130 stretch project – Elsa

So for over a year, along with Ben Stowe at Black Paw 4×4 in York, I’ve been developing and working on the rebuild and refit of my faithful old 1991 ex-Army 110 “Elsa”, now 400,000 miles old and a veteran of African and European overland trips (as well as the war in Kosovo!)

She started off as a Truck, Utility, Medium (Rover, Winterised) in the service of the Royal Artillery – a 2.5 non-turbo hardtop 110. Now, 30 years on, she is a 300 tdi hardtop/station wagon 130. She’s about 95% ready now – MoT’d, insured and back on the road, albeit with a temporary registration.



Before and After! Thanks Black Paw 4×4

So I’ve just got back to the UAE from three weeks home in the UK, where, amongst other things, I took the big beast out for her first tests. NFU Mutual gave me a good deal on insurance, and she sailed through her MoT test so I was able to get her out on the road. I headed down to see old friend Stu Pickering in Telford and used this as a chance for a road test – Elsa runs really well.

What Ben and I have done is this – we’ve taken her bodywork and safari gear and lifted it wholesale from her old 110 chassis, plonking it down onto a 130 chassis and adding an extra row of doors. This means she has a newer 300 Tdi engine too.

The rear overhang is quite heavy, as her Front Runner storage drawer is in there, now a double-layer unit – in addition Ben fabricated a swingaway spare wheel carrier and six-inch chassis extension to enable it’s fitting. This means her steering is quite light at the moment. When I get round to putting her second spare on the bonnet this will correct the weight imbalance issue.


The bull bar helps, obviously, with weight distribution. It’s a new one, to replace the rusty old David Bowyer bar that’s now on Nightingale, the 110 soft top (but itself about to be replaced by a new galvanised winch bumper). I must admit the bullbar here has been a disappointment. It’s an ARB model, exorbitantly expensive (£1100+ new!), and has been a big let down for three reasons;

  1. It’s weak – thinner steel than the David Bowyer version, and constructed for cosmetic appearance rather than durability. We need to weld strengthening plates inside the main bar before it’s ready to, for example, be Hi-Lifted from.
  2. No obvious recovery points or even mountings – where do you rest the winch hook? Where do you tow from? Where do you mount shackles? Are those holes for a Hi Lift? Again – modifications needed. The David Bowyer bar had several in place already.
  3. ARB say it’s designed for a Warn winch, so I bought a Warn winch – a 9.5 ti (it’ll do for a start, probably not powerful enough). Which doesn’t fit. And of course  you don’t realise this to start with, because you need to buy a winch fitting kit at an extra £200+. (The David Bowyer bar had a winch bracket ready fitted). So we gave two fingers to that, and Ben at Black Paw built a custom bracket to fit the Warn.


Needless to say, the overall impressions gained from this exercise are;

a) ARB are more interested in making money than selling equipment which is fit for purpose

b) ARB are more interested in selling equipment which ‘looks nice’ than selling equipment which is fit for purpose.

Lesson learned :/

However these are small issues in the shape of the overall project – and I’m very pleased with results so far. The engine purrs – the 300 tdi is noticeably quieter than the 200 tdi it replaced (now in the soft top 110). The extra length isn’t a great worry (though, when driving for the first time, I did manage to get it wrong and reverse into Tusker, my Discovery 2 – luckily both ladies were fine). I haven’t yet taken her over 60mph as she’s quite a handful in terms of size and weight – as Ben says “you don’t want to chuck her into a corner like a rally car” but once the weight distribution is sorted out and the engine has been serviced, modified and tweaked (Fourby have provided various upgrades, to be fitted this spring) she will be far faster than she ever has been.

So the final work is due to be finished in the new few months – partly by Ben and partly by me when I’m home at Easter. Engine mods, twin Fox shocks on the rear, fitting the safari gear, and adding a new bit of kit I’m pleased with – Rhino Overland have kindly offered to sponsor Elsa, and are supplying a bespoke gullwing rear side hatch and table unit to replace the existing small hatch and rear side window seen here;

elsa rear quarter

This will enable me to extend the existing side locker storage, and increase the space available for food prep etc when in camp.

As you can see the old faithful MyWay Evolution tent is still in place, though I think I will swap this for the Camp Cover Serengeti (Camp Cover, who bought and took over MyWay) which is currently on Tusker the Discovery as the two tents suit the different cars and their intended uses.

So we move forward with Elsa. She’s not far away from being ready for her first shakedown trip, destination as yet undecided (no thanks to the suicidal stupidity of Brexit, which will make overland travel more complex) – possibly the west coast of Ireland, or Portugal or Norway. Watch this space as ever!



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