Best Land Rovers for Campers

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By Dave Phillips

01 June 2018

Best Land Rover Campers : credit: © Alisdair Cusick

There’s no better way to enjoy the warm weather than to head for the wilderness in your Land Rover-based camping rig. Here are five very different ways to do it…

It's summer time and the living is easy… provided you’re in the best places to enjoy it. Happily, location is never a problem if you have a Land Rover to get you there. We all know that Solihull’s finest will take us to places that other vehicles can’t reach – and if you add a camping rig to the equation you really have got the best of all worlds.

Today, in a grassy meadow in the picturesque Great Ouse valley upstream of Bedford, we’ve assembled five very different Land Rover camping combos, ranging from a small but perfectly-formed ex-G4 Challenge Freelander and its adventure-orientated accessories, to the imposing bulk of an ex-military 101 Forward Control that has been converted to a go-anywhere home for a celebrity bouncer.

Also here for the night are a classic Series III Carawagon, a Defender Pulse ambulance conversion and a Discovery-hauled trailer tent with a difference – all with enthusiastic owners who have tales to tell about their travelling homes and the Land Rovers that are at the heart of their set-ups. 

Your Land Rover in standard form can take you anywhere in the world. But you’ll have a lot more fun when you get there if you improve it with a few modifications, as these owners have shown.

Not everybody has got room on their drive for a Forward Control the size of a barn, just as a startlingly-bright Tangiers Orange G4 Freelander isn’t to everyone’s taste, but what we have here is a feast of ingenuity, engineering and downright brilliant ideas that you can borrow and take with you as you set off on your own adventures this summer.

Now get out there and enjoy the great outdoors.

 

Defender Pulse 
Dave and Jo Stephenson, Guildford, Surrey

The height of this Pulse ambulance has been increased to 6ft 3in. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

The professionalism with which Dave and Jo have converted their ex-military Pulse Defender into a camping combo to die for should come as no surprise, because this talented couple run Freedom Trailers – a company that specialises in building bespoke trailer-cum-roof tents.

“We talked for ages about getting a Land Rover camper,” says Dave. “Should we get a 6x6? Maybe a Foleys conversion? Then I found this for sale and Jo said: ‘Let’s just do it’.”

That was two years ago. The 1998 300Tdi Defender 130 ambulance conversion had been retired from active service in Afghanistan and Iraq. It had 71,000 kilometres on the clock, sand and dust everywhere and original stretchers and medical kit in the back. But the couple stripped it out and began making plans.

As standard the Pulse ambulance body is pretty roomy, but the Stephensons increased the internal height to 6ft 3in so that they could walk around inside it without having to stoop, and extended the rear overhang by two feet to transform the interior into a Tardis-like living space, with room for themselves and their beloved dogs, Roxy and Karla.

It was no mean undertaking, because the double-skinned aluminium walls and roof sandwiched more than two inches of insulation. This was where Dave’s fabrication skills came in useful. He did all the bodywork himself, apart from some specialised aluminium welding.

The end result is hugely impressive and the interior has everything including the kitchen sink… not to mention shower, toilet, gas cooker, fridge, gas heater, ample overhead lockers and two double beds – one for Dave and Jo and the other for their pampered pooches.

Power comes from solar panels on the roof, plus two leisure batteries. There are USB sockets everywhere. Meanwhile, the vehicle’s trusty 300Tdi diesel engine has been treated to a little extra oomph thanks to the fitment of a boost pin.

So is this the ultimate camping set-up? The couple believe so, but just to make sure they have got some serious travelling planned. Since the build was finished last October, their trips have included the Isle of Skye, North Wales and Lake District. 

“We’re about to go to Scotland, but our plans for the future include Scandinavia, for some cold climate testing,” says Dave. “After that we’d like to ship it down under and tour New Zealand and Australia. I’ve done some research and I’ve found it will only cost £2000 to ship it to Auckland – you couldn’t hire a camper van for that money.”

The Stephensons are serial Land Rover collectors. Their fleet also includes an 80-inch Series I, a Discovery 2, A Defender 110 Puma and a Defender 130 crew cab. 

PS: If you want to get a taste of what Freedom Trailers can do, we’ve just heard that their Pumba trailer is now available for holidays in Scotland with specialists Roads Less Travelled. Go to: roadslesstravelled3.wixsite.com for more information.

 

G4 Freelander 1
Richard Stock, Cambridge

Richard often camps out in Norfolk but you’ll probably see him at the shows, too. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

When the G4 Challenge was launched in 2003 it captured the imagination of a generation of adventure fans who followed the progress of the teams as they ran, swam, cycled, kayaked and drove off-road in some of the most challenging places on the planet. The event was short-lived, with Land Rover’s new owners Tata pulling the plug in 2008, on the eve of the planned 2009 event, but by then it had a legion of enthusiastic followers – and none more dedicated than Richard Stock.

The 64-year-old garage owner literally lives the G4 dream and there’s nothing he loves more than driving into the countryside in one of his four G4 Land Rovers, pitching his G4 tent and firing up his G4 kelly kettle for a brew. If he’s by the coast, he’ll probably go for a paddle in his sea kayak – and wherever he is he’ll tuck himself up at night in his G4 sleeping bag – and dream of G4 Challenges past, no doubt.

The G4 Freelander he’s brought along today is one of only seven V6 petrol models built for the 2006 event, and it’s brimming with G4 kit, including G4 mugs, a change of G4 clothing and even a G4 shovel. Needless to say, Richard’s wearing his G4 shirt, coat and cap, today.

“Some might say I’m obsessed with G4, but all I can say is that I enjoy it,” says Richard. “I love collecting the stuff but I also enjoy using it. I often go camping and greenlaning in Norfolk and, as treasurer of the G4 Owners Club, I camp out at all the big Land Rover Shows. 

“There is still a big following for the G4 Challenge and, of course, its vehicles. We currently have 70 active members.”

The club caters for owners of vehicles actually used in the events in 2003 and 2006, as well as those already built for the aborted 2009 event and the special editions built and sold to the general public.

Richard’s personal fleet of G4 vehicles include the 2006 Freelander he has brought along today, plus another of the same vintage. He also has a Discovery 2 from the 2003 event and a Discovery 3 built in 2008 that would have been used in the cancelled 2009 event.

The latter is his everyday car that he uses in his garage business. “It’s a great versatile vehicle that is perfect for towing a trailer and going out to breakdowns,” says Richard.

The future’s orange, all right. For more information on the G4 Owners Club, go to g4ownersclub.com.

 

Series III Carawagon
David Appleyard, Grantham, Lincolnshire

David and son Alex enjoy the great outdoors. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

Journalist David Appleyard, 48, writes about new technology for a living, but in his spare time there’s nothing he enjoys more than camping trips with his five-year-old son Alex in this distinctly old-tech 1973 Carawagon.

The self-confessed Land Rover fanatic, who also has a 1963 Series IIA 88-inch soft top, says: “Ever since I’ve been into Land Rovers I’ve wanted a Carawagon and when this one came up for sale last summer I couldn’t resist it.

“It had just 18,000 miles on the clock and the previous owner hadn’t used it very much. It has a 2.25-litre petrol engine. Like all Land Rovers, it didn’t appreciate standing around and not being used, which meant I had a bit of work to do to bring it up to scratch, including changing the head gasket, fitting a new clutch and overhauling the brakes.

“By the time I’d finished all the mechanical work, the summer was nearly over, but Alex and I have managed a few weekend trips and I’ve put another 2000 miles on the clock. We spent Easter camping in the Peak District. 

“My wife Jackie isn’t so keen on camping these days, but we used to do a lot of camping trips before Alex came along. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to tempt her along too, once she sees how comfortable camping is in the Carawagon. I’ve already removed the cubby box and fitted a centre seat for Alex, so all three of us can enjoy sitting up front when we go on our adventures.” 

The vehicle is totally original, right down to the 1970s Formica tops on the fitted cupboards. Says David: “I’ve got plans to add soundproofing as well as a sound system and a Webasto heater. It’s a case of taking it further after seeing how it goes.

“One day I’d like to do an overland trip across Europe to the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. It’s a part of the world I’ve never been, but I understand that part of Romania is beautiful and unspoilt. It would certainly be fun to drive there in the Carawagon.”

 

101 Forward Control
Teddy Seymour, Portsmouth, Hampshire

Teddy’s 101 is his home and reflects his personality. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

This converted Forward Control is different to the other Land Rovers in this feature, because it’s where owner Teddy lives. His 101 is the place he returns to every evening after putting in a shift as a security officer in the film industry. 

It’s a big car for a big man. Teddy, 36, is a bouncer to the stars, but to him the star of the show is his beloved Forward Control. “I’m ex-army and ever since I passed my driving test in 1998 I’ve driven nothing but Land Rovers. Discoverys, Defenders, you name it – but the one I had always dreamed of was a 101.”

That dream came true four years ago when he got the chance to buy the converted RAF ambulance, which had its chassis stretched to 131.25 inches to maximise the living space, which he shares with Bear – a life-size teddy bear that’s his constant travelling companion. “A mate gave him to me because I always travel alone,” laughs Teddy. “He’s great because he never answers back, isn’t at all needy and enjoys the ride.”

It’s a ride that’s made more comfortable by the addition of air suspension to the rear, and more economical thanks to swapping the original 3.5 V8 petrol engine for an ex-Disco 300Tdi lump. “I only got 10-11 mpg from the V8, but the 300Tdi gives me 23 mpg,” says Teddy.

That’s an important consideration in a vehicle that takes its owner all over the country, to what are often challenging locations. “I’ve lost count of the times that I have had to tow the film units, including big articulated trucks, out of muddy fields when they’ve got stuck,” recalls Teddy.

When he isn’t working, the 101 also takes him to some remote coastal spots when he indulges his hobby of sea fishing.

“The 101 is the perfect vehicle for me. Once I got it, I realised I didn’t want to live anywhere else, so I gave up the house I used to rent in Portsmouth. These days, even when I go to visit my mother or stay with friends, I park outside and sleep in my 101 at night. I love it.”

The behemoth Land Rover is literally a big talking point with the film stars that Teddy rubs shoulders with. “Celebrities are just like everyone else,” he says. “They want to have normal conversations about normal things. Guy Ritchie was fascinated by my 101 and came over and chatted with me about cars for two and a half hours.”

Inside the 101’s capacious body is everything Teddy needs for his remarkable lifestyle, including sink, fridge, cooker, toilet, bed and wardrobe. Solar panels on the roof power the TV, radio and wi-fi.

“I have everything I need and I can be anywhere in the country. I love my Land Rover and my lifestyle,” says Teddy.

 

Discovery 1 and Sankey trailer conversion
Dave Beman, Bedford

Once erected, Dave’s trailer has a double bed and ample overhead storage. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

Former aircraft technician Dave, 70, admits he has a flair for inventing and precision engineering – and his amazing Sankey trailer conversion proves that is no idle boast. A flick of a switch is all it takes to set in motion a superb hydraulics system that converts the trailer into a home-from-home in a matter of seconds.

But this example of engineering excellence came about through necessity nine years ago, when Dave suffered a series of health setbacks that culminated in heart bypass surgery. “I was at a loss with what to do with the rest of my life,” he says. “I needed a hobby and I’ve been building it ever since, under a three-metre marquee in my back yard.”

Once erected, Dave’s trailer tent boasts a double bed, as well as ample overhead storage for him and his wife, Joan. The roof is aluminium and on top of that there are solar panels to generate all the electricity they need, weather permitting. And when the sun does refuse to shine, there’s an emergency generator.

Pulling this remarkable rig is a 300Tdi Discovery 1 that the couple bought 11 years ago, after being involved in a head-on car crash that saw the other driver killed. “We were lucky to walk away from our Ford Focus uninjured but I didn’t want to drive a tin can any more after that,” says Dave.

The Discovery – a Japanese import – had just 30,000 miles on the clock when Dave bought it. Since then he has added an ingenious LPG system of his own design that boosts both performance and economy. “Everybody told me it couldn’t be done,” he says, “but that made me all the more determined to get it right. It took me a year but it now runs perfectly on a mixture of diesel and LPG and I get 47 mpg as well as stunning performance when I want it.”

It also makes camp cooking more economical, as Dave has fitted refillable gas cylinders, which can be topped up with LPG at the same time as he is filling up the Discovery’s tank.

“I designed this set-up so that it has got everything, including hot and cold water – in fact, all that we need to be totally independent in the bush,” says Dave. “My only regret is that because of my poor health we can’t travel as far as we would like to, but we do make regular trips all over the country and spend a lot of time in Wales.”