Evoking expectation of speed, comfort and sports car handling? Not really, folks. This cool camper is based on a 1978 Land Rover Series 3 and doesn’t quite do that.
Its qualities are mostly practical and cute and its actually named ‘Fettal’ as a play on its rego and a need for regular ‘fettling’. I loved it at first sight at the Land Rover 70th anniversary event held recently at Methven. Campers are not unusual in NZ but this one is.
We have many Series Landies ex our NZ Army but examples from overseas militaries are rare here. There’s a handful of ‘lightweights’ (for air transport and paratroops) and ‘101s’ (the chunky forward-control model) but little else. NZ’s Army ambulances generally used larger vehicles. Our Air Force had a small number built onto modified classic Range Rovers.
Hang on a minute!
This one was found by a friend of the current custodians. Apparently, when enquiring at a British disposer of military vehicles, he asked if they had many Land Rover-based ambulances available. The dealer said “hang on a minute,” as he punched a few buttons, followed by “there’s about 600 listed, the best are in the corner over there”!
The 2.25 petrol motor was swapped for a 200 TDi and Rangie five-speed manual. When it came up for sale later Chris and Brenda bought it and fitted Rangie diff heads to boost the ratios for better 100km/h cruising and economy. “Oh, and quietness,” said Brenda. Part-way up Mt Hutt on the Land Rover 70th event their electric radiator fan failed necessitating a retreat to Methven where a new one was found and fitted.
The motor and tranny mods must have transformed it in many ways, more power, more gears, better economy. Bike racks and a roof pod help keep the inside uncluttered. There’s a bed crosswise behind the seats. Big rear doors open right around to clip to the sides – out of the way completely, or useful as windbreaks.
Not too long or too high
The tailgate is unique and folds down to a wide, robust, double step. When closed it is near the height of a standard Landy tailgate and, along with the angled tail, maintains an excellent departure angle (very unusual for 4WD-based campers). I figured the extra body width could be a hassle on narrow Kiwi tracks but there are many features that well compensate for a need to be careful sometimes. It’s not too long or too high and the Land Rover’s original approach and ramp-over angles are unchanged.
A feature I really liked is the Fox Wing awning. It rolls out from the roof left side and pivots around the rear corner to span 270 degrees of the left side and rear. It seems an immensely practical and speedy item for shade or rain protection.
As Brenda writes: “Within the first year, we stripped the back out, relined, and rewired for the mod cons. In the process, we got certification as self-contained, with the instalment of a sink, wastewater holding and a fold-up toilet. Our best find was the Czechoslovakian first-aid boxes that have become our kitchen storage. We cook on a table that folds down off the back door, protected by the awning. We repainted Fettal in our driveway with rattle cans and a roller. We could faintly see the original crosses under the worn paintwork, so we reinstated them with an alternative colour.”
It’s an inspired paint job that is laid back but supports the vehicle’s military history which was apparently in Europe with the British Army. The original ambulance conversion was by Marshalls of Cambridge (UK) – now Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group – a large, century-old company.
Those Czech first aid boxes are a nice and unusual feature. Their built-in drawers have wooden fronts and brass handles so are much more user-friendly than you’d expect from their external stencilled, military-drab, ammo-tin image.
Four sliding side windows are big enough for light yet small enough for privacy and high enough for security and there’s others in the rear doors. All have blinds and mesh. Roof breathers vent to a Land Rover Safari style insulated roof with a cargo rack.
It’s a capable, practical and cosy off-road camper; perfect for exploring New Zealand.
Chris and Brenda on the way to Kahurangi.
Plenty of practical space inside. Photo by the owners.