When Toto – nee Harvey, nee Henrietta – left the Land Rover factory in Solihull, UK in late 1992, did she imagine a life like this? With half of Africa’s nations rolling beneath her wheels? Driving in the shadow of the pyramids? Plying the dunes of Namibia? Resting below the bulk of Mt. Kenya? Soaking in the Austral sunshine on Lake Malawi’s shore? Jockeying for position with the minibuses and motorbikes in crowded Addis Ababa?
In the lion’s share of her life in soggy old England as a work-a-day commercial van, or a simple farm truck, would she have believed her second act would be trekking across the wide expanse of the world’s second largest continent not once, but three times?
After changing hands four times since leaving the Land Rover showroom, Harvey, as he was known then, left on his first great adventure – departing the UK on a long journey down Africa’s east coast. In Cape Town, Harvey found new owners, this time two American climbers on a quest to find the best rock in southern and eastern Africa. Re-christened Henrietta, and re-fitted with a raft of camping equipment to make her truly self-sufficient, she turned and headed north – final destination, Ethiopia.
Which is where we found her.
Tucked in a narrow space of a guest house parking lot in a ramshackle neighborhood of Addis Ababa, we knew almost instantly that this ridiculous leap of a thing we had done was going to pay off. Why not fly to a country we had never been to, to buy a 26 year-old notoriously finicky truck we had never seen, from people we had never met, and drive it 7000kms back to Botswana? Taking on another new name, and new owners, Toto has turned her square nose south yet again.
Let’s have a formal introduction.
Toto is a two-seater 1992 Land Rover Defender 110. 110 refers to the longer wheelbase model, and as the two-door “van” version, rather than the more common four-door 110, Toto was built for a working life from the start.
This Defender is the most basic of spec – lacking even door panels or carpeting, and sporting a headliner covering only a third of the ceiling. The one concession to comfort is a pair of supportive Exmoor touring seats. Like all Defenders of this era, Toto comes equipped with permanent four-wheel-drive, a locking center differential, high and low range transfer case, and a 5-speed manual transmission. Her ignition is to the left of the steering wheel – just like a Porsche.
The 200tdi 2.5 liter turbo-diesel engine smokes like Krakatoa on heavy acceleration, but in 10 days of travel through three countries in highly variable driving we have averaged an astonishing 26 miles per gallon. She now has 126,000 miles on the clock, and hasn’t skipped a single beat in some very challenging conditions.
While rough around the edges, as you might imagine given the life she has led, Toto has been well-looked after by her previous owners, and we intend to do the same. She bears the scars of adventure – some rust in the chassis, several amateur paint jobs, a bump and a bruise here and there, and rattling doors, but we like her that way.
The climbers, Ben and Diana, undertook an efficient and thoughtful camper conversion that really sold us on Toto in the first place. They included all the stuff you need to be self-sufficient on the road and in remote places, and none of the stuff you don’t.
This includes a dual battery system coupled to an 80W roof-mounted solar panel and a solar charge controller. The house battery provides power to a 42L Snowmaster fridge, a water pump, external and internal LED lighting, and USB and 12V charging outlets. The water system includes a 55L tank with full ceramic filtration so we can fill up on water wherever we need to. The pump flows clean H2O a liter per minute from the tap mounted in the rear of the truck.
5 kgs of on-board LP gas powers our cook-top, and our dry food, clothing, tools, spare parts, and extraneous camping gear are all organized in a large central drawer and bins located in a shelving system. We sleep in the spacious roof-tent bolted to Toto’s full-length roof rack.
We find it to be a well-engineered system, and we felt at home right away. And, home it will be for the next four weeks as we traverse east Africa on our way back to Gaborone.
What’s in store for Toto’s third act? Time will tell, but we’re thinking something worthy of her life on the road until now.
Follow along in real time with our east Africa Defender adventure on Instagram: