WHEN Marcus and Alexandra Haase knew they wanted to return to Australia for a prolonged and adventurous journey – after a previous sojourn in the 1990s – they knew what it would take to make a trip a resounding success.
As the owner and brains behind the German-based company, Off-Road Schmiede, both Marcus and Alexandra have a wealth of knowledge and experience at building up special vehicles for extended overland travel.
Apart from visiting Australia in a 75 Series Cruiser with their own custom-made camper in the ’90s, their travels have taken them through much of northern Africa (on numerous occasions), the USA, Mexico, and into central and southern America. And once you see this 80 Series you’ll appreciate the incredible workmanship Marcus brings to whatever he does, whether that is a gearbox or an engine re-build, carpentry work inside the camper, metal fabrication for fuel tanks, bullbars and sidesteps, or complete off-road trailer builds.
Starting with an 80 Series sourced from the UK (for a right-hand drive model), the vehicle was stripped down to the chassis. The chassis was then sandblasted, strengthened and extended by 500mm. Both the rear and front diffs were replaced with new units – with 5.29 gear ratios to make up for the tall, Cooper LT325/80R16 tyres that were going to be fitted to the 16x8 alloy rims. ARB Air Lockers were installed in both diffs, while axles were upgraded and the housings strengthened.
Suspension-wise, the heaviest duty OME springs the couple could find were used, and then more weight-carrying capacity was added by fitting Polyair airbags to the rear springs – the airbags being separately controlled by an ARB air compressor from inside the cab. Tough Dog Big Bore shocks control the spring and airbag configuration.
The standard factory 4.2 HD-T turbo-diesel engine was completely overhauled, while the only major mod to the engine was the addition of an impressive German-made Schweizer intercooler which Marcus added a fan to, to improve cooling at low road speeds.
Surprisingly, the only thing done to the fuel system was an additional in-line fuel filter, Marcus stating that the old HD-T engine could handle much dirtier fuel than modern common rail units – which is true.
As was to be expected with such a comprehensive rebuild, all ancillary items such as alternator, starter motor, water pump and the complete brake system were rebuilt or replaced, while the wiring was completely overhauled.
A Safari snorkel feeds clean air to the standard Tojo air cleaner, while an ARB dual compressor can be found crowding the under-bonnet area. An air tank is mounted under the body. Dual batteries can also be found under the bonnet, and these can be manually isolated (Marcus isn’t a great lover of electronic control units). The batteries can be manually isolated/connected to the battery installation in the camper and the solar panel charging system.
While a new auto gearbox was installed and the transfer box rebuilt in Germany, the auto ’box was strengthened once the vehicle arrived in Australia. This was done by Wholesale Automatics in Bayswater, Victoria, and in the process they upgraded the torque converter and replaced the standard ECU with an AGM Automotive Electronics ECU. This new ECU allows full control over the ’box, embracing individual adjustment of most parameters including shift speed and lock-up on all gears.
Three custom-made fuel tanks (2 x 125 litres and 1 x 70 litres) were built and added into the chassis – while a 70-litre water tank was also fitted at the rear, opposite the smaller 70-litre fuel tank.
With the body removed from the chassis it was chopped into a single-cab configuration, and every panel sandblasted and every nut and bolt replaced for good measure. A custom alloy roof rack with support beams extending deep into the A- and B-pillars of the cab was added to carry a spare wheel and box that is now home for the camper awnings. This is the only spare tyre Marcus carries (along with a plug kit), as on all his travels the Coopers have suffered very few punctures, let alone those that require a change of tyre.
The cab is fitted with a set of Scheel-mann seats, an overhead console and a range of instrumentation that would make anyone proud. Navigation aids come in the form of a Hema Navigator. A large centre console is a freezer/fridge box, with the compressor unit of the fridge mounted under the seat. Improving rear vision is a set of Clearview mirrors, fitted here in Australia.
Gracing the front of the 80 Series is Marcus’ custom-made alloy bullbar. The side fenders features small storage compartments for recovery gear, while the centre section houses a Dragon (Polish sourced) 9500 electric winch. An LED light bar sits above the winch, while two small LED driving lights tuck in close to the outside of the bullbar. Alloy side rails mount in neatly beside the wheelarch flares for added side-impact protection.
The camper module is again custom-made and is superbly built with an alloy frame and foam and alloy sheet composite body panels, while all the interior furniture work is made from lightweight marine plywood coated with an HPL covering. A lift-up roof with canvas side panels offering a lot of ventilation gives all the headroom you’ll ever need, while a large double bed, fridge, sink and a heap of storage space – both inside and outside the camper – can also be found. There is a place for everything.
A Coleman multi-fuel stove is carried in one of the storage containers and can be used either inside or out, while the tap to the sink, which is right beside the main lift-up door, doubles as an outside shower. A drinking water tap, backed up by an impressive Seagull-brand filter from General Ecology, filters down to 0.4 micron and has a flow rate of one gallon a minute, ensuring the duo will have safe, pure drinking water wherever they go.
A chemical toilet can be found in one of the inside storage compartments. Internal LED strip lighting and a number of USB power points are also found in the camper, while strip lighting wraps unobtrusively around the outside of the camper. Some people may consider this set-up a bit too spartan, but it is practical and easy enough to use, with less fancy stuff to go wrong on an extended trip.
There is a mammoth 400 watts of solar panels to keep the internal battery (and vehicle batteries) charged and keep the fridges running over extended stays, which the Haase’s are planning on during their trip around Australia. The LED lights draw so little current they are basically inconsequential. A couple of the solar panels, mounted on the side of the camper, can be quickly and easily removed to allow them to be erected in the sun – a great idea that should be followed by other manufacturers.
The camper can be removed pretty easily from the Cruiser if need be – say if they set-up camp for an extended stay somewhere and want to explore further afield on day trips. A unique ‘Marcus-designed’ set of legs are better and lighter than any similar legs we’ve seen on any slide-on camper.
Then there’s the trailer. Again, this is an alloy, custom-built unit which rides on an independent coil suspension and, as you can probably guess, it is all compatible with an 80 Series Cruiser. This is backed by OME shocks, while a Tregg coupling keeps the off-road cred-level high. The trailer has been designed to carry a four-wheeler and a 3.7-metre tinnie and outboard, as well as a 130-litre fuel tank – this time for petrol to supply the toys! A collapsible boat trailer is carried behind the four-wheeler so Marcus and Alexandra can launch their tinnie anywhere close to their camp without shifting the Cruiser and camper.
So what is this rig worth? Well, Marcus wasn’t saying, but you could probably buy two new Sahara Cruisers for the price of this impeccable 80 Series and still have some change left over. Marcus and Alexandra did confirm, with a laugh and a wry smile, that many thousands of hours of work – as well as a few headaches – had gone into this rebuild and set-up... and judging by the finished product, it looks like it.
The day after the photoshoot for this article, Marcus and Alexandra were hitting the road for South Australia and then WA. They are looking forward to finding some great fishing spots and roaming the desert country of our inland, which they love. If you see the distinctive rig on the road, give them a wave or stop and say ‘hi’!