Pimp my ride

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After countless hours of research by Laurent, we acquired our faithful truck camper Tommy in March 2018: a 10 year old Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ79 with 80,000 km on the odometer and a Dynamis camper module from RB Mobile in France. 100% solid and mechanical with nothing digital or electronic to break down leading to complicated repairs. Tommy was constructed for the African market and is therefore a tropicalized version made to withstand high temperatures, humidity and dusty and poor road conditions. Lots of these conditions in South America, but what about freezing cold weather and the high elevations of the Andes? A few upgrades appeared to be necessary…..and that is how it all started!

Tommy on the day we bought him from the previous owners in Dijon, France.
4.2 liter, 6 cylinder, atmospheric engine
Two solar panels on the roof

The interior of the camper had all of the basic comforts one could need on the road, including a shower, SOG cassette toilet, fridge, diesel-powered heating system and cooktop, a double bed, and an eating area with table and bench seats.

However, since our project would have us many hours per day and 7 days per week, driving, eating, sleeping, breathing out of this vehicle, we needed to customize it to our personal requirements. The original bench seats were uncomfortable and slanted slightly towards the middle of the cabin. Laurent ordered the new bucket seats on-line and installed them himself on the parking lot of our residence. The cushion covers in the eating area of the camper were old, faded, and a bit depressing, so we had new colorful ones custom made made. Angie dusted off the old sewing machine that is hardly ever used and managed to put together some additional colorful decorative and functional items for the interior of the camper.

In the series of photos below, the original vehicle is featured on the left and the transformed vehicle on the right.

Inspired by photos of other similar truck campers, the exterior of the vehicle underwent considerable transformation as well. We quickly realized that the limited storage space inside the camper would not be sufficient to hold all the necessary equipment and supplies for our upcoming road-trip. Therefore we called upon the creative mind and professional craftsmanship of our friend Philippe Stephan who is an expert metal worker in the French Jura department. With his help and countless of hours of work, we were able to add a couple of customized metal chests that he designed and constructed himself. Fortunately he is an extremely patient person as the chests went through a trial phase before being modified to enlarge the back one and transform the front one to a more aerodynamic design.

Laurent and I surprised each other with our hidden talents! Laurent tranformed himself into a mechanic, electrician, and all-around handyman (i.e., McGyver) and I into an expert (well not really) seamstress!

Sound insulation for the floor of the truck and “spa treatments”

The dashboard received a makeover as well with navigation equipment and fixtures added, wiring re-done, and tubing leading from the compressor replaced and protection for the tubing installed. Thanks in large part to a local electrical expert who has since become a friend, Michel, much of the electrical wiring and connections were replaced or repaired and all the electrical equipment including the front and back camaras and audio system are now functioning correctly.

Since we would be travelling at high elevations in South America, we needed to adapt the engine to cold temperatures and the changing atmospheric pressure. At high altitudes the engine needs less fuel to be injected. Otherwise, black smoke and loss of power may result from excessive fuel supply. We learned this the hard way after a test run in the French and Italian Alps last summer. Since then we had an altitude compensator installed to regulate the amount of diesel injected based on elevation. During a test run this summer in Switzerland, we noticed a big improvement: no black smoke and a slight gain in power! We also installed a device in the engine to pre-heat the diesel when the temperatures fall below a certain threshold to avoid the fuel from solidifying. This will provide a bit of piece of mind in the below-freezing temperatures we will be encountering in the high Andes. Stay tuned for feedback on how efficient this equipment is at 5000 meters!

The below photos were taken from some of our test drives in the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps, in Tommy’s early days when we were stilll getting used to his dimensions and handling on and off the road. Other than the smoke at high altitudes (for which we since found a solution), he passed all the tests!