THE MAN BEHIND OUR VEHICLE BUILDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL MARSH PART1
Meet the man behind our vehicle builds—Paul Marsh—seasoned overlander and global 4×4 expedition consultant.
With over 35 years’ experience in all thing’s expedition, Paul’s knowledge and expertise speak for itself. He’s taken on several global expeditions, documentaries and car events including Global Rallies, the annual Camel Trophy competition held in the 90s and the Shell Driven to Extremes 3-part TV series documentary. He’s driven North, South, East and West of every continent, been up and down Africa 3 times; he’s gone out on an epic Siberian adventure in minus -60 degree conditions to a sizzling +60 degrees in the Taklamakan desert of remote China and into the Malaysian jungle, all in the name of exploration!
Together with our team of safari visionaries, Paul has built and prepared our entire vehicle fleet. He leaves no bolt ignored and continues to add to our vehicle fleet not only in new vehicle builds and overland expedition preparation but the latest and best in 4×4 and safari equipment designs. We’re truly lucky to have him as a friend and 4×4 expedition consultant.
Find out more about Paul, his passion, his experiences, and his incredible adventure stories. Get overlanding advice and be inspired to go out on your own adventure travel journey.
Paul mindfully chooses specialist companies who work with him to deliver these world class vehicles.
What sparked your passion for overland travel and 4×4 expedition preparation?
“I was about 18 when I was asked to go and help a company called Penduka Safaris; a mobile safari company in Botswana owned by a gentleman named Izak Barnard. He was a legend of a man who gave me a real inspiration for the bush and wildlife. I worked for Izak for about two years doing backup support and guided safari tours. Izak took us to some incredible places where we could explore the bush, camp in remote areas and just be out there, in nature. It was then that I realised in a 4-wheel drive you can explore just about anywhere in Africa.”
When did you start your career as an independent 4×4 expedition consultant?
“Initially, I studied mechanical engineering. I then decided that I wanted to own my own business. I went into the motor trade industry in South Africa, where my team and I built, serviced and repaired 4-wheel drives. It was then that I realised and understood that there was a whole market for 4-wheel drive vehicles. I ran this business for ten years before I decided to pursue my dream of driving through Africa in 1985. I built my own vehicle and spent a year and a half driving and exploring Africa. When I got back from my trip, I moved to England and spent 18 years there where I set up a company called Footloose 4×4.”
“Footloose 4×4 was a company where we offered overland vehicle preparation, training and logistical support. It was a place where I could share my knowledge and invite others to share theirs. When I went out on my first ever overland trip through Africa, I learned some big lessons and had to overcome some huge challenges; from taking too much weight on the vehicle to having the wrong equipment. But, at the end of the day, the reality was that there was an opportunity to grow a business that allowed people to experience what I did, anywhere in the world; with a little help, guidance and advice paired with the right vehicle and equipment, my clients could experience this in a much easier way.”
You mentioned Africa was your first big overlanding trip, tell us a bit more about your experience and trip preparation?
“Since I was 10 years old, it was my dream to drive through Africa. For a while, we couldn’t, because in South Africa we had sanctions, but as soon as Nelson Mandela came into power and the sanctions were lifted, everything opened up.”
“I took my first overlanding trip through Africa with my girlfriend at that time and the two of us spent one and a half years exploring the southern part of Africa right up into east Africa, then Ethiopia as far as Eritrea and back home. We must have driven more than 70 000 kilometers, all this without a GPS or a satellite phone—there was nothing like this back then.”
“For our trip, I took a Toyota Hilux 1979 model which I totally stripped down, rebuilt and put in a bigger 2.4L petrol engine. Before we headed out on our trip I spoke to Toyota and told them that they were going to sponsor us and that they just didn’t know it yet! Bit cheeky, but all they could say was no. They were very generous with their support. We did not need a vehicle or money; it was just their contacts. I wanted every Toyota agency on our route in Africa to be aware of the trip we were doing and give us help and support along the way. And that they did.”
“It was a phenomenal trip. We learned some very valuable lessons and encountered some huge challenges, we explored amazing places, met wonderful people and experienced the real, raw and remote parts of Africa.”
You’re a global overland 4×4 expedition consultant, can you tell us a bit more about what that entails?
“Coming back to South Africa 5 years ago, I saw the opportunity to facilitate people’s dreams; a dream of building and owning their own overland vehicle, a dream of heading out on an overland trip from London to Capetown, Istanbul to Cairo, or whatever destination and route they choose—all with no experience.”
“My clients range from safari companies, couples, groups and solo travelers from all around the world. Most clients that approach me have never driven a 4-wheel drive before and come to me with a dream of overlanding through some of the most remote places in the world. What I do is help prepare them and their vehicle for what lies ahead. The biggest decision they have to make is just to do it. Once you’ve made the decision to do it, the rest is really just a process.”
“The process takes a good number of months to facilitate and starts off with communicating and understanding what my client needs and wants. I’ll sit down with my client, either over Skype, WhatsApp or in person and paint a picture of what’s actually needed to accomplish a dream like this. I need to understand what their experience in overlanding is and how that fits into the picture. I need to know what they want out of their vehicle; do they have any mechanical knowledge, medical knowledge, what are their professions and how can their experience integrate into their trip. Once I understand their experience, their needs, where they want to go and how long they want to travel for I can then build a plan and process around designing the vehicle, as well as offer training and logistical support.”
You’ve built and prepared TechPro Safari’s dream vehicle fleet. Can you tell us a bit more about their vision, their service offering and what makes them unique?
“When I met Dmitry Rudenko, seasoned Africa traveller, owner and founder of TechPro Safari, it was his dream to set up a luxury safari company that offered safe, reliable vehicles kitted out with everything needed to best explore Africa.”
“Through his experience of hiring and renting vehicles from different companies, and through his own frustrations and let downs of these vehicles, he came in with a vision of offering other travellers with a passion and love for Africa the opportunity to explore Africa in a vehicle that was of a much higher spec. A vehicle fleet where no expense was spared and no compromise was made—it was the best or nothing!”
“Dmitry and I sat down and discussed what he was looking for in a vehicle fleet and who his target market was going to be. I asked what base vehicle he wanted to work with, and he chose the Toyota Land Cruiser, a vehicle well known for its reliability and durability.”
“Now, when it comes to designing a vehicle to hire it’s very different to building a vehicle for a person who is going to use it for themselves; who’s going to look after it day in and day out because it’s their overlanding vehicle. So, when building a vehicle for hire, we need to factor in a lot of simplicity because people are not going to have the same level of experience when it comes to driving the vehicle and using the equipment. In addition to that, there is a level of responsibility that people need to take on when they hire a vehicle fitted with things like a winch, high-lift jacks and recovery equipment, which potentially is very dangerous if not used correctly. So as much as a company can give you a well-equipped vehicle, training is essential. People need to make time for that training, people need to take the initiative and do some research, it’s unrealistic to have all that information shoved down your throat in 4 hours and leave on a big trip because you’re too excited to drive.”
“As a passionate wildlife and landscape photographer, Dmitry was determined to include a dedicated self-drive photography vehicle—the first of its kind in Africa. He realised that there was a market for a self-drive photography vehicle; a vehicle that would have everything you need to venture out on your own and capture those National Geographic worthy shots.
“Dmitry and his team at TechPro Safari not only offer safe, reliable vehicles kitted out with state-of-the-art equipment, 24/7 radio support and tailor-made routes and itineraries, they also have years of experience travelling and exploring Africa and are there to offer you expert advice where and when you need it. They also offer a complete briefing on the use of their vehicles and all onboard equipment ensuring that you are confident and ready for your self-drive overloading adventure”
For more thrilling adventure stories, overlanding advice and vehicle customisation stay tuned for next month’s Part 2 interview with Paul Marsh.