Driving holiday in Sabah extended

POSTED BY Sri Fitrah Vong ON 21 April 2020


There we were driving our Land Rover 110 Stationwagon on the Kalabakan, the “highway” connecting Tenom to Semporna. The plan was to break the journey midway at the Maliau Basin conservation centre.

The Kalabakan used to enjoy a certain notoriety in the 1980’s and 90’s because it was the only land link, mostly unsurfaced, serving the southern part of Sabah. At that time, it was for heavy vehicles transporting round-logs from the vast swathes of jungle being cleared for the oil palm plantations.

In the wet season, the Kalabakan was too slippery, too steep and the trucks were stood down while only the bravest recreational off-roaders came out to play.

36 tonne trucks using the Kalabakan highway to send round logs to Tawau

Today, it’s a surfaced road with sparse traffic not so much traffic — when we were there we could say about 10-20 vehicles an hour — and most of them long distance heavy trucks carrying round logs to Tawau or smaller 16 tonne trucks taking oil palm fruits to the local mills.

Suddenly, rounding a bend, my co-driver Amanih and I saw ahead of us a familiar shape: another Land Rover Defender.

In a bit of excitement, we accelerated and came up closer — unusual because our Land Rover was usually being overtaken rather than overtaking, to catch a detailed look.

It was a Land Rover 90 (a Short Wheel Base) with U.K. registration plates and looked to have comprehensive camping gear including roof-mounted tent.

But as I said earlier, our Defender stationwagon is an old girl (registered in 1991) with an old engine (265,000 km).

After we had satisfied our curiosity, we dropped back to our cruising speed of 90 kph (air-conditioning switched off) and eventually reached Maliau Basin’s headquarters where a friendly officer, Jadda Suhaimi, had arranged our reservation at short order. Usually, the Maliau Basin is fully booked.

The next morning we saw the U.K. Landy again. Parked in front of the Maliau Basin HQ,  this time, we introduced ourselves and chatted with the owner about his truck as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic had blown apart our planned routes. 

Registering at the Maliau Basin Guardhouse before driving in 25 km of the Park’s road to the HQ

It hadn’t helped either that at Kuching, his container arrived late.

“I lost one month in Kuching because of the shipping and also because the Customs didn’t accept my carnet. I had to get an AP for temporary import from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry,” said Dr Bill Nicholson, the owner.

“I’m due to fly home in April and now with the Movement Control order, I may leave the Land Rover in storage in KK. Or I might ship it back,” he said.

Talking about his Land Rover, Nicholson said he had re-powered it because the original engine was underpowered for the camping equipment and long distance gear that the LR90 was carrying.

Dr Bill Nicholson

As part of the re-powering, he said that it was also important to measure parameters like exhaust gas temperatures so that engine durability and reliability was maximised.

“Look at exhaust gas temperature for instance. 200-400 degrees Celsius is typical for normal driving. It goes up to 700 degrees C climbing up mountain pass or towing. 720 degrees C is a critical point. You’d better back off if you don’t want to cook the turbo. I hardly get to 700 C,” he said.

“The exhaust gas temperature meter cost me USD80 on-line,” he said.

Nicholson is currently waiting for confirmation on the lifting of the MCO and semi-camping in a budget hotel near Kota Kinabalu.

For video of the story, click here: https://www.facebook.com/motorme.my/videos/556067641986201/

For more information, Dr Nicholson can be contacted at [email protected]

Alternator charge controller
Most alternators have an integral charge controller however in the case of the Fourtrak engine this is external but it isn’t easy to transplant because it’s connected to the main wiring harness rather than just to the alternator. Hence we must use a third party external controller. When choosing an external controller it makes sense to use a smart charge controller rather than a conventional dumb voltage regulator. The former give much faster charging without the risk of overcharging the battery, and this is particularly beneficial if one has a dual battery system where the auxiliary battery may be quite depleted. The faster charging rate will also prolong battery life by reducing sulphation of the plates. Since the smart charge controller is electronic I have a spare pre-wired so if there’s a failure I can swap them over quickly (5 mins max).
The standard LR sedimenter (if fitted) relies on gravity separation of water and heavy solid particles. Since it’s made from alloy one can’t see inside and you have to open it up to get a good look. I had an incident of contaminated fuel in Hungary where I was getting a misfire but I didn’t know what was happening until the water and other contaminants had reached the injection system and caused a lot of damage. After that I changed the sedimenter for a proper pre-filter which uses the same filter element as the main fuel filter. It furthermore has a transparent bowl so one can see if the fuel is contaminated, which would have saved me a lot of grief if I had had this when I was in Hungary. The bowl is made of a high impact nylon material so it won’t be shattered if it gets struck by a stone inside the wheel arch.
The Defender was a “wader” during its military life and was designed for water up to around the level of the driver’s face, hence the waterproof instrument boxes. I haven’t maintained this capability in subsequent mods and wouldn’t want to go deeper than the floor of the passenger compartment. Although the vehicle was a wader it had never been waded – do this just once in salt water and it will rust completely from the inside out.
The Racor is a water-in-fuel alarm which is quite common in the marine world. It will alert the driver to the presence of water but it can’t deal with the problem (come on, that’s asking a bit much). If you have contaminated fuel you still have to drain it down and either dispose of it or decontaminate it. I carry a proprietary funnel for this purpose.


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