Important Information You Should Bear In Mind
As membership secretary for the 101 Club I was quite used to people coming over at shows or calling the office to make enquiries regarding the purchase of a 101 as a base vehicle for a camper conversion. While there is little doubt that a 101 can, in the right circumstances, make an ideal camper, this article is intended to guide and direct any potential purchaser with such a conversion in mind by the evaluation of factors which may influence their final decision.
The 101 has a fine heritage when it comes to expeditions, being the vehicle used for the British Joint Services West East Sahara crossing in 1975. The expedition, led by Tom Sheppard, author of the off-road and expedition bibles; Offroader Driving and Vehicle Dependent Expedition Guide, covered 7,494 miles and set the scene for many numerous future expeditions, military and civilian.
A number of club members have taken their 101 to places where almost any other vehicle would have failed - indeed, it is almost a 'right of passage' for many of our overlanders to take a couple of months off and drive down to South Africa.
You can usually tell an expedition prepared 101 as it will almost certainly not adorn military or camouflage paint. A brightly coloured 101, essentially to de-militarise it, means you're far less likely to be shot at in some countries!
Having decided you want a 101, you'll have to make the choice of body type. The choice is quite easy: Ambulance, GS, Radio, Vampire or custom body. Radio bodied 101 have been converted very successfully and there are a few very effective custom bodied 101s, including that of the 101 Club Magazine Editor, Roger. However for most of us, opting for an Ambulance body is far more practical, as the body is wider and can accommodate a bed arranged side-to-side.
Forget converting a Vampire as you'll instantly knock around six thousand pounds off its value. The rest of this article, therefore, will focus upon an Ambulance conversion (but the same questions apply to any conversion generally).
Comfort, storage and fittings together with access and security should be top of your list of 'things to think about'. Do you intend travelling with children and/or pets? Do you want a 'weekend getaway' or 'long range overland expedition'?
The layout from first sketch is critical. Although looking huge, the 101 does not afford lots of space and care must be taken to utilise every available space. Removing the bulkhead from an Ambulance creates a lot more multi-functional space as you can chuck baggage from the back into the front when parked-up - however this obviously raises security concerns as none of the locks on any 101 can be thought of as 'secure'. An internal secured 'safe' is a very good idea for valuables, carnets, passports and important documents. Weight should be another factor, with extra fuel and water, spares and vehicle fluids you could easily be looking at a very heavy (certainly over plated weight) vehicle.
A long journey will remind you that discipline is vital, you need to have things and people in their place, so build this into your plan. Long range on petrol? this may tempt you toward a diesel conversion (at extra expense) and you'll almost certainly learn to loath the engine cover and develop a permanent bump on your head from the low roof! For long range overseas travel you may find a left hand drive vehicle more practical, although in reality you'll not be overtaking very often, if at all.
Fitting out needs equal attention to detail. Generally avoid anything designed for a caravan as they're cheap, plastic easily breakable fittings which will need replacing. Find a ships chandlers or yacht builders catalogue and go for the (expensive) robust brass or stainless steel fittings. Avoid any sharp edges or pointy bits - in the cramped environment of a 101, you'll soon notice them. Only use fire retardant materials and never, ever use polystyrene for insulation!
Side or back doors? A side door provides extra security, but you'll lose the nice 'open aspect' of having the rear doors opened. In 'out of the way' places it's nice, insects allowing, to sleep with the back doors open and watch the stars at night and the impressive dawn greeting the new day.
The most important question you should be asking is "Are there alternative vehicles which would be better suited to my needs?" Remember the total cost of ownership and ongoing maintenance - the 101 is over 30 years old and like any vehicle of this age, isn't getting any easier to maintain. Not a problem if you 'just do the odd show' and have easy access to spares, but something of a concern if you're stuck in the middle of a track in Kenya. Do you have the skills and experience to maintain, fix and get going again should anything go wrong? If not, a 101 is probably not the best choice.
Changing your mind.
During the five odd years I was doing the job of Membership Secretary I saw around 50 people lose that initial enthusiasm and excitement only to place their 101 on the market again. Sadly for many, this is after they've partly stripped out the back, painted it a bright colour and lost a great deal of the resale value. On a purely pragmatic note, it may be cheaper overall for you to stand in the street and hand out a Five Pound note to each passer-by.
The positive of this, obviously, if you're intent upon a 101 camper conversion, is that there are a good number of part or fully converted vehicles appearing on the market which offer exceptional value and will save you a whole lot of work. you may not like the draylon and pine interior, but it's easier to replace with your own design than start from scratch and strip out the Ambulance fittings. (Buying a part converted vehicle also means you'll have less chance of some of the 101 Club 'rivet counter' traditionalists wanting to string you up from a tree).
In my opinion the 101 forms the basis for a quite exceptional camper or overland expedition vehicle with heritage and proven track record. So having considered the above, if you reckon the 101 is ideal for you, plan, plan and plan - carefully and with great detail how you'd like yours laid out, give thought to the space and stowage issues, remember that comfort is something you'll have to build in as no 101 had this fitted as standard, and go looking on eBay and through the back of the various Land Rover comics for a part or fully converted vehicle, spend some time (and lots of money) on your conversion, test it and...