Our Vehicle

The vehicle that is going to get us to Oz is a 2011 Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon 2.4Ltr TDCI. Know to her friends and family as Mary.
Why we chose Mary as our vehicle of choice
 The choice to go with Land Rover was made for a couple of reasons – one being, the alternative of the 70 Series Toyota Land Cruiser was too expensive and they are scarce in the UK. There is something I find quite romantic about the thought of traveling the world in a Land Rover. I like the way they look. I like what they stand for. They are probably the easiest vehicle to customise as there are endless after market parts. It’s a tried and tested overland platform, many before me have used it and many after me will use it for overland travel.
 
We chose the 110 Station Wagon for the purpose of it having 5 doors. This will allow ease of access to the middle of the vehicle using the rear passenger doors. We are going to remove the seats in the rear but we will keep the single one, in case of needing a guide or third member of the team for any time throughout the journey. We can use the back door for access to the rear. The vehicle will be separated into section or zones for the ease of living out off. 
 
The exact Defender we opted for kind of came just at the right time. We had been to the Land Rover dealer. We had spoken to the salesman and picked the specification we wanted for a brand new Defender. It was coming to the final stages of the deal and we were due to go in, and sign on the dotted line and pay the £27,000. I was keeping an on eye all Defenders selling online and on eBay etc. We came across Mary, a 2011 left hand drive Defender, with 50,000 km (31,000 miles) on the clock. It was totally kitted out with everything we would need and some stuff we didn’t. In essence, we could have left straight away. Rich, the bloke we bought it off, had owned it from new and had done one expedition to Morocco. I’m still finding the dust as I work on Mary now! It is a tried and tested vehicle, with full service history and was very well maintained and true to Rich’s word its been a strong car…so far.

Work done to prepare for the trip

 
This section will be updated as more work is completed.

Interior

Date work completed: 01 February 2015
  • Striped the back seats out and completely striped the rear. This is so we can sound proof the rear two thirds. The front had already been done.
  • Front winch and bumper removed and rear bumper removed for re-powder coating due to a few signs off rust and wear.
  • Had to remove auxiliary fuel tank to gain access to the rear bumper and draw unit. As it was fitted after the two items and was obstructing bolts for removal.
 
Date work completed: 29 March 2015
Once the back was striped and cleaned, it was very straight forward to apply the the Silent Coat sound proofing. Once the area is grease and dust free the self adhesive tiles fly down. It was a nice easy “high impact job” and, after testing, it has made huge difference to the noise level in the cab. With normal conversation achievable at 75mph. But as Me-an said we are now going to have to talk on the journey. Pros and cons. But a good deal at £80 delivered and a few hours hard work.
 
The pack I ordered was 40 sheets and was just enough but I had to be careful with the wastage.
 
 
The bumpers came back from the Powder coating. The general powder coating was a good standard but the delays getting them back was far from ideal. The bumpers and winch came off without a problem. Some of the nuts and bolts were quite corroded due to zinc coated nuts and bolts fitted. On refitting, all stainless steel fixings where fitted that I sourced from a local iron monger. This proves a lot cheeper than getting bolt kits from eBay etc but does take a little more effort.
Once I had the auxiliary fuel tank out which was a nightmare due to the hoses fitting quite snug. I found rust had started to set in. I therefore decided to strip the paint and rust which took an age. I then zinc primed it and painted in with black stone chip. This job took ages and was one of them – I wish I hadn’t started. But now it’s done I’m happy.
 
To date everything is back on the Defender. The drawer unit has been refitted. Bumpers back on and winch refitted. I have fitted new light surrounds and light guards. They weren’t needed but I prefer the look of them.
Date work completed: 7 January 2016
It's been a while since the last entry about the work done to the Defender. Whilst I've been lazy on the blog front, rest assured I've been putting some long days in the workshop getting Mary to where she is now.
 
Once the back was striped out and sound proofing fitted, I had a good clean canvas to work on.
 
We had a clear aim for the rear area. We need a seat for a third person. I think this is a handy addition for many reasons. The main reason is we need to have a guide with us when traveling in China. They will be spending 41 days with us and need to travel in relative comfort. I say relative because the back seat in a Defender is not the most comfortable. Let's hope they are small (I'm optimistic). Also, a third seat will be handy if we wish to take a local guide with us in any other location. We feel it's a good thing to have for versatility.
 
The second factor was we wanted a level platform to sleep two very friendy people inside the vehicle if we need to. For example, if we need to sleep for a few hours at a boarder or in a car park in a city; somewhere you don't want to deploy the roof tent with the awning and have a camp fire. The area is quite small for two people but workable. It's about perfect for one person and I presume our Chinese guide will make good use of it.
 
We have a 60L fresh water tank that we wanted to store as low in the vehicle as possible. We also wanted as much storage as we could squeeze in. Other items to think about were the fridge, storage of the table, chairs and other large items like the ladders to the roof tent etc. All these factors detemined the layout of the inside.
 
It's important to know what you want and need before you start work. Chat and come up with as many ideas and possible. A road test or two will help determine any storage problems/solutions. I find that it's easy to pack loads of stuff perfectly neatly in your vehicle or a bag before you go on your trip. Then when you pull it all out in the field and need to repack the following morning, the problems start to arise.
It took a while to decide what we should make the structure out of. As a carpenter, wood sprang to mind.
 
After doing some research, there are many homemade wooden shelving and drawer units on the internet. However, wood, I felt, just wouldn't have the longevity of metal. But with metal, the down side was I couldn't weld and if I learned how to, I would never of got to a standard that I would be happy with when welding aluminium with a tig welder.
 
It had to be aluminium for the stregth to weight ratio. I opted for a very simple system of plastic connecting corners with different configerations of right angle connections that you can push fit 25mm aluminium box section straight into. It was a blessing and was purchased from eBay. I cut the box section to length and slotted it together. There was little to no flex in the box section over the spans I was using up to 1.5m. I used as many of the original back seat bolt fixing as possible to secure the frame work to the body and chassis to limit drilling holes everywhere.
 
When we purchased the vehicle, it had a drawer unit fitted between the rear wheel arches. It's great quality and a perfect use of space with a low centre of gravity. Where the drawer unit meets the checker plate that covers the wheel arches, there was a gap of over 10mm, as you can see in the picture. So we removed this and refitted this area with new checker plate with no gaps but still in 3 pieces as it was impossible to get one solid piece through the back door.
 
Cutting the 3mm aluminium checker plater was straight forward with a circular saw with a muti material blade on it. I used the box section as a guide/fence to run the edge of the saw down ensuring perfectly straigh cuts. I was quite liberal with the WD40 to keep the heat down on the blade but it worked really well and the need for a guilotine wasn't there. Working with metal sheet, you have to be very exact with your measurements and cuts. Working with wood, you can take small amouts off with a plane to fit. Not with metal. Filing 2mm off a meter length of 3mm checker plate isn't an option. Measure twice, cut once!!
 
A piano hinge was used for the door that sits behing the water tank. The hinge was riveted  to the box section then using small counter sink allan bolts to fit the hidge to the door/lid.
 
Once the checker plate was attached to the box section, the whole structure was super strong and will easily take the weight of two people plus kit. I used allan counter sink bolts with rivnuts to attach the checker plate to the box section. Rivnuts are an amazing fixing. If you are doing this type of build and you dont know what they are, Google them. They are a rivet that give you a threaded insert. Very handy!!
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Once all the metal framework was fitted and the checkerplate was cut the to size, it was all bolted in and everything checked and adjusted. At this point, I then installed the electrics and ran the required cables and wiring in for the rear work lights, compressor and roof spot lights. All being switched from the centre cubby box. A lot of thought has to go into this if you don't want wires on show. Vehicle wiring was a challenge to say the least. As I had no experience in this what so ever. More to follow on the electrics in my next update!
I used a boat inspection hatch for the access hole to the water tank. it is strong, easy to open and has a low profile with a large appature for filling. 
 
For the lift up door latch, we used a lockable paddle latch. A high quality latch and quite secure,  just riveted in place. The same type as on the drawer. Again, off eBay but I got a friend to bring it back to the UK from the US for me with a few other things to save on postage and import charge. If this is an option for you too, it's really worth while. 4x4 equipment and parts are very cheap in the US, South Africa and Australia. I have friends in the US and Australia and they both have brought things back to the UK for us.
There are few bits and bobs that need finishing. The main one being a storage cupbard on the opposite side to the fridge. This will take a little of the already tight space for when we need to sleep in the vehicle, but shoud help keep things organised and safe if we happen to have an accident. Something that we are very aware of. We don't want things flying around in the event of an RTA.
 
For the cupboard, we are going to use flight box matierial. It's like the boxes that roadies use for music equipment. It's light. strong and straight forward to make something suitable, with fixing readily available.
 
The area around the rear passanger has been fully carpeted to make it a little more comfortable. This area was just white body work from the factory. The sound proofing and carpet will help with the road noise. The carpet was cheap and easy to fit and secured in place with carpet spray glue. A good high impact job.
 
The ARB compressor is fitted to the left of the rear seat with all the wiring out the way. I felt this was the best place because it is nice and central to the vehicle allowing the tyres to be aired up easily. With it being in the rear of the vehcile, it's also out the way and quieter when running. The seat is still foldable so, when we don't have a passenger, we can fold it away and use this area for storage.
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Suspension

This was a tricky subject for me as, 1) I'm not a profentional, 2) I've never owned a Land Rover before and, 3) the internet is full of conflicting advice. Everybody has their own ideas on what is the best set up and every budget is different. I will give you a break down of what we have added to the Land Rover to improve it for the overland set up we require but it's only my opinion!

The original suspension set up on the vehicle was standard shocks all round and heavy duty springs with 130 helper springs in the rear. A helper spring is a smaller coil spring that fits inside the larger spring to aid with stiffness when heavily laden. It was also running an aftermarket dual shock bracket at the rear, so you can double up the shocks. I thought this was a great addition from Rich, the preivous owner. Not only is the second shock sharing the workload and helping to keep the heat down when the suspension is working hard and fast over corrigated roads, for instance. It also means you are carrying two spare rear shocks at all times if one or more of the  shocks where to break, The Land Rover will preform fine with just one shock per side.

So why change anything, you ask? The reason for the change was that the current set up had done 30k miles and I felt I might aswell change the shock now in a garage with a vehicle lift than on the Mongolian steppe in the cold. I also felt that some improvements could be made. With my uncle working at Bilstein and knowing their background in high quailty shock absorbers, I thought I might be able to uprate the standard shocks giving a longer life and an improved ride. After extensive research on the internet, people spoke very highly of KONI shocks amoungst other brands. Bilstein don't have such a high profile in the offroad market. But after speaking to my uncle and doing some futher research, I found that they do several models that would compliment the Defender. We decided to go with the B4 model. They where quick and easy to fit and a great DIY job. I was lucky enough to have a vehicle lift which helped no end. It is however very doable in a garage or a drive way,or on the Mongolian steppe for that matter. You reqiure limited tools and just a little knowledge.

While we had the defender on the lift, we thought we might as well put on a Bilstein steering damper, this involved a little work but again wasn't a big job. I must admit I quite like the yellow theme going on.
Poly bushes

Bushes are a huge part of the whole suspension and feel of the Land Rover. This is something that I read about but didn't fully understand.

After reading, again, a lot of conflicting articles for and against poly bushes, We decided to go with the option of changing the bushes. There are many reasons for this, which I will go into now.

After further research, we approached the leading company in the making of poly bushes, the comany which is aptly named Polybush . Over the phone we discussed the needs of the expedition and Anthony came up with a Polybush solution to fit our needs. One of my concerns was that the ride might be too stiff or too soft if we went with one perticular set of bushes, for example, the red performance range or comfort range. The thought of mixing and matching hadn't crossed my mind. Polybush came up with the solution called the Expedition Kit with a mixture of Red (perfomance) and Orange(dynamic) bushes. For me, not knowing where I would want a stiff bush or a softer bush, this was perfect as Polybush had done all the R&D for me, specific to the needs of a heavily laden expedition Defender. The full kit promptly arrived in the post ready for fitting.

So the reason for going with polybushes:- The current bushes had covered 30k miles and were still fine, but not knowing the distance they would need to cover in the future, there was no question we needed to change them. After reading that to remove the old factory bushes you would need a 10 ton plus hydrolic press, I thought, if we ever need to change the bushes in the field, it would be a a nighmare. Yes, you can burn them out but refitting would be a little cheeky with a set of mole grips and a hammer. Polybush bushes simply push in and out so if one was to go, we could order the part to whereever we are then replace it ourslesve, saving the cost of labour fees. For me, not really knowing the benifits the bushes would make to the ride and handling, it was one of the decisive factors. Plus, reading that polybushes last so mush longer and are far more durable as they are made from a polymer instaed of a rubber which will perish more quickly in harsh envioments.

Fitting the bushes was straight forward. It was the removal of the old ones that was a little trickier. I thought a vise would press the old bushes out... I was wrong. I broke the vise. 

To that end, I needed to find a man with a 10 ton press. I removed the one side and took the the part to get the bush pressed out then refitted the new poly bush and bolted it all back together. It was all quite straight forward with just unbolting and rebolting. If you do one side complete at a time, it is quite handy to have the the otherside to check if you don't remember how it all fits together.

With the new shocks and polybushes fitted, it was time for the test drive.

People often talk about the ride benifits of changing shocks and bushes. I have always naively taken this with a pinch of salt, thinking, they are not F1 drivers and can it really make all that much of a difference? Well, it took a little hard work and time to find the answer to this question but the answer is, yes, it bloody makes a difference. I was amazed by the difference it had made. The standard set up wasn't bad, far from it. I was amazed at how much this could be improved. The initial test drive was carried out with no weight in the vehicle and everyting was stiff and tight. In my honest opinion, may be a little too stiff. But the bushes where desighned for a heavily laden vehicle. However, I had read that some bushes are so stiff they rattle your fillings out, snap your spine etc. etc. when the vehice is unladen. This wasn't the case. Me-An noticed the ride was a little stiffer and the body role was less. This was totally unpromted by me (well done Me-An!. It just shows the improvement the shock and bush set up had made.

We have since added quite a bit of weight to the vehicle, including the roof tent, awning and spare wheel all on the roof. Body role used to be an issue, not any more. With the added weight, the Defender really does handle well and it really has made a big diffrence.

A video of how the work was done will be posted shortly.


Parts and Equipment
 

Here’s the list of the parts we are using and are going to use on the trip. We will keep this list updated and will review each item, what works and what doesn’t. I’m also going to review all equipment used from sleeping bags to cooking pots.
  • Hannibal imp roof tent
  • Hannibal roof rack and ladder
  • Hannibal side awning, now sold and replaced with a Fox Wing
  • Dual Odyssey batteries
  • split charging system
  • Engle Fidge Freezer 40L
  • Fridge bracket
  • checker plate wing tops
  • checker plate sills
  • High lift jack
  • High lift jack roof rack holder
  • Temp check in car thermometer
  • dual creed LED rear work lights
  • 40L auxiliary fuel tank
  • 60L fresh water with sureflo pump in car tank
  • 40L grey water roof mounted tank, now sold and replaced with home made system
  • sand ladders
  • sand ladder holder with in built table
  • Warn 9.5 ti winch
  • Warn remote control
  • Lockable centre cubby box
  • Floor safe
  • Cruise control
  • Heated seats
  • Heated front windscreen
  • Electric windows
  • Bull bar with spots
  • Light guards
  • Mantec snorkle
  • Tinted window all but the front
  • engine sound proofing
  • Cab sound proofing
  • Wax oiled
  • Double standard shocks with helper spring at the rear,replaced with Bilstein shocks
  • 12v and usb socket front and rear
  • Double side jerry can holders
  • Diff guards front and rear
  • Stearing guard
  • Slimline Xenon lights
  • Anderson plug
  • Window guards in rear
  • Dog guard (removed)
  • Side steps
Much more to come
 
Including:
  • rear work light on a duel switch;
  • compressor; 
  • roof lights; 
  • solar; 
  • new battery management system;
  • more storage;
  • the making of our kitchen;;
  • rear break pads; and 
  • much much more.
Any quetions do not hesitate to get in touch.