BUYERS GUIDE - 4X4 CAMPERVANS
This pop-top conversion on the ubiquitous LandCruiser Troop Carrier is the brainchild of Stefano Bonetti, who upgraded it for 2021.
For a while the now-defunct Kea Campers (Australia) offered the Conquerer; a rugged Troopy conversion that is still popular in the used vehicle market.
Following Kea’s demise, its fleet manager Stefano Bonetti bought a swag of parts and set himself up as a one-stop Kea parts and service shop.
Bonetti Campers was established in 2012. His first effort was a beautifully crafted European-style slide-on camper, known as the Mondo Pickup Musica that OTA inspected at the 2013 Sydney Camping and Caravan Show.
This slide-on is still in the Bonetti Campers lineup, but Stefano came up with something a tad more Outback-friendly. The Cruisinator is a LandCruiser 70 Series Troop Carrier conversion that he believes improves on the Kea Conquerer.
Stefano should know, because apart from his Kea experience he’s an avid camper and knows first-hand what works and what doesn’t.
Stefano’s conversion can be worked on any Troopy, so new or used vehicles are suitable. Also, it comes in two stages: roof only or total camper. That means handy DIYers can have Stefano do the hard work up top and finish the camper fit out themselves.
It’s the body of the Cruisinator – or more precisely the pop-top roof conversion – that matters the most and adds the greatest utility to the vehicle.
While it might look a bit top heavy, Stefano’s fibreglass pop-top has no apparent adverse effect on the Troopy’s drivability.
Our good mates at iMotorhome, Australia’s best on-line motorhome magazine, tested a Cruisinator. They found that although the external changes do increase roof height and add an angular nose that you’d want to be careful about in tight bush driving, they reckoned it felt like any other Troop Carrier to drive.
For 2021, Stefano restyled the roof module, making it look more integrated and streamlined, and 50mm lower.
The roof conversion appeared well made and mated seamlessly to the body. The pop-top section was secured by three latches and while the taller testers had no trouble reaching them, the more vertically challenged ones felt that the optional rear step would make the opening job easier.
Included with the Cruisinator conversion was a Foxwing Awning that incidentally came about as a collaboration between the Oztent and Rhino Rack. The aptly-named Foxwing unfurls to cover the side and the rear of the vehicle.
Our long-term Foxwing testing at Outback Travel Australia showed that, like most awnings, the Foxwing didn’t like windy conditions.
While through-cab access was possible in the Cruisinator, you’d need to be supple, so the rear barn doors were the usual way to access the Cruisinator’s interior. Having unlatched the roof on your way around the back, a simple ‘heave’ when inside extended it on a traditional scissor lift, with gas strut assist and you had instant ample headroom.
There was good light and ventilation, thanks to a pair of screened zippered windows on each side and one in the rear, and zippered storage pockets had been built into part of the roof base and proved very handy.
The layout was quite straight forward, with seating and dining space on the left as you entered, cupboards and kitchen on the other side, and the bed up in the roof.
Stefano went to considerable lengths to equip the Cruisinator with excellent electrics that included USB charging outlets and LED strip lights, complete with dimmers.
While a 100Ah AGM deep-cycle house battery was standard, Stefano could optionally supply an 80 or 130Ah lithium battery system and its associated monitoring and charging system. Naturally, solar was optionally available and used a standard 140W panel.
The Cruisinator came with a portable two-burner Origo stove that burned methylated spirits. It stowed in one of the four kitchen drawers by the back doors and sat on a fold-down shelf on the driver’s-side rear door, which conveniently placed it at about waist height.
With the Foxwing awning extended this made an ‘al fresco’ kitchen area that was all the more convenient because the two-compartment chest-style fridge/freezer was under the cushions of the rearmost bench seat, by the other back door.
Above the stack of kitchen drawers was a section of bench top that extended inside, with a stainless steel sink at the far end and a cupboard below it.
The kitchen unit abutted a slightly taller wardrobe unit at the front, behind the driver’s seat and the sliding bed extended out above it.
Internal seating ran along the kerbside wall from the back doors to the back of the passenger seat, then turned right in an L-shape to butt up against the aforementioned small wardrobe.
A removable dining table attached to a wall mount close to the elbow of the ‘L’, providing a cafe-style dinette for two, even with the bed extended.
We were impressed by the quality of the cabinetry, which Stefano said was machined to very close tolerances by computer-controlled equipment.
The Cruisinator’s bed was truly spacious, running lengthways and measuring 2.10m x 1.45m – and 110mm thick for 2021. Comprising two sections, with the fixed head section in the over-cab nosecone and the other a hinged unit that sat securely in runners when set up, it was a solution that many motorhome owners would envy.
There was also a Porta Potti provided, meaning no need for midnight trekking.
The Cruisinator seemed to be a well-thought-out, well-engineered and well-built conversion that converted any 78 Series LandCruiser Troop Carrier into a capable and comfortable camper.