Feature Vehicle: GoPlay.Outside Land Cruiser

The beauty of attending overland shows is, occasionally, if you are willing to leave the main event and take a stroll to where the travelers swap stories, you may stumble across something special, something new. Something which drops your jaw at the audacity of creative thought, concept, design, and build quality.

 

Michael Choi and Lauren Berra enjoy the great outdoors; they visit national parks, rock climb, snowboard, and camp. It has long been their desire to build an adventure vehicle, but they wanted it to be unique. Michael, a mechanical engineer, recalls seeing an “old-school” Land Cruiser online and thinking it would be cool to source a pickup and equip it with a camper. In early 2020, the couple struck gold and found a 1981 Toyota Land Cruiser Emergency Response vehicle from Australia, which they believe was used by the government or possibly as a utilities support vehicle. Without hesitation, they drove out to have a look at it and found the perfect base for a project vehicle; the open concept immediately came to mind.

This “open concept” sets this vehicle apart from others and makes it quite unique. Yes, a swarm of bugs and a strong wind could ruin your day, but the vehicle does not have to have the open plan deployed to be a liveable space. On stormy, gloomy, cold, and nasty days, the vehicle seals into its original box dimensions. But when the weather is glorious, and the bears are fed, the couple can live indoors or outdoors with a cool breeze and a panoramic view of nature.

“I think what sets us apart is that we wanted to really pay more attention to the design details and warmth of the space. We wanted to have a cozy space that blends with an off-grid cabin with a mid-century feel to match the truck. It helps that we both have similar tastes (and a love for plants).”

said Michael, GoPlay.Outside.

The build kicked off in earnest with a trip to a body shop to request an estimate for a respray, and the couple was shocked into a DIY rebuild after receiving a five-figure quote for the exterior alone.

After careful preparation and many hours spent studying YouTube videos (what would we do without the unsung heroes of scrape, strip, weld, sand, paint, remove, repair, replace), Michael and Lauren slowly started cleaning and stripping the truck while continuing their YouTube rebuild education. Befouling the family driveway with body filler, sandpaper residue, automotive paint, and sundry, the couple tackled the steep learning curve and succeeded through trial and error, 80 grit, and determination. The resulting respray is impressive.

1981 Emergency Response Landcruiser Modifications

Over the following months, the loving duo painted the vehicle inside and out, including some bodywork with Bondo, which required removing the box and verging dangerously close to a frame-off restoration. It is spooky how quickly a simple budget concept can evolve into a deep-dive-rebuild, money-pit monster. With the large surfaces shining, attention turned to the trim: wheels, bull bar, wiper arms, Donaldson air cleaner, door handles, speedo gauge, glovebox. If it didn’t move, it got a lick of paint. A dig into the budget bought new turn signal covers, replacement LED headlights, new LED markers, speedo bulbs, and a matching blinker relay. Those old Cruisers can be as noisy as a coal train, and sound deadener in the cab combined with a new roof headliner can go a long way to making those long trips less exhausting. With the old patina resigned to the past where it belongs (some might say), attention turned to general maintenance and service, a new battery, oils, filters, hoses (a popped hose left them stranded near Vegas), fluid flushes, glow plugs, a new front driveshaft, and new shocks. Fresh, new glass followed soon as Michael had cracked the old windscreen during the paint assault, and a neighborhood reprobate broke a passenger window armed with a lower-than-average IQ.

With the vehicle looking good and running well, attention turned to the rear box where all the magic happens, and the open space concept comes to vivid life. First, the young but calloused hands had to remove all traces of property owned by the Australian Government and Her Majesty the Queen. They dragged out over 400 pounds of metal (heavy-duty shelves, cladding, walls, etc.) and replaced gas struts for the four walls/doors, which had been redesigned and refabricated. Each wall/door now boasted new paddle latches, 1-inch ISO insulation boards between framing, weather-resistant gaskets, new wiring, and wood walls and vinyl wrap of the outer doors matched all woodwork.

Sunflare Xplor solar panels (2 x 180W) teamed up with two 100 a/h Battleborn lithium batteries, a Victron controller and components monitor, and a 1200-watt inverter. A Shurflo water pump and accumulator work with a 21-gallon water tank and are routed through the custom under-bed drawers to the kitchen sink. Under the dimmer-equipped LED lights, Michael and Lauren installed custom slatted wood shelving, a wood pass-through dresser, and vinyl flooring. A Dometic 75 fridge kept the cold drinks coming and may or may not have been the center of the wrap party before the loving and long-suffering family eventually booted the youngsters and their new old girl out of the neighborhood.

The investment and months of hard work certainly have paid off. The Land Cruiser is now near perfect and sure to take Michael and Lauren on many wonderful adventures. Minimalist but comfortable, the camper has a natural, purposeful, inviting, and liberating character. But, as many well know, these projects are never really finished, and a few practical changes will surely be made as the couple travel with their dog, Cooper, and dial in the living experience. From concept to reality, this vehicle is sure to inspire many, and we look forward to following their adventures.

To learn more about Michael Choi and Lauren Berra’s Land Cruiser visit @goplay.outside on Instagram.

 

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Graeme Bell is an author and explorer who has dedicated his life to traveling the planet by land, seeking enlightenment and unique experiences. Together with his wife and two children, Graeme has spent the last decade living permanently on the road in a self-built Land Rover based camper. They have explored 27 African countries, circumnavigated South America, driven from Argentina to Alaska followed by exploration of Europe and Western Asia. Currently the family are planning a journey from Western Europe to the Russian Far East. Graeme is a member of the Explorers Club, the author of six critically acclaimed books and an Overland Journal/Expedition Portal contributor since 2015. You can follow Graeme's adventures across the globe on Instagram at graeme.r.bell