Here at Recreational Society, we’ve been waiting to feature this one for a while. Connor’s brother Tyler and his minimalist Landcruiser 70 Series has already featured on the site [Here] and in the book The Recreationalists. Back then Tyler had tipped us that Connor’s build was underway. It has been worth the wait and the good news is Connor is ready to sell it. The listing is at the end of the feature. Connor explains the journey…
I had a 70 series troopy when my partner Lauren and I lived in Australia, we camped in it a bit and used it for surf missions. But solid axles and leaf springs just isn’t my idea of a nice ride.So when we moved home to NZ I started looking for a Toyota van, they drive a bit nicer on the road and have way more space.
The plan was never to build an all-out van life setup, just something I could drive every day but also sleep in for a few days on surf, snow or biking missions. The problem is in NZ everything has high milage and mostly bad service history, unless you’re paying late model Hi-ace money but I prefer the older shape anyway. At the time I had been importing some vehicles from Japan, little kei cars like old Suzuki Jimny’s and what not, so I started bidding on 4WD Hi-aces as there’s plenty to choose from with lower milage. The Ambo popped up and it has everything I was after, turbo diesel, 4WD, Low Milage (only 40,000kms when I got it!), long wheelbase and High roof.
I put a bid on it and basically forgot about it all day, then got a call later that night saying we won it. From there it was shipped to NZ and I got it complied and started using it.
It’s a 98′ so the same generation as the more common super custom or grand cabins, with the 1KZ 3.0 turbo diesel that came in the Hi-luxs/surfs of that era.And it’s the full-time 4wd, similar setup to what some of the Prado’s had. Late enough model to get the last face lift of that generation which I think looks best. Unfortunately, just miss out on those yearly WOFs though!
I stripped out a lot of the ambo fit-out straight away as there wasn’t much useful stuff inside, I also wasn’t too hyped about sleeping on the gurney. The outside was a different story, the roof had 3 beacon lights and a megaphone, all of which you could control from the cabin. As much as I wanted to keep them, they clashed with my roof rack plans so they had to go, and I don’t think you can get a WOF with flashing lights anyway. So the roof was patched up, shaved and re-painted, I also got the underside blasted and undersealed while I was at it so it’d have no worries of future rust. Apart from that only the red stripe and ambulance badges remain, and more for the Hi Ace Nerds out there it’s a KZH138S, so it has the big truck battery in the driver’s side sill, but it’s mostly the same as any other 1KZ powered full-time 4WD.
The goal was to take all our gear for snowboarding, surfing, skating and mountain biking with us at once and still have the space to sleep/eat/chill comfortably. Modern mountain bikes are unbelievably expensive and sadly they tend to go missing off the back of cars, especially in the north island, but it’s not so bad around Queenstown where I have the van now. So having the bikes inside the van was my only real necessity, which is why the bed needed to be so high. Would’ve been easy in a big van like a sprinter, but I was counting the millimetres to make it work for the Hi Ace. Surfboards can go up on the roof and the snowboards in the roof box, but it’s a long way up there, hence the ladder. My day job loosely involves engineering in the motorsport industry, meaning I used CAD a lot, so I made a basic model of the fit-out and roof rack to plan it all first and make sure it would work.
The kitchen with the slide-out cooker is also ideal being able to prepare meals under the awning.
The bulk of the framing is all aluminium. I wanted to keep it as light as possible, the rest is mostly ply that I’ve sealed with a clear coat. Mum also helped me make some insulated window covers as well from some underfloor insulation, fabric and edging trim. Game changer for winter missions. I love the look of the log cabin-style van fit-outs, but I cringe at what that weight does to any performance the van might have around corners or in a straight line, so I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I feel like we landed in a good spot, the van still drives nicely and cruises up the mountains easily enough.
With the build “finished” and a handful of successful adventures in the books, it’s onto the next project, so the Ambo Van is up for sale on Trade Me at the moment.
My brother Tyler (previous feature with the mint sand coloured Troopy) and I have a little youtube channel and Instagram called ANDO WERKS where we restore and modify classic cars. It’s taken a bit of a back seat in the last year with life getting in the way, but we’ve got a handful of videos in the works so it’s worth checking out if you’re interested and there’s a highlight story on the van build on the instagram as well if you want to see more of the build process.
And thanks to Sam Ryan for the images.