Images by Matthew Yeoman @ToyotaWorldRunners
Parked on the beach in Mexico, my ears pricked to the hum and rattle of a Tdi motor, a sound which we know all too well and, coincidentally, the auditory prelude to another great Defender (Featured Vehicle) that of New Zealander Tom Marriot). We were to learn soon enough that the Defender belongs to a Canadian couple who parked next to our camper. As stingrays danced beneath the surface of the Sea of Cortez, we spent the following few hours trading stories (we, too, own a Land Rover Defender 130), discussing upgrades, repairs, maintenance tips and tricks, contacts, and routes in Latin America, before we did our standard pitch for an overland journey to Africa.
Once model Ontario residents who married in the late ’80s and subsequently raised two sons, Sue and Hugh spent their pre-retirement days in the service of their community. Sue was a dedicated teacher for 34 years, and Hugh served six years in the military before segueing into a 30-year career in banking. After retiring in 2022, the duo decided to pivot toward an adventurous life of overlanding inspired by the likes of Drive Nacho Drive, The Road Chose Me, Desk to Glory, Home on the Highway, Life Remotely, and yours truly (A2A Expedition). This decision led them from their tranquil life in Chilliwack, British Columbia, to the road less traveled and our beach camp in Baja, along the way.
The journey to full-time overlanders, after initially learning about “vehicle-based travel” at the BC Overland rally, was not as smooth as they hoped, from scoping out a 110 Defender in Vancouver that did not meet their requirements (right-hand drive, station wagon) to purchasing a Toyota Tacoma. Hugh and Sue were only partially satisfied with the Toyota; they were looking for something better, something cooler, something with a higher load rating. Inspired by GrizzlynBear and their Land Rover Defender 130 with a slide Four Wheel Camper, the couple decided that the 130 was the tool for the job and the slide-in camper would fit their needs perfectly, as Sue had two primary requirements for the build: “I want a fixed bed, something I don’t have to make every day, and I want to be able to stand up when I pull my pants on.” We can respect that.
It made sense that the Land Rover Defender 130 was their vehicle of choice due to its excellent off-road performance, substantial ground clearance, and narrow size, a reliable companion for any terrain if correctly maintained. It could also operate on high-sulfur diesel, a boon for long-distance travel. One of the reasons the Land Rover Defender 130 was their top pick was its payload capacity, which was significantly higher than other similarly sized vehicles, and the slide-in camper did not compromise its legendary off-road capabilities. They were going to live out of the truck for an extended period, and comfort was paramount.
After unsuccessful attempts to find a manufacturer willing to accommodate their specific needs, they decided to purchase a Fleet shell model from a Four Wheel Campers dealer and built it out themselves. They soon learned that they could rely on the advice and help from the overlanding community who offered practical suggestions (like Dan Grec’s tip of installing the Guzzle H2O water filtration system) and, as all DIY vehicles do, hours were spent watching YouTube tutorials and rebuild videos. Eventually, the couple knew exactly which direction to take with the finer details of the build now that they had settled on an excellent base vehicle and camper shell.
Customizing the camper proved a daunting task, particularly because they sought a propane-free setup, favoring diesel and electricity. Ultimately, the transformation of their dream vehicle/camper would not have been possible without the unwavering support of their friends. Bill, a retired friend, offered both his time and his workshop; happily, Bill’s workshop included not only a very handy vehicle lift but also almost every tool known to man, or so it seemed. Anytime Hugh and Sue needed something, a tool to do a job, bolt, nut, spacer, etc., Bill would take a few minutes to have a look around and bring out whatever was required. Almost all the work done on the truck and camper was done at Bill’s house. The remainder fell to Steve, a colleague of Sue’s, who brought his woodworking skills to the project, creating a cozy kitchen space within the camper. During 2021, Bill also took the time to assist the couple by working on the truck. They installed an Ashcroft transfer case with heavy-duty parts, a Roamerdrive (the Roamerdrive provides an extra set of gear ratios 28 percent higher than standard), a new alternator, a reconfigured dashboard, improved the wiring, and installed a backup camera. They also fixed the Land Rover’s famous factory-issued leaks, a job easier said than done (usually involving removing the motor and/or transmission).
As the build progressed, so did the complexities. They would often joke about the vehicle’s custom nature, emphasizing that nothing could simply be purchased and attached. The roof rack, for instance, required muffler clamps to connect it to the roll bar instead of the drip channels. The solar panels had to be carefully fitted around the two air vents, involving the use of 128 inches of aluminum angle attached to the Yakima tracks, with the panels fastened onto that structure along with some flat bar. Spacers were added to the side table to ensure clearance over the fender. An aluminum channel was affixed to the roof rack for the shower curtain. Lastly, they constructed stairs using a flat bar attached to the tailgate, with the stairs themselves securely connected to that framework. Every custom modification extended the labor and financial investment. The continuous arrival of Amazon delivery trucks was a common sight at their home during this period.
The departure date was fixed for June 2022, and they worked six days a week on the project for several months. Bill put in approximately 1,000 hours, turning the vehicle and camper into a practical and comfortable space for long-term living. Meanwhile, Sue managed to pack up and clean their entire house (preparing it for rental), sell all the unwanted items, and secured the rest of their belongings in a storage locker.
Despite the vehicle already boasting a host of modifications when purchased (from a couple whose overlanding journey was cut short due to Covid-19), the duo upgraded many elements, including the dual battery system, alternator, transfer case, and transmission (might as well, while you are fixing the leaks). They added an auxiliary fuel tank to reduce redundancy and extend their travel range and upgraded the suspension and tires to ensure a smooth ride across varying terrains. A powerful winch was deemed essential to help get them out of sticky situations.
For Sue, in particular, the need for a comfortable living space was crucial. Steve’s woodworking expertise came in handy as they created a custom-made kitchen space, complete with a diesel cooktop and oven. The camper was fitted with a diesel air and water heater, ensuring a warm and cozy environment during the colder months. As per Sue’s requirements, the living space had ample storage, a fixed bed, and sufficient headroom. A swivel table was added to allow comfortable dining and working space, and they installed a Dometic refrigerator and a compact bathroom with a composting toilet, making their life on the road as self-sufficient as possible.
The couple also invested in an onboard air compressor, essential for adjusting tire pressures depending on the terrain. They installed a fire suppression system and carry fire extinguishers and a first aid kit for safety.
The Land Rover’s transformation into a home-on-the-go is a testimony to the couple’s passion for adventure and dedication to turning their dreams into reality. It took nearly a year to finalize the details, from planning the features to executing the build.
When asked what makes this vehicle unique, Hugh responded,
“Everything, as I said it’s all custom. First and foremost, it’s a Defender 130. You’ve experienced it; everywhere we go, people stop and ask us about the truck and our trip. They give us the thumbs up as we drive by, and if we’re getting gas, they come and talk about the truck. I can’t tell you how many times and different ways people have stopped to talk to us. Beyond that, there are a few things: the drawers that we have under the camper (they lift the camper 13 inches), the boxes on the sides (to fill in the space below the lifted camper), the roof rack that extends under the camper cabover, and the water tank (80 liters) that is under the camper (I don’t think I’ve seen another camper like that). Those things give us a lot of extra storage space versus a regular truck camper setup (both outside and inside).”
The fruits of their labor came into full view in April 2022 when they set out on their first overlanding trip. Since then, they have traveled extensively, covering thousands of miles and visiting numerous locations from the far north and Alaska to Southern Mexico. The vehicle’s off-road capability, combined with the comfort and convenience of their custom Four Wheel Camper, has allowed them to explore to their heart’s content.
As Sue and Hugh continue to travel the world, living their dreams one day at a time, their story serves as an inspiration. The success of their project underlines the importance of resilience, determination, and community support in achieving goals. Seeing the couple soak up the adventure and experiences of a less ordinary life reminds us how hard work and determination make dreams become a reality. If you seek inspiration for your build or journey, sign up at the Expedition Portal forum, where you will find both and more.
2003 Land Rover Defender 130 / Four Wheel Campers Fleet model shell
- TD5 2.5-liter 5-cylinder turbo-diesel engine
- R380 transmission (rebuilt by Ashcroft with HD parts and high-capacity sump)
- LT230 1.41 ration transfer case (rebuilt by Ashcroft with HD rear support bearings)
- Roamerdrive Overdrive
Suspension and drive
- Allisport intercooler
- LOF TD5 HD clutch/flywheel kit
- HD double Cardan prop shaft
- Koni big bore shocks and HD springs
- Air Lift 1000 air springs
- HD anti-roll bars
- Terra Firma HD half shafts and flanges
- Factory locking center differential
Wheels and Tires
- BFGoodrich KO2 235/85/R16
- Wolf Wheels
Recovery and Armor
- ARB HD bumper with winch
- Roll cage, rock sliders, under armor, and chequer plate
- Nakatanenga snorkel
- Garmin Overlander GPS
- Guzzle H20 stealth 2X10
- Nanocom Evolution
- 80-liter water tank (under camper)
- Dometic sink and 12-volt fridge/freezer
Solar and Electrical
- Blue Sea dual battery system
- SOK 206 amp-hour lithium batteries (2)
- Renogy 175-watt solar panels (3)
- Redarc 1250D 50 amp DC to DC Charger
- Renogy 3,000-watt 12-volt inverter
- Egon DC-Hub power distribution
- Renogy 40-amp MPPT controller
- ARB dual air compressor
- Front Runner Slimline II roof rack
- Front Runner Wolf Pack storage box and drop-down table
- Safari Equip 65-liter water tank and 75-liter diesel tank
- Custom Camper pull-out drawer and side boxes
- Quick Pitch Quick En-Suite
You can follow Hugh and Sue’s adventures on Instagram @mapleleafdrifters.
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