IT’S big, slab-sided and plain white. Could there be any better canvas on which to create the ultimate touring 4x4 than Toyota’s venerable Troop Carrier?
This was first published in 4x4 Australia’s May 2012 issue.
If ever there was a motorised pack mule, this would be it. Melbourne’s Michael Alexander agrees, and after a decade of roaming the country in GU Patrols, his search for the perfect bush tourer led him to switch to the Toyota brand.
“When researching a replacement for my 4.2 Patrol, I spoke to a number of trusted travellers and tour guides about what would make the ideal tourer,” says Michael. “I needed something strong and unbreakable with a decent payload that would stand the test of time. The objective was to set up the vehicle from scratch and keep it for a lifetime. Well, 15 to 20 years at least.”
The 70 Series Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier – to use its full name – has changed a bit in its more than 25-year lifespan, but it has stuck with the simple and proven basics of a tough ladder chassis, live axles front and rear, rugged suspension, plenty of interior space, and a reasonably high load-carrying capacity.
These attributes put it in a dying breed in the new-car showrooms with only Land Rover’s Defender to truly compare it with. In reality, the Troopie is in a league of its own.
The 78 Series Troopie, with its powerful V8 turbo-diesel engine and coil-sprung front end, is far more user-friendly than the earlier truck-like versions, making it much better suited to recreational touring. Michael’s vehicle is a 2008 model bought new, so it doesn’t have the new airbag-equipped dashboard of the latest model.
“I took delivery of it on a Friday afternoon and dropped it off to have the third door installed the following Monday morning,” he recalls.
Third door, you ask? Look closer and you’ll see there is a rear door on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. This was fitted by Polans Truck Refinishers in Dandenong, Victoria.
People have been crying out for a four-door Troopie for as long as the model has existed to aid passenger access to a rear seat or the front of the cavernous cargo area. Toyota hasn’t supplied a solution in 25 years and Polans is one of a few innovative aftermarket companies to have delivered the goods.
Many of Polans conversions are for mining and industry vehicles, but the job well suits a recreational application. Michael’s Troopie has no back seat but the cargo area has been thoughtfully configured to make the most of the space and the third door takes full advantage of the design.
The conversion is a steel frame reinforced, fibreglass door that uses many factory Toyota components, including the original sliding side window and the door handles and catches. The internal frame incorporates a side intrusion bar and, being engineered for the mining sector, you can bet it’s structurally solid and safe for the toughest treatment.
In this vehicle, the third door provides access to a storage area that is separated from the cabin and rear cargo area by steel cargo barriers. When travelling, this area is normally used for Michael and his wife Lynne’s personal luggage while the spare parts and some recovery gear are stored under the floor. A Black Widow roof shelf carries lightweight soft items like bedding and jackets.
A pair of Black Widow roller drawers resides in the rearmost cargo area on the driver’s side, with a fridge slide and 40L Engel fridge on the left. A shelf above these allows more storage and another roof shelf carries lighter gear. Aside from touring the country, Michael’s other passion is kite-surfing and the roof shelf allows him to store his kite-surfing gear securely up and out of the way when on trips.
Most of the storage system comes from Black Widow and was installed by Outback 4WD of Bayswater. Outback was also responsible for the external fit-out which included ARB bullbar, side-rails and steps, a Kaymar rear bar with dual wheel-carriers, a Warn XD9500XP winch, Lightforce HID auxiliary lights and HID upgraded headlights.
The GXL Troopie came on skinny steel split rims and these were quickly replaced with CSA Stampede alloy wheels wearing LT285/75-16 Cooper tyres, including a pair of matching spares to hang on the rear bar. The bigger tyres required wheel-arch flares and these are fibreglass TJM pieces and the passenger-side rear flare had to be modified to fit the new rear door.
A SmartTyre tyre-pressure-monitoring system is fitted to keep tabs on the pressure and temperature of the tyres. The SmartTyre system comes from Autron, which also supplied the cruise control – a modern convenience not offered on the 70 by Toyota.
Useful extras that do come from the factory include the standard air intake snorkel, optional diff locks and an auxiliary fuel tank. It’s factory items such as these that make the 70 Series such an attractive option for outback travel. Michael opted for the twin diff locks when ordering the Troopie and extended breathers venting high in the engine bay are used to protect the diffs against water ingress.
The standard auxiliary fuel tank holds 90 litres of diesel in addition to the 90-litre main tank, but it was swapped for a 180-litre aftermarket tank to give 270 litres in total. That’s good for around 1900km of touring, according to Michael. Water is carried in a 57-litre tank with built-in pump.
Despite its size, the Troopie only has a 955kg payload and all this extra gear bites into how much can be carried. Quality aftermarket suspension helps with how the vehicle carries the load and rides, and this Troopie’s load-bearing rear leaf-spring pack has been replaced with ARB’s Dakar springs as part of a full Old Man Emu (OME) suspension upgrade.
The kit includes OME coil springs up front and shocks all round. The uprated suspension gives a 55mm increase in ride height and the rear end is further boosted by Polyair bellows.
Also under the car is a three-inch exhaust system from Taipan XP. This had to be modified by Outback 4WD to miss the large aftermarket fuel tank that resides behind the rear axle. The big-bore exhaust allows the 4.5-litre turbo-diesel V8 engine to breathe easier. Fuelling is optimised with a programmable ECU chip from Morepower. Otherwise, the engine remains standard.
Engine bay accessories include a Piranha Power Shower and dual-battery system from Autron. The dual batteries help keep the fridge running and supply power for the 12-volt shower, plus there’s a 600W inverter and extra 12-volt accessory outlets in the front and rear of the cabin.
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The driver and passenger part of the cabin has its fair share of electrical gadgets, too. The most prominent is the iPad mounted atop the dashboard. Michael and Lynne use the iPad for navigation and have a full set of Hema and topographic maps on it running through Memory Map. They always know where they are thanks to the Spot tracker, which can be used to let others know their exact location should they need to be found.
There’s no shortage of communication devices with a GME UHF radio, Motorola sat-phone and Barrett HF radio all fitted to the Troopie. The HF head unit is on a roof shelf; the main unit is mounted to the rear-most cargo barrier and its self-tuning antenna is the big one on the rear bar. The pair of pod gauges on the A-pillar is from Autron and shows the driver the tyre pressures and temperatures and the state of charge in the dual batteries.
The only thing Michael says he can improve on is to fit a better stereo than the standard Toyota unit. A comprehensive list of spare parts is carried including a full set of filters, hoses, wheel studs and centre bolts, as well as the tools to fit them in the bush if necessary. A full recovery kit and fire extinguisher are among the essential gear.
The Troopie has been on the tracks for more than three years and has racked up plenty of outback kilometres, including north-east Arnhem Land, Fraser Island, the Queensland Channel Country, Gulf Country, the Simpson Desert, Kakadu, the Pilbara, the Flinders, Steep Point and the Grampians.
Michael rates Bawaka in north-east Arnhem Land and The Canning Stock Route as his favourites. “Bawaka has soft white sand, crystal-clear water and a croc called Nike; it was sensational. Unfortunately, the traditional owners would not let us photograph the best bit.
“The Canning provides the ultimate remote area experience, with only 12 other vehicles sighted over 21 days on our trip. It doesn’t get better.”
This year the Troopie is due to tackle the Victorian High Country, Cape York, the Kimberley and the Simpson. Life’s good for some.