Extreme Rigs

Ready For The World

Imagine taking apart your truck, rebuilding it in a different configuration, and then starting fresh with a Total Composite camper shell. What could you do with this approach? Darn near anything!

Land Rover Truck Camper Total Composites

Many of us have looked at our truck or camper and wished we could go back in time and choose a different configuration. Maybe you bought a short bed truck and wish you had picked a long bed. Maybe you selected non-bathroom design and wish you’d gone with at least a wet bath. In an ideal world, there would be a magic camper wand or a fairy camper mother to grant these wishes. If we find either, we’ll let you know – after a few changes and requests of our own. “I wish our camper had a sofa…”

Perhaps the absolute last truck we would wish for – at least until the following interview – is a vintage Land Rover. While Land Rover’s pioneering history of international motorized adventure and charming design is undeniable, so is the brand’s reputation for unreliability. From experience, there’s almost nothing worse on a long-distance trip than a breakdown. Yes, a car accident (been there) or health emergency (done that) is worse, but you get the point. We need the wheels on the camper spinning round and round. With this priority in focus, a vintage Land Rover is a hard no, right?

Not so fast. With decades of vintage Land Rover experience under his belt, David Blair has some fascinating perspectives on the British four-wheel drive, off-road machines. In a nutshell, Land Rover trucks of a certain time period can not only be remarkably reliable, but are also field serviceable, and adaptable, to an extreme we had never considered. As David explained to us, Land Rovers built between 1948 through 2016 can be essentially torn down and rebuilt with basic hand tools. To put it mildly, that concept is a world away from our modern, computer and sensor-interwoven vehicles. Forget your half-inch spanner. Start with an OBD scanner, and keep your credit card on standby.

This is where the real magic happens with David’s story. He started with a vintage Land Rover truck, decided he wanted a longer wheelbase and a flatbed, and literally made that happen; no fairy camper mother necessary.

Next, he selected a Total Composites flatbed camper shell and built it out the way he wanted. He and his wife, Pamela, literally started with lawn chairs and boxes to discover their basic floor plan, then moved to SketchUp on a computer, and then mocked up their design with 2x2s and cardboard. They imagined, refined, and challenged their camper interior dozens of times in multiple ways before coming to their final answer. And we thought choosing this production model or that was tough. These two literally started with lawn chairs in Baja!

You’re about to read one of the most out-of-the-box truck camping stories we’ve ever published.

David Blair And His Land Rover Defender 130

How did you get into truck camping?

I camped as a kid and watched my Dad build several RVs and travel trailers, so campers have been on my radar for as long as I can remember.

However, our own experience with camping originated with off-road and overland travel where, initially, we used a ground tent. As my wife and I grew closer to retirement, the idea of full-time travel got us thinking about other ways to accommodate ourselves.

“We are Land Rover enthusiasts, so we were looking for ways to adapt a Land Rover and its off-highway capabilities to some sort of RV.”

We are Land Rover enthusiasts, so we were looking for ways to adapt a Land Rover and its off-highway capabilities to some sort of RV.

Our first setup, which we used for six years, was an Alu-Cab Icarus roof replacement. We converted the rear half of the Land Rover into a full stand-up height living area. This was the first of its kind in Canada.

The stand-up height area was outfitted with an upper and lower bunk and a fairly comfortable sofa. This setup took us on many trips over six years, including a trip down to the Panama Canal and back with many adventures along the way.

Camping LandRover And Total Composites

How did you get into Land Rovers?

Pamela’s parents immigrated from the United Kingdom to Canada. Her dad had a Land Rover for work, so she grew up around them from an early age.

Since the early 1990s, I have been interested in Land Rovers. Until the mid-90s, you couldn’t get Land Rovers easily in North America. The Land Rovers that were already here were mostly sold to government ministries in the 60s thus showing their age with decades of use. Land Rover finally came to North America in 1987, but there were only a smattering around at that time.

We didn’t get our current Land Rover Defender until 2017, after owning and driving half a dozen other Land Rovers. We’ve picked up and rescued about fifteen of them in total.

LandRover Camping In Woods

That’s a lot of Land Rovers. Why Land Rover?

There are two categories of Land Rovers; utility and luxury. All Range Rovers and Sports are luxury trucks. They are very expensive and have a less-than-stellar reputation for reliability. They are fairly popular with the well-to-do crowd.

That’s not what we’re into. We’re into the utility Land Rovers; the British farmer and military-type Land Rovers. They are quite reliable though they do need TLC as they were often neglected by previous owners.

The Land Rovers built from 1948 through 2016 are dismantle-able down to the frame with only a basic set of hand tools. You don’t have to be a mechanic to work on them. If you’re handy, you can tear down a Land Rover piece by piece to nothing and then, hopefully, put it back together again.

Up until 1983, there were “Series” Land Rovers. They went through Series one, two, etc. From 1984 through 2016, they sold them as Defender 90, 110, and 130 models. Those are the rounded-off wheelbase lengths in inches.

Total Composites Box On The Back

Why did they stop manufacturing the Defender in 2016?

Land Rover was having challenges meeting safety and environmental requirements so they stopped full production in 2016, with the objective of rolling out a fully redesigned Defender, which they did in 2020. The classic Defenders are still made for large military and utility purchases. The only Land Rovers available now are the luxury Range Rover, Discovery, and new Defender models.

You started with an Alu-Cab pop-up topper. How did that lead to a Total Composites hard sided flatbed camper?

The drawbacks to our Alu-Cab and Land Rover setup were no onboard toilet and all of the cooking had to be outdoors due to space constraints. In windy or wet weather, it was not an ideal set-up. In addition, my wife was struggling with bad knees and had challenges getting in and out, and up and down from the upper bed. This is when we decided to pursue a much bigger plan of a flat deck composite camper on a Land Rover Defender chassis.

There are so many choices, opportunities, and compromises when it comes to the selection of a camper. We had experienced some very bad wind situations with our Alu-Cab pop-up roof setup. So, one of our requirements was solid walls. We also wanted to be able to stand full-height and have decent insulation for all seasons.

A flat deck hard sided camper was being displayed by Total Composites at several shows we attended. Talks with them indicated that we could get something custom-developed to fit our Land Rover. Although Total Composites has since stepped away from custom design, its dealer network is still able to build custom creations.

We met with several European overlanders who had huge Unimog and MAN trucks with cabins. While these units had the cool factor going for them, I was surprised to see rig envy toward our much smaller Land Rover setup. The drivers pointed out the extreme weight of their tires and other parts, challenges to get any shop to do repairs, long waits for parts, and general drivability issues.

We knew the advantages of our small, comparatively lightweight Land Rover Defender. That’s when I decided to change the configuration of our Land Rover from a standard SUV with the Alu-Cab pop-up roof to a flat deck.

Converting Land Rover SUV to Truck

Was that a challenging transformation?

As I said before, our truck can be torn down to the bare chassis and up again in a different configuration with basic hand tools.

When we traveled to Guatemala in 2022, we bought a Land Rover pickup cab from a Land Rover repair shop. The pickup truck configuration of the Land Rover is fairly common in Central America. The parts included the pickup cab with the roof over your head, the windows, the metal behind you, and the bulkhead that the seat bolts down on. It was three large aluminum components. We brought the packed boxes back to British Columbia on top of our trailer.

When we got back to Canada, and after a considerable wait due to COVID-related shipping constraints, Total Composites told us that our camper order was on the way to Victoria, so at that point, we dismantled our SUV into as few pieces as possible. I lifted the back body and roof off in one piece with a hoist. When it was up in the air, I drove the truck out and it was wide open in the back.

In the meantime, I did the body work and paint for the panels on the cab. Then I assembled the cab using the pickup cab pieces we bought in Guatemala.

Before After Land Rover

With a bare back chassis, I drove to a shop that does exclusive Land Rover work in North Vancouver called Rovalution Automotive. It was just the frame with some jerry-rigged lights.

Landrover Flatbed Being Installed

Rovalution Automotive and I worked together and extended the frame to match the factory configuration to the length of a Defender 130. Previously it was a Defender 110. They also extended the fuel lines, brake lines and drive shafts.

Landrover With Flatbed

Then, I drove back home and used steel tubing to build the flat deck, welding it myself. I took it to a local galvanizing place and, in 10 days, it was rust-proof, shiny and silver.

Cardboard Cut Outs Land Rover Defender

Cardboard cut-out templates were made for placing the frame mounts. The flat deck is fourteen inches wider than the original body. The frame mounts are front, rear, and center on the outside of the flat deck.

We wanted to be careful of flex because frames do flex, but we didn’t want the composite camper to crack or stress due to the deck flexing. We were able to rubber insulate all of the mounting points between the deck and the truck frame using two-inch hard rubber matting between the frame and the truck chassis. When we’re off-roading, it won’t the harm camper. We have witnessed less than 3/4 inch of flex between the cab and the camper so the two inches of rubber insulates the camper from any flex of the frame.

Flatbed With Board

We added sheets of 3/4 inch marine plywood and sealed the edges. We added a rubber mat over the plywood deck to give the camper a slide-resistant surface to sit on.

Flatbed With Mat

The rubber mat has the edges terraced because the camper has extrusions on the edges. It was terraced off to fit the extrusions and corner caps.

Did you need to alter the suspension?

Yes. The Defender 130 has a GVWR of 3,400 kilograms or 7,496 pounds. The truck with the camper dry comes in below that. Fully loaded and wet with our stuff, the setup came close to that weight, so I reinforced the suspension.

We installed the heaviest-duty ARB Old Man Emu HD springs and heavy-duty Rancho 9000XL shocks with dual rear shock mounts. A rear sway bar from Land Rover Discovery was also bolted on. For good measure, we added rear Britpart Airlift 1000 air helper springs to give it a little more support when fully loaded.

Build At Total Composites Victoria British Columbia

What drew you to Total Composites?

It impressed us that they are close to home in British Columbia and that their technology and materials are from Europe. Andreas Schwall, the President of Total Composites, is very approachable.

At the time we were looking, he could customize anything. One of his first expedition vehicles was for Graham Bell from the Overland Journal. They are world travelers and have a Defender 130 with a Total Composites camper. That was one of the first units they did.

We first saw our first Total Composites camper at the BC Overland Rally. They had both a shell and a completed unit on expedition trucks.

Our Alu-Cab was great for about six years. When we were in the Yukon in 2021, it became obvious that the four foot climb into the bed wasn’t working. It was also crowded inside and we couldn’t move. For our age, there were not enough comforts. If the weather turned, it was not a fun situation. Sometimes we went without dinner or didn’t sleep at night.

In early 2022, we were in the Baja at a friend’s place. One Sunday morning, I arranged a bunch of lawn chairs and boxes into what we envisioned for our camper’s layout. After moving the furniture around a bit, we agreed that the Total Composites camper would be our next step.

At Total Composites In British Columbia

The next month, I sent in a deposit. We also sent in drawings for the cabin and told Andreas what we were looking for. One thing became apparent. The distance from the frame to the top of the cab is not the same as a North American pickup. It was not as simple as the fit to a Ford F-350. That’s where he had to adapt our camper.

The 60 inch bed over the cab is based on a crew cab truck. We have a single cab, so we requested a 45 inch bed. We use our dinette bed as well. Size-wise, our camper is the Total Composites Bobcat that was customized slightly.

Awning Total Composites Camper

You may notice that we have a short door and wonder why. We wanted our awning just above the door. It’s a 270-degree awning from Alu-Cab. We didn’t want to use a ladder to get it up and down. That is why we have a short door. Andreas put a steel beam on the side panel on both sides at the height of the awning. The passenger’s side needed that extra support in the framing. That’s part of the customization that we were able to get on the project.

LandRover At Total Composites British Columbia

Did the truck, flatbed, and camper fit together when they were completed?

Total Composites assembled the camper in Victoria to the agreed-upon specifications. They put the extra reinforcements in the walls and put on the door.

When we were building the Land Rover’s flat deck we could only go off the camper plan that Andreas gave us. Every side was square, but Andreas told us that due to the glue-together assembly of the composite camper, the measurements could be off by 1/4-inch. We built the truck frame and flat deck together without the camper and it all fit bang-on. We bolted the flatbed into place and the camper fit on properly.

Total Composites Fit Together With Land Rover Defender

After we took it home, I built out interior, the electrical system, plumbing, and HVAC myself.

How did you go about designing and then building out the interior?

I started with what we had done in Baja; mapping out where things would go. In the Spring of 2022, while we waited for the go-ahead from Total Composites that we could start dismantling our truck and building our deck, I used the program SketchUp to envision how everything would fit into the camper.

Total Composites Camper Coming Together

Then I picked up a bunch of 2×2 at a lumber yard and a roll of mover’s cardboard. It’s thick 36-inch wide paper that people put down on carpets when moving. I built a mock up of the camper using the 2x2s and the mover’s cardboard. As part of this mock up, I placed the kitchenette, bed, and table. Pamela would come in and we’d figure out areas that were too wide or too narrow. It didn’t take long until we came up with the layout that worked for us.

Kitchen Area Of Total Composites Camper

When we got our camper home, we took it off the truck and put it in the shop. It was mid-September and cooling off outside. During the winter of 2022/2023, we dismantled the mock-ups and reused the wood to build the camper interior. If you open up our storage areas, you can see pencil marks and more holes than belong.

Putting In Window Of Total Composites Camper

Where did you source the windows, tables, cushions, etc.?

The windows came from Total Composites. They have an RV supply company connected to them called Expedition Upfitters. That’s where I sourced the Arctic Tern windows and water heater. In terms of plumbing, I bought the pumps, taps, and sink from Amazon. I also got the Maxxair fan and three Blue Sea fuse boxes from Amazon. The countertops and table came from cuttingboardcompany.com.

The Acuva water filtering system that we had in our AluCab sold with the unit, but we liked it so much that we got another. For solar, flexible panels were not robust enough in our experience, so we went to Canadian Tire and bought rigid solar panels. They have lasted well and are easily replaceable.

We created more storage by lifting the dinette eating nook about a foot. This is where the inverter, batteries, water heater, water tank, and pump are hidden. Also, there’s several square feet of storage for other stuff under the dinette.

Total Composites Dinette

How long did it take to complete your Total Composites camper?

We took delivery in September 2022 and we did our first overnight in June 2023. So it was seven months, even though I had originally anticipated only three months. Things just took longer than I had planned for.

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Storage In Total Composites Camper
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Kitchen Drawers And Counter Total Composites
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Finished Interior Total Composites Camper
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Looking Into Kitchen Total Composites Camper

There were no insurmountable jobs. It was just a lot of work. I’d had to grit my teeth and do it. We just crossed things off the list; one by one.

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Sink And Water Filter Total Composites Camper
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Main Living Area Total Composites Camper
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Little Bathroom Total Composites Camper

I’m a hobbyist.  I earned my red seal mechanic journeyman’s papers in the 1980s. I left that profession due to a lack of interest and didn’t put my hands on mechanical work until about 1999 when I bought my first series Land Rover. I also blew the engine on my Nissan Pathfinder and got the tools out.

My dad built a camper when I was growing up. When I was building my camper, he came over almost every day. I would do something that wasn’t bang-on perfect, and say, “I’ll show you, but no one else”. He knew what I was talking about.

Graphics Going On Camper

Tell us about your exterior graphics.

We got WholesaleGraphix in Vernon, British Columbia to do the graphics. Pamela and I worked in graphic arts and we came up with a design. We took a Photoshopped image of what we wanted to WholesaleGraphix, and they assembled the pieces including the compass, mountain, and trees.

Arctic Circle Total Composites

We originally had the design in grey and charcoal, but later changed to green colors. WholesaleGraphix had two rolls of military colors on hand. The quality of their installation was fantastic.

Total Composites Camper With Little Giant Steps

Tell us about your entry stairs and where you store them.

The stairs are a Little Giant four step system with the back side and support bar removed. We close the steps, lift them inside the door, and place them next to the heating duct. We’ve had no problems storing the steps there and the steps work well for entering and exiting the camper. We can also store the stairs in the box above the cab but so far have found it more convenient to just place them inside the door when we travel.

Back Box And Compass Graphic

There’s a rack, aluminum box, and spare tire on the back of your camper. Are these items attached to your camper?

Andreas of Total Composites put in two steel bars along the back of the camper to attach a metal galvanized subframe. The bottom of the subframe is attached to the steel deck. The top of the subframe is attached around the third brake light with half a dozen bolts across a steel beam in the wall of the camper.

I counted one day and I drill and tapped a total of 42 holes in the steel beams with a stainless steel bolt screwed into each hole. This is for the awning and the subframe carrying the box. I used the Korapop 225 sealant Total Composites used during the assembly process to seal around every bolt hole.

Cab of Truck and Bottom of Camper

What do we see between the top of your truck cab and the bottom of your camper cabover?

We were planning this whole build in Guatemala trying to get the measurements right. One place we got slightly incorrect was the distance between the top of the cab and the bottom of the camper bed. I ended up with about four and a half inches of space. It looked odd and caused some buffeting, so I needed to put in a wind deflector.

To make the deflector, I bent some aluminum and bolted it on. Some additional aluminum was then used to create a storage area. A rolled-up outdoor carpet and our recovery tracks are stored in there. There’s an access door on the right side with padlocks.

Sign Post Forest Total Composites

It looks like you’re using your jack brackets and flatbed for tie-down points, and some short turnbuckles. Tell us about this setup.

On all four exterior corners are slightly angled galvanized heavy-duty turnbuckles from Princess Auto. They use them for suspension bridges. They’re tightened with a wrench.

In addition, Andreas recommended bolts through the floor to secure the camper. Our camper floor is made with a two-layer sandwich of FRP (fiberglass-reinforced plastic). It’s 1/8-inch plastic, 1/2-inch plywood, then foam, 1/4-inch plywood, and a final FRP.

There are a couple of plastic beams for reinforcement every sixteen inches. There are tabs that you drill through on the frame, up through the floor, and bolt 1/2-inch lag bolts. There are four of them through the floor and frame.

We went to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, this past summer and traveled 1,780 kilometers (1,106 miles) of gravel, potholes, and washboard. We had no issues with the camper.

Tuk Arctic Ocean

Looking at the photos of your truck and camper, it’s hard to get a sense of size. What are the dimensions of your rig?

The total length is 18’6”, so it’s pretty easy to park in regular parking spots. The highest point on the camper is 10’6” to the fan cover. The width is 78 inches.

Small Camper LandRover Total Composites

Does your camper have holding tanks?

We have a 28 US gallon water tank by Icon Direct. They’re out of Manitoba and build RV tanks and ship them throughout North America. Our drinking water comes through that tank and is filtered with the Acuva filter.

Also, out of that tank, there are red and blue PEX lines that go to an eight-liter electric water heater. The water heater leads to the sink and to an exterior shower. We didn’t want the shower inside our space. The water heater is only electric. We have no propane on board. Our standard cooking setup is a two-burner induction cooktop which we store in a drawer when not in use. In addition, we have a small toaster oven/air fryer on board as well. We carry a Coleman stove and small bottles for emergency cooking.

We do not have a permanent grey water tank. The sink drain and hose lead to a five-gallon bucket outside or drain onto the ground with a hose if we’re boondocking. We have a cassette-style porta-potty. The potty is not connected to the main water system.

Total Composites Camper With Shower

You already mentioned your Canadian Tire solar panels. Tell us about the rest of your electrical system.

We have 400-watts of solar panels from Canadian Tire with an eleven year warranty. In addition, I installed a Redarc DC-DC 40 amp charge controller to receive power from our truck’s alternator. The Redarc feeds two Expion 360 100Ah LiFePO4 lithium batteries. The customer service at Expion has been excellent.

Meeting Up Landrover Friends

I saw the picture of you with the other Land Rover rig from Switzerland. How did that meet up happen?

That was great! Land Rover people recognize each other right away. There’s a worldwide camaraderie. When we saw them, we turned around, pulled over, and had a nice chat on the side of the highway. That was in the Yukon.

Landrovers Four Wheel Camper And Total Composites

There’s also a Land Rover with an OEV and a FWC. Are these meet ups planned?

It has all been impromptu. We bumped into the OEV owners in early July at the BC Overland Rally. Then we saw them again in the Yukon and hung out for a few days. We explored the lower panhandle areas of Alaska together and stayed at a campsite in Dyea, outside of Skagway. They’re in South Africa now. Traveling as we do, we meet people from all over the place.

Landrovers Overland Explorer Vehicles And Total Composites

Can your rig fit into a container for international shipping?

Not easily. We would need to take the camper off the truck, use a forklift jack extension to slide the camper into the container, and then drive the truck in separately. We would only do that if there was no Flat Rack or RORO (roll on, roll off) option.

Flat Rack fits the container configuration. It’s a container with no sides or roof. They use Flat Rack a lot between the US mainland and Alaska for tractors and RVs. Once the vehicles are strapped to the Flat Rack, the Flat Rack goes on top of the load.

RORO is popular with Europeans. It’s for rigs that are higher than 8 feet. When we go to Europe, we will likely drive to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ships go back and forth regularly to Europe that accommodate RORO shipping.

Total Composites Camper Mountains

Now that you have the rig together and completed, what’s next?

Three things are on our immediate radar. The decision depends on costs and health. First, we’d like to go to the eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States. We’ve been as far as Texas, but not any further east except for an occasional flying trip. That could happen this year. After that, we’d like to go to Europe and South America.

We occasionally get out for a weekend, but our goal is international Overland travel. So far we’ve visited eight countries and numerous provinces and states, but we have a long way to go to see the world.

Total Composites Camper And Landrover

Looking back on your build, is there anything you could share to help anyone considering a similar project?

One of the things I kept in the back of my mind during the entire build process was that we may not always drive an old Land Rover. As a result, all of the major decisions we made considered how the outcome would be if we decided to move the camper to a Ford F-550 or another platform. Overall, I think we’ve got a camper that could adapt to virtually any truck with an eight foot flat deck.

In terms of what I would do differently next time, it’s always a series of compromises. One of the options that Total Composites offers is an 8 foot flat deck with a departure angle, which they call the Wolverine. This gives you a 10 foot long camper with a 45 degree cutoff on the lower rear. There is a very high likelihood that I would go with this model if I were to build the rig again. The Wolverine provides two more feet of interior length, although it does limit where the bed or eating nook goes since the floor at the back is sloped. The positive is that everything could be a little bigger inside, while the negative is that the storage box and spare tire holder on the outside rear would have to be much higher; typical pros and cons of camper design.

“We never wanted to go to a hotel. We just wanted to be in our camper.”

In our previous pop-up roof configuration, every week or so we would look for a hotel for a night or two as we craved comfort and space. This past year we took our new camper up to the Arctic Ocean covering roughly 14,000 kilometers in Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and British Columbia. We never wanted to go to a hotel. We just wanted to be in our camper.

David and Pamela Blair’s Rig
Truck: 1995 Land Rover Defender 130 4×4
Camper: 2023 Total Composites Custom Bobcat
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Princess Auto galvanized HD turnbuckles
Suspension: Terrafirma 2″ lift, ARB Old Man Emu HD springs, Rancho 9000XL shocks, Britpart Airlift 1000 rear air helpers


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