rear drive shafts and exhaust, followed by replacing various bits and pieces including frong flexible brake hoses which are non-standard, and the accelerator cable, for the same reason.

After that, an auto electrician cast his professional eye over it to make sure it passes muster for the trip. In addition, we replaced wheels and tyres to ensure they were all uniform, adding Michelin 7.50 x 16 14-ply radials with a road and sand pattern truck specification. The reason for this choice was a compromise based on the terrain we can expect en route. It seems the wet parts are likely to be on tar or at least firmer ground (west Africa); the same goes for France and Spain (more on the tyres under 'performance'). It was felt that it was just not worth getting mud terrain tyres that will wear thin by the time we get to the mud in question. The wheels were non-uniform when we bought it, and at least one tyre showed signs of so-called "wind-up" which results from either driving in four wheel drive on tar or driving on tar with only one of the two freewheel hubs in 4x4.

And finally, a Fairey overdrive was added, to save on fuel on the roads and to give that in-between gear for the uphill stretches where neither second nor third gear will do the job and, of course, for the long straight stretched when gear four-and-a-half is needed. This has shown a saving in fuel already, in a 1,200km trip to Ireland and back.

In the top picture, you can see the new rear propshaft connected to the back of the gearbox and the the re-attached bell housing, after the clutch was put back into the latter, but before the seat box was replaced. In the next shot you can also see the corner of the left hand auxillery tank, that sits under the passenger seat.

The third photo shows the seatbox back in and one seat installed for a test drive (note the brand new mild steel exhaust under the middle seat gap). The fourth photo shows the floor panels reinstalled, without the sealant which had yet to be renewed. Note the pipes from the three petrol tanks, going into the switch next to the handbrake and to the driver's left, which controls the feed from the desired tank. Note overdrive not in yet ...

After that, it was a matter of resealing the windscreen (which leaked), putting in a new accelerator cable, renewing the raised breather pipe from the rear axle, reconnecting the batteries and handbrake and replacing the floor panels and seat box. It was a fantastic feeling once it started and drove, to confirm that the clutch works!

Finally, the seat was returned to its rightful home and the mats put back in. All good. Note the lever for the overdrive, to the left of the hand brake lever.

Finally, we added some sund-proofing, which is a 30kg fitted rubber matting system designed for Series landies. At 8mm thick, it is fairly effective and allows some form of conversation while driving.