Driving 'The Beast' through South-America


Looking for a car

Preparing a trip around the world poses many unexpected challenges. What kind of car are we taking? Because we've seen Toyotas all over the world on previous trips, we want that brand. Two models are eligible: HiLux and Land Cruiser. The latter is bigger and heavier and generally has a much bigger, thirstier engine. The HiLux is a pick-up: an open body. Usually it is used for its intended purpose: transporting all kinds of materials. Many HiLuxes are used professionally (contractors, gardeners, farmers, loggers) and receive little love. The Land Cruiser is more for people who like to drive around in a (large) car, because of the safety feeling, the ruggedness factor, and so on. Many Land Cruisers spend their lives on asphalt. We have other goals in mind:

Our dream

What kind of fuel? Petrol and diesel are for sale everywhere, but the quality varies greatly. For modern cars a low sulphur content is very important. To prevent acid rain, but also to spare the soot filters and catalytic converters. Driving on unsulphurized diesel only goes well for a short time, soon the engine breaks down (first the soot filters). A new car can only be registered (to get a license plate) if it meets the emission requirements. And they prescribe a particulate filter, or a catalyser on gasoline cars. Our trip will therefore take place in a used car, preferably one that already has Belgian license plates. We 'choose' diesel, because most used cars in Belgium run on diesel.

So our search starts with the engine. A 'common rail' (a system in which the diesel is injected under very high pressure from one line into the cylinders) needs a complex (thus more sensitive), expensive pump than a conventional system. We would have to equip a common rail engine with extra filters, to make sure that the pump will not be damaged when we refuel at a questionable outlet. (Think: a rusty oil barrel in the desert).

Toyota builds different engines, which they number. The HiLux has a 1KD or 2KD engine, all with common rail and sometimes even soot filters. The HiLuxes we are looking at have all had a hard life, and even then they are too 'young' to run on diesel in Peru and Bolivia. The Land Cruisers have had a 1HD engine since 1990 that has been modernized over the years - the most modern version (1HD-FTE) meets Euro 3. That's better than the emissions of many cars we'll meet on the road, and can still run on diesel with 5000 ppm (parts per million) of sulfur, if we have to.

The Land Cruisers are popular with travelers, especially the older series. The J78 model would be a good candidate (it is sometimes called 'troop carrier' or 'troopy' because it can carry up to 13 people sitting down). And Toyota still builds them, even with that 1HD-FTE engine, especially for the African market. But we can't register a new one in Europe and the ones that already have a license plate are scarce. We find one, but another buyer has already 'adopted' it before we can go and have a look that afternoon.

On-line we don't get any further. We visit a trade show and start to consider a Land Rover. Those are readily available and the Td5 engine meets our requirements. We have to find a 'young' one, because these engines had a lot of problems until the year 2000. Since 2002 they also meet Euro 3. We meet a Land Rover expert, who quickly sums up a list of parts that we need to replace in advance in order to have fewer problems along the way. It's a long list, with an engine overhaul, bearings, brake system and suspension. "You buy a Land Rover with your heart, not your head", "they make a lot of noise, the doors close so badly that it gets wet inside when it rains" and "a LaRo is a family member" are just a few of the statements.... We keep looking, but finding a good Toyota would suit me better.

In Land Cruiser circles, garage Marc Eyckens in Helchteren has a good name. I decide to go and ask if they know someone who has a Land Cruiser 70, 80 or 100 for sale for a trip around the world. They turned out to know two of them. One with a manual 80, but without air conditioning and one with a fully prepared 100 with automatic transmission and air conditioning that is no longer used:

Land Cruiser for sale

And that someone is the first owner, who bought the car to ... safely drive from home to work and back again. After about 5 years he bought something else and had the car converted for expeditions in desert sand. But the man lacks time: one trip to a 4x4 terrain in France and two return trips Sahara (in the last 7 years). Everything is already ready: the troublesome automatic ride height adjustment has already been removed, the bars of the differentials have been replaced, the rear suspension has been made heavier, the ground clearance (ride height) has been improved, mounted were: other rims with larger tires, front and rear rigid bumpers with a winch and two spare wheels, underbody protection and there is an extra (180 liter) tank in it. Included are: a water tank, a fridge, a (meanwhile broken) house battery (for the fridge and so on), a hi-jack, sand-plates, table and chairs, BBQ and some crates and boxes with loose stuff (recovery set, compressor, a canopy, etc.). The roof rack and the roof tent (of a brand we don't want) have been sold elsewhere. We quickly agree: we are going on a trip with this one.

On the day of the transfer, the car has to be inspected. Registered as 'light cargo', a weighting usual for commercial vehicles has to be done. To do this, garage Eyckens puts a set of other, smaller rims and tires on the car and assembles a legally required raised edge between the cargo hold and the front seats. The car is also completely empty - no spare wheels, no roof rack, no roof tent. To my surprise, this car already weighs 2930 kilograms! The maximum allowable mass is 3260 kilograms - so we 'can' load another 300 kilograms, but then we're not allowed to (legally) go ourselves!

Of course it starts with examining what's in and what's with it. The differential locks are operated by a compressor and the electrical system is badly installed and one of the switches is broken. The car is filled with (red) Sahara sand everywhere and there are traces that indicate that the cabin floor was once submerged. The battery management system is very simple and has never been able to work properly, because the broken down battery has to be charged with a higher than normal voltage. There is a GPS tracking system that allows the car to be stopped remotely, there is a CB radio in it that cannot be used everywhere in the world. Actually, I am not satisfied with all the retrofitted electricity and decide to start over. Thoroughly.

Stripped Land Cruiser

Together with Marcel I construct a drawer system in the back. We build a cabinet of concrete plywood (waterproof plywood wood) and use telescopic slides of the brand Fulterer of 1.2 meters long, which can be pulled out completely. They also have a lock in the closed position. All RAKO boxes in one stack On the drawers, we stack RAKO boxes, based on an idea by Peter Thuwis from verreweg.be. The boxes are always a multiple of each other in terms of size: two smaller bins fit together on top or next to a larger one. This saves us having to think beforehand about the layout of the drawers, as this layout can easily be changed by stacking them differently. The slides can be loaded up to 180 kilograms per pair, but only when mounted vertically. After some thought and experimenting, we decide to make the space under the drawers just large enough that the lowest model RAKO bin still fits under it. They don't stand on guides, but for things we don't need very often (spare parts, tools) it's a perfect place. (In the end, it would turn out that the locking mechanism of the Fulterer slides is much too light for this application. Within a few months the locking mechanism was broken. If you consider such a system, provide a solid locking mechanism on the drawers themselves. And come up with something to be able to lock the drawers half-open as well, because it turns out that we are not always parked level).

After the large shapes (the box with the drawers) are defined, it's time to review the electrics. This Land Cruiser has two batteries, which are connected in parallel. We separate them with a battery combiner and replace them both: one starter battery and one semi-traction (with thicker lead plates, which is more resistant to deep discharge). The latter will be monitored by a battery monitor, which will find a place inside. Next, we install fuses that are missing until then, and cut a round hole in the wall between the engine and the passenger's footwell, laying finger-thick cables. This time in a way that makes shafing through almost impossible. At the back, next to the drawers, we create a switch panel. Switch panel at the rear

We replace the Toyota seats with two (used) Recaro seats, screw on a new roofrack and put on a roof tent, and leave for a test drive to Portugal. In France we get flashed a few times on the highways, although it is not immediately clear to us why. We barely drive 100 km/h (62 mph) where the speed limit is 130 km/h (82 mph). Only truck traffic is limited to 90 km/h (56 mph). While driving we start to calculate... We probably weigh so much, with all our stuff on top of it, attached to it and in it (food/beer), that the weight sensors in the road surface see us as a truck! We're not a little bit, but way too heavy! Not as heavy as the armoured cars in which American presidents are transported, but we already borrow the name: 'The Beast'.

Ready for departure Back from a successful test drive and a couple of sleepless nights I decide that the (expensive) ARB rear bumper and the extra fuel tank are going to be left behind. After the first weighing that tank turned out to be completely full with 180 liters of diesel (150 kilograms) because the transfer pump had an electrical problem, the tank itself weighs 55 kilograms, the bumper with spare wheel mount weighed about 190 kilograms. Garage Eyckens took it all off, installed a plastic bumper and put the spare wheel back under the car. I quickly add a 230V battery charger. Almost completely packed for the real trip, with a full diesel tank (but without 60 liters of water) 'The Beast' now weighs 3300 kilograms. We are not allowed to mount the vehicle, but we do it nonetheless! We replace the tires with brand new ones and in the last minutes Eyckens replace the rear suspension with a lighter one. They find a leaking shock absorber, but after that we're ready for the sea voyage!