A Woodstock for Landy Lovers

Who ever heard of such a thing as a Land Rover Festival?  But there it was, featured on the sheet on the counters or walls of the various overland outfitting shops we visited in the first couple of days in our recent trip to Johannesburg in South Africa.  Apparently, part of the idea of the festival was to try to break the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of Land Rovers in a single convoy.   An added incentive for us to attend there were a large number of suppliers offering on-site sales, including a “boot sale” which is the British/South African/I’m not sure where else equivalent of a flea market.

As shopping for items for the outfitting stage of our own Land Rover  project was the main reason for our trip to South Africa, the opportunity to hang out with other Land Rover owners in what is arguably the world centre for Land Rover overlanding is not something easily passed up.   Despite the attraction, the fact the so-called festival was taking place during the time we had booked for a 3 day trip to Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s premiere destinations presented  no small dilemma.  Victoria Falls is a place that I have wanted to get to for a long time and we had decided to priorize our time for Vic Falls in what may be our last trip to South Africa before our Ghana posting ends this summer.   The solution we chose to resolve the dilemma was to split the difference.  Delay the trip to Victoria Falls by one day to  catch the first day of the two day Landy festival (missing the Guinness record shot convoy)  but still be able to spend two nights at beautiful Victoria Falls.

Our shot of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side

The timing actually worked out very well.  Laura decided to hold to the original schedule and go to Victoria Falls on Saturday morning and I was able to reschedule my flight by one day and take Laura to the airport in Jo’burg in our rented Volvo at 8:00 AM on my way out to Vaal, the rural district south of Jo-burg where the festival was scheduled to take place.  It is worth mentioning the Volvo because it was, without any doubt, the only one present at the Land Rover Festival.

As usual, getting there was half the fun.  I had obtained directions on-line how to get to the Malojeni Guest Farm, which was  the site of the festival, from the Oliver Tambo Airport in Jo’burg.  Unfortunately I learned too late that for some reason my Blackberry could not download the full directions file so I had instructions about two thirds of the way.   I ended up in the middle of a very pleasant Vaal town called Meyerton.  After unsuccessfully trying to get directions from a service station I was able to close the distance simply by following a Land Rover I saw driving by.   It was while en route at this point that the Woodstock analogy first occurred to me.  The line “going down to Yasgur’s farm” from the CSN song popped into my head at a small country junction where three Landys coming from three different directions converged and all headed up the same road.  Clearly, I was headed in the right direction.

Registration Line at 11:00 AM on Saturday

The South African love of Land Rovers is such a phenomenon because of a couple of factors.  The South African Armed Forces was/is a big user of Landy’s, and thus a source of slightly used “surplus” product for the population at large over a number of years.  Another factor in all of this is the South Africans’, specifically the Afrikaaners’, love of overlanding. This is one of the features of Afrikaan’s culture that we have really come to appreciate through our visits here and the knowledge of history that comes with that.  One of the defining moments of the Afrikaaner’s history was the “voortrek”, the overland journey taken by the Dutch settlers in the 1840’s to get away from the Brits that were encroaching in the more accessible areas around Cape Town where the Dutch had first settled a couple of generations earlier.   The Afrikaaners are a fiercely independent people and extremely proud of their heritage.   The “voortrek” became an fundamental part of Afrikaaner history and culture and by carrying through on their love of adventure and exploration of remote areas the Afrikaaners played a huge role in defining the African overland experience through pioneering trips into the some of the more remote areas of southern Africa, including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and points beyond.  The vehicle of choice for most of this overlanding has been the Land Rover Defender. It is really an incredible cultural phenomenon, one that has led to the proliferation of a huge number of overland outfitters and suppliers in the country, not limited to Land Rovers of course but certainly favouring them.

This title of the festival was “My Land Rover Has a Soul”,  (MYLRHAS’ is the acronym).  This illustrates the passion that South African Land Rover owners  have for their vehicles and that passion was very evident at the festival.  There were hundreds and hundreds of vehicles there on Saturday,  every model ever made well represented, Series, Defenders, Discoveries and big 130s, all boasting their own particular style and personality.   Some were very stock, others very customized and colourful.  But it is not really so much the vehicle, the Land Rover has just perchance become a modern day  expression of the Afrikaaner`s love of overland travel.  Afrikaans was the first language at the MYLRHAS festival, and the festival was really less about the specifics of Land Rover mechanical or body design than it was about overland equipment outfitting: tents, awnings, cooking equipment, storage, water systems etc. all things which the very functional Land Rover design is conducive to.  There was even an expedition wine carrier.








Other elements of South African/Afrikaans culture were well represented  at the festival.   Virtually all the food came off from the “braai”, the ubiquitous SA barbecue.   Indeed the air was so thick with charcoal smoke, whether from a couple of communal braais or the many individual ones at the various campsites,  that it was sometimes difficult to breath.  South Africans are crazy about braais, for boerwurst sausage, or burgers or steak.  They are also crazy about beer.  Canadians also love their beer, but here virtually everyone was walking about visiting the shops and displays at 11:00 o’clock in the morning  with a beer in their hand.   This is not a culture I have any difficulty adapting to.

South Africans love their Beer and Braai


M&M’s product line includes leather “expedition wine cases” for your Pinotage 


There were hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people, plenty of families with kids.  In addition to the food and expositions there were helicopter rides, and an air show.   No  flying Land Rovers, rather some old, loud, single engine  planes that were unspectacular but steady, like Land Rovers would be if they had wings.   I sat down with my boerwoerst and beer lunch to listen to the live singer/guitarist musician whose repertoire included Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkel, Sting, and, incredibly, Led Zeppelin.  All good music for the white, baby-boomer audience in attendance,  But after he was done with the boomer stuff the musician switched to Afrikaaner folk songs and the response was enthusiastic, to to say the least.  I was treated to a real Afrikann`s culture moment, complete with beer and braai and songs about independence and overland travel.    If there were any blacks there I did not see them, this seems to be  exclusively a white South African, Afrikaans cultural phenomenon.







In addition to the cultural experience, I was able to benefit from the collection of overland outfitters and suppliers.   In addition to a better knowledge of the market I came away with a floor-mounting safe for our vehicle, as well as a lovely Land Rover cap that I have always wanted but never came across.

I did miss the Guiness Record shot.  The convoy apparently had 1007 Land Rovers of various vintages and models, ranging from Series from the 50s and 60s to just-off-the-line Discovery 5s and the new euro-styled Range Rover Evoque.  The line stretched for 24 kilometres between first and last Landy.  Apparently they are waiting to hear from Guiness if they have the record, but I can’t imagine anyone every getting more than 1,000 Land Rovers in a convoy before.   There are some videos on youtube…….

I would have loved to have been able to stick around to overnight and to participate in the Sunday convoy, but my rented Volvo would hardly have fit in, so heading back to Jo`burg to catch the Sunday morning flight to Victoria Falls was easy to do.

The Smoke that Thunders

Finishing the Interior: Carpet and Roof Liner

With the soundproofing in we could then do the ceiling and the floor covering.  For the latter we had decided even before we bought the vehicle that we wanted carpet on the floor, as opposed to the vinyl stuff that is used in many of the Landy restorations here.   I can hear the off roaders groaning, I know carpet is not the first choice for the floor if you are going to be crossing rivers or doing any amount of real off roading.  For that the bare metal floor is probably best.  However, most of our travel will be on roads so we can afford to opt for the comfort and quiet that carpet is conducive to.

Paani had taken out the roof liners last fall to patch a couple of the holes left by superfluous electrical plugs we removed last year and the ceiling has been bare metal ever since.    I had asked Paani one Saturday who did ceilings and he gave me the number of one Agomah, who keeps a shop near the Tesano area of Accra, not too far a drive from where we live.  I called Agomah when I got back from seeing Paani one Saturday afternoon.  Thanks to accent and vocabulary differences, telephone conversations between foreigners and Ghanaians are never easy affairs, particularly so if you have not met yet.  Explaining who I was and what I wanted, and then getting into the logistical details of meeting was not easy and when we hung up I was really not sure we were on the same planet.   We reviewed different options of times during the week when he might come to my house to meet me and see the vehicle.  It is very common here for mechanics to make house calls, they are very quick to offer to come to your house.  I love it but it sometimes can be awkward, maybe they often want to come when I am at work, or it is difficult for them to find where I live.  Wanting to simplify this I suggested we meet in an obvious  location known to both of us, at a time when traffic was light.   This led to a rendez-vous at 8AM Sunday at Kwame Nkruman Circle, which in addition to being probably the most well known junction in Accra, is also midway between where I live and where Agomah’s shop apparently is.

Agomah's Shop - there is even a tree

I called him at 7:30AM Sunday  to confirm we were still on for 8:00 and to alleviate my fear that maybe we had completely misunderstood each other the day before.  When I called Agomah said “but you said 8:00 o’clock” and I had to reassure him I was not looking for him yet,  just wanting to confirm where and when we were meeting.  I piled the old beat up roof liners into the back and headed off to Kwame Nkrumah Circle.  The roof liner consists of three solid pieces of very firm but softish board that are about 1/4 inch think and covered with a fabric material.   The problem in our Defender was the covering fabric was very dirty and discoloured and had become mostly detached from the board so it just drooped loosely.

Agomah and a colleague showed up at the right time in the right place in a tro tro and after looking at the Defender suggested we go up to  his shop in North Industrial a short distance away to see materials.  The shop is just another ramshackle  shed,  one of a number along a exitramp from a main Achimota Road leading into the North Industrial district.   He had some samples of other recovered ceiling panels for me to look at that were quite lovely, and with some choices of colour.  I settled on a very plain but bright gray, seeking to accent the dark gray dash and interior door panels.

Agomah not only had quality roof  liner, but seeing that our Defender floor still only has soundproofing on it he was

Landy at Agomah's

quick to pull out some ready cut carpeting pieces he had on hand for someone else, in a colour that matches our seats and door panels very nicely.   The carpet is a short pile with a woven substrate and a smooth nonporous plastic backer.   The set consists of 8 or 9 pieces that fit the front and back seat floor, over the transmission tunnel and around the seat boxes.  When I said we did not want carpet in the cargo bay because it would not be functional and be too hard to clean Agoma came out with a heavy backed vinyl that he said they use quite often.  Indeed it is probably the same vinyl that we had seen in the front of the Defenders and Opere restores and which was part of the inspiration to do our own restoration.     As much as we may not have wanted it for the front, it looked just right for back.

Anticipating a moment like this I had brought with me for my own reference a quote I had received on ceiling  and carpeting work from  someone else a few months earlier.    We got into price and I countered his original quote of GHC 500 (CAD 300) for ceiling and carpets with an offer of $450 (CAD 270).  We shook hands on it and I gave him GHC 100  down, all the money I had in my pocket at the time.   That was probably the most spontaneous of any decision I have had made on this project, and one of the best.   The price was much lower that the other I had got earlier, from Michael who had done the back seat for me, and Agomah was recommended by Paani, who did my body work w (SEE SEPARATE POST) and that recommendation counted for a lot.  We are very pleased with the result.

The best part was I did not even have to leave the vehicle with them, they just took my old ceiling panels to recover, the  carpets they can produce based on their knowledge of Defenders, and if there were any doubt there were 3 or 4 Defender 110s I saw hanging about they could use for measurements.

It was sometime before I could get back to Agomah to have him install the roof liner and carpet, and I think he was wondering why after a couple of weeks I still had not returned.  I was hesitating anyway because I wanted to run wires to the back for an outside area light and for speakers  and thought I should do that before the carpet and ceiling went in.  The problem was I was having trouble finding quality wire.   With the lapsed time I was feeling guilty because I had given them such a small deposit and Laura and I were about to head for South Africa on two week holiday/outfitting gear shopping trip.  Before we went away I went by and gave Agomah another 200 cedis, leaving a 150 cedi balance.  I also picked the new liners and carpet up and brought everything home, having seen the “shop” I was a bit nervous that it could get dirty, rained on or otherwise damaged.

Finally on a Saturday in mid-March after we got back from our shopping trip to South Africa I was able to back to Agomah with the Defender and the ceiling and carpet pieces I had been safeguarding so he could finish the installation.  It did not take very long, although I did have to ferry back to the house in a taxi to pick up a can of odds and ends that Paani had given me six months ago after he stripped the interior to do take the electrical plugs out of the roof and upgrade the doors that included, inter alia,  the plastic plugs that are needed to put the roof liner in.   Very pleased with the end product, they even put the mirror and sun visors back in and installed the interior ceiling lights front and back.  Amazingly, the lights worked right away.  The roof liner actually surpassed my expectations,  the old ceiling was so loose that I thought I was going to get a new, clean fabric hanging loose, but instead I get a new, clean fabric fully moulded to the panel.  It looks superb.

Roof Liner Install Finishing Touches
Slightly re-juvenated Sun Visors going in










The carpets also went in, as well as the vinyl floor covering for the cargo bay.   There were a few minor trims Agomah and his helper had to do but it all went in quite nicely.  There are a couple of things that I am not entirely satisfied with, for example for some reason they did not carpet a 4 inch vertical piece between the back seat and the cargo bay  that is quite visible.  The roof liner panel also needs to be tightened up around the sunlights on the side of the roof.   I had already gotten them to fix a couple of other bits, like making sure there was enough clearance between the accelerator pedal and the carpet so I was running out of time so I paid them the 150 cedis holdback with a 40 cedi dash and they said come back anytime and they would put the missing carpet piece in.   My experience with Ghanaian tradespeople is that once you have established a business relationship and as long as you don’t squeeze them too much on price they are more than willing to do follow-up fixes.   I am also going to ask them to recover the sun visors, which they had offered to do initially but which I declined thinking we had cleaned the old visors  up so nicely they did not need to be recovered.  However, once installed they don’t look quite so nice against the new ceiling.  Those are details that will be get looked after, but it all looks very nice now.  Also worthy of comment is the further noise reduction.  After driving around  in a bare metal box for six months the addition of soundproofing, roof-lining and carpets makes a remarkable difference.

The new ceiling liner and the vinyl covered cargo bay. Interior rear window surrounds are also in. The 3/4 split back seat is out to test the space for the mobile fridge.








Agomah practising his craft



Putting it back together post-Painting

I just had a very productive weekend.  I took the Defender up to the Land Rover farm on Saturday for Panni to put the door panels and fittings back in.  Some of that I could have done myself but it would have taken me a lot longer.  He also put the wheel arches back on.  As a final touch, he fitted the one remaining step that I was not able to do myself because I was missing the steel stabilizing bar that runs from the step to the chassis.

Jonathon and Paani confer while the last step goes in

He said the cost was included in the original price I paid for the body work, which makes a certain amount of sense, but for his trouble I dashed him 10 cedis ( about $6.50) for his two hours work, which he seemed to appreciate greatly.   I was very impressed that he had all the pieces that he had removed when he did the orginal body work last summer,all the door liners, the inside mirror, the window surrounds and the buttons to put them back on.  He even came up with a plastic surround for the rear window wiper/washer which I had forgotten I had. Much of this I had purchased months ago and completely forgotten about, but he had kept it safe.   Panni and I were also able to discuss two other projects that would benefit from his skills, a fold away table to stow under the roof-tup carrier and an awning to be attached to the carrier, but these are really part of the expedition outfitting that is the next phase of the project.  I am going to do a separate post on those under expedition outfitting

I was expecting to see Eric the electrician at the shop on Saturday but he was not there.  I had phoned him Friday to confirm he was going to be there.  Then when I was about to leave home the Defender would not start.  I inspected the battery terminal, which is perennially loose and up till now if the vehicle did not start playing with it solved the problem.   This time it did not.  However, I noticed that the terminal was sparking when I engaged the ignition, which suggests there was a short somewhere.   I thought through the various possibilities and wondered if the problem might be in one of the loose wires that are hanging in various places waiting to be rewired to interior lights, or the stereo, or to one or another accessory that may have been in at one point in the vehicles history.    I started with a bundle of wires that is on the dash that I had  moved around when I was cleaning the dash a few days earlier and sure enough that was the problem.   I re-taped all the loose wires protruding from the dash and the battery stopped sparking and the Defender started right away.   I called Eric and harangued him for leaving the wires in such a sloppy state.  He said he was on the way to the shop would be there by the time I arrived.

Eric never showed up, but I was approached by his “helper”, who went around and taped up any wires that were obviously at risk.  I also had him run the wire for the front and rear ceiling lights so it would be easy to get to those after the roof liner was back in.  And I had him replace the battery terminal that did not fit the post properly. No more loose connection.   I feel dumb for not having it fixed  earlier, but there were so many other higher priorities I just never focused on it.  Of course this would have  been done right away months ago by a competent electrician with a service mentality.    I recall Brian, my colleague who had done a Defender the year I arrived,  saying he had had some trouble with electrics at Opere’s shop.   And all I have had done so far is very, very basic.  In the next stage we need to instal a dual battery system, numerous accessories and switches to support them.  I just don’t see these guys being able to handle that.

I am somewhat sorry I left the pieces with Paani because I could have  been cleaning them.  This is something I prefer to do myself because it does ot require any particular skill and I can see the limits of the process.  Everything is really dirty but dirt does not explain all the visual defects.

Washing the Rear Window Surround
Clened Interior Door Panels ready for re-install










Some of the pieces are in good shape, others are worn beyond what any cleaning can hope to restore.   I can’t install all the interior window surrounds until the roof liner is redone and that is the next priority.