Send in the troops

4X4 SHED

WORDS AND PHOTOS MARK ALLEN

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER GXL TROOPY DATE ACQUIRED: OCT 2015 PRICE: $45,000 KM SINCE BOUGHT: 1390 AV FUEL: 16L/100KM KM 0 1 6 4 0 0 09

YOU DON’T NEED TO ‘UPGRADE’ TO A SOFT-ROADER JUST BECAUSE YOUR FAMILY IS GROWING. MARK ALLEN EXPLAINS HOW HE MODIFIED A TROOPY TO TAKE HIS KIDS OFF-ROAD.

FOR almost 12 months I’ve been considering whether I should spend more money on my good-old 100 Series Cruiser (a HZJ105R) or ditch it to start with something ‘new’. Like most red-blooded, power-hungry fellas, I believe too much power is never enough, and I wanted more squirt than the 1HZ-powered 100 with an aftermarket MTQ turbo and top-mount intercooler could safely offer.

The 100 had twin TJM Pro Lockers; Tough Dog suspension, front and rear; ARB bar work; plus a shopping cart full of expensive accessories. It had been faithful for almost 10 years of outback touring as well as school drop-offs and shoppingcentre hauls.

I researched engine swaps to upgrade power and torque, with a 1HD-FTE being my first option. But the one thing my 100 couldn’t offer was comfortable seating for six people. Yep, we have four little kids that seem to be gaining centimetres each night.

So, with much regret, I decided to sell up and dish out for another Troop Carrier.

I owned an older model Troopy (also with a 1HZ, an aftermarket turbo and LPG injection). But it was long gone – and, anyway, it had been decked out in the rear for camping, so there wouldn’t have been room for the kids.

The things we sacrifice for the family, hey!

One thing a (standard) Troopy can’t offer is access to the rear via passenger doors – and there’s no way I would rely on tilting the front passenger seat forward for four kids to scramble in and out of the car every time.

Oh, and, no, I wasn’t going to buy a Defender again. Yep, I owned a Td5 many years ago. Why can’t Toyota emulate Land Rover, with four doors and coil springs all ’round to make the perfect 4x4? I know there’s the 76 with four doors (and leaf springs at the rear), but it’s shorter than a Troopy. I want maximum internal space for the family and all our gear.

I also wasn’t interested in the plethora of light-duty SUV-type 4x4s flooding the market; while they could offer more comfort and be jam-packed with high-tech wizardry, they just don’t float my boat and they wouldn’t handle the rigours of longterm off-roading and towing.

I am happy with increased longevity and off-road performance, albeit with the addition of aftermarket accessories.

That’s where customisation comes in to play – if you can’t buy the perfect vehicle, you modify one, and I figured a Troopy with an extra door on the passenger side (making it a three-door) would be the duck’s nuts, giving me a fullsized heavy-duty 4x4.

Having scoured the internet, car yards and auction sites, I finally found a small fleet of ex-ambulance Troop Carriers, complete with a third door installed, and with incredibly low kays being offered.

To cut a long story short, I’m now the proud owner of a 2011 model GXL Troopy (VDJ78R) with an intercooled 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel and just 16,400km on the clock! Sure, it only has two seats (driver and front passenger), but my plans to squeeze four soon-to-be young adults into the rear can now be tested.

The Troopy came with a plastic SmartBar fitted with an X9 electric winch and Night Stalker driving lights; white, steel rims with 265/70R16 Goodyear AT rubber; plus about 50 holes in the rear to plug up, as well as half a dozen in the dash.

Whatever the ambos had in the rear required a lot of holes, so my first step was to spend a few bucks on rubber grommets. As far as the dash holes go, I reckon I’ll be able to fill them over time, so they’ll be left as is.

My GXL Troopy just scraped in to have twin front air bags but missed out on ABS and factory front and rear lockers fitted as standard – bugger!

The Troopy is mechanically excellent and feels as tight as it was in the showroom, and so it should with only 15,010km on the clock when I bought it. The body is free of rust and the only panel blemishes are on the turret where the ambos had bars, lights and sirens fitted. I’m not overly concerned, because you can’t see them unless you climb up on a ladder and, besides, I’ll be fitting some sort of fulllength roof rack over it all.

I am nervous about this high-tech diesel, though; I’ve peddled around a 1HZ for about 15 years (in two different Cruisers) and have not had to worry about electronic wizardry or dirty fuel problems. I know you need to keep these old dinosaur engines clean, so I’ll have to be much more vigilant about internal cleanliness with this new engine, so aftermarket fuel and water filtering will be high on my ‘must-have’ list.

Speaking of lists, I have two: the ‘must-have’ and the ‘would-like’. And while some tasks may fit in both camps, I can’t wait to start fiddling and personalising the Troopy to put my mark on it.

Even though the Troopy has a nice 4.5-litre V8 diesel, it’s still pretty gutless compared to some of the leading smallcapacity, high-tech diesels of today. I’ve towed with V8 Cruisers a fair bit over the years and, while the 200 Series is one of the best tow vehicles on the market, the single-turbo 70 Series really drops the ball when it comes to highway-speed tow ability.

I’m not sure which list I should put ‘upgrading the power outputs’ on but, like I said before, too much power is never enough, so a power upgrade will be high on either list, regardless.

Having lived with the new bus for 1390km, I’m finding it hard to remember to wind up the (electric) windows before killing the engine – the 100 had manual winders. Why don’t we get a 10-second grace period before power is totally cut out?

Chugging around town in traffic is easy; sitting on 100 to 110 is a breeze. It does, however, rev too high with that fifth cog gearing. Also, towing a two-tonne trailer north of Sydney is painful compared to towing in my old 100 with its 60 per cent extra go-power under the bonnet.

Yep, the old modified six-pot was better at towing than the stock V8, but that’ll change! The Troopy’s manual gearbox is great – for a heavyduty 4x4. It’s not too truck-like and not too sissy, and the high seating position is perfect for parking in the narrow school carpark, as long as you’ve got plenty of space to turn – the turning circle is like that of an ocean liner!

Another Toyota anomaly that I’ll spend plenty of time mulling over is the rear track width discrepancy compared to the front. It is 95mm narrower in the rear, so it’s far from ideal. I still find it hard to understand why Toyota allowed that to happen.