Land Rovers in Africa

There are no three words that belong in the same sentence more so than ‘Land Rover’ and ‘Africa’. From its first release it was clear that this mark of vehicle had a home in the jungles, deserts and savannahs of Africa.

Land Rovers success in Africa was due to several points –

Ruggedness. The Land Rover range of vehicles, especially the Defenders and early Series models, are tough! People who have ever watched on TV the Camel Trophy event or gone off-roading in one know of there near indestructible nature. Vehicles have been crashed, rolled over and driven heavily loaded over rough terrain but they all seem to take it in their stride.

An old Land Rover still going strong!


Agility. The various terrains that the African continent has to offer are various and sometimes treacherous. Deep sand, deep mud, dried mud with deep tire ruts, rocks of all sizes and smoothness, river crossings, steep mountainous climbs, etc. The Land Rover in its basic form is capable of travelling over many different ground types without any form of special modification.

Ease of Repair. Most models of Land Rover have very simple mechanics. Yes, things will break over the course of a long overland African journey but the ease of repair and availability of parts makes life easier. Also, a spare parts pack to take with you as an emergency is easy to arrange and easy to use. Due to Land Rover being used in Africa from is first release there is now a huge amount of capable mechanics and garages should people need help … and some of these are in the most unlikely places.

Load Carrying. It is no good having an all-terrain vehicle that has all the above features but you can’t carry anything in it. The Land Rover series of vehicles have excellent load carrying abilities, enough for the local population to carry produce, travellers can carry camping equipment and their spares and tools and non-governmental organisations can use their vehicles for personal and equipment.

Range Rover

The Range Rover, Land Rover’s large luxury four wheel drive, has a long history and has seen many changes, just like the Discovery.

The story begins in the late sixties when the first Range Rover prototype was built, although there had been earlier experiments by the Rover company, and it continues up to the present day. There are three generations of Range Rover, each one having distinct body shape, mechanical and interior changes.

The first generation of Range Rover had two shapes to choose from, a three door and a five door version. Throughout the course of years there were 8 types of engine to choose from, both in diesel and petrol. The first generation Range Rover really did prove itself, it took part in numerous Camel Trophy events and was available for modification such as the Carmichael’s six wheel fire truck. Near the end of it first generation the Range Rover became known as the Range Rover Classic.

A Second Generation Range Rover

The mid nineties saw the start of the second generation of Range Rovers. The models available were a V8 engine or diesel and a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic gearbox. This generation offered more equipment and premium trims, positioning the vehicle above the Land Rover Discovery.

Bringing us up to the present day the third generation of Range Rovers pushed the vehicle further upmarket still. Due to the third generation being planned and developed under BMW ownership the vehicles share a lot of components and systems with 7 series and 5 series BMW cars. Again, the engine range during the lifespan of the third generation was large, a total of seven models in both petrol and diesel. The manual gearbox has been dropped now in favour  of three automatic boxes, one of which is an 8 speed box.

Another model of note is the Range Rover Sport. This vehicle is not simply a Range Rover with new specification but a completely different model based on a third generation Discovery chassis.

Land Rover Discovery

Introduced in the late 1980s the Land Rover Discovery is described as a mid sized Sports Utility Vehicle and, at the time of writing, is now on its fourth generation.

The first generation of the Discovery used the chassis and drivetrain from the Range Rovers of that period. During the first generation there were many engines, including: a 200tdi, 300tdi, various models of V8 and a doomed  4 cylinder 2 litre engine. There were two gearboxes on offer, a 5 speed manual and a four speed automatic.

Following on in true Land Rover style the Discovery was a competent off-roader. Also its simple no-thrills engines, gearboxes and drivetrain meant that travellers or people going of the beaten path could repair the vehicle with normal tools.

The first series of Land Rover Discoveries were used in the extreme off road event ‘Camel Trophy’ thus showing their true versatile nature.

A modified Series 2 Discovery

Then, as the generations came and went, the number of engines and gearboxes that were available grew to a very large list. There have been 9 different types of engines put into the various models, petrol and diesel. Also, there have been 6 versions of gearboxes. Land Rover has now done away with the standard coil springs it favoured so much, there is air suspension, self levelling air suspension and now fully independent air suspension.

When off-road or in slippery conditions there is and has been traction control, hill decent control, dynamic stability control and thicker anti roll bars.

Proving its off-road capabilities the Series 3 Discovery was used in the 2006 G4 Challenge, a follow on from the Camel Trophy. The event was short lived but constant praise for the vehicle came from many countries,  journalists and TV presenters.

Another thing the later generations all share is the use of electronic wizardry inside the vehicles. Aside from the usual electric windows, mirrors and sunroof there are switches to control the suspension settings, cameras mounted in the bumpers and their corresponding  TV screens inside, other TV screens showing vital information regarding traction, suspension settings, engine condition ….even the way the wheels are pointing!

Land Rover 130 Defender

In the mid 80s a new vehicle was added to the Land Rover line up. A vehicle which was to become the work-horse of the company. It was the 127, named, as most of the Land Rovers, due to its wheelbase. The 127 was meant to carry more weight and larger loads than the 110. This new heavy weight off-road vehicle was primarily aimed at utility and electrical companies, as well as military.

Production of the earlier 127s involved the cutting up of a 110 chassis, the adding of an extension piece and then welding the sections together. An early problem with the 127 was the lack of power, apart from a thirsty V8 engine. Around 1990 this matter was addressed with the availability of a more refined V8 and a turbo diesel option.

In the late 90s, with the addition of the 200tdi, the 127 became the Land Rover 130 Defender. The vehicle kept the same wheel base, was tidied up and the chassis was now construction in one piece.

As usual with the Defender range of vehicles there are a few options available –

A 130 Defender Crew Cab in Africa

Obviously there is the standard County Station Wagon which is a long wheel base family vehicle. This has the usual seating arrangement of the 110 Defender but has a large storage area in the rear, sometimes with bench seats along the sides. This vehicle would be ideal for someone who goes horse riding, no room in the trailer but plenty inside the vehicle itself for the equipment.

But, the model that has made the 130 Defender such a success is the 130 Crew Cab. This vehicle has the front arrangement of a 110 Defender, two seats up front and a row of three behind, this area is then made into a front cab. Then to the rear is either a pick up body or a box body. This vehicle means that workers can be transported to work areas and have their equipment in the rear. Travellers have used the 130 Crew Cab with a box body to travel in comfort due to the room to store more equipment. Also, the military in several countries use the 130 Crew Cab with various rear configurations  for troop equipment and movement .

Roof Racks

When you have too much equipment for the rear storage area of your vehicle or the things you want to store or carry are dirty and not suitable for the inside then there is a different solution, the roof rack.

Roof racks have been around for a long time and they are available for almost all vehicles. There are many different designs for the roof rack. The most basic design is a two bar set up which allows the user to carry long items such as surf boards, skis or long storage boxes. The larger more complex roof rack is a full length frame like structure with a mesh like or solid base running the full length of the vehicle, or even even extending over the bonnet.

The majority of roof racks fit to the vehicle via attachments to rails or grooves running along the roof or along side of the roof.

The main precautions when using a roof rack is that of proper security of the fittings and the issue of the load weight and distribution. A heavily laden roof rack will cause a large change in the vehicle’s centre of gravity thus making a roll over more likely. Also, a constant use of a heavily laden roof rack will cause damage to the roof rack and cause stress to the pillars of the vehicle. Weight distribution is also an important factor, even if the roof rack is loaded correctly the placement of the load will affect the handling and braking distances of the vehicle.

A solution to the stress to the vehicles pillars is addressed by one type of Land Rover roof rack. The roof rack uses struts on each corner which extend down to strong points on the body so as to help with weight distribution along the roof rails, or gutters on a Land Rover Defender.

Land Rover 90 Defender

There probably isn’t a more capable off-road vehicle in the world that matches the performance of the Land Rover 90 Defender. What makes this vehicle so good off-road are a combination of the following –

  • short wheel base
  • independent suspension
  • excellent axle articulation
  • low centre of gravity
  • excellent power to weight ratio
  • a locking centre differential providing drive to both axles

Like its larger brother, the 110, the Land Rover 90 Defender comes in various layouts. For people who want to carry a load and have people in the rear as well there are folding seats running along the sides of the rear. There is a van option with an empty rear and solid side panels. Finally there is a pick-up version of the 90 as well.

Land Rover 90 Defender

Here we have a highly modified and well equipped Defender 90. These travellers have a roof tent, side awning, two spare wheels, externally mounted gas bottle, kitchen equipment and boxes full of spares and tools.

Regarding engines there have been a large amount of changes and options during the years. There have been standard diesels, turbo changed diesels, electronically manage diesels, standard four cylinder petrol engines and V8 petrol models. As time goes by the advances of technology are being applied to the Land Rover engines and engine diagnostics are being carried out by computer.

The uses for the Land Rover 90 Defender are as extensive as the 110 Defender. Any organisation that uses 110 Defenders in its fleet are likely to also use the 90. For example –

  • the armed forces of many countries.
  • the police.
  • fire brigade.
  • mountain rescue.
  • Non Governmental Organizations in developing countries.
  • sporting events.
  • the farming and horse riding communities.
  • travellers and explorers

As with the 110 Defender, the 90 has had many limited editions as well, ranging from exterior alterations and interior trim changes  up to alloy wheels and bull bars.

Roll Cages

All vehicles made today are tested to extremely high levels before they are sold to the public, Land Rovers are no exception. But there are people out there and events happening that take the protection offered to the driver and passenger to the limits. When these limits are reached then extra protection, in case the vehicle is rolled, is required.

The roll cage is the term used for a frame like system, normally made from tubular steel, fitted to a vehicle to provide extra protection in the case of a roll over. Roll cages can be fitted inside or outside the vehicle.

Time when a roll cage might be used include the following –

  • high speed motor racing, track or rally events.
  • vehicles travelling at high speed over uneven terrain.
  • vehicles driving on slippery surfaces like gravel roads.
  • cars, trucks or off-road vehicles heavily loaded and possibly top heavy.

The Defender series of Land Rovers have a variety of roll cage versions. There is a simple interior cage that has two lateral bars over the passenger area. Next is complete protection to the front cabin with the front of the roll cage being external. You can also opt for a full body roll cage with protection all the way to the rear of the vehicle. These three examples for the Land Rover Defender are not the only models available, if you look into the world of extreme off-road driving then there are more options available, some quite complex.

An ingenious version of the roll cage is fitted to the new wave of convertible cars on the market. To look cooler the cars have no visible roll cage and all there is poking up from the body is the windshield. The actual roll cage, or roll hoop as it is known, is folded down in the rear of the car and it pops up when it is activated by a sensor in times of a roll over.

Land Rover 110 Defender

For a long time now the Land Rover 110 Defender has been the vehicle of choice for a huge variety of users; farmers, the military of many countries, travellers, expedition companies and any one else who wanted an extremely capable vehicle to go to extremely difficult places.

The 110 Defender started life in the early 80s, following on from the Series III, and it was considered a big improvement. Coil springs were fitted thus giving a more comfortable ride and better axle articulation. A permanent four wheel drive system, a two speed transfer gear box and a lockable centre differential were also added. Then, as the 110 Defender went through the years, a series of progressively more powerful and more modern engines were made available.

An expedition prepared 5 door 110 Defender

Various body styles are available and the thought of owning a 110 Defender is made more appealing to a wider market. There is the Station Wagon, this has a 5 door and 3 door model, both with a spacious rear storage area (this can be made larger in the 5 door model due to folding rear seats). There is a van version of the 110 Defender, with solid side panels (no windows). Also, there is the 110 pick up.

With the variations in the body shapes, its extreme off road capabilities, its ruggedness and reliability it is no surprise that the 110 Defender is the vehicle of choice for so many people and organizations.

  • the armed forces of many countries.
  • the police.
  • fire brigade.
  • mountain rescue.
  • Non Governmental Organizations in developing countries.
  • sporting events.
  • the farming and horse riding communities.
  • travellers and explorers

Even though the Defender came to be in 1983 Land Rover has been keeping the buying public on their toes. There have been a constant, yet unpredictable, stream of  ‘special editions’. These have been models with additional features such as different interior trim, alloy wheels, various expedition features to make the vehicle seem even more rugged and small changes to follow certain on going trends or events.