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

Planning the Outfitting Stage

This is the first post in the Expedition/Outfitting category of the West African Wander blog, one year after we first purchased the vehicle.   That delayed post is terribly misleading, in fact we started thinking about outfitting very early, and even purchased a National Luna 52 litre fridge in late 2010 before we even bought the Land Rover to put it in.  Since then the focus has definitely been on restoring the basic vehicle (see post on a Look Back at the Year), but we have made a number of purchases that fall into the outfitting category.  This post is going to provide a brief picture of where we want to get to.

The idea for the six-week trip is to spend much of the time camping, interspersed with hotel stays.  That means we need to outfit the Defender to sleep, cook, eat , wash and various  other sundry activities.  Laura and I very much enjoy the outdoors and have done lots (I mean lots!) of camping, including car and canoe camping in Canada and backpacking in Costa Rica.  However our overland vehicle experience is limited to the week we rented an outfitted Defender from Bushlore in Johannesburg in 2010 and took it up the Sani pass into Lesotho (see separate post TESTING THE IDEA).  We had also rented a small motorhome van with our daughter Katherine to do a trip through the Alberta foothills years ago on the way to our niece’s wedding in Waterton Lakes National Park.  Not exactly off road or as immediately relevant to a Defender, but it still provided some exposure to independent vehicle camping.

Essentially our approach is to think in terms of systems, a preliminary list of which could include:

  1. Electrical:  We will install a dual battery system  where the first battery is devoted to keeping the motor running and a second serves to power camping accessories when the motor is not running, such as a fridge, lights, sound system, computer, etc.  Solar power back-up will also be useful.
  2. Cooking/eating:  In South Africa we carried two propane tanks with fitting burners.  We need to find out what fuel supply is most available in the area we are covering and design a system to fit that.  Cooking and eating utensils also fall into this system, as do a table and perhaps a shade/rain awning.
  3. Sleeping:   Basically, a tent to protect from the elements.  We really liked the roof-top tent we used in South Africa/Lesotho and just need to figure out how to get one into Ghana.
  4. Water:   We need water for washing and potable water for drinking and cooking.  Options for either include storage tanks installed in the wheel wells or the back seat interior floor or jerry cans mounted on the side or the roof.   Safe weight distribution, specifically the need not to put too much weight on the roof, is one of the considerations that favours the storage tank system.   Water sources will be limited and for drinking water we may need to rely on buying commercial bottles and just store those.   Some way of purifying water, and cleaning fruit and vegetables, will also be necessary.
  5. Lighting:  This close to the equator it gets dark at 18:00 every night so having sufficient exterior light to be able to use and enjoy evenings is very important.   I would also like to have additional driving lights as a backup in case of system failure or in the event of sandstorms.  And extra driving lights on a 4×4 look so cool…..
  6. Recovery:  This is the term the 4×4 off-roaders use to refer to getting unstuck.  It is probably not worth investing in a winch because we are not planning or expecting to do much off-roading, but a tow-rope, whether for our benefit or for others, is probably a good idea, as would be jumper cables.   This category could also include a tire pump and sand ladders of some sort.
  7. Maintenance:  This is about the tools that are required to address the most likely problems that might arise.
  8. Storage:   All the systems mentioned above imply some need for storage, indeed water and fuel systems are essentially storage systems.  However, we need to think about accessible storage for all the kitchen gear, food, clothes, tools and accessories.   The refrigerator is an important component of storage.

In addition to these these “systems”, there will no doubt be other things that will come up as we learn more about “overlanding”.  From now on most posts will be in the outfitting category.

Getting Ready to Paint 4: Almost There

I have never had a vehicle completely painted before and the fact this is a 15-year old fixer-upper truck places my experience at further distance.  As we get close to the actual painting I am increasingly focussed on details, wantng to make sure I have done everything that should be done first first, and amazed at the number of things that I did not think of that still need to be done.   It was in that spirit that I took the Defender up to Paani the welder after he thought he had seen it for the last time, to adjust the bonnet to accommodate the chequerplate aluminum fender tops that will go on after the painting.   I realized that having to adjust the bonnet and fenders to fit the aluminum plates after  the painting could result in some nasty scratches.  Has to be done first. I also asked Panni to remove the two spare tire carriers, one that was welded to the bonnet frame and another that is attached to the rear door, all because I am trying to take as much off as possible before it is painted in order to reduce that great Ghanaian painters short-cut, the tape around.

The spare tire holder on the rear door poses a bit of a dilemma.  I am not sure I want to keep a tire there at all, since Paani  impressed upon me how carrying a tire on the rear door on rough roads can damage the the door frame.  I don’t like the way the rear door behaves with a big 750/16 tire and wheel on it anyway.   I thought it might be better to carry the spare tire on the bonnet, which the high Land Rover front seat and window makes possible without affecting visibility.

Removing the rear door spare tire carrier

The rear door spare tire carrier consists of a foot square steel plate on the outside of the door, attached to the door itself via 11 bolts into another plate on the inside of the frame with three large three large bolt-like extenders welded to it  that go through the holes in the body and the outer plate to secure the wheel through the bolt holes.  From the perspective of getting ready to paint, the steel plate on the outside  would be difficult to tape around and I would never be able to get the sprayer to remove it.  He would want to take the tape-around short-cut so popular among house and vehicle painters alike here.  Then everything   appears as if  it were “painted around” – not an image I want to convey in this rebuild.  But  for the rear-door wheel carrier  Paani said that it would be too difficult to remove, and upon first inspection it did indeed appear as if the whole thing might be welded to the frame inside the door,  perhaps as a result of the door frame repair that Paani did.   However I could not resist trying to loosen the  11 bolts and to my delight they all came undone quite easily and the interior plate to which the wheel holders are welded to slipped out nicely and the whole unit came out.  With that the exterior body is pretty much stripped, save the rear wheel arches that rim the wheel wells.

With that I have moved to the interior, which was already pretty stripped by Paani during the earlier body work which included the door work and filling of some random bolt holes here and there.   The roof liner, the door panels , and the rear cargo bay bench seats are all gone.  But when you look at it through a spray painters eyes you realize how much is still left to take out.   Seat belts for example.  Seat belts are secured by bolts through the frame in two places.   I spent a couple of hours after work this week to try to get them out, but was only partially successful, frustrated by limited tool choices.   Nuts that have been on bolts on the bottom exterior for fifteen years are not easily removed despite any amount of WD40.  I was able to get one end of the belts free on both sides, but I could only loosen the two that are directly bolted into the chassis frame enough so the seat belt rollers come away from the interior body enough to expose the surface underneath for painting and can be wrapped to keep the paint off them.  Better than taping, but not much. The good news story is the the “cubby” box between the front seats.  This was surprisingly easy to get out, four bolts that thread through 2×2, the only wood in the whole vehicle, into threaded holes right in the frame.

I was also able to remove the front passenger seat quite easily (need to leave the drivers seat in to be able to drive to the sprayer!) – my nemesis was the back seats.   There are no fewer than 12 bolts that secure the simple bench seats  through the floor into the frame.  The nuts underneath have not been touched for 15 years and are EXTREMELY stiff and rusted.   I was able to loosen and remove a couple, but stripped two of the nuts quite badly and decided to stop and review alternatives.  Francis just happened to come by to drop off the refinished front grill as I was struggling with these in our yard and he came to my rescue with an invite to his shop where he has access to an arc welder that can cut them off.

Today I left work early to beat traffic and drove out to the Kaneshie district where Francis has his shop.  He had one of his boys take me over to another place, down a side street,  off onto a dirt track that wound through some houses into an industrial yard that led to a fair-sized machine shop that was retooling various pieces of machinery and gears from transmissions and the like.  The yard smelled seriously of waste,  there must have been an open sewer, a not-uncommon phenomenon in Accra, behind the  adjacent wall.

I was welcomed by a couple of fellows to whom the boy did the explaining in Twi, upon which they pulled out their tools and went to work.  They were able to get three of the twelve bolts out intact.  The other nine were removed with a hacksaw or smashed with a large three foot chisel and a sledge hammer, not tools I have in my kit, but against which a ½“ bolt is no match.  The electric welder on standby was never called upon, brute force prevailed.  The back seats are now out,  and I am (only) 30 cedis (20 dollars) poorer for the labour and the tools.  Francis has someone getting nuts and bolts to replace the ones that were lost to the process.

Finally got the back seats out, the cargo bay bench seats have been out for months. The ride like this is anything but quiet.
Cubby box and passenger seat gone, the last lonely ride for the old driver's seat











However, that was not the last thing to take out.  There are also plastic covers over the back seat catches, and the foam and fabric liner around the front seat boxes, which is glued down and leaves annoying strips of foam behind on the metal that has to be scraped off.  Then there is the a piece of interior liner above the rear door that had escaped Paani’s removal campaign, and the seat belts in the front.  There don’t seem to have ever been any seat belts in the back seat.

I don’t think there is any good reason to delay painting any more.   I know as soon as it is painted it will start to get nicks and scratches and that creates  some degree of inertia, but I can get touch-up paint and the work here is very good and not expensive.   Once the paint is on we can proceed to finish the interior off with the new cushions and seat covers that are sitting in our storeroom, put the soundproofing and carpet in and put back all the interior fittings.  None of that will take very long, soon we will be able to focus on the expedition prep.  But painting is next.


Sound Reduction Puzzle

In the process of perusing the seemingly endless Land Rover restoration sites we could see that (so-called) “soundproofing” was a common step in most projects.   The term is a bit optimistic, one can never eliminate sound in a vehicle, so “sound reduction” is a more appropriate term.

All vehicles have some degree of soundproofing, it is the stuff under the carpet on your floor and the trunk/boot.  The thick piece of silver lined foam under the hood/bonnet is also soundproofing.  Depending on the vehicle and/or the preferences of the owner there can be any number of products and combinations thereof used throughout, including in the doors and roof.  People who are restoring older vehicles, whether they are 50s roadsters, 60s muscle cars, or 90s Defenders, will at some point likely decide to reduce noise by installing additional soundproofing materials.   Land Rovers are no exception as the various threads in Land Rover Forums show.

Defenders and other Land Rovers of their era were built as big utility vehicles and because of this and the large areas of the aluminum body they are probably among the noisier vehicles on the road.  Ours is absolutely utilitarian, and has only bare metal on the floors and walls.  The doors do have small patches of  sound dampening materials on the inside of the door panels, this would have been part of the factory production process.  The roof has quite a good piece of hard plastic liner behind the interior roof fabric, but that is not going to do much against the vast areas of bare aluminum.

We decided it was worth looking at sound reduction, but had no idea of where to start.   I started scanning for what materials worked best and learned a lot about  the science of sound reduction.  Obviously there is a huge sound reduction industry, but I was surprised to learn how much of it is devoted to vehicles.  I learn that there are two separate steps involved in sound reduction: the first is referred to as “dampening” or “deadening”.  This addresses noise generated or amplified by the body panels themselves and involves the installation of some sort of very heavy rubber/butyl material, lead is sometimes used to add weight.  The dampener is added to directly to the metal surface and transforms the sound waves into heat.  Thus an integral part of a good sound dampener is a layer of metal foil that helps keep the heat from entering the vehicle.

The second key function is sound absorption, a barrier to collect the sound waves that are generated both inside and outside the vehicle.   This is what is done by the  baffles one sees on the ceilings of in orchestral halls.  Baffles are not terribly practical in your car, so this function is usually performed by a light, open cell foam.  This is applied on top of the dampener.  And that is about it.  That is most certainly an overly simplistic description of the basics of vehicle soundproofing, but it helps to set the stage for the story of our product scanning and  eventual selection of a product.  There is a great variety of products available, some which perform one or other of the functions, or perhaps combine them both.  All the sellers say more than one layer is better, which no doubt helps to sell sound proofing material.

The first supplier that we became aware of is the aptly named Noisekiller(NK) of Great Britain.  www.noisekiller.co.uk/vehicle_soundproofing_products.asp.   NK makes sound reduction materials for every imaginable application, including but certainly not limited to vehicles.  I became aware of them because they happen to produce custom “soundproofing” kits for Land Rovers.  The product is highly recommended by many others.  Thinking this might be the way to go last May I exchanged emails with Andy, my contact at Famous Four, who said he could get NK to send them a kit which they could send on to me as part of  my star-crossed third shipment (see separate “Customs Shock” post).

However, at this point I encountered the problem that would make getting sound proofing to Ghana a real challenge: the weight.  The stuff is  expensive enough to begin with, but it weights as much as 1 pound per square foot, which rather renders international shipping costs prohibitive.   The NK Defender kit costs 280 British Pounds, or about $450, to buy, but the weight of that kit is 50 kilos!   Andy said he could get a 5% price reduction from NK to cover the cost of getting it to Famous Four, but for them to send it on to Ghana would be an additional (gulp) 430 British Pounds, or almost seven hundred dollars just for shipping, for a total cost of more than $1,200.   That is very expensive quiet.  I told Andy thanks, but I would have to pass.

That began a long search thither and yon for a less expensive noise reduction option.  Some Land Rover forums have people talking about assorted construction materials that are usually readily available in North American or European hardware/building supply companies, for example the ashphalt paper that goes under roof shingling, but that sort of thing is not necessarily available in Ghana, and would be very difficult for me to locate.  My local search did lead me to Ghana Rubber Products, which I thought might produce some sort of heavy rubber that would work.  They produce sheets of rubber of varying sizes for shoe soles (ie. flip flops)  This led to a Saturday morning meeting with the owner at the GRP plant in Accra, who showed me what they had.  They identified a 3 mm thick but not very heavy rubber that I thought might at least serve as a sound barrier for 30 cedies  ($20 dollars) for a 4×6 sheet.  At that price we could do the whole Defender for about $100.   I went back a week later and spoke to his brother who, incredibly,  happens to own a Land Rover Defender and had actually purchased NoiseKiller.   He knew something about  sound reduction and recommended Noisekiller, he was not confident the product I had been looking at would do too much, but he identified a slightly lighter material.  I bought four sheets worth of his flip flop sole material thinking I could use it as sound absorber for some areas, but left knowing I was still in the market for sound reduction material.

Other options I found included Genesis of South Africa and Second Skin or Dynamat from the US.      I spent a lot of time looking at Genesis  www.genesisacoustics.co.za,  because it seemed to be a good product reasonably priced.  They also have a liquid paint on product that one can apply inside or outside the vehicle, which extends the area that one can apply it to.  However, when  I eventually measured and got a quote on the material and shipping it was only marginally less than the NoiseKiller from Great Britain.

In the course of surfing the web for more ideas and sources I stumbled upon a company called B-Quiet  www.b-quiet.com, which sold dampener, absorbers, and combinations thereof and billed themselves as  “the affordable sound deadening solution”.   One of the things I noticed was their website gave prices in US and CAN dollars and I assumed they were an American company selling into Canada.  The $C=US$ exchange rate they gave was rather  unfavourable to the Canadian dollar, which would make an American product more expensive to Canadians, so in a patriotic mood I sent them an email to say as much.  I received a prompt reply saying they in fact were a Canadian company located in Alberta and they thought their exchange rate was just fine thank you.  Of course, if they are producing in Canada and selling to the States the low exchange rate only makes them more competitive with American products like Dynamat.  Brilliant.

I looked at this product more carefully and judging from reviews their quality was good and the price gave credence to their website billing as the “affordable sound deadening solution”.   I looked at something called  B-Quiet Ultimate, a sound dampening material, and V-Comp, a combination sound dampening and absorbing material.   They also produce B-Quiet Hiliner, a thicker aluminum lined acoustic foam for under the bonnet.  Similar materials  are available from Genesis or from Noise Killer, but the Canadian company’s price was much more reasonable.   I was able to get a quote  of $500 for an coverage area larger than NK or Genesis, delivered to Ottawa.

The Ottawa delivery is where the real beauty of this Canadian- sourced option plays out.   I have an annual mailing allowance from Canada of one hundred pounds, which might not go far if you have a large family or get lots of magazines, but this year Laura and I have only used 25 lbs.  It is now October and we have more than 75 lbs of  shipping we have to use before the end of December.     As it turns out the weight of two 50 sq. ft rolls of B-Quiet Ultimate and two 15 sq. ft. rolls of V-Comp is about seventy pounds – the Hiliner only weighs another pound.   I could use more V-Comp but if we go over our weight it will just be held in Ottawa till next year.  I can order more then if I really need it.  I am planning to combine the B-Quiet Ultimate deadener with the V-Comp in the particularly vulnerable areas in the front of the cabin until the V-Comp runs out and  and then use pieces of the Ultimate  in combination with the flip-flop sole material from Ghana Rubber Products for less vulnerable areas.

B-Quiet products purchased: 30 sq. ft. of V-Comp barrier (1 of 2 rolls on the floor – 18 lbs); 100 sq. ft. Ultimate, (1 of two rolls on the table – 17lbs); and a 4×6 sheet of Hiliner for under the bonnet (silver on the right – 1 lb

It only took about two weeks to get here, and with this in hand I am ahead of the game because we can’t install it until after the painting is done, which won’t be for a couple of weeks yet.    With this material installed and covered by carpeting our  Defender will hopefully be elevated from clangy utility vehicle to relatively quiet cruiser.

Phase I Electrical

Why more than one phase of electrical?  Because I want to focus first on the basic things every vehicle requires to run and for basic safety and roadworthyness certification.  Headlights, horn, signal lights etc.  The basic stuff.  There are other systems required to support expeditioning, but that can come later – in Phase II.

I drafted up a list of the items to do in Phase I and II and got a couple of quotes on Phase I.  The low bidder, by a wide margin, was Eric from Opere’s shop under the tree so I asked him to do the work while we were in Egypt.   The work is now done and it is amazing how much you appreciate little things.  There was not very much right about the basic electrical when I first bought this vehicle.   Most seriously the the alternator did not work, a problem that was corrected when a new-to-me alternator was installed with the motor.   The front windshield wipers wiped, the rear did not.  Only a couple of the signal lights worked, the brake lights did not, nor did the headlights, nor the horn.   Up till now whenever I have pulled up to the high, solid, windowless gate outside our house I have had to rev the engine so the guard knows I am there to let me in rather than honk as one normally does. Fortunately the engine makes lots of noise.   The horn now works, as do all the lights.  He also did the rear windshield wiper motor and the windscreen washer fluid pump.   He charged me GHC 300, or about CAD 200

Eric’s  price includes a number of things that cannot be done until the painting is complete.  This includes installation of  all the new exterior light fixtures that I bought on Opere’s recommendation that the 15 year old ones that don’t look too bad now will look terribly old against a new paint job.  Eric has also bought me a large interior cabin light for the rear cargo area and will instal this and the front cabin light that has been stripped out (along with pretty much everything else) in anticipation of the interior painting.   My only real regret with respect to the electrical is that I have not yet had time to sit down with Eric and go throught the electrical system so I can learn about the circuits, fuses etc.   There are also still a number of old wires hanging about from the earlier A/V system that EPA used to support its public education programs in the field and that I decided would not be of any particular use to us.   I was going to do this when we came back from Egypt but about that time poor Eric was passing between two parked cars when one of them backed up and pinned him, causing some ill defined damage to his internal organs and putting him out of action for awhile.   He seems OK, but I don’t want to bother him while he is convalescing.  It can wait.

That is Phase I.   Phase II is the electrical required for expedition outfitting and it will be more complicated.   A dual battery system to support a fridge, lights and circuits to support other interior and exterior accessories, together with a solar power back-up system will be the main elements of the Phase II work.   The big question is whether Eric, or anyone here, will be able to handle this.  Half the Land Rovers in South Africa have a dual battery system but here no one seems to know about it.  I may have to teach myself about the fine points of dual battery systems and solar power back-up to get this done.   I have already purchased  the isolator kit for the  dual battery system, actually we have purchased two.  One  Laura bought at Canadian Tire when she wen to Canada in August, and another I bought from OffRoad Egypt when we were there in October.   Neither were terribly costly and I don’t mind having a couple of choices to increase our chances of getting this operational.  I will do a separate post on Phase II of the electrical after the painting is done and I can focus more on that.

Getting Ready to Paint 2: Picking a Sprayer

Getting my 15-year old Land Rover Defender painted is proving to be full of challenges, one of them is identifying  a “sprayer”.  Identifying and contacting a painter has been more difficult than for any of the other specialists that I have dealt with.   Opere has  been my first reference for specialists ranging from mechanics, bodywork and electrical , but  the painting is in a different order because, obviously, there is no paint oven under Opere’s  tree.   Over the course of the past few months whenever I have broached the subject of painting with him to try to nail down that phase of the project he never seemed very interested.   Strange because there are frequently one or two Defenders in his yard that look like they are just about to go for painting or have just come back from painting.   It was only when he realized I had found the Sikkens shop and had gotten a price he focussed.   As he always does,  he stressed the importance of ensuring I was going somewhere that would do a good job, but did not promote anyone he knew.   When I told him who I was talking to and how much they had quoted  he seemed to relax, either because he was satisfied that this was a good place, or that he could not beat the price and still take a cut that would make it worth his effort.

My former colleague Stephan had recommended  Sikkens, a name which is well-known for paint around the world, as a place that had done a very good job for him at a reasonable price.  He said he had his Defender painted “at Sikkens”, so  assumed was a business somewhere in Accra.  I saw his Defender and it looked great.  Since then everyone, including Opere, has  recommended that I use Sikkens Autobase paint, but  is clear they are not recommending any one place. Rather they each seemed to have their own favourite “sprayer”, all of whom may use Sikkens paint.    I was left wondering if “Sikkens” was a place in Accra as Stephane has led me to believe,  or just a brand of paint.

To enlighten myself I turned to Google and searched “Sikkens in Ghana” – there were about a dozen auto paint shops that come up.   I noticed that one of these, “Kolours”,  was located not too far away from where I live so I went by to have a look and talk to them.     The first thing I noticed when I pulled up was that the name “Kolours” did not appear anywhere on the front of the seemingly small storefront operation,   rather it featured “SIKKENS”, as if that was the name of the shop.   I sent an email to Stephane with description of the location and he confirmed that this was in fact where he had had his vehicle painted.  So there is no one “Sikkens” it is rather a network of places that happen to distribute Sikkens paint, and which probably have to undergo certain training and maintain certain quality standards  in exchange for the name.

The manager of “Kolours” is Bernard, a personable Ghanaian who each time I go back to look at colours, or ask questions, he says, “I’m ready”,  his subtle way of reminding me that it has been well over a month since I first spoke to him and said I was going to bring it in for the paint.  The problem is I keep finding reasons to delay, I am not really ready to paint yet.


I have had three informal quotes on painting,  Opere and Francis have cited numbers, but without the benefit of any close look at the details of what it is I want to do (Iie. everything has to come off before painting, two colours outside, one inside and bottom paint).  I have only given those details to Bernard, and his price is the same or only marginally higher than the quick quotes I got from Francis and Opere.  What also swings it in Bernard’s favour is that I know one satisfied customer, and the Kolours shop looks very clean and well run.   I will use them, but follow Stephane’s advice to monitor the work closely myself. But we are not ready to paint yet, there is still an undercarriage to clean up, and a few niggly pre-paint details.

Getting Ready to Paint 1 Picking a Colour

Defenders are basically trucks and usually coloured appropriately truckish.  Maybe it is the military origins honed by years of utilitarian uses.   That is reflected in the LRs one sees around Accra.  Dark Grey, Dark Blue. Dark Green.










However, in Ghana lately the most popular colour for the rebuilds coming out of Opere’s shop seems to be white.  That may well have been inspired by my colleague Stephane who had his Defender done that colour last year and it generated a great deal of positive comment.   It makes for a very pretty truck.  However, we are looking for something a bit less pretty, more truckish.  Somehow the idea of touring the Sahel region of Africa in a bright white truck that stands out from everything else does not quite seem appropriate.

A great many of Opere’s rebuilds end up white










After  looking at lots of choices, reviewing colours on-line and going by paint shops to see what they offer  we  shifted our preference a few times.  We hovered on white for a fair bit, shifted to burgundy for a short bit, and then finally settled on  what the Land Rover official colour scheme calls NATO Lightstone.  Right in the military tradition.   In more common terms one might call it Tan, or Caramel.   Some chips we have seen call this Sand, but that is misleading.  The vehicle already seems pretty sand-coloured.   We have chosen, or at least we hope we have chosen,  something darker and more vivid.   This choice was inspired because we saw one drive by (without our camera in hand).  With a white roof and white wheels it will look very sharp, but not so sharp it will look terribly out of place in Ougaudougou or Timbuctu.   We have no photos yet, but here is a neat site that we used to test colours.  Try the Desert Sands in the bottom left-hand corner of the chart, on the 90/110.   https://paintman.co.uk/shop/nato-light-stone-satin/     That is the only way you get to see the colour now because we do not have any examples


Every tow truck one sees in Ghana is an old Series Land Rover 



Picking a colour is the easy part.  In Ghana even getting a vehicle painted comes equiped with its own socio-cultural nuances.  I have a “welder” who does the body work and who is responsible for getting the vehicle ready, but only up to a point.  The “sprayer” does more than just paint, but it is really tricky to figure out where the welder’s responsibility ends and the “sprayer’s” responsibility begins.   During the bodywork the welder (Paani – see separate post) went through the vehicle and straightened crooked pieces, replaced rusted parts, punched out and filled dents and sealed any unwanted screw holes.  But when he finished he left the fill sections a bit rough on purpose.   That,  I learn has to be done by the sprayer just before the paint goes on, so it is clean and there is no water that has penetrated the filler.  That makes sense once you learn it, but you have to learn it.  There is a lot to learn, I have never had a vehicle fully painted before and that fact that it is a fixer-upper truck that I want to convert to something comfortable and attractive means I cannot count on everyone else to bring the attention to detail, I have to do that myself.


Pre-Restoration Condition of the Body

Now that the basic mechanical work is done it is time to shift attention to the body.  I have now had plenty of time to  sit in, climb over and think about the vehicle to develop some ideas of what  to do and how to do it.

The body is certainly in worse-than-average- condition for a Land Rover this age.  There is a terrific amount of rust on the driver side footwell, and at the bottom of a couple of the doors.   There are dents in most of the doors and panels that need to be knocked out and/or filled, although these are not serious.  All the doors and windows are functional, if a bit sticky.  The front fenders look like an elephant sat on them,  after taking a roll in the mud.

The Fender the Elephant Sat on
Drivers side footwell, rust and all  These will be completely replaced.













The interior is pretty trashed, the front seats have little or no cover left, the rear cargo space seats are bent and soiled, there are seemingly random holes drilled in the floor that no doubt served some purpose in support of the public education/awareness-raising that this purpose-built vehicle was supporting.  The windows rattle.  What really impresses me is how much dirt there is. In every nook and cranny of the body, the dash the engine compartment, there seems to be 15 years of accumulated dust and grime. I have started to clean the dash but the dirt just keeps on coming.

Cargo Bay Will Become Focal Point for Outfitting for the overland trip











Opere refers to his body person  as  “the welder”,  which led to some misunderstanding at first.  He kept saying I had to come back when the welder was there to talk about the body work.   Not the first application I associate with that trade, but of course Defender bodies are (were) all aluminum, there is absolutely no fibreglass in this vehicle at all.

The idea is now to strip the body completely inside and out, remove or cut away all parts that show any rust (lower portions of the metal door frames and the footwells) and replace these with new galvanized metal, then straightening and filling dents,  before priming and repainting.  This is work that in North America or Europe would be too expensive for me to even contemplate, if I could find someone who could do the work.  In Ghana they are so accustomed to keeping old vehicles on the road that the skills are in abundance, and they are affordable.  I have quotes on the body that are so low I am embarrased to repeat them.

Here is a first general list of the things that need to be done to the body, exclusive of any soundproofing/cosmetics/expedition prep:

  • Removal of all seats and interior fittings
  • Removal of exterior fittings
  • Removal and replacement of rusted metal (doors, footwells, bulkhead)
  • Removal of most of the six electrical outlets located along the side of the roof
  • Removal and/or Fill of all dents and scratches
  • Filling of all drill holes left in cargo bay by previous owner
  • Primer, interior and exterior
  • Painting, interior and exterior
  • Re-installation of interior and exterior fittings
  • Replacement of all door hinge screws
  • Installation of aluminum chequerplate on fender tops and bonnet
  • Installation of new door seals
  • Removal of electrical box in rear wheel well. This was a feature I initially found potentially useful, but all we will need is a couple of good lights on the roof rack, I can better use the wheel well space for additional fuel and water storage.
  • Replacement of all interior and exterior fittings

Opere has a bodywork person (the “welder”) within his stable of specialists (Paani) that I have a quote from on the above that is so reasonable as to beggar belief.  GHC 550, or  about CAD 363.  I have obtained a quote from another fellow who seems quite professional but is a much more costly (GHC 1200).  I have seen a lot of the work that Paani has done and it is seems a good result, and I have watched him work.  He is very good, why risk a higher price on an unknown bidder, when I know the low bidder does quality work?  Of course these quotes do not include painting, that is done by someone else.  It is typical of Ghana (of Africa?) that everyone specializes and it is difficult to find people who will quote you a price on a multi-component task.  At one point I thought Opere would play this role because he hires these people to do work for him, but he seems to prefer that I deal with them directly.  At least this cuts out the middleman, but I have to be careful I am not being given inflated  quotes because I am percieved as a dumb foreigner that does not know the market.  (a rather accurate perception, actually).   I am obtaining two or more quotes for just about everything – painting, body work, interior upholstery, etc) and when the suppliers see me responding to good prices that will help to encourage reasonable pricing for future things.

I am gradually accumulating some body parts for this part of the restoration.  I brought in new galvanized aluminum footwells from Famous Four, and as a first investment in the soundproofing I purchased new seals for all the doors.  Looking ahead to the expedition prep I have ordered galvanized aluminum fender tops, knowing from our South Africa experience we will spend a fair bit of time clambering up to gain access to the roof rack.  Installation of all these latter pieces will come later, after all the other body work is done.





Mechanical Condition pre-restoration

Opere and one of his helpers came by shortly after I got the vehicle  to look it over closely and after  poking around the vehicle for a bit he comes up with a list of parts I need.   Before I bought it Opere said it would take  about GHC 4,000 to get it into good running order.   Much of what is needed he knows without having to look at the vehicle, many of the items he just rattles off from experience that tells him what  a 15 year-old Defender that has not been well taken care of is going to need.   Brake and clutch parts and wheel bearings fall into this category.

Opere and helper at the house looking it over. Jonathon (wearing a tie because he just popped home from the office for the occasion) has a book to list the needed parts. Does the book have enough pages?

Many of the parts are available locally but they are expensive here and Opere recommends I import them. One of the things I like about this approach is that my mechanic is not recommending something just to sell the parts, and can also tell me when something can be obtained locally.  He does not seem to sell any parts This was a tip I initially received from Stephane, my Canadian High Commission colleague who was the original inspiration behind this project who was restoring a Defender when I first arrived in Ghana and is now back in Quebec with his Defender,  he put me on to Famous Four, a parts depot based in the UK that specializes in Land Rovers and has a well-tuned mail order  operation.

Using the Famous Four website www.famousfour.co.uk  I am able to find everything on the list, and in the process familiarize myself with the range of parts  that I might want.  It is really a great site for Landy parts  Some of them are genuine Land Rover parts but most are Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), from the regular supplier to Land Rover or “after market “ parts made by someone else as a copy of the original part.  The prices are not bad, much less than I would pay here and they do not charge VAT on anything exported from the UK.   The shipping costs are hefty but the per pound cost declines the heavier the order is, and the weight adds up when you start adding axles and drive shafts.

Opere and I have some interesting  communication problems in the process of deriving the list of needed parts.  We both speak English, but issues of accent, culture and jargon enter to pose some surprising challenges to my comprehension.  Of course a big part of the problem is my less-than-complete mechanical knowledge.   I never heard of a “servo” before, or a “slave cylinder”.   If I don’t catch something the first time I don’t mind asking Opere to repeat it once or twice but after three times if I still am not sure of what part he is talking about I resort to pretending  to understand and then writing down what I think I have heard and searching for it on parts sites on the internet.   The best one was  “axle”,  which I had a hard time with in part because of his accent and in part because it not something I expected to hear that I would need.  Apparently the “half-shaft” rear axles had been welded to the drive members, the pieces at the end of the axles that the wheels bolt onto.  This left us both shaking our heads in disbelief.

Here is the list of original parts I am ordering from Famous Four.  This will get the clutch and brakes and wheels and axles back into good running order.   This is not the list Opere gave me, I have augmented it with items suggested by the helpful people at Famous Four, or by Ndoria, a Land Rover mechanic friend in Nairobi that is advising via email.

  • Clutch Release Arm Fork
  • Release Arm Slipper Pad
  • Clutch Master Cylinder
  • Clutch Slave Cylinder
  • Clutch Kit, (Plate, cover, release bearing)
  • Release Bearing Staple
  • Push Rod Clip
  • Clutch Flexi-Hose
  • 2 Rear Half Shaft axles
  • Stub Axle to Axle Case Gasket
  • 2 Stub Axle Oil Seals
  • 2 Drive Members
  • 4 Wheel Bearing Kits
  • Brake Master Cylinder
  • 2 Rear Brake Caliper Seal Kits
  • 2 Rear Brake Pad Set
  • 2 Front Caliper Seal Kit
  • Hose Bleed Assembly
  • Front Brake Pad Set
  • Bottom Water Hose
  • By-pass Water Hose
  • Top Water Hose
  • Front Drive shaft
  • 4 Hub Dust Caps

The front drive shaft we have to add because there simply isn’t one, perhaps someone found a better use for it.  I add a few cosmetic things and items I do not need right away but that I want as part of the restoration or for general service and getting them now will bring the shipping cost down.    Including shipping this first parts order will set me back $1200, which sets my total investment to date  at $6,300 (including the battery) .  At the end of it, with a couple of hundred dollars labour to put it together, I should have a vehicle with a good clutch, brakes and drive train, but which will still require some motor work and many, many other restorations and upgrades, including electrical, interior, and bodywork.  I have now obtained a set of Land Rover repair manuals and a restoration book to serve as reference materials, these are proving very handy to my learning process.

There are enough mechanical problems that Opere has to have it pushed out of my yard to start it (the alternator is defective so the battery is dead) to take it off to the shop for the first stage in the mechanical re-build.  

Of course the big mechanical item is the motor.  It runs but smokes quite badly, which might indicate worn pistons, a cracked block, dodgy injectors, or a blown head gasket.  I knew before I bought the vehicle this was going to be a big part of the rebuild.  For the motor  Opere suggests I consider two options.   I can have it rebuilt or I can import a “reconditioned”  replacement TDI 300 from Europe and have Opere install it.  Opere rebuilds Land Rover motors regularly in his shop under the tree (see separate post), but also brings in reconditioned motors from time to time, he calls them “new”, but they are only new to him.  Again, this is a Ghanaian practice, the age of things is really measured from when it comes into the country, a used car might be 20 years old, but it is “new” when it lands at Tema Port.     While the “new” motor is a bit more expensive than the rebuild,  it is surprisingly affordable and much simpler than the rebuild, where I would have to import all the parts which could involve delays.

I am also nervous about what the rebuild might end up costing if we discover some unknown problem that is not easily fixable and adds significantly to the cost.    I am also somewhat apprehensive about a rebuild given that the shop under the tree is not the ideal environment for working with sensitive moving parts.   The reconditioned motor also comes with a number of parts that I need, like A/C and an alternator.  One of the first decisions I make is to go for the reconditioned motor.

Opere says he has 3 TDI 300s coming in shortly and could install one while I am waiting for the other parts to be delivered.  We negotiate quite hard on the price, as the objectivity present in my other dealings with Opere is lacking here (he is selling what he is installing) and I do not have another source.   We settle on the Ghanaian equivalent of  $2,000, with $1500 up front and $500 payable in one month upon satisfactory performance.  Sort of a guaranteed guarantee.   When it is done I will be up to $8,300 on my investment, including  all the other parts I am ordering.   That is still well within budget, but there is still a lot left to do.

Getting Acquainted

Laura and I spent our first weekend just poking around to get to know the layout and condition.  We washed off the layers of harmatan dust and took the roof rack and ladder off. Spending time with an older vehicle that you have had no prior knowledge of or experience with is great fun.  This one must have been sitting for quite awhile because there is a great deal of dirt on it inside and out.  There is also lot of  loose pieces, old screws and bolts, cassete tape boxes, – in the battery box, in the glove box, under the seats. Incredibly, we actually found the original owners manual, still intact in its official Land Rover binder.  We also found a book of usage tracking showing everywhere the vehicle had been driven between 2004 and 2007.  I feel like an archeologist.

We cleaned the interior…..










and took the roof rack off as a first step to getting the body redone…..








There is a sheet of 5/8 inch plywood on the rack that may be as old as the vehicle, it is literally disintegrating.Nevertheless, our gardener and our guard were both standing by to take a piece home with them to support some project or other.

I took all the rear cargo bay bench seats out, I now have quite a pile of Land Rover debris in our carport.

Cargo Bay with the seats
Cargo Bay without the seats, this will be the focus for expedition storage systems