BORN in 1975 in a suburban Melbourne backyard, ARB celebrated its 40th year of operations in 2015.
So it was last year that the company started hatching plans for its Off Road Icons project: get a bunch of old-school four-wheel drives together, fix them up, kit them out and send them across the Simpson Desert.
The idea was a beauty. Not only would it be a great way to mark the company’s four decades in business, but it would also prove you don’t need a shiny new vehicle to tackle such an iconic trip, and that even if you own a vehicle up to 40 years old, ARB can still supply accessories to suit it. In fact, just about all of the gear fitted to these four vehicles is still available through ARB stores around the country.
The four Off Road Icons were sourced from different states. The lads at ARB HQ in Kilsyth, Victoria, were charged with finding a suitable Toyota FJ40 LandCruiser; ARB in Western Australia found a 300Tdi Land Rover Defender; ARB Queensland picked up a Toyota LN106 Hilux (the last of the live-axle models); and ARB NSW headed to Orange where it had located a well-used but very standard Nissan GQ Patrol.
Of course, with some of the Icon’s odos showing well in excess of 300,000km, the vehicles would need some serious mechanical attention if they were to successfully cross the largest sand desert in the world. That is what they got, with one of them receiving a complete engine transplant prior to departure.
Driving the Icons across the Simpson Desert would be a motley crew of 4x4 journos from all corners of the globe. From the US there would be Chris Collard, 4X4 Australia’s US Correspondent and Editor of US magazine Overland Journal; Fred Williams from Petersen’s Four Wheeler Network; and Wes Siler from respected adventure publication Outside.
From the UK would be South African Patrick Cruywagen, Deputy Editor of Land Rover Monthly, also writing for South African magazine Leisure Wheels. From China would be publisher Wang Qing (pronounced von-ching) from FB Life. And from Australia would be Sam Purcell from digital publication Unsealed 4X4, and yours truly from 4X4 Australia.
As well as the four Icons, the fleet would consist of several current model vehicles including a new Toyota Hilux driven by ARB Marketing Manager Sam Boden and ARB International Marketing expert Moea Theroux; a Toyota 79 Series LandCruiser ‘back-up truck’ driven by trip organiser Mark Lowry; a Mazda BT-50 ‘tucker truck’ driven by David Cox (previously of Mt Dare Hotel fame) and co-piloted by experienced bush-cook Vicky Lennox; and a Ford Ranger ‘photo car’ jammed full of camera and video gear driven by Offroad Images’ Michael Ellem and Adam Bennett.
Before the start of the trip, the four Off Road Icons were shipped from their respective home states and given a thorough check-over at Outback 4WD in Bayswater, Victoria. Several mechanical issues were detected and rectified prior to departure, including sourcing and installing a new 300Tdi engine in the Defender, which was performed by ARB’s resident Landy expert Stephen Lawn.
Once fully prepped and equipped with gear, the Icons were shipped to ARB Alice Springs, where they were stored until the landing of the trip participants. The ARB crew arrived first, having driven up from Melbourne over a few days, while Michael Ellem had driven across from Sydney with his wife Gabrielle. The journos had all flown in to Alice by Monday afternoon and, after heading into town to get some last-minute supplies and taking a short drive out to the Tropic of Capricorn monument for a happy snap, we all met up for an introductory dinner.
While some of the OS journos had travelled extensively in Australia before, we soon discovered that others had never landed on our shores before. We also found out Wang Qing’s mastery of the English language was, in fact, extremely limited. Nevertheless, after a feed, a few drinks and plenty of laughs, we soon knew we were all going to get along well, and we were all eager to get going.
1980 TOYOTA LANDCRUISER FJ40
THE FJ40 needed a fair bit of mechanical attention before it was kitted out with accessories. ARB workshop manager Ian Bailey rebuilt the diffs, fitted ARB air lockers and rebuilt the gearbox and transfer case to make sure the oldest of the Icons would be ready to take on Australia’s Red Centre.
It should be noted that all of the accessories fitted to the FJ40 are available in-store. It’s been equipped with a full Old Man Emu suspension kit – four new leaves, shocks all ’round, bushes and U-bolts – which has lifted it up about 50mm. It also sports an ARB Deluxe bullbar, a Warn M8274-50 8000lb high-mount winch, a Safari snorkel, a set of AR32 Intensity LEDs, upgraded IPF Fatboy H4 headlight globes, and a new wiring loom.
Down the back, a Kaymar rear bar not only offers protection but also holds the spare-wheel carrier, double jerry can holder and work light, while underneath a Long Ranger 87-litre auxiliary fuel tank more than doubles the standard capacity of the LandCruiser. Just as well, as it was sucking down ULP at a rate of 25.9L/100km on the relatively easy drive from Alice Springs to Mt Dare.
The ARB team made the most of the 40’s small cabin, fitting a single Outback Solutions roller drawer and finding space for accessories including an ARB twin air compressor and air tank, power outlets for the fridge and some other electrical components including a Redarc BCDC battery charger, auxiliary battery and solar set-up.
A pair of Recaro seats provided a lot more comfort, and there’s a GME UHF radio, a glovebox-mounted sound system, a heap of Redarc gauges, a remote fridge monitor and an ARB reversing camera.
Finishing off the LandCruiser 40 Series is a set of black Dynamic steel rims wearing 265/75R16 Cooper S/T Maxx tyres.
1991 NISSAN PATROL GQ
THE ARB NSW team picked up the GQ Patrol in Orange, NSW. It had 338,000km on the clock, but despite that it was in surprisingly good mechanical condition, although the body had plenty of minor battle scars.
The ARB boys gave the Patrol a good tidy-up and full re-spray, and then the modifications began. It was fitted with a new set of ROH Black Track steel rims wearing 33x12.5R15 Cooper STT Pro tyres, and ARB air lockers were added front and rear. A full Old Man Emu suspension system consisting long-travel coil springs front and rear, complemented with matched Nitrocharger shock absorbers, gives a three-inch lift, a better ride and more traction than the GQ ever had as standard.
An adjustable Panhard rod and trailing arms ensure correct geometry, and an OME steering damper is fitted up front.
The engine has been boosted courtesy of a Safari turbo system with intercooler and three-inch exhaust. Of course, it breathes through a Safari snorkel and is fed from a Long Ranger 147-litre replacement fuel tank.
There’s an ARB bullbar with side rails and steps, and a Kaymar rear bar with twin wheel carriers. The bullbar sports a pair of ARB Intensity LED driving lights and a Warn winch, while a full-length alloy roof rack carries gear and holds an ARB awning.
Inside, comfort has been improved with a pair of Recaro seats, while a roof console houses a GME UHF radio and an ARB fridge monitor. A Milford cargo barrier keeps things in check, and there’s an Outback Solutions drawer system and fridge slide with a 60-litre ARB fridge.
Redarc boost, EGT and dual-battery gauges are mounted in the centre console, and powering all of the accessories is a dual-battery set-up consisting of an ARB battery tray, Redarc BCDC battery charger and a 55Ah Optima Yellow Top battery pack.
1994 TOYOTA HILUX LN106
DESPITE showing more than 300,000km on its odo, the Hilux sourced by the team at ARB Queensland for the Off Road Icons project was in good mechanical order; they found it just needed an oil change and service, and upgraded brake lines and hoses.
A Safari turbo kit was fitted, as well as a two-and-a-half inch straight-through exhaust; combined, these two modifications add 30 per cent more power and 40 per cent more torque.
The Hilux was also fitted with an ARB Deluxe winch bullbar up front, side rails, steps, and an ARB rear bar, all colour-coded to match the flares. The bullbar holds a pair of ARB Intensity AR21 spot/spread beam combination driving lights and is home to a 10,000lb Smittybilt Gen 2 X20 winch with wireless remote.
An Old Man Emu suspension upgrade gives enough lift to accommodate the 32x11.5R15 Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tyres, which are mounted to a set of great-looking 15x8in Bathurst Globe Alloy rims. Ensuring the Hilux has all the traction it’ll ever need are a pair of ARB air lockers, actuated by an ARB CKMA12 high output air compressor.
An Outback Solutions drawer system has been fitted in the tub with a 78-litre ARB fridge sitting on the fridge slide. Whatever doesn’t fit inside the vehicle goes up on a Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform.
A pair of Recaro seats ensures occupants are supremely comfortable, while a GME TX3350 UHF has been fitted under the dash for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
The only item that was fitted to the Hilux that is no longer available from ARB is the high-roof canopy. The team bought one secondhand and refurbished it at ARB’s Brendale warehouse.
1995 LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 300TDI
WITH 250,000km on the odo, it was initially thought the Land Rover Defender’s 300Tdi 2.5-litre direct injection turbo-diesel donk was in relatively good shape, and that the only mechanical issues were a leaking gearbox seal and a few minor brake issues. But when the vehicle was shipped from Perth to Melbourne for a final check-over, it was discovered the engine was terminally ill.
ARB’s resident Landy expert Stephen Lawn was asked to source, rebuild and fit a new 300Tdi, which he achieved in record time – the list of repairs runs deep.
Prior to this last-minute fix, the Defender was given a major tidy-up, including new foot wells, some panel beating and new paint. It was then accessorised from the ARB warehouse. The Defender wears a Commercial Bar up front with a Warn XDC 9.5 winch running synthetic rope.
Extra lighting is courtesy a pair of IPF 900XL HID driving lights and upgraded IPF headlights. Tasked with carrying nine of the swags required on the trip is an ARB roof rack.
An OME suspension kit with long travel springs and matching shocks gives a lift of around 30mm, as well as greater load-carrying ability. An ARB air locker at the rear provides additional traction. Recaro seats add comfort, while other interior mods include a GME TX4500S UHF radio and Redarc gauges.
The Defender’s original Sunraysia rims were retained but fitted with LT235/85R16 Cooper Discoverer A/T3 tyres. While these were certainly the least aggressive of all the tyres fitted to the ARB Off Road Icons, they proved great performers in the desert and offered surprisingly good traction in muddy conditions.
Stay tuned for more of our ARB Off-Road Icons' trip to the Simpson Desert.