WHEN you’re the service manager of Australia’s leading brand of heavy-duty, oversize platform trailers, you get to know a thing or two about heavy loads and the rigs that haul them.
You know those massive low-loader trailers that have more tyres on them than the Lego factory makes per year; the ones that take up both lanes on outback roads hauling monster mining equipment – yeah? Well, Steve Collins is responsible for keeping those big puppies on the road.
With the time to retire from that job fast approaching, and with a plan in mind to spend a few years travelling Australia by road, Steve had some equally big plans for a vehicle and accommodation.
“We have a 22-foot Lotus Trooper caravan with a four-tonne GVM rating, so the 200 Series LandCruiser was starting to get to its weight limits,” Steve told us. “I wanted a good tow vehicle and HSV has a good reputation with service outlets over Australia. The Chevy was converted in Australia to Australian standards and optioned up for our road conditions, so I was happy with the package.”
The Chevy Steve speaks of is this 2019 Silverado 2500 LTZ which was imported and converted by the competent crew at HSV (now GMSV) in Melbourne. The 2500 is the smallest of the heavy duty (HD) range of Chevy trucks and in HSV-converted spec has 4491kg GVM and 4500kg (70mm tow ball) towing capacity.
Those specs are de-rated from what they are in the USA so that Aussies can drive one on a regular passenger car licence, but Steve knew he was going to push those limits. After years of working in the heavy-haulage industry he knew what was needed.
“We had to get a GVM upgrade to 5650kg, which means it’s classed as a truck,” he says of the Chev. “This means a Light Rigid truck licence is required and yearly machinery inspections.”
Steve saw Jamie Facer’s F250 when we featured it in 4X4 Australia and liked what he saw, so reached out to Jamie at Allsafe Mining Vehicle Equipment (AMVE) to do the build.
“Jamie looked after the custom aluminium canopy and full vehicle build,” Steve says. “Coming from a manufacturing background myself I could see the company’s (AMVE) ethics are first class and the finished product is something to be proud of.”
As well as towing the ’van the Chevy has to be able to cope with Australia’s gruelling outback roads and get Steve and his wife Marion in to those remote places the caravan can’t be towed in to.
“When we venture where the caravan cannot go, we need camping equipment stored in the truck and canopy, including tent, stretchers, sleeping bags, chairs, table, fridge, cooking provisions and a water tank all onboard. We will be on the road full-time for around two to five years, so we need to have space to store our gear, tools, recovery gear, everything!”
Like the AMVE canopies on Jamie’s F250 and our own 4X4 Australia Ranger, the one on the Chev is made from aluminium and bolts directly to the chassis, not on a tray. This reduces overall weight, maximises interior space and allows for a lower floor to make access easier.
The massive canopy includes slide-out drawers on both sides, an MSA Drop Slide carrying an Engel fridge, a Travel Buddy oven, and a slide-out kitchen that includes the kitchen sink and a Weber barbecue. Toolboxes fore and aft of the wheel arches carry more kit including an ARB twin-pump air compressor. The compressor feeds an air tank underneath the canopy where there’s also a 100-litre water tank with electric pump, and a 250-litre fuel tank to keep that big Duramax V8 fed.
While we’re under the Chev it’s worth checking out the suspension. To achieve the required GVM and cope with all the Aussie outback could throw at it, Jamie fitted a kit from Icon Vehicle Dynamics using its shocks and upper control arms with the factory front torsion bars and reset rear leaf packs. The rear end is additionally boosted by Airbag Man bags to help with towing.
“We wanted the truck to be able to withstand the corrugations of the outback tracks so we had the suspensions upgraded and added a 17,000lb winch if we get stuck,” says Steve.
CUSTOM: Duramax V8-fed Ranger
Power to tow shouldn’t be an issue with the big Chev; the 6.6-litre Duramax V8 puts out 1230Nm and 332kW as standard. Reece Hargrove at G&L Motor Repairs & Performance fitted a ‘Derringer’ tuner and Super Gauge from USA diesel specialists Banks to the engine. This clever unit provides power and torque boosts over six levels, selectable from the dash-mounted gauge which also gives readouts for vitals like EGT, boost and info from the OBD port so Steve can keep an eye on the engine.
The massive torque load goes through an Allison six-speed auto and on-demand 4x4 system. Plus there’s an Eaton auto locker in the rear diff from the factory.
The fabrication skills of the crew at AMVE aren’t limited to the canopy, the front bumper was also made by the team and is now a part they offer for the big Chevs. On this application it is also home to the Sherpa electric winch, Hella LED lights and the antenna for the GME XRS Connect UHF radio. The bar includes its own rated recovery points, LED fog lamps and the factory parking sensors.
With the big white Silverado, which has appropriately been nicknamed Migaloo, complete, the only thing left to do is drive it.
“We went on a couple of trial trips with the van and it is a more relaxed, safer drive with the Chevy (compared to other 2500 pickups),” says Steve.
The plan is to hit the road in 2021 when hopefully there is lot more freedom across the borders, and make the most of the truck and van combo.