IT WAS a little over a year ago when I wrote about driving a bog-standard 1991 Nissan GQ Patrol. The then-25-year-old wagon proved remarkably capable off-road and reasonably comfortable on it – even by today’s standards.
Sure, it proved woefully underpowered when confronted with steep inclines on the highway, but the engine’s modest 85kW and 264Nm were put to good use off the road thanks to the Patrol’s decent low-range gearing. With plenty of wheel travel, loads of ground clearance and a reasonably effective limited-slip rear diff, the stock GQ would’ve put many a modern 4WD to shame on rough off-road terrain.
By the time you read this column I’ll have been reacquainted with that same Patrol, but it’s no longer the standard, tired, old (338,000km) wagon it once was. In fact, it’s been patched up, modified and accessorised. Now it is ready to take on a two-week trip across the Simpson Desert, starting in Alice Springs and finishing up in Broken Hill.
I’m really looking forward to getting back into the Patrol, but I’ll be damn careful to make sure I’m not the first person to put a scratch on it; it’s been given a full re-spray and fitted with colour-matched front and rear bars, side rails, side steps and roof rack.
Under the bonnet the old TD42 4.2-litre diesel engine has been given a serious boost in power and torque thanks to the fitment of a Safari turbo system consisting a turbocharger, intercooler and exhaust. That should amount to 140kW and 430Nm or so – the sort of power and torque outputs that drivers of modern turbo-diesel engines are now accustomed to.
The inside of the Patrol has also been given a makeover, and a pair of Recaro seats will ensure it’s as comfortable to drive as any modern 4x4 wagon. Some of the safety and convenience features include a cargo barrier, drawer system, fridge slide and roof console, as well as a host of gauges to display boost, EGT and battery status.
To tackle the red dunes of the Simpson, the Patrol has been given a three-inch ride height increase thanks to an OME suspension system and 33x12.5in R15 Cooper STT Pro tyres on Track steel rims. Air lockers are fitted front and rear, plus there’s a Warn winch up front in case the Patrol has to recover any ‘modern’ vehicles it encounters along the way.
Other accessories fitted to the GQ include a Safari snorkel; a dual-battery set-up consisting of an ARB battery tray; Redarc BCDC battery charger and 55Ah Optima Yellow Top battery; Intensity LED driving lights; and a Kaymar rear bar with twin wheel carriers.
The Patrol won’t be the only old vehicle on this trip, which has been organised by ARB to celebrate its 40-plus years of operation. Called the ARB Off Road Icons, the other vehicles joining the GQ Patrol will be a Toyota FJ40 LandCruiser, a live-axle (LN106) Toyota Hilux, and a Land Rover Defender 300Tdi. All have been given similar makeovers to the Patrol. So, despite their age, they should have no problems traversing the iconic Simpson Desert’s red dunes.
What will the Off Road Icons trip prove? It will undoubtedly show that you don’t need to spend big on a brand new 4x4 to get out there and enjoy Australia’s most iconic off-road destinations. Just about all of the gear fitted to these 20-plus-year-old vehicles is still available, including bullbars, rear-step bars, roof racks, dual battery systems, turbo kits and more.
With the right trip preparation and quality equipment on your side, you should be able to tackle just about any off-road trip in any old 4x4, which is just as well because one day I want to do the Madigan Line in a Series IIA SWB Landy – with the roof down – wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
Any Land Rover mechanics keen to come along for the ride?