When I was 7, I asked Father Christmas for a Land Rover. I’m not sure that's what most 7 year olds ask for, but he didn’t get me one until I was 20. Ok that’s a lie, I drove halfway across the UK to buy it, but I’ve never not owned a Defender since then. Fast forward a decade or so and my partner and I are one year into running LandyCampers, our business renting out camping-equipped Land Rover Defenders, complete with a roof-top tent and custom “rear lounge”.
The idea of LandyCampers was born on a hike in the Picos de Europa, in northern Spain, on a day off from teaching surfing in Cantabria. We were living out of a tent and the back of our 1989 Land Rover 90, ‘Fran’, which prompted frequent enquiries from surf students about our ‘accommodation’. To our surprise, the vast majority were into it and were keen to emulate our living conditions (though maybe not as permanently as us), or asked for a ‘test drive’ in Fran. Thus, on our hike in the Picos, we hatched a “plan”. “Plan” might be giving it too much credit. We had a vague idea that somehow we should do something to enable folks to give camping with a Landy a go.
In the following weeks, nearing the end of our stint in Spain and starting the drive home (taking the scenic route of course, with plenty of surf-stops), what at first seemed a hair-brained idea started sounding more do-able. We started looking at potential camping gear, equipment, gadgets and soon decided on our ‘niche’; ‘older’, classic Defenders, (restored to great condition, of course) kitted out with everything you could need for an adventure. All you need are your clothes and a vague idea of a route.
We quite quickly decided on roof-top tents as opposed to ground tents. First and foremost because they’re just damn cool! Beyond that, though, they're also incredibly convenient. The fold up and down in minutes, don’t blow away or flood in bad weather, and make the most of the already high roof of a Defender to give you the ultimate view out the tent window. Also, have you ever tried folding a large tent back into its bag? Seriously, it’s not that fun (tent manufacturers: just make the bags a bit bigger, we don't want to do origami in a field!) In short, roof-top tent camping is just better!
So back home in the UK, with all the gear decided on, we then needed vehicles! We decided to go with early 2000’s Defenders. They still maintain that ‘classic’ Defender feel in the cabin, before the new fancy centre console came in, while having the dependable Td5 power plant producing plenty of grunt. Our first vehicle to join the fleet was a 90, who’d had a relatively easy driving history, but still needed a little ‘tidying up’. With her on our driveway, work got underway restoring her, and making her a LandyCamper! First she needed a name, and with her number plate starting with W, we went to the internet for help, and discovered that apparently Waffle is a name. After a bit of joking, it stuck, because of course it did.
Mechanically she was pretty sound, but in the interests of longevity we took the decision to put her on a galvanised chassis. While the initial expense may have been unnecessary, we didn’t want to be dealing with the inevitable Land Rover chassis rust down the line, and it also gave us a good chance to redo the brakes and suspension, and give everything a good look over. Renting her out, our main concern was safety, so a full refurb of those critical parts was always on the cards.
In this time, Bela became pretty much a pro with a spray can. 20 years service had left Waffle with her fair share of stone chips and scars from tree branches, so many an hour was spent with varying grades of sandpaper and applying layer upon layer of primer, body paint and clear coat. While it’s tempting to get it done at a paint shop, we quickly learnt (with the exception of the roof, which needed a full strip and respray) that pretty much any blemish or scratch can be handled with the right kit and a bit of patience (which is why I didn't paint anything…) and can save a small fortune in a restoration!
With the bigger works out of the way we could concentrate on repairing and replacing all the bits and bobs that hadn’t fared too well in two decades on the road. This included ripping out all the old matting, adding vibration damping mats and covering relining the cabin with Exmoor Trim carpeting, cubby box, and seat covers. We added a hidden lockbox, switched out the old cassette deck for a Sony single-DIN media receiver (an awesome upgrade, brings her well into this decade!), and popped Bearmach LED external lights all round, replacing the old JLR candles! At this point I’ll give a shout out to Bearmach’s crazy fast shipping (no they didn't ask me to say this, but seriously, it's crazy quick and super convenient for a time constrained job. Cheers guys!). In the rear we opted to pull out the old bench seats and build a storage unit for all the camping essentials, and a more comfortable seating area to chill when the weather’s not so great! Of course, it needed fairy lights, because Instagram.
Once Waffle was ready, we were ready to finally start the 2020 season. It wasn’t quite the season we had planned, we certainly didn’t expect everyone would be asked to stay at home for a good chunk of summer, but from the first weeks of lockdown easing we’ve had happy campers exploring Devon, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, and discovering the delights of camping and driving Land Rovers!
While taking delivery of our 110 was delayed, we’ll shortly be getting her ready in similar fashion, and will have her and Waffle ready for the road in 2021, and couldn’t be more excited to see where LandyCampers takes our clients, and us!