DESPITE the fact most of us would love to live by the mantra, ‘work hard, play harder’, the reality of our fast-paced modern society means we’re actually working longer and harder but relaxing less.
This was first published in 4X4 Australia’s April 2013 issue.
BJ Elliott spends weeks away at a time working as an instrument electrical technician. This makes time at home even more precious and, for BJ, there’s nothing better than chilling out with his partner, Laura, in a peaceful bush camp or catching up with mates for some serious playtime.
BJ’s introduction to four-wheel driving was in 2005 when a friend offered to take him and Laura for a drive off-road. For a first-timer, rock-crawling can be daunting. With everyone strapped in securely, BJ’s friend, Jarrad Blaquiere, negotiated a steep climb, straddling rocks and boulders and pushing his Maverick’s articulation to the limit.
Balancing momentum with engine power, Jarrad powered up a seemingly insurmountable hill. BJ and Laura found the experience so profound that just two days later, they bought their first 4C4 – a standard 1990 DX 4.2 diesel GQ Patrol wagon.
In no time at all, the words ‘standard’ and ‘GQ’ would never again be used together to describe BJ’s toy. BJ was serious about mastering his skills on increasingly challenging terrain and, once he’d gotten the hang of off-roading, it was time to upgrade.
“The reason for buying another Patrol was simple, it’s known for having a strong drivetrain and solid axles,” he says. “Yes, it’s a very basic 4X4 when considering offerings from the competitors. There’s no stability or traction control and it has basic mechanical four-wheel drive activation – the driver’s still in control of what the car does.” His one post-purchase regret is that the vehicle isn’t fitted with a manual transmission.
As we cruise along in the luxurious cowhide-covered seats, cocooned in chrome and wood-grain surrounds, it’s easy to assume he’s never taken this comfortable vehicle off-road. Looks can be deceiving. Despite the upmarket trim, BJ’s not averse to dropping off the blacktop and kicking up dust or splashing through mud.
BJ takes us to the Harvey/Brunswick Junction area, one of his favourite close-to-home getaways. He explains the appeal: “Just a couple of hours south of Perth, and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere … surrounded by lush green bush, with plenty of interesting and diverse tracks, from the easy drive to take in great views across the valleys, or challenging yourself and machine on hill climbs encrusted with boulders, shale and loose rubble.
Best of all, on the warmer days you can take a cool plunge at the dam, grab some lunch at a great pub or set up camp and kick back with friends after a great day’s driving.”
BJ, an easy-going bloke who is always ready with a joke, is passionate about his fourbie and has a real respect for the bush. Beneath his warm friendly exterior is a cool operator. His ability to thread the big Nissan unscathed through a gap that would make a Hyundai Getz driver break into a sweat has us cringing as we wait for the grind of tortured body panels.
BJ’s mate, Sam Chapman, helps keep the Patrol on course and is not shy about sending BJ across challenging terrain. With Sam spotting and BJ behind the wheel the Patrol really starts to dance – balancing on two diagonally-opposite wheels, then negotiating boulders, ruts and washaways that would give a mountain goat vertigo.
One of BJ’s most memorable moments was when the GU was still fresh with that new car cologne of crisp plastic and tanned leather. Up in the Toodyay hills, east of Perth, BJ powered through a boghole to straddle the guts of a valley.
“I’m talking 40-degree slopes on each side. The hill had a couple of nasty door-punchers, big holes and some nice angles,” he says. “[I] was finally guided through by Sam, but it was gut-wrenching putting a brand-new, $70k-plus car to its limits.” At least it proved all the extra bits already bolted on the GU were fully operational.
However, BJ’s favourite trip was heading north for the 2011 Kickstarters Gascoyne Dash. In half a day, he finished his latest mods to the rig, shopped, packed and started chasing his mates north. BJ and Laura caught up in Carnarvon and the group headed east to Gascoyne Junction for WA’s high-energy answer to the Finke Desert Race.
After the madness of the Dash, they headed home via Coral Bay. After completing plenty of exploration trips through WA’s north- and south-west, BJ is looking forward to heading east this year, combining time helping out with Sam’s 2013 Tuff Truck campaign with visiting brilliant east-coast destinations. The biggest concern is whether the GU is ready for such a big trip.
To confidently manoeuvre a vehicle across tough conditions, you need excellent driving skills – and BJ ticks that box. Secondly, you need advice and experience of experts to properly set up your rig.
“I like to have reassurance and confidence in the vehicle that when the formed track turns feral trail, critical components which get worked hard in the rough aren’t going to let me down,” BJ says.
BJ feels some pain at the fuel bowser from the GU’s 4.8L petrol motor. So he’s switched to a 145-litre Outback Accessories main tank and added a 70-litre LRA sub tank to extend his range. Otherwise, he couldn’t see how he could embark on his next dream trip – a Simpson Desert odyssey. It’s his one gripe about the standard configuration of the GU.
Still busy tweaking the GU’s performance, BJ says he’s looking forward to completing the exhaust mods with aftermarket extractors, then tweaking the chip via a Unichip tuner.
BJ’s expert advisory team has worked extensively underneath the GU. After fitting 35-inch Mickey Thompson MTZs on 17 x 8 steel rims, BJ found gearing a little tall. It’s great for economy under light throttle at cruise but taxed the 4.8’s torque curve when off-road or needing crisp acceleration.
Swapping the standard 3.5 diff gears with OEM 4.375 replacement centres put the pep back into the GU’s response on the blacktop with plenty in reserve for low-speed work when negotiating demanding terrain.
BJ says running Eaton Elockers front and back in the GU is a great investment. There’s no delay building air pressure and the locker is (almost) immediately on/off, providing extra traction quickly when things get out of shape. A Snake Racing diff guard provides rugged good looks and solid protection to the GU’s front diff pumpkin. Swap OEM knuckle benders for robust Yuri CVs and you’ve got a solid front driveline.
A host of goodies beef up the suspension and steering, including Tough Dog five-inch XHD coils, TD 45mm adjustable shocks, Panhards and steering damper, Roadsafe drag link, Snake Racing tie rod, lower control arms and extended brake lines and Superior Super Flex radius arms.
Sam has helped out with some custom work, building a Slinky Customs brake bracket and recovery points specific to BJ’s requirements.
It’ll also be hard for BJ get lost with his gadgets including a Garmin GPS map 60CS, In-dash eclipse GPS, GME 40ch UHF with remote speaker plus a Uniden hand-held.
Comfort, workability and storage needs are packed in back with Outback roller drawers, 11W spread beam LED work light, 140AH deep-cycle AGM dual batteries charged via a Redarc 20A DC-DC. There’s a beaut 74L twin-door National Luna fridge on a drop-down slide for easy access after hard driving.
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Outside, the GU has an Outback Accessories rear bar with twin jerry-can holder and spare tyre arm, a modified Nissan winch bar (to suit the Warn high-mount winch), Nissan tow bar, Superior Engineering rock-sliders, Safari snorkel and
Lightforce 240 Blitz lights for bright eyes.
The Foxwing awning’s mounted to a Front Runner three-quarter roof-rack on Rhino adaptors for easy removal to polish the roof – a chore that BJ willingly undertakes after every trip. His pride in this vehicle is clear – he doesn’t neglect less obvious maintenance such as electronic rust protection.
For those clicking away on the mental calculator, yep, you’re right; BJ’s GU has cost him a fair whack. Starting with a new top-flight vehicle and adding a mountain of good-quality gear has him well in the six-figure bracket. But like we said – if you work hard, you can play harder.