BRENDAN Rogers is not new to four-wheel drive touring. The height-safety worker from Victoria grew up with 4x4s in his blood, having completed his first full lap of Australia in his old man’s Pajero when he was just two years old.
Brendan’s dad, who passed away when Brendan was just 11 years old, had moved on from that Pajero to a Hilux Surf, and that vehicle would eventually become Brendan’s own pride and joy.
“My dad bought a Hilux Surf he had imported from Japan, and then I ended up buying that off mum,” Brendan explains. “I drove that Surf for a few years and I ended up doing it up a fair bit; I put it on 33s and did lots of other stuff to it. I really grew up with four-wheel driving and camping always in my life; it’s in the blood.”
Brendan’s 4x4s since the Surf included a couple of GU Patrols, a TB48 and TD42, both of which Brendan labelled with names. “I name all my cars,” Brendan says. “I had the GU before, which was Nancy, and I had another GU before that, which was Patsy.”
So, what is the name of the D23 Navara you see here? “She’s called Nellie, which was my Nana’s middle name. She was 100 years old when she passed away, so I named the Navara after her,” Brendan laughs.
WHY NELLIE THE NAVARA?
BRENDAN bought his brand-new Navara in June last year, smack-bang in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, although he didn’t plan it like that.
“At the end of 2019, my partner and I did a Central Australia trip in the last GU we had, and we sort of got sick of living out of a wagon, so that’s when we started looking at vehicles with a tray and canopy set-up,” he said.
“I was thinking about chopping the GU but where I was at the stage, chopping and engineering everything was going to cost too much, so I thought I might as well just buy something brand-new and start from scratch again.
“We’re looking at getting a house deposit together as well, so I had to sell the GU for funds.
“I looked at the Ranger, Hilux and Colorado but pricewise, I just couldn't go past the Navara"
“I sold the Patrol just when COVID and everything hit, like January-February last year, so then I didn’t have a four-wheel drive when lockdown hit; it was just bad timing. That’s when I started looking at getting the Navara. By the time I bought it, it was June, in the middle of lockdown. It was just the way it all turned out.”
“I looked at the Ranger, Hilux and Colorado but pricewise, I just couldn't go past the Navara. And I got it pretty cheap through work; work has contacts at Nissan and we’ve got a fleet of company cars, so they helped me out with a good price.
“The other reason I went for the Navara is I wanted coils. I thought the coil rear-end would be a benefit for the tracks and stuff I’d be taking it on; I wanted to it to flex up pretty well.”
ONCE Brendan had his new Navara parked safely in the driveway, he started ordering parts. After all, what else is there for a four-wheel drive enthusiast to do during lockdown?
“I started ordering parts pretty much straight away, but it was about a five- to six-month wait for everything to start rocking up so, at the end of last year, in November and December, I was starting to get parts in and it all started coming together, and it turned out to be pretty quick build in the end,” Brendan says.
Despite the delays, Brendan had a definite order in which he wanted to perform the mods on his Navara.
“I wanted to do the heavy stuff first (like the tray and canopy, and the bar work) and then the suspension, so I wouldn’t have to play around with it. The first thing I had manufactured was the tray, which looked a bit weird fitted up on a completely stock 4x4.”
That awesome-looking tray was built by Leigh Mackin of Lethal Customs 4x4 in Bendigo, Victoria. Called a Premium Tray, it measures 1700mm long and 1800mm wide and features built-in toolboxes behind custom fabricated wheel-arch flares, LED rear lights, as well as a custom-made headboard to suit the canopy. Yep, it pays to put a bit of forethought in to a build if you want a fully integrated and cohesive look.
And cohesive is what Brendan has achieved with the tray/canopy set-up; just look at how neat the result is. The canopy itself is an aluminium item from Fused Fabrications in Craigieburn. At 1300mm long, it leaves plenty of space for the spare on the back as well as a couple of jerry cans. And importantly, the conservative length of the set-up means there’s not too much weight hanging out behind the rear axle.
QUITE A LIFT
THE bar work was meant to be next but there was a delay before it showed up, so Brendan sent the Navara off to Bay Road 4WD Centre in Cheltenham where work on the suspension began.
Up front the Navara scores a big lift thanks to a Performance Suspension Racing (PSR) set-up with height-adjustable Bilstein front struts and All Terrain Industries upper control arms.
Down the blunt end PSR also gave the Navara a four-inch lift, fitting long-travel rear coil springs mated to Bilstein shocks. Poke your head under the back and you’ll also spot Roadsafe upper trailing arms to ensure all the angles are right and a Tough Dog adjustable Panhard rod to make sure everything is centred.
With the rooftop tent mounted to the canopy and the Navara loaded up, Brendan says he still wasn’t totally satisfied with the ride, so he added a pair of Airbag Man air bags to complete the rear suspension set-up.
“The rear was a bit bouncy when it was fully loaded, so that’s when I decided to put in the airbags. They help a lot, especially when it’s loaded up,” Brendan says. “When I had passengers sitting in the back, they were telling me it was very bouncy back there, but now I can pump up the airbags to about 60psi and that really helps. It’s really comfy now, a good ride.”
Adding another inch or so to ride height are the 295/70R17 Maxxis Razr muddies, which are mounted to Pro Comp Series 74 Trilogy Satin Black alloy wheels. Yep, this Navara has plenty of ground clearance.
Overall, what does Brendan think of the Navara set-up? “The way I’ve built it I would say it is at least as capable as the GU,” he says. “Off road it just crawls through everything. It might pop a front wheel here and there, but I’m just very surprised the way it’s turned out and how capable it is, maybe even more capable than the GU, I reckon. With the rear locker in it, it’s just a walk in the park.”
WHEN the PSR Ambush Triple Hoop bullbar showed up at Bay Road 4WD Centre, a Carbon Offroad 12,000lb winch was fitted before the combination was bolted-up to the front of the Navara.
The PSR bar is designed and manufactured here in Australia and it comes standard with built-in LED driving lights and a PSR fairlead. It’s also available with a splash guard as fitted to Brendan’s Nav.
The bar is home to a pair of Stedi Type-X Pro nine-inch LED driving lights, which feature 37 Oslon High-Flux LEDs and produce a claimed 1 Lux at 1155m, while Uniden antennas look after the comms transmissions. Extra lighting is provided by a full-width Bullseye 50-inch curved LED light bar.
A tow bar protects the rear of the Navara when exiting gullies and dropping off rock shelves and the like, although that Lethal Customs 4x4 tray provides plenty of ground clearance out the back for an impressive departure angle.
A pair of Ironman 4x4 recovery points add a flash of red up front, and Brendan says he has a set of rock sliders on his shopping list but for now, the factory Navara ST side-steps at least keep some mud off the sills and lower doors.
AT this stage the Navara’s 2.3L twin-turbo diesel is relatively stock, as is the six-speed manual gearbox, the clutch set-up and the transfer case. To help the engine breathe cleanly, there is a stainless-steel snorkel on the intake side from Platinum Mechanical & Suspension, which feeds into one of Platinum’s airboxes in which there’s a K&N air filter.
A Flash Lube catch can is fitted to keep the inlet clean, while a Flash Lube fuel filter makes sure no dirty diesel or water makes its way into the engine. A three-inch exhaust system with a resonator runs back from the turbo to expel gases.
Speeding up throttle response is a Windbooster throttle controller, while a ScanGauge-II is fitted to diagnose and clear any trouble codes when out on the road (or off it).
Brendan has also fitted Ironman 4x4 breathers for the diffs, gearbox and transfer case to help make sure any water crossings are successful.
AS he had planned from the start, this Navara build was all about making touring and camping easier for Brendan and his better half. With that in mind Brendan mounted an Alpha Clamshell rooftop tent from The Bush Company to the top of the Navara’s canopy, along with The Bush Company’s 270-degree XT awning.
Designed and manufactured in South Africa, the Alpha rooftop tent has a fully seam-welded alloy frame with powder coated finish, and it can be set up in just 90 seconds. The tent itself is made from 300g polycotton rip-stop mould and mildew resistant canvas. A three-inch thick high-density foam mattress ensures a good night’s sleep and thermal marine carpet under the mattress keeps the cold on the outside.
The whole tent set-up weighs in at 96kg and it features cargo rails on top for mounting accessories. Brendan has a 120W solar panel mounted up there.
“I could have got something a bit cheaper, but I spent a little extra money to invest in something that’s going to last five to 10 years, until I sell it or whatever,” Brendan says of the Alpha rooftop tent. “I read up about The Bush Company, and where I want to take the Navara, I’m planning to do some snow trips, I just didn't want anything that would leak and get wet inside. I just wanted to do it right from the start.”
One of the greatest benefits of the 270 XT awning is it’s a totally freestanding unit, so no poles are required to support it, meaning super-easy set up and super-quick pack up. This is because the awning frame is made from an extruded alloy composite, the arms are gusseted for strength and the main bracket is made from 316 marine-grade stainless steel. The awning canvas is made from 380g polycotton rip-stop canvas, while the awning bag is made from super tough and breathable 460g polycotton rip-stop canvas with YKK Zippers.
At the moment, the canopy is home to an 85L Bushman fridge, while a 120amp/h Kickass auxiliary battery, a Redarc DC-DC charger and a Victron battery monitor make sure there’s always plenty of power on hand.
Once Brendan had the camping set-up sorted, it was time for a shakedown run before he set off on a three-week trip around Tassie.
“There was a big rush to get everything all sorted for the Tassie trip; that was the main goal. Before that I did a High Country weekend, that was its first trip away, and that was a good test for it all,” Brendan says.
Despite all the hard work and striving to get Nellie the Navara finished off before the Spirit of Tasmania headed south, that three-week Tassie trip very nearly didn’t happen at all, thanks again to the dreaded COVID.
“We were lucky to get over there,” Brendan says. “In the end, we got the last boat over before they locked Tasmania down again for five days. We didn't know if we would be able to get on the boat or not … then we got a text message at about 4pm when the boat was supposed to be leaving at 6.30pm, that we could get on the boat and not have to quarantine.”
So, what, if anything, would Brendan change or add to his Navara now he’s lived out of it for a few weeks at a time?
“The only thing I would like to add are some drawers and stuff inside the canopy,” he says. “Other than that, I wouldn't change anything at the moment; I like the way it is, I think I’ve done it pretty well.”
We think you’ve done pretty well too, Brendan …
Oh, and if you’d like to see what Brendan gets up to in the future with Nellie the Navara, you can check out his Instagram page or have a gander at the Locking Hubs 4x4 Facebook page he runs, and maybe even join him on an upcoming 4x4 tour out of Melbourne.
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