I got Witrenoster for a miserable R15 000 in August 2007. It was in great shape with original paintwork and very little rust. The conversion was well done and it also had a 5-speed Cabstar gearbox in. What more could I ask for?
The first task was to transfer all the modifications from Gifappel, my existing vehicle, over to Witrenoster. Since the vehicles were identical, it was not very time consuming. On the freeway, the diesel was bleak in terms of power and I can honestly say that the 120 km/h speed limit was a challenge. However, it cruised a very reasonable true 100 km/h GPS for most of the time. The lack of power was solved by simply taking even more gravel roads from A to B.
The diesel was an absolute gem in the veld with infinitely better throttle response than the petrol in the low speed scenarios, and the engine braking at steep descents made the job of the driver so much easier.
I had to build new spare wheel carriers for Witrenoster and while I was at it, I also built steel bumpers from channel section which was strong enough for using the High-Lift jack on it. The bumpers were fixed to the chassis with steel parts specifically designed to be used as recovery points.
I also installed a “Little black box” on the vehicle to monitor the engine for low water level, alternator failure and overheating. However, I did not connect the oil pressure switch on it since that involved some rare fittings which was not easy to find. By this time it must be clear that I had no intention to sell Witrenoster for many years. But life is full of surprises.
I had another 5-speed gearbox from Rusty, a vehicle bought exclusively for spares, and decided to swop it with the one in Witrenoster. Unbeknown to me, my gardener drained the engine oil. After a gearbox swop, I cranked Witrenoster to life for a spin. I noticed the oil pressure did not come up properly, but the oil pressure sender had been malfunctioning for some time and I thought nothing of it. Witrenoster was stubborn from the word go. I was puzzled because the new box performed very well in Rusty and I did not hear anything funny in the cold diesel motor. At the third turn around the long block, the old van just crunched to a stop and when I pushed the starter, I realised that the motor had seized. My camping holiday plans for 2008 was ruined.
Finally, somewhere in 2009 I managed to rebuild the motor which cost me R15 000 and I was in dire need for a long break as far as possible from civilisation. I planned a nice Northern Cape and Western Cape trip. This meant we would be travelling in some very hot parts of the country, which led to another modification.
The airconditioning system of the Safari was too light to cool down the big interior properly and being and expert in this field, I decided to upgrade the system to have a much larger evaporator. The only way to fit that in, was to use the concept of the box shaped Volksiebus where the evaporator and air duct was fixed to the roof. I went to the scrap yard and was lucky to find a complete system. With careful design, I had sheet metal sections cut on a CNC plasma cutter. While the system did take up more head room than ideal, my children was still small enough so that the modification would not have bothered them on the rear seats.
This system was very powerful and cooled down the interior very well. The only time my children did not complain that the air conditioning was too cold, was on long stretch between Oudtshoorn and Beaufort West when the temperature soared to 44⁰C. Inspired by this modification, my dad later made his own one for his Land Rover Defender. The high roof of the Defender accommodates the modification very well.
I was very very happy with Witrenoster, but the diesel was underpowered. On the December 2009 trip, where I had to travel a stretch on the N1 with a fully laden vehicle, I could not keep up with the trucks in the hilly areas. It also became clear that we had to accept the space for packing was uncomfortably tight for a four week holiday, and that a trailer was on the horison.
This left me in a dilemma. To pull a trailer, there was no doubt that the Safari needed more power and that could only be done by either putting a turbo on the motor, or to install a more powerful motor. Either way, it was a lot of work and money and I could hardly see that I could do it at a price that would make it worth the effort. All I had on my side, was time to look for something else.
Eventually, when I got the Land Rover I had to part with my Safari. I doubt that my soft spot for a Safari will ever fade and even my children have fond memories of the vehicle.