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Custom Land Rover FC101 review

By Ray Cully, 13 Dec 2018 Custom 4x4s

Custom Land Rover FC101 feature

Want a tough tourer with enough space and gear to totally go off-grid? Check this out.

David Moore is a self-confessed car nut. His mum got him out of the house and out of her hair by finding him a part-time job at a local garage back in the UK when he was 14. Since then, he’s probably run out of fingers and toes to count the number of classic cars he’s owned.

Dave fell in love with Australia on a trip with a mate back in 1999/00 and, fortunately, his girlfriend Tina was similarly impressed when he brought her for a holiday in 2002 – so he proposed to her while bungee jumping in Queenstown.

He moved out to Australia in 2005 with ever-patient Tina who let him squash her furniture into the corner of a container so he could squeeze in his 1966 VW Splitscreen Kombi, a 1951 Sunbeam S8 motorcycle and a 1953 Lambretta LD125. Today, he’s got five projects on the go in his (very big) shed north of Perth, including a MkI Ford Consul nearly ready to head over the pits. Yep, he’s a car nut.

Dave and Tina had a little Suzuki Sierra back in the UK to tow their 14ft speedboat and play in the mud flats when the tides meant boating lost its appeal. This saw him rapidly learn that important trick – a bit of a lift and decent knobbly tyres and you can go most anywhere. He also learned one of the worst things about four-wheel driving is cleaning the mud off when you get home.

Moving Down Under, he decided a big 4x4 was essential to tow a car trailer to ferry his beloved classic cars around while they were being restored. He made that fatal mistake of finding a very tidy 1997 NL Mitsubishi Pajero. Why a mistake? It was a pristine daily driver, all shiny and scratch-free, making the car nut inside him a little bit too precious about taking it off-road and getting it all dinged up.

The Pajero didn’t have a totally easy life – after a couple of hundred thousand kays it developed apparently unkillable wiring gremlins and the Moores decided to go back to playtime in a Suzuki – it was a lot bouncier than Dave remembered from his youth.

The daily driver and tow vehicle had been updated to a Land Rover Freelander 2 that, apart from being also nicely shiny, was a bit lightweight to get into the heavy stuff that was now beckoning Dave off the bitumen.

A Toyota Surf 3.0L turbo-diesel was purchased on the condition they joined a 4x4 club and started getting serious about their off-roading. The Surf was fun and the WA Mitsubishi Club were organised and active so, after plenty of trips away, Dave and Tina took the next plunge and upgraded to a LandCruiser 80 Series with plenty of inbuilt kit, including drawers and rooftop tent. The Mitsi Club, by the way, welcomes any flavour of fourbie.

Loving the extra power of the factory turbo 80 Series and the all-in-one driveability of a rooftop camper, but not enjoying the pack up and pack down to go out for the day, they started eyeing fellow club members Marie and Ivan who had an Alu-Cab roof-converted Troop Carrier. It was so darn quick to set-up.

Dave and Tina did some soul searching and concluded what they wanted was a 4x4 box on wheels. It would need plenty of room inside if the weather was bad, and include a permanently setup bed, cooking and eating spaces. And it had to be quick to set-up.

After plenty of research they concluded they’d have to build their own 4x4 dream machine – probably basing it on a solid military base like a Pinzgauer, Volvo C303 or a Land Rover Forward Control (FC) 101. Given these aren’t common everyday vehicles, it wasn’t going to be an easy project.

On a trip back to the UK, Dave test drove an FC101 and decided it was the preferred vehicle. Idly surfing home-based Gumtree while on that same trip, he was stunned to find an already converted FC101 that magically ticked most of the boxes he and Tina had defined – and it was for sale in Australia.

Dave and Tina count themselves incredibly fortunate that previous owner Gary Smithett spent six years restoring the 1976 Land Rover FC101 and custom building the camper on the back. As Dave acknowledged of Gary, “So much thought went into this build, you did a great job, Gary, and we are proud to be the new owners and promise to look after it!”

The conversion tale is one of dedication and persistence. A carpenter by trade, Gary decided he wanted to build a slide-on motorhome. His mechanic put him in touch with a friend in the UK who would ship out a mostly stripped FC101 for his base vehicle.

Starting in July 2004, Gary pulled out what was still movable on the cab over chassis, including motor and wiring harness, and then bead-blasted the fortunately rust-free body.

Gary’s more mechanically minded friends shook their heads, “Do you know how much work is involved in this?” Fortunately, Gary had no idea and just kept chipping away at his project – with plenty of help from fellow TAFE lecturers with all those useful skills like sheet metalwork and spray painting and body building.

Gary’s newest best friends were motor wreckers, as he found the back of a cab off an OKA and turned the FC101 into a dual cab. He shoehorned in a Toyota 4.2-litre 1HZ diesel engine and ripped apart a rusted-out Troopy for heaps of components like gearbox and transfer case, steering column and power steering. A Nissan Urvan contributed brake and clutch pedals, master cylinder and oil reserves.

His mechanic and auto electrician were challenged with connecting all the bits together – a definite test that had them somewhat unamused but ultimately rightfully proud as the complete custom transformation eventually went off to be inspected by the engineer.

With only minor modifications required, the engineer was impressed that a chippie had so successfully pulled off a left- to right-hand drive transformation; converting a two-seater to a six-seater and completing a full engine/driveline replacement.

Even more impressive, from purchase to registration Gary spent only $22K; although, I suspect, if you costed in all the labour time and help from handy mates that would be a much bigger number.

After three years in the making, Gary’s maiden cross-Nullarbor trip was marred only by a blown fuse and the original 1976 shock rubbers melting (to be fair, it was so hot the bitumen on the road was also melting).

Gary’s extremely patient wife was then convinced to park her own car outside the garage for three months, while Gary spent about $10K building his slide-on camper. Three years and $25K later, Gary had built the camper that after ten years of happy travels he put up for sale and amazingly ticked almost all of Dave and Tina’s unique little boxes.

Dave’s planning a few changes – especially to the OKA cabin that he would rather repurpose for storage and no seats. The couple love the camper, but if they built their own they’d probably opt for a higher pop-top for room above the bed and see if they could work a way to direct access between the cab and the camper. But, truth be told, they can’t believe their luck as they know full well just how many hours are required to restore a classic car – or custom build such a unique setup.

They love the fact that the 12V jacks simply lift the camper on and off their 4x4. They’ve got plenty of power with a 200W solar panel, dual batteries with Redarc controller, two Evacool fridges and a compact but highly functional kitchen including microwave and four-burner gas stove/grill. The cabin is well insulated with double-glazed windows and a diesel heater.

Built, not bought on Custom 4x4 reviews

The permanent bed is comfortable and the two-seater dinette allows them to eat inside or kick back and watch television in bad weather or overnight stops. When they set-up camp for a few days, the canvas awning makes for a comfortable shaded area.

In fact, it’s not impossible that the FC101 will be the vehicle for the dream lap around the country. Before then, Dave and Tina will be tackling the Canning Stock Route, touring the Kimberley and are already getting set for next year’s four-week trip across the Great Central Road to Uluru with friends.

While many of us love tinkering in the shed to customise our fourbie; there’s a lot to be said for having someone else do all the hard work. Sure, you might want to tweak the edges – or wish that the builder had done something a little different – but even when you build it all yourself, there’s always room for improvement.

I’m off to check Gumtree to see if any of Gary’s mates were inspired to build a super camper.