WHEN the 4X4 Australia crew ventured to Tasmania earlier this year for our latest adventure, we had in the convoy two of Australia’s more remarkable off-road touring vehicles.
The six-wheel drive LandCruiser 200s of Shane Miles and Brad McCarthy have each been featured on the pages of this magazine in the past but having them along on the same trip, we just couldn’t resist comparing the duo.
While both of these remarkable rigs are similar in concept, and they both came out of Michael McMillan’s Australian Expedition Vehicles (AEV) workshop in Townsville, they each have their unique features.
The biggest difference in the two is the cabin space within them. While Brad’s Cruiser chop followed the design of most wagon-to-double-cab ute chops that cut the wagon body behind the second row of seats and have a custom rear wall fitted there, Shane needed a vehicle to carry his family and wanted to retain the third row of seats and accommodation for seven passengers. That presented a unique challenge to the body builders at AEV.
“It’s not our normal conversion,” explained AEV’s Michael McMillan at the time of the build. “There’s a lot more custom manufacturing in panel beating than we initially anticipated … we’ve had to rely on the skill of a tradesman to put the many bits and pieces together.”
The guys worked through the many challenges, such as needing to relocate the rear air-conditioning unit and reroute the drain channels for the factory sunroof among others, and retained the third row leather seat just as you’ll find in any regular LC200 VX wagon.
As a result of keeping the back seats intact, Shane’s Cruiser has a shorter cargo area than Brad’s and its fitted with a single aluminium canopy from Trig Point in Melbourne. As the manufacturer of the best fridge slides and drawer systems in the business, it’s no surprise to find that Shane’s canopy is loaded with MSA products.
The driver’s side of the canopy has four drawers stacked plus a drop slide and SnoMaster fridge, while on the other side is another drop slide and fridge/freezer plus a custom drop slide that pulls out to reveal a full-size gas barbecue.
Just as the inside of the Cruiser needs to accommodate the whole family, so does the roof where there are two iKamper rooftop tents fitted; one on the top of the canopy and the other on the Cruiser’s roof. Both tents are affixed to Rhino-Rack Pioneer platforms.
Brad’s Super Cruiser makes the most of its longer tray area with two separate canopy boxes from Outback Customs that can be fitted or removed as required. The boxes are relatively empty of shelving or drawers allowing further flexibility whether they be used for carrying camping gear, a load of MaxTrax or, as the front box is set up here, as a sleeping quarters. With the rear box removed, a quad bike can be carried on the back or take both boxes off to carry the side-by-side Polaris or Brad’s vintage Willys Jeep.
“We can take both those canopies off,” Brad said. “So we can lift them off and just use the tray. The tray is about three-and-a-bit metres long.”
SIX-WHEEL DRIVE: OFF-ROAD
BOTH monster 6x6s use the axles JMACX working in conjunction with Mick at AEV developed for the 6x6 setup. JMACX started with its coil spring and width-corrected axle for the 70 Series LandCruiser and doubled it up with a pass-though housing for the second diff to send drive to the rear diff. It’s a true 6x6 system and not a lazy axle as some would have you believe.
“The system is basically a double JMACX with a drive-through centre diff,” Brad explained. “So you’ve got good articulation, and the six-wheel drive system just happens automatically. So, normally, if you’ve got it in four-wheel drive, it’s driving just the four wheels.
As soon as there’s 20mm of slip in that middle axle it engages that centre diff and locks in the rear axle, and then you’ve got six-wheel drive. You don’t have to press any buttons or engage anything, it just automatically occurs as you need it.”
Mick proposed this system for the 70 Series after working with the 6x6 G-Wagens as used by the defence force, and knowing that it could be better done in a Toyota.
The 6x6 was originally set-up for AEV’s 79 Series patrol vehicles built for military use and these progressed to recreational owners and then adapted to the 200 series. The entire back section of the 200’s chassis is replaced with a new frame made to take the JMACX suspension and axles setup.
A lot of folks will tell you that you don’t need 6-wheel drive to go off road in Australia and they would be right. Where you do need 6x6 is when you want to go off road while carrying more weight than your standard 4x4 LandCruiser is rated to, even if it has had a regular GVM upgrade.
Brad and Shane’s Cruisers weigh in at more than 5000kg and have a 6000kg and 7000kg GVM rating respectively. This required registration as a heavy vehicle and a Heavy Rigid licence to drive them. And if the guys want to tow, the GCM on each is a massive 10,000kg! For comparison, a standard 4x4 VDJ200 has a 3350kg GVM and a payload as low as 645kg for the Sahara model.
Shane reckons the turning circle of the 6x6 200 is better than that of a standard 79 Series double-cab. “The turning circle (14.2m) is fantastic,” he said. “It’s my daily driver and I haven’t had any issues driving or parking it.”
Brad backed that up stating, “The turning circle is surprisingly good for something that size. I haven’t measured it, but you can sort of do a pretty quick turnaround – except on a narrow track where you’ve got to do a 48,000-point turn. But, yeah, for beach and desert work, which is what I have mainly built it for, it is perfect.”
Both vehicles ate up the beach sections of our Tasmania trip and as expected, were challenged on the tighter forest tracks where more care was needed in vehicle placement. What wasn’t expected though was driveshaft failures for both vehicles.
AEV has already upgraded the specs of the driveshaft with heavier duty universal joints, splines and collars, but both of these cars were earlier builds with the older shafts in them.
“As it turns out, I broke the splines on my shaft and Brad did the unis on his,” recalls Shane. Both vehicles were able to get back on the road in Tassie and have since been fitted with the uprated shafts back in Queensland.
It was soon after the Tassie trip that the world went in to lockdown so both Shane and Brad are itching to get their 6x6s out on the tracks.
Shane was hoping to do a Simpson Desert trip back in 2019 but delays in the build meant he missed the season, so he was keen to get out there this winter. Brad’s cars are usually covered in red dust right though this part of the year so like Shane and most of us, he can’t wait to get out to the Red Centre again.
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The quintessential magazine for Australia’s four-wheel drive and offroad enthusiasts.
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