15 March 2022
After achieving great success with his IT company, Johan De Villiers next turned his attention to his 2004 Defender 110 Td5 double cab. His aim? To turn it into the best overlanding machine the world has ever seen
Johan de Villiers is what I would class as a slight over-achiever. Ask me, I’ve known him for about 20 years. He has the big house on a golf course next to the cold Atlantic Ocean. From his lounge he can see ships cruise into the Cape Town Harbour with the impressive Table Mountain just behind it. His IT company has made him a penny or two and he is a boy with all the toys: jet skis, dirt bikes and mountain bikes but just like you and I, he is totally into off-roading and Land Rovers.
Johan in his happy place
Being in his Land Rover in some remote beautiful part of our planet is worth more to Johan than clinching a big-bucks mega business deal. The saying adventure before dementia was coined for people like Johan. He has even written articles for off-road magazines about the art of off-roading as he knows a thing or two. Then just before Covid halted all adventurers in their tracks he was published on the Adventure Portal website after he and his partner Kim Rew, traversed Myanmar on dirt bikes. Johan came with me when I drove to the source of the Nile, saw the mountain gorillas (the ones without AK47s) in Rwanda and watched the wildebeest migration on the Mara River. The man is not afraid of an adventure or two which is why his Defender 110 double cab has more accessories and gadgets than a modern-day spaceship.
Alu Cab Gen 3 tent takes less than 45 seconds to put up
Johan’s Land Rover story began in 1997 when he spent a week undergoing intense Defender driving and recovery training in the Eastern Transvaal from two former Camel Trophy winners, the Germans Heinz Kallin and Bernd Strohdach. Not long after this he decided to take a year out from corporate life and drives solo through Africa in his first Land Rover, a Defender 110 300Tdi.
The Land Rovers came thick and fast after that: a Defender 90 2.8i with the BMW M52 engine, then a Discovery 2 Td5, followed by a Freelander 2 which he unceremoniously dumped in a river (those in the know say on purpose) before he finally settled on his current Defender 110 Td5 double cab.
I ask him why a Defender and not something else? “Unfortunately for my sins I have an emotional connection to Defenders. If I had to go through Africa again my brain says buy a Land Cruiser but I follow my heart and it will always say old Defender. I tell people it is a bit like having a very old Golden Retriever that lies at your feet near the fire and does nothing but cost you loads in vet bills. In China they might euthanise it but you just don’t have the heart to do that. That is what owning an old Defender is all about. Loyalty until you die.”
Johan's partner, Kim, with the original 110, purchased in 2015
It all began after spotting a Gumtree advert from the George Land Rover dealership on an innocuous Friday afternoon five years ago. Johan had a good feeling about this one, so he trusted his gut and booked a flight for the next morning, he bought it and drove it home after paying £10,000 for it. No comparing, asking for discount or taking it for a test drive. The test drive was the 500-mile drive home.
Johan explains his buying modus operandi: “You know when you go to the dog shelter and there is that one dog that looks at you and wags its tail and you just know that is the one coming home with you? That is how I felt about this Defender.”
The 110n now, transformed into the ultimate overlander
I ask why a double cab pick-up and not a more practical County Station Wagon? “It’s a rare configuration and I like the pick-up, I did not want to look like every other old fart in a CSW, I wanted something that could stand next to a sexed-up Jeep Wrangler and still pull it off. It not only had to look good, it needed to be able to take a hammering off-road when overlanding, be self-sufficient in terms of water tanks, provide power and have a long range. It had to be able to support and sustain life, I like to solo, where there is no one there to extract or recover you. Every system needed a back-up system in case something failed.” While Johan now has most certainly created just that, he has also made something that makes people take notice. Often after taking his dog for a walk on the beach he returns to his Defender to find notes under the wipers with hearts drawn on them while the authors wax lyrical about his 110.
Even Johan is surprised by the reaction it gets. “How can a 20-year-old Defender with over 190,000 miles do that? My everyday drive is a Grand Cherokee Jeep Hemi and it does not get that sort of reaction.”
Rear bumper can accommodate winch as well as long-range tanks
Terrafirma heavy duty off-road coils and shocks
Johan has done over 60,000 miles in his Defender during his five years of ownership. That is enough to take you around the world two and a half times. Some of those miles include trips to Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia. His Defender is not just a poser, it does the miles and needs to work hard.
Why the impossible-to-miss colour? In his spare time Johan races KTM dirt bikes with Kim, so from a brand perspective he wanted his Defender to be the same colour as his bike, so he went for a 3M wrap in the KTM colour which is colour code Pantone 021C. He also says to me that if he does roll it down a mountain it’s easier to spot a bright-coloured Defender than a plain-coloured one from a rescue chopper. Johan is also a qualified helicopter pilot which is why only he would have thought of this.
Integrated air compressor tank
I ask Johan, who has loads of 4x4 and overlanding experience, how someone should kick off their dream overland build? “Decide beforehand if you want a 4x4 or an overland vehicle. They are two very different things. With the former your suspension articulation is very important and you won’t load your roof for fear of ruining your centre of gravity. Also, weight is your enemy when driving extreme trails. An overland vehicle is very different as it has to sustain life which means it has to carry huge amounts of extra water and fuel. Plus it must produce its own energy. It must also be able to extract itself from precarious situations. Add into the mix comms and nav systems and you have the ultimate overland vehicle.” I have to concur with Johan, I would not want to drive his just under three tonne 110 with the AluCab Gen 3 tent on top down Van Zyls Pass in northern Namibia. That is the rocky, extreme pass the new Defenders drove down during the international launch.
High centre of gravity means you need to keep an eye on the pitch!
Any advice to readers on how to approach a build like this? “A piecemeal approach does not work and that is a mistake I made due to budget constraints. I would add something, then save up, then add something else. I should rather have done the whole project all at once. The reason I say this is that I spent lots of money towards the end of the project simplifying electric systems as it had become a spider’s web of wires underneath the battery box seat. I had created an electrical fire risk and spent hundreds of pounds rectifying it. I did this by putting in a centralised electrics control box with a proper DB board with fail-safe switches and a separate fuse cabinet. I had to clean up the mess that I had created over five years by adding just another winch, GPS or fridge…” So while Johan is very happy with what he has built and created, he would’ve saved a lot of money and time if he did it all at once instead of building the house room by room as it were.
VHF radio (out of shot), GPS and tyre pressure management system within easy reach. Note the silver detailing
Prior to our interview Johan sent me a rather detailed spreadsheet of everything major that he has added or changed in five years. There are 75 items on that spreadsheet, it does not include the small details such as the silver aluminium inserts on the gauges and on the indicator stalk. The little details don’t stop there, even the VHF radio in the roof console has brushed aluminium inserts on the outside, so it does not look like what he calls ‘a farmer’s job’. I suppose when you successfully work in IT and fly helicopters for a hobby, then the little details are important to you.
Rear PV panel for primary battery charging
During our chat Johan goes to great lengths to stress the importance of generating extra power when static. There is a small PV solar panel hidden underneath the rear roof rack to help with this. The primary battery receives a trickle charge from this PV panel and its only job is to start the Defender. This means Johan can park up somewhere for two weeks and he won’t have to worry about it firing up first time even though the alternator has been on a fortnights holiday. Then there is a second larger PV solar panel on top of the tent which trickle charges the leisure battery so Johan does not have to rely on an outside source or an inept African government for power. Then when Johan leaves Cape Town his Defender is carrying 50 litres of water and 160 litres of diesel. He has more than covered the water, diesel and power bases.
When it comes to self-recovery Johan has a plan for just about every eventuality. He carries the usual bag of recovery gear that includes shackles, tow and snatch straps. Then he has a ten ton Pro Warn winch on the front bulbar with a built-in industrial air compressor. Compressed air is literally on demand thanks to the 20 litre black air tank underneath the cab. If the back of the Defender is in trouble then out comes the high lift jack with the extended base plate and if it’s too muddy then the 5 ton inflatable jack is also an option. If all of the aforementioned does not work then there is a good old spade, it too is KTM orange of course.
Rear seats had to make way for a big Engel fridge
I know the issue has already been raised but I have to ask Johan about how he has kept the weight down. To counter the problem the second row of seats have been taken out as he never has more than two people in his Defender. I did the same when owning a Td5 double cab pick up and like me Johan has put a 60 litre Engel fridge in there. If it does not add to the form and function of the vehicle then Johan has removed it.
While some add lockers to increase capability Johan has decided against that as this is an overland Defender and not for 4x4 comps. Also when he did that first solo trip through Africa he had problems with the rear locker he fitted back then. As for the mechanics he has tried to keep it as standard as possible so that he can get access to standard spare parts for his ‘standard’ Defender. The only mod that he has done to the engine is a remap to the ECU to increase lowdown and mid-range power. “This is where all the work is done by my Defender, I don’t need top end speed, this is overlanding in Africa in a brick remember. I did not mess with the turbo boost either.” He did add a Dastek intercooler to ensure that the oil temps are kept as low as possible.
Pick-up load bed converted to provide loads of storage space by Landy Guru
What is the back-up plan for when things do go wrong? Johan has the regular long range CB radio and mobile phone but the bit of safety gear he raves about the most is his Gamin inReach Explorer + device. “It’s a handheld satellite communicator, you can use it to make contact with your friends who are thousands of miles away, you can share your location and best of all if in trouble, there is an SOS button. When there is no mobile signal my mobile uses the inReach as a hotspot and it can send text messages to other mobile phones using satellites, so you don’t need mobile reception to stay in touch anymore. It gives me total peace of mind and I can call my mum when in trouble.”
As a pilot Johan values the ability to navigate by only using a paper map and a compass. “Don’t have an over-reliance on electronic devices, millennials would be screwed if their phones and their GPS devices failed. Learn to orientate yourself and to navigate the traditional way with a map and compass,” Johan encourages.
Integrated rear storage gives it a neat finish
As a final question I ask Johan what is the most important consideration when setting up your dream overlander? “I remember watching a BBC interview with an old Land Rover engineer and they asked him a similar question to which he gave a one word answer: tyres.” Johan runs standard 16-inch black powdercoated wheels with the new Maxxis Razr MT tyres. He used to run Kumho mud tyres but they were too noisy. He has also run BF Goodrich KO2 all terrain tyres but when driving in the mud, rain and water of Botswana then only a mud tyre will do. “You always have traction with the Razrs and when the tyres do spin they fling out the mud from between the blocks of tread.” I would just like to add that Johan paid for his tyres and that was not a tyres salesman pitch.
I’ve seen a few old Defenders in my time but when it comes to overlanding then Johan’s KTM orange 110 is one of a kind. Johan has meticulously focussed on the important things, and has made sure that he has enough fuel, power, water and if he does get stuck, then he has the ability to self-extract.
JOHAN'S KIT LIST (prices include fitting)
• 60 ENGEL Fridge/Freezer £400
• Air tank 20 litre extra fitted £50
• Auxiliary Storage Box £1000
• Back doors swing extension £50
• Back work LED Lights x 2 £100
• Battery Invertor 1500 W 1500
• Battery charger heavy duty Ctek £125
• Battery management system Luna £20
• BIG COUNTRY rear drawer system £400
• Bonnet protectors £75
• Brad Harrison 12 Volt socket £50
• Branch deflectors £125
• Bright White LED Lights Upgrade £420
• Bull bar Heavy Duty ARB £300
• Dastek InterCooler 175
• DB Board & Isolators for Batteries £100
• Double jerry cans £25
• Driver seat Extension £25
• EMS Fox Engine management system £200
• Extra Spare Heavy Duty Hinge £200
• Extra Spare Wheel £100
• EZI - Awning 2.5m £450
• Fender protectors £100
• Front /Side/Rear Recovery points x 8 £125
• Front Spot Lights EXTREME £150
• Front Tow bar £50
• FRONTRUNNER Roof Rack £425
• GARMIN GPS 7200 StreetPilot £300
• GARMIN InReach Satellite Communicator £600
• Gas Cylinder Bracket £25
• Hi Lift Jack £25
• Hi-lift jacking points £100
• Led Bar 120 Watts £275
• Long handle Axe & Bracket £25
• Long range fuel tanks 43 £550
• Mad Man Engine Management System £350
• Maglite Work Torch £25
• Mud Tires MAXXIS Razors 265/75/16 £1500
• NATIONAL LUNA Battery Dual system £300
• Plasma Winch Rope 12 tons £250
• Power sockets x 2 + USB External £25
• Rear remote reversing camera system £200
• Rear TERRA FIRMA Back bumper £300
• Recovery Spade & Bracket £25
• Rims Upgrade Defender Black x 5 £250
• Roof console interior fitted £640
• Roof top tent ALUCAB Gen 3 £1750
• Rubberised cargo area with light £175
• SAFARI Snorkel £350
• Safe build in centre console £100
• SecureTech Heavy Duty Plasma Rope for Winch £300
• Side LED Illumination x 2 £75
• Sill Protectors £250
• Silva Compass £25
• Solar Panel & Digital Readouts for Primary battery £200
• Solar Panel PV for Secondary Deep Cycle battery £325
• Sport 4 Point Seatbelts Fitted £140
• Sport Seats Fitted x 2 £100
• Storage Compartments on Rear Bulkhead £125
• Sump Guard n/a
• Temp Digital Gauges Ext/Internal £25
• TERRA FIRMA Heavy Duty Suspension £900
• Terrain Level Indicator £25
• Tinted Windows £100
• Tire Pressure Management System £200
• Tow bar back £125
• VHF Radio Base Station and Mobile Units with Aerial £150
• WARN Air Compressor £125
• WARN Powerplant 9500 £750
• Water tanks 48 £275
• Wheel Arches Over-sized £350