Meet Giles, a 2013, 3.0L D4D, automatic Toyota Hilux SR5. Bought as Mike’s commuter vehicle for 70km a day, as toy-transport for bikes, surf skis and kitesurfing gear, and a weekend-warrior beginner-off-road touring machine. We have to say, he has done all these things pretty admirably. Automatic I hear you say…? Well, yes. Automatics hold their value over here better than manuals, and we originally intending on selling him when we leave. Driving an auto up the highway each day was also more appealing to Mike, so we thought we’d give it a go. Neither of us have owned one before. Now, the off-roadies will argue long and hard about whether manual or auto is the way to go on the rough stuff, but either way he’s been awesome. He’s handled everything thrown at him and has way more ability than we do, so it probably didn’t really matter.
However, once you have a terrain capable vehicle in WA, you have to start pimping it, and the vehicle modification industry here probably dwarfs many medium sized countries GDPs. If you can take it off the vehicle, you can upgrade it, and so we made a few minor alterations over the year. Though these were all pretty functional. Roof bars were fitted on the cab for the surf skis and paddle boards. Then load frame and roof bars were fitted to the canopy for the roof top tent, or RTT to keep up with the Australian passion for creating an acronym for everything. Then roof bars were removed from the front and replaced with a more versatile tray (we didn’t get everything right first time), an awning was bolted on the side, a fridge was wedged in the back and a tyre deflator, compressor, shovel, MaxTrax sand-ladders and a snatch-strap (!) and recovery points made up the recovery gear. Whilst little of this is strictly necessary, it does make camping pretty comfortable and a long way from pitching a tent on a spike of granite sticking out of Lake Huron. The James Baroud RTT is pretty sweet, keeping you away from all the creepy crawly bitey things for which Australia is famous (Cas’s stipulation if we were going camping here…), and giving a pretty awesome viewpoint whilst drinking coffee in the morning. It even has a solar powered fan (which is surprisingly effective!) to garner some air movement on those still nights. And so we wandered around WA in Giles whenever we had a few days off work, bouncing over rocks and avoiding getting bogged on beaches and spending the nights in some pretty awesome spots. The only time our expensive rescue gear was used was to extricate Aussie’s who were stuck and in our way. This, it will not surprise you, was immensely satisfying.
So, what further upgrades are needed for world-overland travel? We haven’t done it yet. Frankly, we have no idea. It would be easy to replace everything and try to cover every eventuality (Mike’s favourite pastime), or just rock up at your nearest ARB store with a blank cheque. But everything has a cost, not just financial, but physical. Add too much to your vehicle and Newton will be laughing all the way to Pisa.
But, you want to fill your vehicle with gear, ensure it doesn’t collapse or leave you stranded on some remote mountain pass, and make sure it is comfortable enough to spend the next 4 months in. Where to start…..
To be honest, we’ve probably done very little. Under vehicle protection seemed sensible, providing 3mm of steel protection between Giles’ belly and the road from the front of the chassis to the transfer case. A long range fuel tank went on, giving us 145L of diesel to slosh around and maybe meaning we can skip a few of the less salubrious filling stations en route. And we upgraded our suspension, fitting Old Man Emu springs and shocks rated for a 400-600kg load. The initial result of this, with an empty tub and the RTT removed, was quite dramatic and unnerving, and made us consider using the tent ladder simply to get into the back seat. But with our fridge back in, drawer system fitted, and RTT on the top Giles is looking a little less excited. With all the other bits and pieces needed for 4 months on the road (we’ll do a separate kit blog at some point), we hope we’ve got it about right. But we expect to have mechanicals, the only questions are when, and where.
Finally, why call him Giles? Well the original license plate had a couple of G’s in it and it’s the first name that sprung to mind. So it stuck. Yes, it’s pretty middle class and a ridiculous name for a 3 tonne 4×4. Which is why we like it.