THERE’S no doubt getting stuck is a big part of the job when you’re out in the sticks; and for the most part some experience, a pair of recovery tracks, or a snatch from a mate and you’re on your way again.
But what happens when you’re bogged to the eyeballs, all the snatch straps are snapped, and, worse still, the tide is on its way in and you’re below the water line? That’s when guys like Shaun Barrett and his team at Westcoast 4X4 Creations & Recovery come in real handy.
They bring a tonne of 4x4 experience along with up to seven tons of off-road artillery to get you out, at any hour of the day or night anywhere along the left coast of Australia.
Case in point being quite possibly the ultimate recovery rig right here. Shaun’s 1986 U1700 Unimog. Originally purchased from the Australian Defence Force’s surplus stock mid-2019 after doing around 13 years in military service, it has been rescuing stricken vehicles all over the Sandgroper state ever since.
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One does not simply buy a ’Mog and start a recovery business, and Shaun is no stranger to the off-road life, with two suitably kitted-out Patrols doing the early recovery duties. But the need to go bigger had Shaun eyeing off the surplus auctions.
“We decided to do it, as that kind of service wasn’t available on the scale that we wanted. Back in the day when I was FIFO, I’d spend a lot of time out there (in the bush) and people would pay you for recoveries. The ’Mog was a personal want, so I decided to get it and let it pay for itself, but I didn’t expect it all to take off like it did,” Shaun says.
As capable as the Unimog is there’s always room for improvement, and given these trucks are designed to get the job done over everything else, some upgrades were needed to maintain some form of personal comfort. Simple comforts, like being able to hear or walk upright after a day in the saddle. A full eight boxes of sound deadener were spread throughout the Mog’s cab to start with.
“It’s good now,” Shaun said. “Two layers of sound deadener, carpet and ISRI (suspension) seats have made the world of difference, but doing 800km in it hurts. It’s mainly the vibration that gets to you. It’s not too bad once you zone out, but ...”
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ADDING more footprint than the standard ADF issue tyres, Shaun fitted some fatter Michelin 395/85/R20 XZL All Terrain donuts. At an eye-watering $2200 each they certainly didn’t come cheap, but after seeing the Unimog fully loaded with two wrecks while grinding all four tyres into the dirt trying to skull-drag another wreck from its resting place, the decision to opt for more traction was a simple one.
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Having eight gears available in forward and reverse to put all the torque down from the 5.7L inline-six OM352A Mercedes-Benz engine helped, but when it comes to bigger is better, this monster has got it in spades.
Keeping an eye on the Westcoast 4X4 Recovery Instagram and Facebook pages will show just how hard the team are at it.
“Some weeks I’m doing eight to 10 recoveries … with some weekends alone we’re doing six or seven,” Shaun revealed. “Some weeks I’m doing one every night. Sundays are usually a guarantee because everyone needs to get to work the next day.”
Demand has continued to increase with word of the ’Mog getting out. A lot of the team’s work keeps them within a 70km radius of home, however they aren’t averse to throwing a few miles under those gigantic 46-inch tyres to rescue a stricken 4WD, or getting on the tools if the recovery needs it.
A recent example saw them dragging a broken Troopy out of the dunes around Bremer Bay way down along the WA south coast.
“It had just come back from a trip around Australia and had sheered the rear diff pinion off, so we had to pull the rear axles just to get it out over the dunes,” says Shaun.
IF you were wanting to hear stories of absolute 4x4 carnage then step right up folks, you’ve come to the right place.
“The worst recent recovery involved a Hilux which had sought help from a lot of private 4WDers before calling us,” Shaun tells us. “They basically dismantled the car trying to recover it from the mud with snatch straps, even ripping the tow bar out of the chassis.”
After being stuck in the mud for four days, Shaun and the ’Mog went out. To give an idea on how stuck this clearly non-unbreakable Hilux was, the initial attempt showed the extent of the situation.
“On the first (winch) pull we picked the whole front of the car right up off the ground while the rear diff stayed in the mud.”
Suffice to say, the ’Lux was a complete write-off, but it could very well have been a different story if the owners had called Shaun earlier than they did.
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When you’re on to a good thing, they say stick to it, so Shaun has recently returned back from a trip to the northwest of WA to bring home a second Unimog.
“For these long trips I have Sarah, my partner, along, who’s always been in the passenger seat no matter what.”
The up-spec Unimog comes equipped with an Hydrauliska Industri AB crane behind the cab. Future mods will see it copping a 15-tonne mechanical winch that’s currently waiting in the workshop, as well as mandatory layers of sound deadening and carpet.
It’s only been a year since kicking off the recovery service, but the effect has been a positive one for Shaun.
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“Since we’ve been operating, we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of vehicles being recovered instead of being left on the beach,” says Shaun.
The day 4X4 Australia joined Shaun, he and his bobcat-driving mate Shaun (Core Contracting Services) were on a mission to clear a bunch of car wrecks around the popular Wilbinga area north of Shaun’s northern Perth suburbs base. Despite the wrecks being loaded up with sand and rubbish, the ’Mog was able to drag the wrecks to a staging area before being taken away for scrap. This took the entire day and was done free of charge after consultation with local government and rangers.
“We wanted to do our bit to keep areas open,” said Shaun. “When we want to go 4WDing and fishing, we use that area quite a bit and we’re sick of seeing wrecks.”
Dumped vehicles are a big problem for the off-road community, as the more wrecks the powers-that-be see left around, the easier it is for them to close tracks, set up monitoring cameras and hand out fines. Watching the team clear nine wrecks in a day is a highly commendable effort. You’d think a well-earned rest was in order come home-time, but not when there’s a drowned 100 Series in need of assistance in the southern foothills of Perth.
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When there’s this much commitment to helping 4WDers, and with company policy maintaining “no-one gets left behind,” safer recoveries and happier off-roading is on the cards for the future of everyone involved.
THE Unimog, or Universal Motor Gerat (Universal Power Unit), was first produced by Boehringer for 1948 as an alternative to the tractor, however the idea to use equal-sized wheels on all four corners was unique, allowing 4WD on a farm tool possible.
Daimler AG (formerly Daimler-Benz) took over production from 1951, selling under the Mercedes-Benz brand we know today. Not much has changed from those first post-war models sporting spartan interiors and fundamental theme of a do-it-all workhorse, however the legendary durability stuck and is still a mainstay of the brand to this day.