It’s not every day that you get to see three custom-built Unimogs, owned by two brothers. So, it was with great anticipation that I trundled off to chat to Adrian Robinson about his family’s love for these very capable vehicles.
I was going to be able to inspect a 1982 and a 2000 Unimog motorhome, as well as a 1982 Unimog single-cab utility with a load bed. The last time I’d come into contact with a Unimog was during my military service, so it was with keen anticipation that I packed and prepared myself for a walk down memory lane.
The Robinsons’ farm is situated in the Nuy Valley, a short distance from the town of Robertson. The farm produces stone fruit (plums and nectarines) as well as wine grapes, and is also home to the Saggy Stone Craft Brewery and pub which offers no less than five delicious craft beers, made by means of the all-grain brewing method and the natural-spring water taken from the head spring at the top of the Langeberg Mountains. It’s certainly an excellent combination for very tasty beer.
The farm has wonderful accommodation to offer, consisting of 3 A-frame cottages (which sleep 6) situated right on the large dam within the farm’s nature reserve. Guests can view wildebeest, springbok, incredible birdlife and indigenous flora and fauna in complete tranquillity. There are two additional rustic cottages which offer romantic couple getaways; these are situated just below the farm’s water source up in the Langeberg mountains behind the farm. All cottages come complete with wood-fired hot tubs to add that unique touch.
Every year in February, the farm hosts a music festival where campers can enjoy the lush green lawns and music by top local performers. A quick look at this year’s line-up shows a variety of well-known South African acts such as Karen Zoid, Freshlyground, Jack Parow, Shortstraw, The Hellcats, Kiffness, Francois van Coke and more. It’s a fest of music, camping and craft beer, and not to be missed.
Once I’d settled into my accommodation in the tastefully decorated Con’s Cottage, Adrian popped in − bearing a handful of cold craft beers for me to taste. We decided that we would meet the following morning for a Q and A and to check out the vehicles.
Where did the idea for the motorhome builds originate?
2000 Unimog motorhome
- 7-litre displacement.
- 80mm cylinder bore
- Produces between 59 and 94 horsepower
- Single turbo
- Common rail diesel
- In-line four
1982 Unimog motorhome / single cab
- 346 cubic inches displacement
- Produces 100 horse power at 2800rpm
- Normally aspirated
- In-line 6
My dad had a normal motorhome with the overhang sleeping space, (like Johnny Bravo’s ‘kuif’), in which my brother Phillip had gone to Namibia. Unfortunately, it limited our choices because it could not travel to a lot of places where the roads were bad: the vehicle just did not have the necessary capabilities.
We then looked at building a motorhome on an Iveco chassis − at considerable cost.
I suggested that I try to get two motorhomes built at the same price. Once Phillip had agreed, I began my search and happened upon the Unimogs.
I managed to lay my hands on the two older ‘82 Unimogs, and my brother, while in Johannesburg, went past a Ferrari dealership which had a white 2002 Unimog that had been traded in. A Unimog on a Ferrari dealership floor just didn’t make sense, as the two vehicles are worlds apart, so the dealership pretty much gave it to us at cost. That was an exciting day, the one on which we flew up to collect the Unimog from the dealership.
We’d never driven a split-gearbox vehicle before (it has eight gears, which equates to 16 forward gears and 16 reverse gears) and we drove it all the way back from Johannesburg… this was an experience of note.
It took a long time, because at first we didn’t realise that we were driving in low range. The dealership we’d purchased it from had also never driven it, and we were under the impression that the splitter was between the first four gears and the second four. It was only halfway into the trip before we realised how the split box worked.
The rest of the trip was a lot easier!
Were there any technical challenges when it came to the builds?
Both the Unimog motorhomes were unique builds, so they had to start with a clean slate for each build. We did a lot of the design ourselves. I even went as far as putting a board on the back of the chassis so that my wife and I could lie down to determine the space that was required.
We also lengthened the chassis slightly, to offer more room. The mogs being slightly wider, gives just that extra space you need.
One challenge is the roll of the motorhomes, because of the weight and height of the living quarters on top of the chassis.
Another thing we wanted in our design was access to a lot of the camping and outdoor features from outside the vehicles.
If you want to go hardcore 4x4ing, and anywhere on sand, these vehicles will take you there − but are limited by their departure angle because of the fridges we installed, which made for a slightly lower rear overhang. However, a normal 4×4 or bakkie wouldn’t even be able to attempt the off-road conditions that these Unimogs can manage.
The vehicles, being left-hand-drives, needed to be de-registered as military vehicles, and it took me almost eight months to get my green Unimog through licensing. Luckily for us, the paperwork for the Unimog was on the Natis system (National Traffic System database) or it would have been incredibly difficult to sort out the roadworthy, licence and registration.
The white 2000 Unimog motorhome was a lot easier to register, as it was purchased through a selling dealer.
The Unimogs need to go for roadworthy every year because they are code 10 vehicles.
What are some of the unique ideas you or Phillip asked Vista Motorhomes to incorporate?
The cookers – we wanted them outside, but also to be able to access them from inside. The rooftop construction is also great, enabling us to climb up and sit on top for sundowners and perfect views.
How did you and Phillip choose the internal layout of the motorhomes? Did you have various layout options to choose from?
We pretty-much gave Vista the design that we wanted, and they told us what would work, and what wouldn’t. Then they worked with us to get a finished design.
Phillip and I sat for many hours and drank a lot of beer discussing the builds.
At one stage, I didn’t want a shower and a toilet, yet Phillip was adamant that he wanted them in his motorhome. I was eventually persuaded to include the toilet and shower, and I’m very glad I did. My wife could take a shower in the middle of the Tankwa. There is also an outside shower, so on a hot day you can get into your cozzie and cool off.
Were caravans and camping ever considered?
My dad owned caravans all his life, but as he got older, he found it difficult to hitch up the caravan.
We also did a lot of camping and had many camping-trailer holidays, but the novelty and ruggedness of the Unimog sold us on the change.
Ideally we would love to have both the trailer and? – for “faster” holidays where the slow pace of the Unimog might be a limiting factor.
How do your families feel about your Unimogs?
There was a time when divorce was imminent (laughter), but now that it’s running, my family loves it. Because of the large tyres, it can be noisy when you drive on flat tar roads; but the kids lie on the double bed at the back during the trips, and for us parents it’s just fabulous.
What trips have you undertaken in the Unimog motorhomes?
I’ve actually only had my Unimog for less than a year. It took almost two years from initial purchase to the completion of my motorhome.
I’ve been to Tankwa Karoo National Park and we did quite a bit of mileage there on the dirt. I’ve also been to Beaverlac and Struisbaai.
What advice would you give to others who want to undertake motorhome builds similar to yours?
You need to be clear on what you are going to use the vehicle for, and then base the build around the type of terrains and journeys that you are most likely to undertake. There should be a lot of pre-planning and thinking about what you require in your motorhome as a family.
I would also say that the choice of your under-vehicle is almost more critical than the build itself.
You need to decide what kind of compromises you are prepared to make. You need to ask yourself, if I want to go hardcore 4x4ing, then I need to use a traditional 4×4.
Remember, if I break down in my Unimog, nobody will be able to tow me out because of its weight. It is four tons of solid vehicle. That’s the reason both of our motorhomes have winches.
My holiday starts as soon as I climb into my Unimog. I’m happy to cruise at about 80km/h and make the drive to our destination a part of the holiday. Our lives are often fast-paced as it is, so why not take in the scenery during the drive to our holiday destinations?
Travel three or four hundred kilometres in a day, and enjoy the sights along the way.
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By Stuart Reichardt