YES, I know – this column should be on the Milo 2 build, but things came to a standstill last month because it was time to go outback again. With a four-wheel-driving mate getting married up in Darwin, and a heap of pent-up demand for Milo DVDs, I figured we’d combine the two and make a crosscountry trip through the bush. That meant a big filming trip, so I was looking around for a camera car. I’d put the word out but the first reply was a surprise.
“Want a new Jeep Grand Cherokee?”
Phew! Luke Hawkin’s call took my breath away. Camera cars are usually rough, old GU Patrols or 100 Series Cruisers with the least powerful motor so there’s less chance of them selfdestructing.
The best bet is usually to buy them cheap, bolt on some gear and expect them to last a few trips at best.
Camera crews can be hard on machinery. Their first priority is ‘the shot’, which means they’ll barge through mud or climb trees to get into position. Most of the crews I’ve worked with are good bush drivers because they have to be, but looking after the vehicle is usually way down the list behind lenses and batteries.
However, Jeep’s had an image problem in recent years – people whinging on social media, mostly. For a while, Jeeps were selling like crazy thanks to a combination of great advertising, great pricing and a bloody good product, but somewhere up the line a few years ago things got a bit too self-confident and suddenly customers and warranty issues weren’t always coming first. Sometimes success breeds complacency.
There’ve been some major changes to correct the complacency issues, including a new ‘there and back’ guarantee aimed directly at the knockers, but things also needed a shake-up on the sales floor.
Luke Hawkin’s Westpoint network of dealerships, which includes a Jeep franchise, decided to do some ‘proving’ of its own: they’d let Roothy loose with a Cherokee. Maybe it’d come back … So what do you do when you give a brand new vehicle worth nearly $70K to a camera crew who are filming in rough and remote outback country? You dress it up with some good aftermarket gear, of course. But we only had a week to do it, and the new Cherokee hasn’t been around
long enough for there to be a whole world of choice in aftermarket clobber.
Fortunately, part of the Westpoint network is Westside Opposite Lock run by my mate Aaron Marshall; I’d get expert advice and fitting right from the start.
What to go for, though? A suspension lift would have been great, but the 2017 Cherokee had enough subtle differences for nothing to be engineered yet. I’d driven the Jeep in stock form and was pretty impressed by the standard suspension; super soft and about as long travel as you’d expect from a stocker, which is pretty much what you expect from Jeep. Decent tyres are essential for any vehicle taking on outback tracks, and the large alloy rims narrowed our choices, but Aaron found the Achilles Desert Hawks and they certainly looked the part.
The last thing you want is a camera car blow-out while chasing ‘the shot’.
With the rubber sorted it was time to look for frontal protection with winch potential; as camera crews often lag behind as they pack their gear, they need to be fully capable of a self-recovery. In my mind, that means a good winch and a set of MaxTrax.
Aaron sourced a steel front panel from Uneek 4x4 and then, after asking me what sort of winch I’d prefer, got his team to fit a VRS 9500lb job with rope.
A bit of bash plate protection up front on modern vehicles is almost mandatory if you’re serious about going bush. When anything from a kangaroo to a rock can see a vehicle sitting on the side of the road on a cloud of steam, I’d rate frontal protection as cheap insurance.
With the battery packs and camera gear taking up most of the Jeep’s internal room, a roof rack was needed. It had to be strong enough to take a cameraman or two for those lovely high-angle shots without looking out of place on the stylish Cherokee. The best racks in the business are Front Runner – light, strong and, with flat slats, easy to walk on. They also come with virtually any accessory mounts you can think of, including MaxTrax mounts. I’ve had plenty of trips where the MaxTrax never left the roof, but when they have they’ve recovered the vehicle and often saved it. It’s the cheapest insurance any off-roader can have.
Front Runner is a South African-based company, but it’s telling that it makes a bracket specifically for MaxTrax because the orange boards are a favourite over there, too. I guess you don’t want to be mucking around with cheap plastic when there’s a pride of lions on the prowl. And since the lads wouldn’t have time to muck around, I got Aaron to fit an awning, too. You need reliability and strength when an awning’s being used for work, not play.
Finally, we got the swags and bunks strapped to the roof and the back seats folded down to take all those Pelican cases full of gear, and it was time to hit the back tracks to Darwin. At this stage I’d put exactly zero kilometres behind the wheel of the new Jeep, but I was hankering to see how she’d go off-road.
And I had a whole bunch of people wondering if she’d make it home again.
There hadn’t been a lot of time for preparation and, with about 10,000km ahead of that cute little nose, the big questions were still on the table. I guess that means next month we’ll be looking at how the Jeep fared. For now I’ll just say you might be surprised.
Meanwhile, I’m home again, so I’d better go source engine mounts for Milo 2. Talk about one end of the technology spectrum to the other.