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  • tobiasbaumeler

Rebuilding our Defender

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

It took us three years to transform our old rusty Landrover Defender into a restored and rebuilt campervan. Sure, it could have been done faster! But we both had a regular full-time job, were studying and wanted to get up into the mountains every now and then 😉 .

We would like to give you an insight into our car choice and its conversion. You will find the following chapters in this somewhat longer article:

Autokauf im Sommer 2017
  • car choice

  • the rebuild

    • rust treatment

    • interior fittings

    • add-on parts

    • technical restorations

Car choice: Why do we drive around the world with a Landrover Defender?

In June 2017, we bought our Landrover Defender 110 300 TDI in Switzerland with a vintage of 1997 and 205,000 km have been driven already.

The purchase of the car was always connected with the goal to travel the world with it. Even when this dream was still far away from any reality, some criteria for our campervan were fixed.

Our most important purchase criteria were the following:

  • 4x4 offroader

  • simple technology

  • little electronics

  • vehicle from an older generation

  • little rust

  • original and generally good condition

What are the thoughts behind these criteria?

So our campervan should be a 4x4 vehicle with high off-road capability, because we definitely want to discover the most remote places in our new home on wheels. For the car to be a home, it was important for us to create living space inside. So it had to be big enough for us to live in, yet small enough for us to move around cities without any problems. We were able to find all this in a Defender. However, nostalgic reasons also led us to the Defender. Toby fell in love with this car many years ago. Besides our own enthusiasm, another point speaks for a Defender as a future overland-vehicle: the huge community! It supports, advises and opens doors. In the last 1.5 years of traveling around the world, we were able to get to know this community very intensively and we are happy to be part of it.

That our campervan will be a Defender was decided early. But now the question arose: what kind of Defender?

We were specifically looking for a 300 TDI engine and therefore an older generation Defender. This is because the newer Defenders (TD4, TD5), which Landrover built after the 300 TDI model, contain significantly more electronics than the models before. Our thought was: the more electronics and modern technology, the more difficult it will be to repair the car anywhere in the world. We're going for simple, mechanical, proven technology. Another plus point of the 300 TDI engine is that it is considered very reliable and should have a high mileage. Furthermore, we attached importance to the fact that the car was generally in a technically good condition and that the rust infestation was within limits. The desired original condition of the vehicle gives us a neutral basis to implement our own ideas on an unmodified car.

One year before we bought the car, Landrover stopped producing Defender cars, whereupon the prices were driven up. Toby had been following the market for years and it quickly became clear that we had to act now. Fortunately, we actually found a model that met all our criteria. Only the rusting was not as desired. But we knew we could do something about it.

The rebuild: Rust treatment

The first thing we did was to do something about the rust. The entire interior of Olga had to come out: all 9 seats, the carpets and all the panels. After that we had access to the floor panels, which we then also removed. It confirmed what we could already see from below: Our Olga urgently needed a thorough rust treatment.

In the driveway of Martina's parents' house we spread out a large tarpaulin, placed Olga on it and jacked it up. In painstaking work with sandpaper, wire brush, a rented, very loud construction compressor as well as a cheaply purchased sandblasting gun and a bag of quartz sand, we treated the entire underbody. Since the inexpensive sandblasting kit didn't work so well, this was a tedious, hours-long precision job. Due to the high pressure of the compressor, the gun had disintegrated into individual parts. In the end, Olga had nevertheless lost all her rust. Her metal parts were now bare, as were the nerves of our neighbors. A bottle of wine as an apology for the noise straightened things out.

Since some of the sheet metal from the interior was badly corroded, we decided to replace it completely. Toby was allowed to produce new sheets himself at his workplace, a metalworking shop, which we then reinstalled.

After sandblasting, we went with Olga to a friend's workshop, where we retreated the underbody and repainted all the sheet metal.

For a better overview we will write down our procedure again, incl. used products. For detailed application, please refer to the products’ data sheet.

Step 1: Remove the corrosion

  • Sandblasting

  • Grinding and wire brushing

Step 2: Stops the corrosion where it could not be removed completely

  • Owatrol oil

  • Owatrol C.I.P

  • Alternative: Brunox (we used this before we knew Owatrol)

Step 3: Top coat

  • RUCOPUR 2K or

  • Brantho Korrux

Step 4: Sealer

  • KSD Bersnstein transparent wax

  • Fluidfilm for smaller cavities

  • Mike Sanders for the frame and the cavities

    • This is a bit complicated because the wax has to be heated to a certain temperature. So an appropriate infrastructure is necessary, which we did not have ourselves. If you need a good address for this, feel free to contact us.

Tip: The buildup of the different layers takes some time. The different layers have to dry for a few hours (up to 48h, see data sheet). Ideally, this should be done in a hall with a suitable temperature, so that no moisture is trapped in the layers.


Finally we start; we dedicate ourselves to the interior of Olga. As a basis, we first insulated the entire vehicle in two layers.

  1. Noise insulation with Alupotyl: to reduce the vibrations of sheet metal, we glued Alupotyl to all sheet metal. This reduces the noise of the moving car enormously. It is important to know that only 40% of each sheet must be covered for the effect to occur. Small sheets can be omitted, since they absorb little vibration. This saves a lot of material, weight and labor.

  2. Heat insulation with Armaflex: As the next layer we put Armaflex on all sheets to regulate the temperature inside the car. It helps to keep the heat outside when it is warm and also to keep the heat inside when it is cold. To achieve the effect, make sure to cover as much area as possible. Where the expansion allows, it is recommended to use 19mm thick Armaflex. The thicker the insulation layer, the higher the performance.

Based on these layers of insulation, we were able to proceed with the interior finish.

Our interior design should provide plenty of storage space, yet leave enough room for the two of us to live in comfortably. As one of the most important add-ons we had a popup-roof installed by Abenteuertechniks in Köln (D). This allows us to stand in the car as well as sleep in a tent with plenty of airflow. Our bed is 1.30m wide, and 2m long.

After mounting the popup-roof, we really started with the interior woodwork. When choosing the wood, we were looking for robust wood panels, with high load-bearing capacity and the ability to repel water. Because of this, we chose 16mm screen-printed boards, as they are already coated (compared to normal multiplex boards). With the silk screen panels we built a seating area in the back of the car, which can be converted into an additional bed. We mounted the wood directly onto the wheel wells, and its insulation layer. This way we lost some storage space but gained living space.

Under each seat we have created storage space: in the footwell of the former rear seat, there is room for 50l of water (2 canisters of 25l each) as well as various larger items. Next to the wheel wells we have built compartments, where there is also enough space for various utensils. On top of our wooden body we screwed a big cupboard including a pull-out table and a 35L compressor fridge from Engel. Below the refrigerator is another storage compartment and a drawer, to which we only have access from the side door. Furthermore, we covered our headliner with leather, sewed curtains for all windows and mounted a folding table on the back door.

As a last big task, we dealt with our electrical system. Fortunately, we had great advice and support from a good friend of ours. We learned a lot from him - thanks again! We will publish more about the electrical system in a separate article on this website.

Additional hints:

  • Tank service opening: it is recommended to create a service opening above the tank. We have installed an inspection hatch in the new sheet metal as well as in the wooden tank, so that we can access the tank from above in case of a defect. Alternatively, we would have to empty the entire tank and lower it laboriously.

  • Popup-roof: After our accident in Turkey we needed a new roof. We dismantled the popup-roof, which had also been badly damaged, and disassembled it into its individual parts. The tent fabric also had to be removed for it. we managed to repair our bed again functionally. We did all the work ourselves. In the meantime, there are popup-roofs for self-assembly for sale on the market. Our experience has shown that the assembly can be done well alone (if you do not have two left hands). Thus, in a future case, we would buy a self-assembly kit. If you want to know more about our accident and the repair, you can read it here.

Attachment parts

Around the car we have also made many modifications:

  • Snorkel / increased air intake:

    • It should be noted that not only the snorkel is mounted, but also the air intake up to the air filter is properly sealed or best replaced by a continuous hose. Otherwise, water can get into the engine during deeper water crossings even with the snorkel. Unfortunately, this is not supplied with a snorkel order. Regarding water depth, it is also recommended to extend the front and rear axle vents and move them into the engine compartment.

  • Rockslider - completely selfmade

  • Bumper with winch - completely selfmade

  • Outside storage compartment - for our LPG gas bottle and the compressor

  • LED headlights in the bumper, in the back and on the roof

  • Roof rack from Frontrunner

  • Sand plates incl. bracke

    • can be converted into an outdoor table

  • Awning with a tarp

    • For this we sewed a keder to the tarp and glued a keder rail in the gutter of the lift roof. This way we can attach the awning to the car and store it very tightly inside when we don't need it.

  • Canister holders outside

  • Shovel holder outside

  • Spare wheel holder rear door

  • External starting point in the engine compartment

    • We need this to connect the compressor or to jump start the engine. Otherwise we would have to connect to our battery underneath the driver's seat every time.

Technical restorations

Our Defender is finally a rolling home that can explore the wide world. But what about all the technical components? Is Olga ready for bad roads and challenging offroad passages?

At that time we already owned Olga for 3 years and had done some smaller trips with it. It ran like clockwork. During this period we did not have to visit a mechanic once. Nevertheless, we had a big backup check done before departure and no obvious defects were found. Based on this experience, we decided to keep repairs to a minimum. We didn't want to repair anything that was still working and we also thought that repairs on the road would be cheaper than in expensive Switzerland.

Exceptions were the following products:

  • Timing belt: our car had already more than 200'000 km on the speedometer and we did not know if the timing belt was already changed the second time. Therefore, we made a change before departure.

  • Suspension: due to the many upcoming off-road routes, we decided on a reinforced and higher suspension from TJM.

  • Reinforced propshaft: the new suspension made the car a bit higher than planned, so we had to install a reinforced double-joint propshaft in the front.

  • Major service incl. complete fluid change

That's how we started. On the road we started pretty soon with several big repairs, which haven’t stopped up to today. Due to the intensive use of our motorhome, the obvious weak points were quickly brought to light. In hindsight, we wish we had fixed them before we left. Unfortunately, we had to realize that we often do not get good quality products on the road, or this is associated with too much effort. The poorer products were then also totally overpriced. In addition, we often had the challenge to find a capable mechanic, which is why many consequential damages occurred and things were repaired broken.

Based on our experience, it is worthwhile to look closely at the following parts and/or to install reinforced products:

  • high-quality wheel bearings incl. seal, sufficient grease & lubrication

  • reinforced quick release axles incl. wheel driver

  • high quality clutch

  • reinforced cv-joints

  • check all rubber bearings

Nice to have - but we don't ;)

  • overhauled transfer case with reinforced shafts

  • differential lock front & rear

What experiences have you had with your campervan? Do you have any questions, comments or further thoughts?

We are looking forward to a lively exchange below this article.


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2 commentaires

11 déc. 2022

So much good information. I’m a nature lover and I have a Toyota Land cruiser 80’s series. It needs work but hopefully one day I’ll be able to start a travel like this.

Greetings from Spain!

15 déc. 2022
En réponse à

Thank you so much. We are happy to hear that :) yeah, you will be! Dreams do come true :)

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