The 4x4: "TONKA"

Apart from the route, the biggest decision (and financial outlay) for our trip across Africa was our choice of wheels. In retrospect, I can see that we went through the same thought processes as most Africa overlanders do. First we thought a Land Rover Defender would be the obvious choice. This is the car that springs to mind for most people when they think of the classic silhouette of a 4x4 weaving a dusty route across the Savannah. And to be fair, the Land Rover was the first car to open up the interior of Africa. It looks the part, is rugged and field maintainable, easily available in the UK, and cheap.

And so after just a few days of looking back in the spring of 2012, we thought we had found something suitable – a fully overland prepared Land Rover Defender that had recently returned from a trip to Africa. Feeling smug that we had a found a car in no time at all, and wondering why some people make such a big deal of finding the right vehicle, I was about to the transfer the deposit. But just at that time I started to hear all sorts of horror stories about reliability issues with Land Rovers, and accounts of owners spending more time under them than in them. As I know very little about cars, this was a major concern. A dilemma. In fact a deal breaker. But if our trusty steed was not to be a Land Rover, what would it be?

"Contenders, are you ready…?"


After a bit more research, it seemed there was one obvious choice – the Toyota Land Cruiser. And then the research really began.

To cut a long story short, we considered several models of Land Cruiser, all of which are very capable vehicles. The main ingredients for an overland vehicle are ruggedness and simplicity, and on those criteria one model stood out head and shoulders above the rest – the Toyota HZJ75. This is arguably the toughest 4x4 ever built, and what it lacks in creature comforts it makes up for in bomb proof reliability. It has the legendary 4.2L non turbo diesel engine, which although not quick, has a reputation for chugging on forever. It also has none of the electric gadgets and gizmos to go wrong. So, decision made, we just had to find one. Enter second dilemma – we soon discovered that the HZJ75 was never imported into Europe, let alone the UK, and they are consequently as rare as hen’s dental floss. They are hugely popular in the Australian outback and the African bush, but obviously were never deemed urbane enough to roam the streets of the UK. We searched high and low for one, only to eventually lose heart, and decided to buy the very good, but not quite the same, Land Cruiser 80 Series. Until one day this came along…

A 1990 HZJ75 “ute” from Australia. Not exactly what I was after, as it would require a lot of customisation to turn the tray back into useful storage space. But on the plus side it was in great condition, had endless conversion possibilities and had all the pedigree toughness that we were looking for. So after a trip to North Wales, it was mine. And then the preparation began. First to Julian Voelcker at Overland Cruisers in Herefordshire – the UK’s guru on all things Land Cruiser related. He would take care of the mechanical side of things. 


Then to Devon for the bodywork to be done, at Roger Young Fabrication. Experts at expedition “quad tech” body construction.

Finally the near finished beast emerges…

TONKA: (named after John's first ever toy 4x4)

The total list of modifications (some to be finalised!) includes:
  • Replaced shock absorbers (which are paired with the original heavy duty leaf springs). These will take a beating on the long dirt roads, and particularly the desert crossing from Kenya to Ethiopia
  • Raised air intake (a.k.a snorkel) for those river crossings, and also for feeding less dust into the air filter
  • Heavy duty aluminium roof rack with Howling Moon “Stargazer” roof tent and rear room
  • ARB side awning
  • New steel wheels fitted with BF Goodrich KM2 255/85/16 tyres. Two spare wheels
  • IPF spotlights
  • Total diesel capacity of 200 litres, with an on-road range of around 800 miles
  • Sand ladders
  • 35 litre Engel fridge/freezer
  • Drawer system
  • Roof mounted solar panels
  • Second heavy duty battery with split charge system
  • 120 litre water capacity with General Ecology purification system and Reich 12v shower
  • CampingGaz cooker and gas bottles
  • Heavy duty bull bar for those impromptu encounters with the wildlife.
Keep an eye on the blog for some photos of these things in action as and when we get around to using them.

Here are some photos from our trip so far...

Tonka towing a 6 month old Land Rover


Kate Goodwin said...

Vehicle look great can you tell me what the thing in the middle is it looks like a rectangle bath with a tap or is it a water tank We are building something very similiar but we intend to sleep in one side of the canopy and travel around australia thanks in anticipation of a reply

Josephine Nystrom said...

Hi Kate,
You are right - this is the housing for a water tank, purification system, water pump and there is a tap on the top. We have found this really useful and the water we have added to the tank has always come out clean and crystal clear, so we have been very impressed with it. Hope that helps and good luck with the build!
Josi & John

Andy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.