Why buy a Troopy?

The long answer is below. For the short, answer scroll to the last sentence* at the end!

Me, wondering if I actually shouldn’t have bought something else – what’s that I see over there? Should I have bought the car driving past? Or should I just have done something with the Patrol?IMG_0015

I love being outdoors and camping. I love driving in the dunes and mountains. I love 4x4s and utilitarian vehicles and I’m lucky enough to live in Dubai. I just don’t out there as often as I would like.

Having lived in the UAE since 2002 and and done lots of desert driving and wadi trips in my 2001 Wrangler and later in my 2011 Nissan Patrol, along with my wife, I’d always wanted to do a bit more than just an overnight stay or a day out in the dunes.

When my daughter was nearly five, we finally started camping again, along with friends and their kids. This past year we’ve done several trips, always staying for one night in a wadi in Sharjah, RAK or Fujeirah.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, the kids loved it, Mrs Saul enjoyed herself and it was a great way to spend time with friends.

Packing up the car and unpacking it, as well as setting up and striking camp, became a bit easier as I got used to it. The Patrol has lots of room and can go anywhere, but as we live in an apartment, packing the car wasn’t simply a matter of reversing the it into the garage and easily swapping boxes and out of the boot and onto shelves or taking a cooler box from the kitchen a few steps to the garage and into the car. Each trip involved a bit of schlepping up and down from our ground floor apartment to the car in the basement.

Not a huge amount of effort, but a bit of a hassle nonetheless.

Equally, we were only ever spending one night at the campsite. Putting up the camp and taking it down wasn’t a huge amount of effort, but was still that bit of a hassle.

Whilst I don’t do a lot of driving for work, the Patrol is still my daily driver, but it didn’t really matter having lots of camping kit still in there during the week.

Around about the time we started camping more often, I began watching great YouTube videos Andrew St Pierre White, Ronny Dahl and, for some great local inspiration,  Shaun Meyer. The desire to be able to do longer trips began to grow – why not spend eid holidays on a beach in Oman with friends? These sorts of expeditions are things you’d never forget.

The idea that a Troopy might be the ideal thing for us began to grow. I found out that it was possible to buy and register one locally. A Dutch expat had done it and had a roof and other stuff added by Vladco, a local company. This showed me first hand what could be done. It also seemed possible to do the roof conversion and still have the car registered by the RTA (the government body that regulates roads and vehicles in Dubai).

Here’s a pic of what must be the first Troopy with a pop top roof in Dubai, made by Vladco. Sadly the owner had to sell it soon after it was finished, as he moved to Qatar and wasn’t able to bring it with him.

 

I then met Anees from ANR Performance, who gave me great advice, as well as David. I also had a nose around the workshop of RAD Expeditions.

All of this research and inspiration from other people lead me to buy my Troopy, named Geoff, in November 2018. (I’ll detail how I bought and registered a Troopy locally in another post. Also, I don’t usually name my cars, but this one really needed a name).

I didn’t just jump into the decision blind. I thought things through – my requirements were pretty simple.

I wanted a reliable vehicle that could go off road capably, in the sand, on tracks, over rocky bits, through water, etc.

I needed comfortable seating for at least four people (our daughter is an only child, so I wanted space for a friend of hers to be able to join us, or for a guest of ours to come along.

I wanted to be able to set up a comfortable sleeping area for four quickly and easily, (which really meant a rooftop tent of some sort).

I wanted to be able to pack and store all our stuff easily and in a tidy way, especially because I’m quite untidy by nature. I also wanted to have everything needed on board so that friends could come camping with us and only need their 4×4, tent, sleeping bags and food. If they enjoyed the experience they could obviously buy their own kit, but I didn’t want people not to come and have fun because they just didn’t want to buy various bits and pieces they thought they might not use again.

I wanted to be able to do longer trips, which would mean a fridge, some power points, probably a second battery, etc.

I wanted to have water for longer trips, for drinking and for washing.

I wanted to have a set up that I knew would allow me to travel the world, even if we would just be spending a few days here and there in the UAE and Oman. For example, if we left the UAE for some reason, perhaps the vehicle could take us home to the UK, having some adventure along the way. It’s nice to dream.

I wanted something with decent resale value if the whole experiment turned out to be a pipe dream.

I also wanted to do something *now*. The region’s population is expanding and the quieter places will get busier over time, tracks will be tarmacked over and camping spots busier and possibly more regulated. There’s also no guarantee that many of the 4x4s we are lucky enough to get here will still be sold over the coming years.

I didn’t want to waste money, but I was lucky enough to be in a position to have the budget to do things properly, whichever route I went down.

I didn’t want something enormous. A friend has a fantastic set up on his F150 for him, his wife and three kids, but it’s just too big for me.

I needed something with a reasonable amount of range, which likely meant a diesel engine. Petrol is probably absolutely fine for the UAE and Oman, but I was at least willing to consider a diesel option.

I needed a solution that would fit in my car park, whose official height restriction is 2.2m, but which can squeeze something in that’s 2.23m high.

I didn’t need to live and cook in the car itself, or have camp right to wherever it was parked, but I was keen to be able to sleep in or on it.

I wanted to be able to get going as quickly as possible, with zero fuss and as little packing as possible.

So, here’s how my thinking evolved and lead me to the decicion to buy what I did.

The Trailer Option

There are two companies that manufacture trailers locally, Orbit and Rove. There’s also a company that started recently to import trailers from SA.

A trailer did seem to tick all the boxes – plenty of storage, which would mean there would be no reason to customise my Patrol or buy a new car – but I didn’t like the idea of towing a trailer over steep dunes or single tracks. Whilst I wasn’t expecting to be doing ‘recreational’ offroading or extreme desert driving with a trailer attached, I felt I’d want some flexibility over the terrain we’d be covering.

On one of our first camping trips in 2018 we were driving down a wadi with high walls either side, when we decided not to go any further and to turn around. In the Patrol this was a ten point turn, with someone helping to make sure I didn’t hit any rocks. With a trailer it would have been a lot more complicated, possibly even impossible.

For this reason I decided that a trailer would have been an excellent option for trips where I knew the territory, but that it wasn’t so good an option for when we would be exploring new areas, or had simply got lost. I know the Aussies in particular seem to take trailers anyway, but I decided it wasn’t right for me.

Use the Patrol

I have a 2011 Y61 Patrol that is completely stock apart from a bashplate, flag mount and new stereo. An easy option would have been to –

  • add a roof tent
  • add some more lights for better visibility
  • put in some shelves or basic storage in the back, plus a cargo barrier
  • upgrade suspension if needed

One of the best options I found for rear storage was this from Fourby Fit Outs in Oz. I think this meets the needs of so many people here in the UAE – it slots in to existing mount points, gives you water, some shelving, space for a fridge or cooler box and can be removed when you sell the car, if needed. It’s perfect even for a stock Patrol, Land Cruiser, Pajero, etc. For the shorter trips we were doing it really would have solved all of our needs. I think that if someone made something similar locally, or imported the Fourby version from Oz, they would have a lot of customers.

All that said, I was pretty keen on a roof tent as well. We have a great six man Coleman ground tent, which is probably as easy to put up as a ground tent can be, but it gets tedious having to put it up and down repeatedly, inflate mattresses and so on. A roof tent would make life so much easier. With a roof rack or load bars and a rooftop tent, I’d be nearing the maximum height of the car park. With my ideal rooftop tent, the iKamper, I wouldn’t be able to fit in at all, by my calculations.

I also realised, that with three or four people, food, water, tent, awning, etc, I’d quite quickly be nearing the Patrol’s GVM. That could easily be solved by upgrading the suspension, but I’d still be a bit limited with the height.

Even if I was still satisfied that I could fit the car into the car park with all the gear I wanted and be within its weight limits, I would still have been spending a lot of money customising my daily driver. I don’t drive too much for work, but I didn’t like the idea of driving around with a roof top tent all year. If I’d had my own garage I could probably have had a system that would have made it easy to take the roof tent off and store it for the months when we weren’t camping, but I don’t have my own garage. Also, although I don’t plan to sell the Patrol, making all these changes might reduce its resale value, although this wasn’t a major concern.

The Patrol drinks petrol and wouldn’t be made any more fuel efficient by having a roof top tent. Fuel costs and even fuel economy aren’t a huge issue here particularly, but petrol is getting more expensive, plus for longer trips to Oman I suspected I’d have to do more careful planning around when to fill up.

Also, I still wanted to be able to do some dune bashing every so often and didn’t fancy doing that in a Patrol with a tent on top and all sorts of other weight.

Overall, this option was probably the most sensible in terms of creating a family camping car – but I was worried that height, weight, storage space, etc, would all still be a bit limiting, I wouldn’t be able to go dune bashing, it would be inconvenient, etc. If it had just been me or if we lived in a villa with a decent garage space, I would probably have done down this route, but it wasn’t completely right for our situation.

Get another Patrol or a Land Cruiser 100 series

Another option was to keep my current Patrol stock and get another car to transform and have ready to use, all set up and ready to go at a moment’s notice – either one more Y61 or a 100 series Land Cruiser. A 200 series was a possibility, but I really don’t like the look of the first facelift of the 200 series and they were the only ones that would make sense buying secondhand. Buying one with the new facelift would mean a lot of money, plus the cost of customising it. The Y62 Patrol looks hideous.

This option would mean I could have my stock Patrol as a daily driver and desert car, whilst having a separate car as a family camper.

Fortunately for me, as an owner of a Y61, these old Japanese 4x4s keep their value very well. Unfortunately for me, as someone looking at buying one secondhand, it looked as if I’d be spending a lot of money for something relatively new, but which would have high miledage, no services history and which smelled of oud and Marlboro lights. The alternative was spending less money, but for something much older with very high mileage and doubtless a much stronger whiff of oud.

Even if I went down this route I’d still be restricted by height, GVM, storage space, etc – the same limits I’d face with my current Patrol.

Get a Hilux double cab or a 79 series double cab

Diesel is an option for the 79 series, I could get a canopy made for the back, it has lots of storage, etc. I would still have some limits with height if I wanted a decent roof top tent though, plus the roof top tent would still be less than aerodynamic.

I just don’t like the look of the 79 series. Looks aren’t everything though – personality is important. But I don’t think the 79 series has much personality either. Plus it would need lots of internal upgrades – sound proofing, probably more comfy seats, suspension, etc. The Troopy also needs these changes, but, seating issues aside, offers a large internal space to use without needing to bolt on a canopy.

The Hiluxes you can buy here don’t come in the more high spec options. I didn’t mind getting a basic model, but again, the concept just didn’t click.

The Troopy

Whilst going through this thought process, I concluded that the Troopy, with an AluCab Hercules roof, would be my best option. Very basic, but easily customisable, strong diesel engine, two fuel tanks, tonnes of accessories, etc. I could have room for two people to sleep up top, two below, I could have a shower, storage, still be within GVM, be in a reliable and tough vehicle with great local resale value and so on. With the floor of the Hercules roof raised, you can stand up when inside. And it looks great.

I was worried about height.

Toyota say that the Troopy is 2115mm high, but after carefully measuring the rare few I came across in Dubai, I realised that whatever version being sold here seemed to be 2008mm at its highest point.

The AluCab Hercules roof adds, according to AluCab, between 120mm and 140mm of height, with 135mm being the most likely. That would make the Troopy 2215mm high, possibly a bit lower when loaded.

I went through the basement car park, measured everything and realised that it would indeed fit in, even if it was a shade over the stated 2.2m limit. It would mean I wouldn’t be able to put a lift kit on, but I really don’t think I need one at this stage. The Troopy is high enough as it is.

(The Hercules conversion is currently on the Troopy, and it seems the height now is actually only 2016mm, presumably as it’s weighed down a bit. This means I can do something, if needed, with the rear suspension to take it back to stock height and still fit in the car park.)

Although the cheapest option would have been a trailer or customising my Patrol, I realised I could get a Troopy, make my changes and end up paying not that much more than if I’d bought a new Land Cruiser 200 series or Y62. Having a Troopy would meet all my requirements and would be more comfy and practical than a double cab of some sort with a roof tent and canopy.

Plus…

*….I really wanted a Troopy, circumstances allowed me to get one, so I went for it!

Next post – buying a Land Cruiser 78 series in Dubai.

Day one of Troopy ownership:

IMG_2265

 

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