Creating the dream off-roader - Modifications and Improvements August 2012

Friday, Dec 07, 2012 at 10:00


October 2012 - It had been just on two years since the initial vehicle build was finished. I say “Initial build” because as anyone who enjoys building or preparing their vehicles for travel about the wide brown land knows, you never truly finish. There is always one more modification, one more tool or the absolute latest “Must Have” in the 4X4 scene.

Over two extensive and many smaller trips, I built up a list of things that required modification, enhancing or fabricating. One of my key additions was a slide out kitchen unit, something more comprehensive than the two drawers and slide-out tables I currently had. The other was the addition of solar panels to the vehicle. As always, weight is a major consideration and despite numerous drawings, ideas and discussions, the kitchen was pared back dramatically.

(Full details are at the bottom of the blog - Cheers, Mick)


Early January, 2010

It’s always a major decision to buy a new car, yet alone a special purpose vehicle like a four wheel drive. There is no doubting that for most people, buying a car is the second biggest financial decision of their lives, coming second only to the purchase of a house. It certainly is for me. The very reason I have a house is because I never spent more than three grand on a vehicle....until I rediscovered outback travel!

So it was today that I found myself standing at the door of a major city Toyota dealer with a mixture of both excitement (when seeing my new Landcruiser ute parked out front) and trepidation in knowing I was about to hand over a cheque for a lot of money. Adding to that is the weight in the knowledge that the spending has only really just begun!

So what led me to this position and what thoughts went into the selection of this particular vehicle? What am I going to do with it? How much is it going to cost? What do I hope to achieve? I thought I would try and canvas all of these issues in a blog starting with the receipt of the keys today.
My tastes in outback travel have certainly changed over the years. Having been a Mallee boy, I have a deep affinity with the deserts and outback rivers that has never abated in all my years. Being in the sunset of a 30 year career, accrued leave allows me to get away for a decent period of time each year and I find myself increasing drawn back to the remotest of areas. Whether it’s the challenge of pushing into uncharted territory or the simple knowledge that mine may be the first European eyes to look across the lay the land, I don’t know. I do know that the isolation and solitude are addictive and draw me back each time.

So how did this influence me? Well, I need a vehicle that can not only get me there, it can carry the gear I need to sustain myself for a couple of months and most importantly, get me back to more civilised climes. The last three years have seen me faithfully served by a Nissan GU Patrol Wagon. Yes it is of the infamous "3 litre class" but I solved that issue by spending an exorbitant amount of money putting in a new motor, turbo, radiator, clutch assembly and gearbox. Though I have now moved over to a Toyota, you won’t find a better 4x4 than the Patrol and it’s only my evolving travel needs that have seen me make the switch. My patrol had always been maintained as a two seater, the rear seats giving way to storage. As my journeys become more remote and tough, I find that asking a vehicle to carry near 400 litres of fuel, 150 of water, tools, tyres, fridges, freezers, food, and camping equipment (and lets not forget the grog) and one, or two people for a period of two months, is asking a lot! Packing becomes an art form in itself with space at an absolute premium.
The obvious choice for myself is a ute. It allows a more flexibility, better carrying capacity and a larger power plant under the bonnet. With the Nissan no longer providing a 4.2L motor in their utes, and my choice further limited by wanting to distance myself from the ‘softer’ utes, the choices in the Australian market become very limited. My choices; the Landrover Defender or the Toyota 79 series. An easy choice really. So it was on return from my 2009 sojourn into the wilderness that I arrived at Melbourne City Toyota and began my negotiations. It had taken me several weeks to justify the expense even to myself, but in the end, I convinced myself. Mind you the test drive of ARB’s tweaked 79 series didn’t hurt the decision much either!
The salesman was good but I reckon I was better (now there’s confidence for you). In the end I secured the dream vehicle, sans tray but with diff-locks and air for a price that was similar or even less to what second hand utes were currently fetching. Having put down my deposit, I returned home and waited...and waited....and waited! Delivery time blew out from 3 months to 4 and finally to 6 months. Bloody hell, they didn’t even start building it till late November!Well it certainly wasn’t time wasted.

In the interim I researched. I analysed my needs both for the immediate future, and in a few short years time when retirement may beckon (I said may!). I looked at what I need to travel as an individual, and when travelling as a couple with Queen Vik. The question about where I put everything once I have a Travelander or Trayon camper on the tray reared its head time and time again. The answer was a chassis extension. Not a super stretch, just 500mm or so. Having researched all the key players in that line of work on the eastern seaboard, I have opted for a chassis extension and GVM upgrade from Multidrive Technology in Geelong. These guys are recognised within the industry and more importantly, by Toyota. That issue in itself is a big plus as far as warranty is concerned. It’s a lot of money but for me, the engineer is local, I don’t have transport costs interstate and the work will be done in a little over a week. Multidrive have a standard GVM upgrade package that involved a 200mm stretch to the chassis of the landcruiser utes giving them a heap of experience with that particular exercise.

In a nutshell, the work program looks like this;
Stage 1. Chassis Extension(500mm) and 540kg GVM upgrade.
Stage 2
a) Design of tray and dual pod system.
b) Tray and dual pod construction (This includes fitting of under body water tanks, pressure vessels & dual compressors). Lead pod (700mm width) will be integrated into the tray of the vehicle. Rear pod will be removable and have inbuilt roof top tent system. Tray will have removable side rails, front protection bar and under tray boxes
c) Fit out of tent Canvas and awning
d) Reversing Camera (3 camera switching unit to provide, rear, passengers side and towbar visibility)
Stage 3
a) 12 volt power fit out.
b) Winch bar and side rails and steps
c) protective bar work, computer mount, suspension lift (50mm only),fuel tanks. And compressor fitment
d) Tyres and rims, pressure monitoring system
Sundries like the fitting of a UHF, the refitting of the HF and basic appointment of the cab to follow that. Hopefully to be done in time for departure on this years adventure.


Stage 1 The cut and stretch

The vehicle was delivered to Multidrive Technology in Geelong. They kindly lent and fitted a tray to the ute so I could complete the registration process before returning it to them for the cut. Darryl explained the process to me and showed me around the factory. Multidrive perform a huge number of dual axle conversions to Toyota utes as well as GVM upgrades. When I pulled up that day there were over 20 utes parked waiting for work or for pick-up. Their engineering in the dual axle 6x6 conversions is a work of art, truly a thing of beauty but unfortunately well outside my budget. I could only admire from a distance hoping that my drooling wasn't too obvious! The job on my vehicle involves a diagonal cut of 45° through both chassis rails just behind the cab. An insert of 500mm was added and all the cabling, fuel lines extended. A new cross member was fitted just in front of the cut and a center bearing fitted at the location where the tail shaft previously ended. A jack shaft was run to the center bearing from the gearbox and joined the tail shaft which remained unchanged in length. The original geometries remained as new. The chassis Rail is deepened by addition of a section of channel welding along and extending passed the length of the insert.

Two extra leaves were added to the rear springs as well as a heavy duty stop some 12 cm high. The process went exceptionally smoothly and was completed by the Friday. Multidrive also produce and fitted a guard for the intercooler bonnet scoop which offers protections against shrubbery, leaves and grass. The vehicle was then assessed by an accredited engineer who completed all appropriate specs and certificates for the traffic authority, VicRoads. A secondary compliance plate was then fitted by him to the vehicle. This also certified the GVM upgrade to 3720 kgs. I presented vehicle and certificates to VicRoads who issued an amended rego label. The end result was simply fantastic and the thing that I noticed immediately was that the vehicle handled a whole lot better on the road. The turning circle, well it wasn't that good to begin with but now.....well I'm bloody happy regardless.

Multidrive Technology - LINK


My design concepts followed extensive questioning of Exploroz forum members. Having trolled the member profiles, I identified those members with Toyota utes and pod systems. Many emails requesting information and photos flew across the electronic pathways. The knowledge base was sensational providing me many good ideas and the ability to discount other considerations. I visited several members and others with purpose built vehicles as well.

I also re read every old 4x4 mag I could lay my hands on for Rig Profiles and product reviews and trawled the internet for manufacturers and pictures of vehicles. I sought quotes from several local manufacturers. Overall, while these manufacturers provided work of unquestionable quality, their inflexibility as to design and customisation led me to choose a general engineering firm that I was familiar with. They had previously done work on a camper trailer and vehicle for me prior to my round Australia sojourn of 2006. I must confess that my budget was also an influencing factor.

Allform Industries, a steel fabrication firm in Morwell specialised in general engineering.They did a lot of steel cabinetry work and had made the odd ute tray previously. They also did the lions share of construction in the Victorian based "Turtleback Campers" of Yarram. Marco had an obvious enthusiasm for my project having a clear understanding of just what I intended to use the vehicle for. He also has an uncanny ability to think around problems and issues particularly balancing the need for a robust build yet keeping the weight down. I found that during a couple of meetings over some plans I had drawn up in excel, we soon had the shape of the project mapped out. The vehicle was delivered in early February, just in time for Marco to fall seriously ill – bleep !

Allform Industries LINK

With Marco out of the Picture for 6 weeks, the project was handed to his leading hand. I had prepared an in depth folder with plans and drawings as well as other material to give an idea of how the finished product should take shape. It’s always difficult trying to co-ordinate or respond to queries from a distance but the boys got the tray underway and I made an early morning visit each week before catching the train back home. Unfortunately, time did slip and as I had already booked in other work relating to the accessories, suspension and electrical I was getting a bit worried. Thankfully, Marco got a but sick of sitting around home recuperating and started back at work a little early than expected, if only a few hours here and there initially. It was all it took for the project to get back on track. Due to a few early concerns, the boys felt the Poly-tank I had taken down would not be adequately protected under the tray so they made a smaller stainless tank of about 40 litres capacity. I found that the tank would fit perfectly under the tray and with a sheet of thin alloy as a shield, would have no problems at all. The wash-up is that the vehicle now has two water tanks giving a 125 litre capacity or thereabouts.

Today I headed to Morwell to pick up the raw first stage of the vehicle to begin the long run to Adelaide tomorrow. There was a bit of panic about the place as the last bits were hurried into place and the factory had an F1 pit lane feel about it as 5 blokes, bolted, glued and riveted the last pieces into place. The result was very pleasing to both the eye and to build quality. The combination of steel and alloy has worked exceptionally well giving an initial weight for tray and pod of around the 360 kg mark. This is boosted of course by the weighty Platinum Drop slide which is quite heavy. Leaving Marco and the boys to work on the rear pod, I headed back to Melbourne. The ute handled brilliantly. The V8 made light work of the highway and I reckon the larger diameter tyres will also help in this regard to combat some of the low rated gearing.

The next port of call is Adelaide to have all the 12 Volt electrical systems installed. This will be a major piece of work and one that I will spend a bit of time writing about in a few weeks. The coming weeks will see the addition of the winch-bar and outer bar work, under body protection, a 2” lift and suspension change out, long range fuel tanks, computer mount, plumbing, wiring and compressor fitting before the rig heads back to Marco for Stage two and the rear pod. An early start and a long drive in the morning.

Just a quick update....

I arrived back from Adelaide today with the auxiliary electricals having been completed. In a nutshell, it is a work of art. It will take me a few days to get my head around the complete set-up and then probably a few more to commit it to the computer. Richard took a lot of photos along the way. Suffice to say there are now three extra batteries on board, a 100 Deep Cycle Hybrid under the bonnet and two magnificent 140 A/H Power Sonic AGM's in the first of the rear pods. The Redarc BMS is in over the auxiliary power whilst the usual dual battery system has been replaced with a Redarc BCDC charger and a reconfigured manually switched solenoid that does all manner of neat tricks. There is also a feedback loop which will allow the full 240 Amps of the auxiliaries to be utilised within the vehicle electrics should an alternator give up the ghost. Believe's a magnificent job.

Spent a lovely evening with a few EO members and friends in Mannum before heading back this morning with a full load of tyres on board. This should solve my propensity for destroying the damn things.


A waltz around the ethereal world of DC electrics!

By my way of thinking, one of the rules of remote outback travel, or any outback travel really is the fact that your vehicle should be maintained to the highest possible standard. I’m a firm believer that time spent on vehicle preparation is never time or money wasted. On top of that, the electrical system you employ on the trips are the 2nd most important thing. Not only the power system that runs your car, but your auxiliary system that powers your fridges, lights, computer, navigation and recharges your cameras, satphone, batteries for the GPS and hand held UHF’s, inverters for 240 volt appliances and anything else that floats your boat. With anything up to two months between resupply and 1000 km or more of terrain to be traversed, power is one of the most important considerations in my vehicle and the expeditions I undertake.

It’s always interesting to note that there is an aura of mystery around DC power that make it a bit hard to get the head around. It’s numbers are low like 12 & 24 and yet it has bigger transmission issues than AC or “big number” current. Nothing was drummed home to me more readily than the heat generating qualities of 12 and 24 volt DC current than when bush welding and trying to regulate the power output through the use of cables or wire. It could turn no.8 fencing wire to white hot plasma in no time flat. A lesson for the uninitiated let me tell you.

It’s a must that any that you have an understanding of just what your power usage will be, what it will take to support your system and the affect and interaction between your main vehicle system and your auxiliary. Having skirted around the sides of the whole power system set-up for a few years now, I decided to go out and design and build the best possible system for my needs. Thankfully I could use my own prior travel experiences to inform this process but again, I am no DC expert so a lot of thought and study was required. From the very outset I wanted to incorporate all aspects of DC power generation at my disposal. That means that I wanted to support my auxiliary system through vehicle (alternator) power, solar power and also 240 volt from any source I could get it. This meant generator or mains 240 AC.

In addition, I wanted two separate systems with a degree of interoperability. This concept meant I could draw on power reserves for special circumstances or times of high need like winching and/or to totally support vehicle operation if for example the alternator gave up the ghost. Despite this connectivity or interoperability between both systems, they would still be required to remain very separate circuits. The vehicle battery would also be supported by a 2nd battery under the bonnet. The main battery would drive many of the vehicle accessories such as the Winch, driving lights, internal radios and air compressors. The second battery would be used as a primary back-up should the main (crank) battery go flat or totally collapse. This is the theory of the basic dual battery system. The main auxiliary system comprising a couple of AGM deep cycle batteries would be responsible for all non-vehicle related power needs. This included the fridge/s, lighting, water pumps, inverter and some of the accessories in the cabin like GPS and computer.

Again in the design phase, I did a lot of research through the Exploroz site, through solar providers and recognised subject matter experts such as Collyn Rivers. Another good avenue was to check out the existing power set-ups on camper trailers and off road vans at things like the Caravan and camping show. The key resource by far was in fact people I’ve travelled with or met over the years. It’s amazing what systems and alternatives a group of keen travellers will come up with through years of experience and investigation. So it was that my first drawings got sent to John, or “Mr Magic” of Mannum for his consideration and input. Having dragged he and Suzettes’s Ultimate “desert Dinghy” through some of the toughest terrain, I had been interested in the concept of the DC-DC charger as opposed to a standard dual battery charger. In addition we had been researching the MPPT controllers for optimising solar power generation. Other conversations (as well as the numerous Exploroz forum threads) surrounded AGM batteries, their benefits and special needs for staged charging that were not often met by many dual battery systems on the market today.John quickly sought the input of a mate of his Richard, (another EO member - Olcoolone) in Adelaide who he considered to have a bit of expertise on the subject. Richard provided some great feedback and suggested a few alternatives to my wish list. Fortuitously, it seems that Richard had invited John to a Redarc Trade Dealer night, aimed to highlight and educate their dealers on how the BMS, BCDC1220 and Smart Start Solenoid can be utilised.John came back extremely impressed with several of the Redarc products, their BMS system in particular.
Anyway, My initial concepts revolved around my own limited understanding of DC power and the things I would require to drive it and for it to power. It also involved a suite of gauges and monitors to let me know the state of play. Here’s my initial list of components.
• Three batteries
• Dual battery system (Piranha DB 180S)& isolator
• 240 volt 3 stage charger such as a CTEK
• Solar Panel
• MPPT solar regulator
• DCDC charger for two auxiliary batteries such as a Rannox.
• Battery monitor (Autron dual monitor or similar)
• Other gauges for battery status and condition(current inflow/draw)
As you could imagine, it added up to a fair bit of loot.
What returned from Richard was basically the same diagram with a lot of simplification, some interesting concepts and a list components that looked like this;
• 3 Batteries
• Redarc BCDC charger
• Redarc Smart solenoid
• Redarc BMS system
• Solar panel

Over the course of a few phone calls and some internet research, a plan came together. While not his general field of endeavour, Richard offered to do the work in Adelaide. The trip would also give me a chance to run the vehicle in. There were a lot of considerations that are not mentioned surrounding batteries, chargers and the likes. I don’t intend to go into them here because it would take far too long but can be gleaned from some great sources. One of them is EO member John & Val’s blog on electricity for camping. See HERE - John & Val's Electricity for Camping.

So it was that I headed out from Melbourne at 4.45 a.m. one Saturday heading for Adelaide. I arrived at Richards workshop on Sunday morning to meet he and Lyn and do a final run through the body of works. I flew back home that afternoon leaving Richard to begin his masterpiece. Here it is.
Under the bonnet he installed a 100 amp hour 700 CCA hybrid D/C battery (SSI-$290) as the auxiliary battery. To support the auxiliary, Richard installed a Redarc BCDC1220 20 amp three stage DC-DC charger ($495). Rather than use a standard isolator of dual battery system, the BCDC provides proper three stage charging. Under the standard systems you would have only ever achieved 60-70% of the battery maximum state of charge (SOC). The BCDC provides full three stage charging Stage 1 – bulk or boost where it delivers most of the charge. Stage 2 – provides an absorption charge where it starts tapering and finally to a float charge at 100% state of charge. It also helps battery condition because the battery is actually charged as the manufacturer intended. The cabling 2 B&S, between the main and auxiliary batteries and 3 B&S cabling to earth. The smaller cable was used for earthing as he ran multiple earths throughout the system. We used a Redarc SBI212 smart solenoid which is a 200 amp constant rated, smart dual battery isolator. We actually ended up “dumbing” it down a bit and removed the control module to return it to a switchable solenoid state. The reason for using the Redarc solenoid is that they are good quality, readily available throughout Australia. The manual switching from inside the vehicle cab also allows the vehicle to be started from the aux battery should the main be flat and precludes the need to get out and jump with leads. We also incorporated a control feed to the solenoid from the winch so that winching activity will draw power from both batteries.

From the auxiliary battery a 6 B&S cable runs to a high quality 8 blade e-max fuse holder. From these fuses a 3mm feed for a UHF Radio together with 3 x 6mm feeds, one being for the Laptop used for mapping, the second one for a small Inverter to charge camera batteries etc, and the third wire to power a future HF Radio. All the positive wires were accompanied with the same size earth back to a central major earth point. To facilitate the cabin power feeds, a 32mm hole was drilled through the firewall for cable feeds. This was primed and grommet-ed.

Along with the 8 blade e-max fuse holder, 4 standard 4 pin relay blocks were added, 1 for the spot lights, the second one for a Hella Twin Beam reversing light to be mounted on the Rear of the Back Pod and the 2 others are left spare for future expansion. From the starter battery an 80 amp midi-fuse heads down to dual compressors mounted in one of the side under tray boxes. Each compressor is fused with a 30 amp blade fuse. The 80 amp protects the wire heading down to the compressor where it divides into two 6mm wires, each fused with a 30 amp weatherproof fuse holder.

Also from the main starter battery there is a heavy duty 175 amp emax mega-fuse which supplies feed to the permanent rear pod through 3 B&S cable. This is run to a 175 amp Anderson Plug underneath the vehicle allowing the entire rear unit to be unplugged and removed if need be. The main power feed then heads inside the pod to a single side 175 amp Anderson Plug. On that same Anderson Plug terminal there is a 6 B&S cable to power the Redarc BMS Battery Management System ($1495). This coordinates and maintains the two 140 Amp Power Sonic AGM batteries (@$550 each). The BMS contains a 3 stage 240AC charger, a DC-DC charger and an MPPT solar controller all wrapped up in one package. The digital readout provides just about any data you could want to know about your batteries condition, state and mode of charge and also includes up to 30 days of usage history.

On the other terminal of the Anderson plug there is a lead straight to the battery. This means when closed with a looped Anderson plug, the BMS is cut out of the loop and power from the two aux batteries will flow back into the main vehicle system. (I know it’s getting difficult. Stick with me here and the photos will help out). There are two plug options for closing this circuit. One looping Anderson plug has a 60 amp fuse to protect the engine and electrics and would be used when feeding power back for engine management purposes, say if the alternator packed it in. The 2nd loop is unfused for maximum current transfer. This is used in times of high power need like heavy winching.

The rear batteries are connected to a custom switch panel that has an expandable 8 blade h/d fuse block and 7 illuminated toggle switches. These switches operate lighting, water pumps, interior lighting (11 watt Narva flouro - less than 1 amp per hour draw). LED Strip lighting is fitted under the gull wing doors on the pod and in the interior of the tent. Other DC outlets are situated around the pod for appliances and tools .

All wiring has been run through convoluted tubing and formed into looms. All terminals are double crimped and heat shrunk and all sprayed with a Wurth silicone grease. Weatherproof plugs have been used throughout. Dare I mention the custom battery tray, clamps and mounts. Extra 3,4 & 6 mm cabling has been run to the back of the vehicle for future expansion.


You know if there’s one thing I like it’s people who get bleep done. You know there are always bound to be disappointments during a project like this but these can be counterbalanced by good companies and people who can not only identify the problem, but rectify it before they tell you about it. A case in point…..
Now I’m not a big fan of ARB. Yes they make a wide range of 4x4 products and are reasonably well priced but I must confess that there customer service often leaves me cold. In addition, they’re very happy to sell you their products but the minute there is a slight technical difficulty, they more often than not throw their hands in the air and say “it’s all too hard”! Their bullbars and side rails were the preferred option for me so off I went with the vehicle to an ARB store, priced up the items, inspected the vehicle and checked out the paint colour to ensure the right colour coding. Booked in well in advance as my timeframes are pretty tight. Can you imagine my frustration when I receive a phone call late afternoon to tell me that the car was ready to pick up oh and by the way, you’ve had the vehicle lengthened….Yes you knew that.Well we couldn’t mount the side rails. They’re still wrapped up and on your tray.

Well #@*% me, couldn’t you have improvised a mount? You are a specialist 4x4 service provider after all! You inspected the vehicle at the time you were all too keen to sell me the side rails, didn’t it occur to you then? All too hard. I wasn’t too happy. Thankfully, experience has taught me that there are a few individuals who are cluey enough to get these sort of jobs done. This is why I always get my more tricky jobs done by Brown Davis in Bayswater. Having lived out that way, I went to them when another manufacturers long range tank stuffed up and the provider was a bit reluctant to stand by their product (See certain 3 letter acronym above…starts with ‘A’). Kevin Sharp, the "go to" bloke has custom built a few bits and pieces for the GU including my computer mount and the sliding HF mount. Great customer service. I had a list of “too hard” things for him to attend to the least of which was now the side rails. Hardly a worry for Kev.
Anyway, here’s what Brown Davis got done. The original springs had been upgraded as part of the GVM upgrade by Multidrive. I was keen to get a bit more ride height but didn’t want to fork out money when I had a perfectly good set of strengthened springs. Kevin had the springs re-set by a local spring manufacturer managing to pick up an extra 80mm in lift. This was matched at the front with new heavier grade coils and a set of Tough Dog Big Bore adjustable shock absorbers. Kevin had concerns that the adjusting knob on the rear set of shocks was too exposed so he fabricated and fitted some guards for them (see what I mean about getting stuff done!). While they were under the car I had them add some front under-body protection in the form of a new bash plate.
I had the standard 90 litre auxiliary tank replaced with a 165 litre unit. Again some modification was needed due to the provision within the tray for the 45 litre water tank – hardly an issue. The boys also plumbed in the 85 litre main under-tray water tank and fabricated up a stone protection guard for the pump and hoses were left in an exposed and vulnerable position near the rear left hand wheel.

Once, Kev had the “too hard” ARB side rails fitted, I had him extend the protection bars underneath the central under-tray boxes. The result is a great extension that is fully removable from the main side rails if need be. Finally, they fab’d up a new computer mount similar to the unit in the GU using exiting mounts within the cab of the vehicle.

All in all, some really good work with nothing ever being an issue.

Brown Davis Automotive


A little over a week after leaving Morwell for Adelaide, the ute was returned to Morwell and the boys at Allform. Marco was back on deck and into the swing of things.Young Luke got the task of fabricating the rear camping pod according to the original specs. He was given a fair bit of artistic Licence to make things work. I had opted to use heavy Duty container seals rather than have a lipped and rebated door system. I had initially hoped to fit the two spare tyres at the front of this unit but due to the excessive diameters of the big 33’s (285/75R16), we found that there would not be enough room to slide the tyres in from the side, the only type of entry positioning at the front would allow. So it was we went back to plan “A” with a rear access door and the tyres concealed inside an area 450mm deep.

In all my studies and inquiries, I was yet to see an inbuilt hinged lid camper that allowed you to maintain a straight edge along the entire length of the unit. A flat top camper like the Turtlebacks, no worries but most others had a chamfered on the front or leading edge. Marco didn’t see this as a challenge, particularly when using the rubber hinging system that I had intended using. There was a degree of technicality involved in roofing and building such a unit that I just didn’t conceive in the early stages. Things like the actual depth of the sleeper unit had to be pretty spot on as the contents of would be used to provide extra strength and reinforcing once the roof rack was used. The jacking system to lift the unit clear of the ute body also required a lot of thought and had to be sturdy enough to lift the unit when it was fully loaded. The reinforcing of the unit had to be incorporated into the external shell as much as possible to save weight yet provide strength so folding was critical. The gas struts for the camper lid had to be strong enough to cater for a possible load and yet allow me to pull them down. They’d also have to stand up to a bit of wind. Nothing like the lid slamming shut on your schnozzle to ruin your night.

I had opted for a 4 drawer system again utilising aluminium as best as possible. Interior walls and divides would have a lot of mesh installed to provide anchor points for cargo. The interior wall separating the tyre compartment and the main cargo area would be sheet to allow for fitting of the mounting system (Rhino Rack screw in cone wheel mounts). The draw system had an inbuilt table system underneath the two draws on the left hand side. The left passenger’s side was designated to be the “living” side of the camper as it was always parked off the road when you are stopped. These tables were designed to be part of the drawer system so they would lock while out and the drawer could still be pulled out without sliding over the table. Up stairs for thinking people I tell you.

Over a couple of visits I was very glad to see the camper taking shape. The water tank was plumbed in before the tray went on, the compressor system was mounted in the front passengers box, again away from the traffic side of the vehicle when parked. A custom pressure vessel was made and certified and fitted underneath near the front of the tray. A myriad number of little bits and pieces.

While all this was happening, I had one of the local Morwell lads assess the unit for cameras and interior lighting. The rear camera mount was recessed into the back frame while being built. Marco also organised one of the local lads to paint the unit on sight. This was undertaken largely at night in a temporary oven area built at Allform. Young Leigh put in a bleep load of prep work disassembling everything from the ute and ensuring that all the new work was painted underneath in the first instant. He two packed all the pods and door interiors as well as all the boxes and external protection bar work. A top job. I should add that this was taking place all in the last couple of weeks. I had booked the vehicle into Traralgon Trim and Canvas for the tent work and also the creation of a couple of flys and walls. Another week away from Allform but a great job done by Peter and his crew. The set-up was great with the sides having almost full screens that could be opened up. I’d asked him to put some tabs on the inside of the windows as well so I could facilitate the canvas pulling itself in at pack-up time by connecting a length of elastic cord (Like the roof top tens do). The fly was a huge affair stretching 3 metres from the back and passengers side of the vehicle and giving roughly 22 square metres of area under canvas and 26 square metres in total including the camper unit itself. Peter also got two side walls and all the draft skirts made as well. Fantastic work and very reasonably priced as well.
About this stage, Alex from OVRDUN Custom Interiors, who’s normal gig is decking out the flashy interiors in stretch Hummers, completed the installation fo the camera system, LED lighting and my stereo system. Alex’s challenge was to create a plug system that would cater for unplugging not only the power of the unit but also the feed and power from the rear most camera. With the ute pod permanently fixed behind the cab, rear and side vision when angle parked is severely limits. I had Alex come up with a swivel mount on the roof of the ute pod that allows me to view away from the passengers side of the vehicle at 45 degrees. Much easier to pull out of an angle parking bay. The rear camera faces directly out from the camping pod and are displayed on the Pioneer stereo unit. A simple toggle switch is used to change views. Alex used a mini 7 pin trailer plug to enable the disconnection of the camper pod. He then fabricated a 5 metre lead that can be used to plug the unit back into the vehicle when it’s de-mounted (is that a word?). Alex also finished off a few switches, the vehicle trailer plug and other bits and pieces as well as installing LED strip lighting throughout both pods and the sleeping area. These 1 metres strip lights throw a clean bluish light that is very crisp. They have an exceptionally low power draw as well.

So it was that on the last Wednesday of May, I picked up the beast from Marco. It all but gleamed under the mercury lights of the factory and I couldn't help but wonder if she’d ever look this good again after what I proposed to put her through in the coming months. A resounding “NO” there methinks! It looked great. Shoving the spare tyres in and collecting my bits and pieces, I bade farewell to the boys leaving them with a slab of Cougar cans and headed home. Happiness only lasted as far as the first service station as I filled the big auxiliary tank for the first time. On finishing the 160 litres, I found the arse of the ute sitting a lot lower than I had intended, bugger! I can assure you that my first phone call on Thursday morning was to Kevin at Brown Davis. No dramas. Knowing the vehicle from the previous work we decided on a set of bellows airbags and a Snake Racing 50mm extended rear shackle. 6:00 a.m. on Friday saw me at Brown Davis in the car park fitting off some last minute wiring with Alex and then handing her over to Kev and the lads to get here all sorted. The extended shackles got her back up level pretty much straight away meaning the airbags were only required to maintain and assist the lift, not force it. This I was happy with. All being equal, we were out in the late afternoon with her bum hanging a lot higher and me breathing a sigh of relief.


Saturday, while packing madly, Big John arrive to help me fit the UHF radio. We had a little bit of soldering to do with the aerial but it went pretty smoothly. I’ve gone the big sucker areal this time as I have a tendency to break the little ones in the rough stuff. Fully loaded, fueled and exhausted, Outback Al and I departed Melbourne in the late afternoon on Sunday bound for Mildura. It had gone down to the wire but we were away.


The shake down highlighted some minor issues with the build. These mainly centred around latches for the drawers. The significant vibration caused by corrugations has meant that several of the catches, latches and pins have vibrated to pieces. This will simply be a matter of fitting larger pins and receiver sleeves.

Obviously the ute interior is up for some fitting and modification. I’ve gone away with fitting things to the dash in this vehicle so have given consideration to ease of removing accessories should I ever upgrade or sell. I’ll investigate the possibility of a dual pillar 50mm gauge pod for the “A” pillar similar to what I had in the Nissan (an Autron unit). A large overhead “T” console is also on the wish list which should take care of UHF’s, HF and some ancillary gauges and monitors that I want. I’ve have provided some feedback to Redarc and hope that their next iteration of the BMS system will have a dual head capability. Currently I have the monitoring head in the rear pod near the batteries rather than the cab. This is because I found that you actually check the thing most when you are actually stopped. By having it next to the power controls ,fridges etc, I can adjust things there and then rather than walk around to the cabin. A second display unit would be handy in the cabin while driving purely for monitoring Battery state (temp, charge sources and rate and warning purposes). Everything else will go up. I wouldn’t mind a few temperature sensors for the fridges and for pod temperatures in the cab so will investigate the availability of a temperature gauge that can cope with 4 or more sensors to be switched between. Another diagnostic consideration is an OBD2 gauge for monitoring a few vitals when out in the rough stuff.

Engine-wise I must confess that I’m always reluctant to tinker with the power plant. The more standard, the better. However I will give serious consideration to a new 3 inch exhaust and complimentary fuel management chip that will hopefully enhance the get up and go factor somewhat, particularly when towing. It may also help with the fuel economy which has been a disappointment. Still I have to keep in mind that it is a heavy beast in the first instance and it’s gearing is industrial to say the least.

Nothing much s changing in the back pods with the exception of adding a few more lighting strips and the mounting of the rear Hella Spot light. I’ve also got to come up with a mounting system for the HF Auto-tune areal. I’m leaning towards a pivoting roof mount where the areal lays flat on the roof rack during the day and can be then stood upright for use. We’ll have to think on that a little and make some inquiries as to whether the areal can be laid flat. A slide out kitchen unit containing a draw system is also on the drawing board at present. When anchored in the vehicle atop the existing drawers on the passengers side, it will present 4-6 drawers for food, utensils, and cooking equipment. The whole unit will be slide out and have drop down legs so it can free stand. The top would actually a double top that hinges over to lie flat upon itself, giving extra bench space. Again weight and design features will take a bit of thought.

The inside of the tent roof may also be insulated and carpeted . It requires some power outlets and also some other luxury bits and pieces like reading lights (can’t fit an ensuite in unfortunately!). One final consideration is the mounting of a solar panel or two somewhere on the roof. We’ll wait and see.


It’s been a steep learning curve with this build. It’s been expensive but the research and advise sought has paid for itself in spades. I often wonder if you ever stop paying for your passions and the answer is no but the experiences the vehicle has afforded us has made it well worthwhile. We’re only just beginning and have plenty of years left to enjoy it yet.

In hindsight, the ute tray is possibly 75 mm too low. This space would have provided a lot more rear wheel clearance but would have been gained by sacrificing the height and storage area of the rear pods or, the pods would have had to stick further above the vehicle roof line. Maintaining the ute functionality by having the camping pod removable was the key to the concept and the stretching of the chassis. The vehicle really gets up and goes with the main pod off (I’ll provide individual weights in the near future), and the 700mm permanent pod provides a lot of added functionality. The amount of stuff (including an 80-100 litre fridge) that can be stored in this area is really quite amazing. It also ensures many travel options. I can still throw the quad on the ute itself and have a quick, sharp trip into the desert using a swag for example.

POWER MANAGEMENT (Redarc systems)

I cannot speak highly enough of these systems. The BMS in particular has blown me away. The MPPT solar controller has made a real difference. With only the peak sunlight hours of winter in the north west, I was able to fully maintain my batteries with a 100W solar panel. This included running the 80 Litre Engel combo (half of which was on full time freezer) lighting and a few other minor sundries. This did involve active monitoring & manipulation of fridge controls but considering we were in low to mid 30 Celsius each day, it was great. The DC-DC charging facility running from the vehicle alternator provided very solid rates of charge that bought the batteries back up from mid to high 70% mark to 100% within a few hours of travel. As per the "waltz around the world of DC electrics" in the body of the blog, I am running twin Power Sonic 140A/H AGM’s. To save a lot of confusion and the need for 240 volt certification, I didn’t bother hard wiring 240 into the power system or fridge. The only lead in is for the BMS and this has done a great job and comfortably maintains float while running all accessories. The Display unit is exceptional in functionality and provides in one interface, every input/output reading and battery condition information that I require and previously used many separate displays for.
The BCDC charger to the Hybrid under the bonnet has also performed faultlessly in arduous conditions. I’m led to believe that the next iteration of this product may well have a solar capacity included so will wait with bated breath for that. I didn’t use the winch this year so had no need of the power boosting system. The amazing power redundancy system was also not needed but again, I have to thank the amazing Richard at Vehikool in Adelaide for that Overall the power system performed faultlessly throughout the three months and 14,000 rough kilometres.


Very Happy in that area as well. The combo of the strengthened and re-set springs with the airbags has worked exceptionally well. The Toughdog Bog Bore adjustable shocks performed faultlessly and that ability to adjust them to suit the roads conditions, particularly corrugations, was sensational. The 50mm extended rear shackles from snake racing proved a bonus as well. I can see a time that new rear springs will be a necessity but that’s a few trip off yet. Just to give an indication of the roughness out there, the guards Kev at Brown Davis had welded on the bottom spring mounts to protect the adjusting dials on the shocks were hammered flat by the conditions. They protected the adjusting knobs perfectly.


I moved over to the Toyo Open Country M/T’s this year in a 285/75R16. They are a fantastic tyre. Three of our team were shoed the same and I dropped from countless punctures on last years expedition into the same area on another major brand to ONE! Yep, ONE bloody puncture in the Toyo’s for the whole trip. This included 14,000 kilometres of which more than 13,000 was on outback tracks and roads and 1600 kilometres of that was totally off track pushing through our harsh western deserts. I cannot speak highly enough of these tyres. They were worth every penny.

As you could imagine there was a hell of a lot in the way of 4X4 products that went into the build of this vehicle. All of them were run through some pretty harsh terrain and conditions over the three months of this trip. They are far too many to mention here so I'll probably write an overall review of them all in a later blog.

If anyones got any suggestions or ideas for the slide-out kitchen, I'd be glad to hear them through the MM system or at


Just a little project I’ve been working on prior to heading off with the Crown Prince in July. Having had a heat exchanger type shower in the Nissan, I’ve decided to go the less complex route in the new vehicle and simply mount a 12 volt demand pump somewhere under the bonnet near the front of the vehicle. This allows a pick up to be placed in a bucket of warm water and a longer length of hose with a garden sprayer to throw over the top of the shower tent. The preferred method these days is simply to use the fire and a 10 litre stainless bucket to heat the shower water and then pump away. The pump can also be used to filter water using the dual canister filtration set that I have had for some years now.

Now the key problem with any 4x4 these days is the lack of real estate under the bonnet to mount something as significant as a pump. She’s fairly crowded in there. On having a good look around, I noticed that there appeared to be a good lot of space in the front mudguard area behind the internal lining. This involved with the removal of the main battery on the left hand side, or the air cleaner box on the drivers side. There are also plenty of access ports and more than a few holes with captive nuts ready for use. As the shower tent is usually on the drivers side, the toss went the way of the air filter box.

The filter box was an easy removal involving three mounting screws and two hose clamps for the intake from the snorkel and the outlet hose from the top of the box. There is also a plastic sleeve that pulls out from inside the guard. This is a connection piece from the snorkel to the filter box. Once the air cleaner box was removed, this cleared ample space to work and gain access to the guard. The pump with fittings, easily slid inside the front port and the hoses cleared the edges of the hole. It was simply a matter of holding the pump on the inner lining of the guard and marking out four holes. I also drilled out the holes in the rubber mounting as well to allow for a more robust fastener.

A bit of extra wire was soldered and sealed in shrink wrap. Fortuitously, the standard Toyota auxiliary power box is located on this side and sitting nearby. These fused plugs only work on accessory but that’s a small price to pay for ease of fitment. A simple in line toggle switch was also placed on the active and mounted into a bracket on the inner wall of the guard.

I fitted flat dome headed nuts to the engine bay. Having the nuts inside the guards meant that there was nothing protruding into the engine bay that would foul or hinder the fitment of the air filter box. A couple of hours work and it was all done. A very nice, unobtrusive and protected location for a water pump. Now I’ll just have to sort out where I want the hoses to terminate under the vehicle.



Chip and 3" exhaust fitted May 2011

I have just had the performance modifications made to the ute in that a 3.5 inch Taipan exhaust was fitted together with a chip and an EGT gauge. The fitment of the exhaust was not without its difficulties due to the stretch and the confining nature of the big rear tank but it was all made to fit in the end. The overall change has been absolutely incredible. It’s gone from Moose to Gazelle. It freakin FLIES! I have had it tuned specifically to assist with the heavy weight of the vehicle and towing. The work was undertaken at Turbo engineering in Thomastown. They have used their own chip which is a complete tuning system as opposed to a fuel rail or fuel pulse module. Ray spends some 4 hours on the dyno with each fitment adjusting both fuel and boost to ensure all the planets align with the additions and to ensure that things can’t be over-fuelled (meaning more heat etc). Like most surgeons he has a somewhat paternalistic bedside manner but don’t let that put you off. He knows his stuff.

As an interesting aside, for those who have posed the question in respect to the death zone for the V8 motors as far as Exhaust Gas Temperatures (EGT) are concerned, 520C is NOT what you want to see on your EGT gauge. 520C means you’ll be looking for a new motor real soon (EGT probe is aft of the turbo in this reading so take the internal cylinder temperatures to be over 100C hotter).

After the modifications, the immediately noticeable differences are;
-Wholly more responsive – It’s like driving a fully tuned petrol V8 (I kid you not, there is that much difference!)

-No flat spot when accelerating from standing start. Torque band is a lot wider and flatter . The vehicle just accelerates cleanly and powerfully.
-Much more acceleration on the highway. At 80 kph in 5th gear you can put the foot down and she climbs effortlessly upwards. Towing is going to be a dream as will dragging heavy loads up bloody high sand hills.

-It sounds a whole lot meaner at the back end with the 3 inch system and sports muffler (and this is important according to the crown prince!)
If this thing is tuned down, I’d be frightened to know what can be achieved with it bedded down and tuned right up. Quite simply these are the best mods I have ever made to a vehicle. If you were thinking of spending the dollars on this type of mod, do it but do your research and go to a recognised diesel expert. IMHO a simple plug and play fuel module is not what you want in your $70K, state of the art V8 diesel ute.

Throughout the first weeks of July, the new engine set-up has had a good 7000 km work out around some of our iconic outback tracks. The vehicle was fully loaded during this trip but not towing. The observations above stand. The vehicle accelerates like a whole different animal. On a long sharp gradient on the freeway just north of Melbourne, I used to be pulling down to 3rd to try and get up the thing. Speed was dropping below 80 kph. With the re-tuning, I was easily able to maintain 100-110 kph in 5th and only changed to 4th to drop a few degrees off the EGT gauge.

Fuel Economy has not been adversely affected and has remained more or less the same in both city and country driving. In the slower going on outback roads (average 60-80 kph with a fair bit of 4x4 for damp and slippery sections) the economy has actually improved by nearly one kilometre per Litre. This is a real bonus considering the abysmal economy figures in the first place. Where the mods come into their own is the solid increase in power when in a 4x4 situation. There’s no more having to put the boot into her to keep the momentum up in soft sand or mud. Easy manipulation of the accelerator ensures smooth, constant power in even a sudden, unexpected situation and that’s bloody great.
Dyno results will follow when I can find the bloody bit of paper. Price?? - Not cheap but in my mind, the end result in improved response and performance more than justify the expense.

Found the Dyno results. At 100 kph there is a torque increase of 150Nm (586 to 734 Nm) and a power increase of 21 Kw (80 to 101 kw). Average across the range of between 20-25% increase in power and torque. Original dyno showed that the vehicle was under fuelled and had very low boost settings. These increases are achieved with 33" tyres fitted.

The Latest improvements - July-August 2012

It had been just on two years since the initial vehicle build was finished. I say “Initial build” because as anyone who enjoys building or preparing their vehicles for travel about the wide brown land knows, you never truly finish.There is always one more modification, one more tool or the absolute latest “Must Have” in the 4X4 scene.

Over two extensive and many smaller trips, I built up a list of things that required modification, enhancing or fabricating. One of my key additions was a slide out kitchen unit, something more comprehensive than the two drawers and slide-out tables I currently had. The other was the addition of solar panels to the vehicle. As always, weight is a major consideration and despite numerous drawings, ideas and discussions, the kitchen was pared back dramatically.
In a nutshell, I returned the rig to Marco at Allform with a fairly long list of bits and bobs that looked a bit like this;

•Remove and rebuild the back right hand under tray box (damaged when the rear wheel went south in 2010).
•Relocate the auxiliary fuel tank filler to a more suitable location near main tank filler
•Mould some stainless steel protection around the front roll bar (I prefer to call it the scrub bar as it’s there to protect the pods from scrub – as a result it takes a pounding);
•Fabricate a framework to support three x 95W solar panels (This was originally to hinge in both directions but time and $ had it reduced a flat mount on the main pod);
•Infill the blank area between the roll bar and the first of the under tray boxes;
•Weld additional areal mounts to top rail of bull-bar;
•Identify and weld fatigue cracks in some internal panels;
•Fabricate covers for the existing “kitchen” side (left) drawers (this provides extra usable bench space);
• Fit more robust spring slide pins to the drawers;
• Fabricate a slide out arrangement to be mounted on top of the existing drawers. This would facilitate access to storage boxes and equipment;
• Powdercoat the drawers; and
• Fit stainless steel protection moulding around the door frames on each pod.
The slides would use 100 kg cage roller drawer slides that extend 800 mm. This would allow everything within the storage areas, usually boxes of food/utensils on the kitchen side and Parts, camping equipment and tools on the drivers side, to be easily accessed from three sides. The slides could also be used with the drawers extended out as well. Marco cross folded the floor of the slides to provide reinforcing and prevent sagging when heavily loaded. The slides locked at 60% extension and at 100% extension and are released by a simple catch on each side.

Alex at Kustom Autos in Morwell got pulled back in to rewire additional LED light bars on all the doors. The advance in LED technology even in just 2 years has been staggering. The output from the new CRE LED strip lights is incredible so I had him fit up extra bars to all pod doors. Alex also wired up the solar panels and we designed both a new arrangement (lets call it a junction box) for connection of the main pod for power, lights and the reversing cameras as well as a new switch and fuse panel. Most of the new LED’s were wired to the new panel in the main pod as well as additional heavy duty cables to allow running of heavy draw appliances such as a second fridge. On the drivers side the new lights were switched directly to the underside of the doors in a protected area. A dual set of work lights mounted to the roof of the pod was switched to both the switch panel in the rear pod, and from the bed area so it could be operated from either.
Previously, the camera cables and a lighter gauge power cable had been wired by a vertically mounted mini 7 pin trailer type plug. This managed to fill with a fair bit of dust and gunk over the two years so was removed and mounted sideways under a new guard on the front (permanent) pod Both the he solar input plug and the auxiliary power cable into the camper pod utilised heavy duty Anderson plugs in the new roof mounted junction box. Alex also wired up a couple of 5 metre extension cables so the camper pod could be connected to the vehicle for solar and power should the vehicle be driven out from under it.

Finally I had him wire up two metres of the flexible CRE LED tape to 20 metres of cable for use as external camp lights. I’ll be experimenting with the best way to run this whether it is as a straight ribbon in a velcro type holder or wrapped a round a tube and mounted vertically for all round lighting. I’ll post the results later.

Water Pump Problems.

Thankfully when we mounted the under-tray water tank into the frame of the ute tray, we had the foresight to make the tray floor removable. As you’d expect the pump that came mounted to the tank gave up the ghost in record time. Rather than replace this one, I decided to mount a larger pump in a more protected location in the front passengers’ side under tray bin. The tank was re-plumbed and screw on fittings mounted to the infill sections between the box and scrub bar. This means the tank can now be filled or the content utilised by snap on connectors
So, a few improvements and modifications. No doubt there are a few more on the drawing board dependent of course on approval of the Minister for War and Finance, Vikk O (god help me)!
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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