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Above: Artist John Dyer painting in the rainforest of Borneo with endangered orangutans.

Land Rover Monthly Feature Artists' Dormobile Camper Landrover

  • 9 min read

Land Rover Monthly Feature Artists' Dormobile Camper Landrover

"Our Dormobile Land Rover 110 Defender ‘Ruby’ is far more than just a vehicle; Ruby has become part of the glue that keeps our family young and happy. It’s an instant escape from the pressures we are all under and it really is a way of being a family again, to be together, to make time for each other and to enjoy each other.

My children, Wilamena aged 8 and Martha-Lilly aged 15 have a great time, they love the cosiness of it all. They have their own spaces too up in their beds - like a tree house on wheels, a secret den, a go anywhere campsite or castle, it really sparks their imaginations and ours. It is a wonderful thing. One night away in her is like a holiday. It’s that simple.

I only have one regret, and that is that we took so long to decide on actually getting Ruby converted. 

Camper vans are much in vogue at the moment with the VW Danbury conversions getting a lot of press attention. Over the years I have toyed with the idea of a camper van and have always decided against it because of costs and practicalities, I simply couldn’t imagine having three vehicles or not having my trusty 110 Defender. Friends of ours have assorted campers, Bongos, and VWs but they tend not to use them - and they all complain that the children get too big and they don’t fit in the top beds etc. They also get cold at night which isn’t any fun.

I purchased Ruby in 2004, second hand, with 38000 miles on the clock. Ruby is one of the last 12 seater 110 County Station Wagons that Land Rover manufactured in 2001 and it was for this reason that we wanted her. It is brilliant going out for the day as a family of four with two other families of four with you ! We get some amazing looks from people as we all pile out of the Land Rover. On one memorable occasion we drove from France across the Italian boarder to grab a pizza. The local Italians really couldn’t believe their eyes as twelve people appeared and occupied an enormous table in front of the restaurant for the pizzas. Brilliant !

This ability to seat 12 people, and to take a huge amount of cargo is why we drive a Defender. Both myself and my wife Jo are well known artists and we can get an entire exhibition of framed work in the back and all the easels to display the work on the roof. We have done some huge events like this and sometimes attract audiences of over 900 people ! In Monaco it would look so funny with the Bentleys, Ferraris, Aston Martins and our Defender in a line outside the Hotel de Paris or Hermitage when we did events ! Ours was the best and most practical vehicle by far.

Ruby has been used and used and used. I have driven her all over the place and spent three years living and driving just outside Monaco. We had a studio in Italy for three years too. It really is comical doing those tight corners in Monaco in a Defender - it always needed a three point turn and was accompanied by a chorus of beeping horns ! Needless to say after a decade of working for us she was looking a bit tired.  The roof lining had sagged and gone mouldy, doors rusted, water leaks appeared and the children had long outgrown the dreadful Land Rover rear seats, you wouldn’t just get whiplash of the neck in those !

Ruby was however now firmly part of the family, it would be unthinkable to sell her and what could possibly replace a 12 seater station wagon? A camper van perhaps ? And that is how we got to the Dormobile idea.

Three options seemed to be the ones to investigate. The German Ex-Tec lifting roof, the Safari-Equip Swiss designed one and the Dormobile. One thing I didn’t want was a Land Rover that was carting around a kitchen sink and camper van clutter all day long for no good reason, so I had a specific outcome in mind right from the beginning. I got some prices and exchanged emails with all three companies. All of the solutions are really clever but for me the original Dormobile design was by far the best and it was also the best value and could be fitted in the UK at Romsey near Southampton. I started the first of many excited conversations with Jim at Dormobile and discovered that to get the lifting roof was only around £1000 more than just replacing the mouldy headlining in the Land Rover. This was the point that I decided that not only would we end up with our dream camper van but we would also end up with a good as new Land Rover too and we pushed the go button.

The aim of our bespoke camper van was to bring the family together and provide a vehicle with all the utility and space it originally had but with the capability to also sleep and cook for four and a dog ! The Dormobile conversion would be perfect, creating a 12 seater, 4 berth go anywhere art studio and bed and breakfast vehicle ! We couldn’t wait !

Dormobile in Romsey handled the entire bespoke conversion with real style and attention to detail. It was a brilliant experience.

Ruby now has a Dormobile pop up roof with two built in full sized bunks. One of the bunks is sited higher than usual to make sure an adult will fit comfortably without their weight making the canvas stretch to hit the steel of the roof conversion. We managed to do this, and also reduce the cost slightly, by not fitting the two windows that are normally seen on Dormobile roofs. We instead fitted one Land Rover sunroof higher up to create light but it also acts as a vent while sleeping and cooking. The original Dormobile vents aren’t really up to such a modern vehicle and motorway speeds. We selected lovely red bunks, but there is a large choice of colours to choose from and the bunks are very comfy to sleep in. I’m 6ft tall and I fit in absolutely fine.

I selected a white roof rather than a colour or red and white stripes as I paint in the Land Rover and didn’t want a colour cast. There are however lots of lovely fabric colours to choose from or you can have your own design printed on the canopy. I secretly fancied a large Union Jack Flag design or one of my paintings printed onto the material, but I kept my head and the result is perfect of me.

The lifting roof provides lots of extra headroom at all times in the the vehicle too. So it is useable as a camper for two without lifting the lid if needed. We often use her in this set up for picnics in the woods in the winter. Its marvellous sitting on a sofa with a pot of tea and the heating on surrounded by wildlife, mud and trees - and a normal camper van would never be able to get there or back out again !

A leisure battery and split charger has been cunningly fitted under the passenger seat next to the starter battery. Interior LED lighting is fitted and USB charging points for each bed and the rear and front passengers. 

Under the rear forward facing seats Webasto Air Top 200ST heating has been installed with a thermostatic control in the back near the rear door. This runs for up to 36 hours off the leisure battery and pumps diesel straight out of the main tank to burn and create the heat. It takes tiny amounts of fuel and creates amazing amounts of heat. We have fitted silencers to the air intake and exhaust to make the system almost silent for other campers apart from a small click from the fuel pump, and we can live with that.

The heating is simply wonderful as it keeps us warm and dry all year round. We use it on a daily basis to get Ruby warm in the winter even when we are not camping. When we camped in August the night time temperature in Dorset was only 12c so it was welcome even in the summer ! We have camped all through the winter, at Christmas and in January in the snow and hail. It sounds crazy but it is a wonderful way to get the family together and away from technology and worries. We make simple food, play board games, chat and snuggle. It’s what being a family should be. 

The next task was to upgrade the three rear seats, as the original Land Rover seats didn’t have high backs which we needed so that the children would be safe and we could fit a full width futon as a day sofa and pull out double bed, without it slipping into the foot well.

Exmoor trim’s seats did the job really well and the team at Exmoor Trim helped with the planning and thought process for the bed. When the seats fold down on themselves it creates the perfect platform for the futon sofa which vastly increases the interior space of the vehicle and that in turn makes a rock n roll bed for two. Specially cut ply wood is stowed under the rear bench seat cushions and that comes out to make a platform for the futon to sit on. The space underneath is huge and takes all the bags and belongings during the night. We have a Lofa Sofa from the Futon Company as it folds up easily and has a carry handle to make it easy to take it out of the vehicle.

Every camper van needs a table. We have a fabulous Dormobile table that stores beautifully on the rear door. The table is the first one like this Dormobile have designed as our landy has a rear wash wipe so space was limited. Dormobile cunningly cut it in half and folded it to fit onto the rear door and it attaches to a neat pole that inserts in the floor. The two rear three man bench seats in the Defender make the perfect picnic benches for this table. It’s almost as if Land Rover should have always equipped their 12 seater station wagons with tables like this. The table can stand outside the vehicle too on a tripod foot which was supplied with it. The table is our kitchen, dining room, and classroom for home education days. We have a small gas stove that lives under the rear seats and a collapsible kettle so we can always get a brew on wherever we are or whizz up pasta pesto which is a family favourite.

Dormobile also revamped our landy with a new windscreen, seals, repaired the gutters and resprayed where necessary. They added the checker plate to the bonnet and wings, fitted the front roof rack and attached Dormobile curtain track all round. We made the spotted lime curtains for her. They also fitted a special detachable bar to the back so we can still take our full sized Old Town canoe. The canoe fits on the Dormobile Brown Church front roof rack and floats over the pop up roof to rest on the bar on the back. It’s all very simple but very durable.

The rear bar also makes a brilliant support for a rear awning. We have an Outdoor Revolution Cayman Tailgate 4x4 free standing awning that we use on longer trips away to create more space and a place to leave stuff if we travel off the campsite for a day. If we do a two day trip with one overnight stay we never take the rear awning as there really is no need.

So for a little over £6000 we have a new camper van conversion on a base vehicle we know, love and trust. It’s brilliant. We could have spent less - but the heating means we can use her all year round and we took the opportunity to respray small areas, fix dents and fix water leaks to get her back up to a really good condition. We want her to last and last as we have so many adventures planned.

Digory our sausage dog loves it too ! And Ruby is officially the 1000th Dormobile to join the Dormobile UK club !

If you have a Land Rover and fancy a camper van I think you already have the perfect base vehicle, ours has been much admired and we are having a huge amount of fun as a family in her on our arty trips away. Dormobile can covert 90s too so don’t despair if you have a 90.

We choose amazing locations, if its dry I cook on the bonnet, the children sit on the roof and play their musical instruments and Jo tucks into a good book or paints and draws. Evenings are spent under the stars with steaming hot drinks, plenty of heating and we all look forward to snuggling up for the night. What could be better ?" John Dyer 2015