11 April 2023
Traditional craftsmanship and acres of shiny aluminium are at the heart of Duckworth Overland’s Aurochs camper
Aurochs are an extinct breed of European wild ox, from which domestic cattle are probably descended. It’s also the third name for this Defender-based motorhome during its two-year gestation – other brands objected to names one and two.
We first encountered what was then provisionally called the AeRover in mid 2021 in Somerset, when the target price was around £200k. We’ve had to wait over a year since then to finally get our hands on this most individual leisure vehicle, a true one-of-a-kind.
The delayed progress is easier to comprehend when you arrive at Duckworth Overland’s modest industrial unit a few miles south of Bristol. Despite its ambitious design, there is no team of staff here – just two blokes and a shedload of passion for the project.
The whole camper body is hand-formed from aluminium
“It was Tom’s [Duckworth] idea,” says Michael Gerrard as I stare at what still looks like a rather incomplete Aurochs, wondering how this vehicle – referred to as ‘001’ as the first of its type – will be ready for our photoshoot tomorrow. The two friends had worked together as marquee erectors and it was a chance meeting at a Bath rugby match that set the wheels in motion for this intriguing bespoke camper.
Tom Duckworth, whose name the company bears, has experience as a sheet metal worker and a background in classic car restoration – not a bad CV when the starting point for the Aurochs is an icon of British motoring. Michael, meanwhile, was working as a CAD designer when the two set up Duckworth Overland, so it was his more 21st century expertise that got the project underway.
The starting point for the Aurochs is a Defender 110 Commercial. This example was first registered back in 2002. However, not much of the original vehicle is left.
Rear hatch opens with electric motors to create a panoramic viewing area
Duckworth Overland’s first job was to cut off the back of the van body and stretch the wheelbase, using a genuine Land Rover 130 chassis that was then fully galvanised. Under the bonnet, the original Td5 engine remains, but it’s been reground, rebored and balanced: its smoothness is impressive. This Td5 puts out around 135bhp, which should be plenty as the finished Aurochs weighs approximately 2.6 tonnes unladen.
The attention to detail on preparing the Defender base vehicle is a key reason why Duckworth Overland has missed its original price point for the vehicle. About £120,000 is accounted for by the Defender, on which every component has been restored or replaced. Not that the company has deviated far from original spec in the interests of keeping everything repairable should there be an issue that needs fixing in Timbuktu. After all, mechanics the world over have worked on Defenders.
One addition is a second alternator to charge the lithium leisure battery. Another is a disc (instead of drum) transmission brake, thus addressing a known Defender weakness and allowing you to camp on a clifftop without worry, while the LED road lights allow you decent night vision. But the most significant mechanical update is the addition of On Air air suspension. This not only gives a much smoother ride – later ably demonstrated as we trundle across a Wiltshire field – but can also increase wading depth by 80mm. Its best party trick, though, is being able to level the camper when you’ve parked up for the night.
Best known amongst Land Rover campervan conversions are the pop-top Dormobile and Carawagon conversions of the 1970s, the former now back on the market. However, the room inside a standard Defender makes a Volkswagen Transporter seem like a palace – it’s not a big space to work with. Duckworth Overland wanted to offer more, but this is far from just a box on the back of a 4x4 like the dismountables on Land Rover pick-ups that various companies have offered. This is a quite remarkable and unique design. Just look at it.
If you wanted to poke fun, you could say that it looks like the Landy stopped too quickly and was half eaten by the Airstream caravan that it was towing. That would be grossly unfair, though, to a vehicle which represents hundreds of man hours of fastidious design and construction. Each one of the curved panels that form the Luton back took two days to make, for example.
Cabin upgraded with leather and Harris tweed from Exmoor Trim
Clearly, there’s inspiration from that most iconic of American caravan designs, but Tom prefers to point out that the original Airstream travel trailer itself took design cues from the aircraft of its time. See the Aurochs in the metal and it’s hard not to be impressed. “Wow”, is the word that pops into my head as soon as I see it in the open for the first time.
The whole superstructure of the Aurochs is aluminium, constructed on 55mm-deep aluminium ribs with a plastic thermal break, spray foam insulation and an interior lined with bamboo. The hardest part of the vehicle’s conception, Michael says, was making all the tooling for the body, with wooden bucks designed on CAD and cut by CNC machine before each of the vehicle’s aluminium panels was carefully formed by hand.
Every shape on the vehicle is an ellipse or a radius and details such as the handmade aluminium frames to the Dometic S7 double-glazed windows are pure works of art. The only recognisable motorhome element on the exterior is the electric step.
With so much time and effort having gone into the exterior design, it would have been a crying shame if the interior of the Aurochs looked like a typical campervan or motorhome. Fortunately, it feels more akin to a yacht when you step through the door and Tom is such a stickler for detail that he wants to disguise the plastic surround to the 230V and USB sockets with another piece of carefully shaped aluminium.
He is clearly passionate not just about the finished vehicle and keeping alive the traditional skills that allowed its lengthy build, but also about this being a truly British product. All of the aluminium comes from Fort William, while the wood comes from very near Duckworth Overland’s base.
Work surfaces are oak, while the interior is beautifully lined with bamboo
Boards and seat cushions convert the living room into a bedroom
And there’s a lot of wood inside this campervan. The worktops are solid oak, while the continuous curves of the walls and roof are lined with 20mm-wide bamboo planks, linked together with bead and cove joints in the style of a cedar strip canoe. Truly, this is an interior worthy of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
It’s the lounge that takes priority for, although the Aurochs is much bigger inside than a standard Defender, it’s petite by motorhome standards at 5.42m long and only 2.00m wide. Settees trimmed in a combination of real leather and Harris tweed wrap around the rear of the Aurochs in a U-shape but the party piece is what Tom calls the panorama. Flick a switch and, amid much whirring of electric motors, the back of the camper opens up in around 20 seconds, to bring the outside in.
For dining there’s a (heavy) solid oak table that hides away behind a panel in the wall. It sits on a Sequoia island leg – a typical campervan component – but Tom isn’t at all happy with its instability and is already looking to the marine market for something better, whatever the
The table (and two additional panels) also fill the gap between the sofas and cushions are quickly rearranged to form a flat bed measuring 1.82m by 1.57m. It might be tempting to doze with the panoramic open – as long as the local wildlife wouldn’t look on you as a tasty snack – but with it shut, it’s quiet inside, even with September showers playing havoc with our shoot.
Storage spaces have a bespoke look and feel
There’s no gas in the Aurochs. Heating is via an Eberspächer Airtronic diesel-fired blown-air system mounted under the offside settee, with a Truma Saphir air-conditioning unit not only catering for the opposite end of the climatic scale but also providing backup warmth when required.
Of course, the Saphir system needs electricity, so the Aurochs comes with a 200Ah lithium battery, a 3000W inverter and two 111W solar panels. This is a camper designed not just for off-road driving but a degree of off-grid living, too. What it doesn’t have is an onboard shower, or a private washroom – it’s just too small inside – but there is an Outwell portable toilet hidden under the nearside seating.
More comprehensively equipped is the kitchen, which includes a Klarstein two-ring induction hob and a 57 litre compressor fridge. The deep sink (another item that’s atypical of motorhome fittings) is fed from an 85 litre underslung fresh water tank plus a 15 litre Surecal calorifier that supplies hot water by using heat from the Defender’s engine.
In the end, Tom says he worked until 10.00pm to get the Aurochs ready for our photography but there’s still some finishing to do inside cupboards, which will be carpet-lined. There are already some neat ideas, though, such as the all-aluminium overhead locker in the galley, the large drawer for your pots and pans, and the big overcab compartment for your bedding.
Left: Even plastic edging is banned in the Aurochs’ plush cabin. Right: Switch panel uses aircraft-style toggle switches
My favourite feature, though, is the selection of aircraft-style toggle switches that operate water pump, lighting, etc. It did seem like there should be one for an ejector seat or missile launcher, though…
We met the Aurochs just prior to its Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) testing, so sadly we couldn’t take it out on the road. Driving around some fields close to the A303, though, did show that this silver dream machine should provide a smooth, rattle-free drive with comfortable (heated and electrically adjustable) seats, courtesy of Exmoor Trim.
It still feels like a Defender, of course, with the driver’s door wedged up against your elbow in the confined cockpit as you hold onto that lovely polished wooden wheel from Lode Lane. That lack of space obviously can’t be changed, but to distract you Duckworth Overland has added lots of leather, more Harris tweed and even a JVC head unit with Apple CarPlay and a reversing camera. But then you’d expect all the toys within the Aurochs’ asking price of £350,000.
That’s a lot of cash but there’s a huge amount of work in the build. The company will only ever make two or three Aurochs a year, with each one taking at least nine months from the time of ordering to completion. If you’re tempted, you can, of course, not only choose the upholstery, the wood finish, etc, but also the interior layout. Your Aurochs doesn’t have to be a facsimile of this one.
Or you could save yourself £100k by buying the prototype – 001, seen here – if someone else doesn’t get there first…
“I started Duckworth Overland to combine two of my greatest passions: skilled and practical craftsmanship and my love for travel and adventure,” says Tom Duckworth, who formed Duckworth Overland along with Michael Gerrard. The company has a strong emphasis on handbuilding, using traditional methods that Tom is passionate to keep alive in the face of ever-increasing mechanisation. Its first vehicle is based on a Land Rover Defender but it will consider using other chassis, including the 6x6 Ibex, and could offer a dismountable pod, too. Every vehicle built will be completely bespoke to the customer’s design and requirements.
Duckworth Overland is based in Paulton, south of Bristol. You can contact the team at: duckworthoverland.com.
Base vehicle: 2002 Defender 110 Commercial on a130 chassis
Travel seats: 2
Gross weight: 3050kg
Price: From £350,000 (demo vehicle currently available at £250,000)
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