Beaut Ute

A novel addition to a Toyota Hilux is a surprise on the road and at the campsite.

Beaut Ute

A novel addition to a Toyota Hilux is a surprise on the road and at the campsite.

It must be a challenge not to take yourself too seriously when you are knee-deep in a master’s degree, enduring five-hour lectures on your way to becoming an architect. But Will Martel manages it with off-beat humour and a sense of adventure. 

His gap year working on architectural projects in Germany and New York may have largely been curtailed by Covid, but Martel turned his return to New Zealand into a positive by focusing on personal design-and-build projects. The most significant being to “tamper with a ute to make a camper”. 

“We’ve had the old Hilux since forever – 20 years or so,” says Martel. “Mum and Dad used to drive into Miramar every day and I’d sit in the middle. So it’s quite special to me and it was kind of a dream to do it up.”

For a few weeks over summer, Martel and his girlfriend toured the Far North in the camper, staying at camp grounds, beaches and the lawn at friends’ baches. Built from aluminium and twin-wall polycarbonate, it weighs around 150kg and, within a couple of minutes, can be installed or removed by a few willing hands. Three folding doors hinge up to provide shade and a sense of openness and three drawers amply cover storage.

Martel cooked up the idea while working in Munich for Integral Designs BDA (he’d worked with them in Wellington on the exhibition Aotearoa Forest Table) and on his return to New Zealand headed straight to his dad’s metal fabrication workshop in Wellington. “I was so locked into the challenge of designing and building. At uni you are constantly designing but once it’s done you move onto the next thing,” he says. “To see the process from concept through to sleeping in the camper over New Year was an interesting experience.”

The ute had been off the road for some time and its restoration took four months of full-time work, while the camper took about a month to complete. Martel’s father was unconvinced about the aerodynamics and fuel consumption of his son’s creation, but in terms of fulfilling its brief, Martel reckons it’s “good anywhere north of Wellington”. Now studying in Auckland, Martel will be squeezing more camping out of it before winter closes in.

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