Brett Anderson admits it: he’s a Toyota man through and through. In fact, he’s never owned any other brand of four-wheel drive, and he’s owned quite a few over the years.
Brett also owns a landscape maintenance business that services the north and western suburbs of Brisbane, employing a crew of 10. Of course, his daily driver is a new Toyota.
“I drive a new Hilux, my wife’s got a Prado and we’ve got a brand new 79 Series Land Cruiser ute as one of our work trucks,” Brett says. So why is this bloke, with a full arsenal of new Toyota 4x4s at his disposal, driving around in an old 40 Series Cruiser?
“I really like driving the old-school shape,” he says. “I’ve got the new Hilux, but every time I go off-road I think: ‘Oh, it’s my work car, it needs to present well for the business.’ “I look at a lot of tracks and I don’t want to risk damaging the car,” he says.
When Brett found this 1983-model 45 Series on a farm up in Toowoomba, it was a far cry from the almost-finished yellow beastie you now see gracing these pages. Although it still runs the standard driveline – 2H diesel engine and four-speed ’box – Brett has done a hell of a lot of work to the old girl to transform her into the capable and comfortable tourer that she is today.
When he picked the 45 up, Brett reckons it was in pretty good nick. “It was pretty clean,” he says. “It had a couple of little dents in it, on a couple of panels and the driver’s side door, and the roof had a little bit of rust in it. It’s got a fibreglass roof on it at the moment while the steel roof is being repaired, but, other than that, it’s pretty tidy.
“I haven’t painted the actual cab yet. I’ve just cleaned up the chassis, which had some sort of coating on it from new, this orange stuff that won’t come off. It had a fair bit of dirt in the chassis, so I cleaned all that up, then rust-proofed it all and then gave it a couple of coats of chassis black and tidied it all up, the diffs and the rest of it.”
The next step was to tailor the Cruiser to suit Brett’s requirements. The design brief for the 40 Series Brett calls Myrtle was very much based on his camping needs. “I’m into four-wheel driving and camping and fishing and that sort of thing,” he says. “We mainly go to the beach. A mate of mine and I, we go to Fraser Island every year for a week in August, so the main reason I decked it out the way I have is to set it up for that week that we’re up there.”
Hence the 40 Series’ name: “Because Myrtle the Turtle, she carries her house on her back.” Brett laughs, adding: “A bit of that and a bit of lemon-scented myrtle – obviously because she’s yellow.”
When it came to the ‘house on her back’, Brett employed the services of Darren Vassie, owner of Custom RV Creations & Repairs, and builder of two modified 80 Series Land Cruisers that have recently appeared in the pages of 4X4 Australia. “I knew what I wanted and Darren knew how to make it happen,” Brett says.
Brett has known Darren for many years and had no hesitation in asking him to do the work on the 40 Series. “Darren builds my trailers for work,” he says. “He’s built probably about three or four trailers for us, plus he also does all our maintenance on the trailers; twice a year he’ll come over and do all the bearings, adjust all the brakes and make sure all the lights are working. If the guys ever bang any of the trailers up, he repairs them, and he does a bit of mechanical work on some of my cars from time to time.
“Darren was still with [camper trailer manufacturer] Conqueror when I got the 40 Series, and he did the suspension and rebuilt the front-end when it was still in the shed here at my place,” Brett says. “I knew that he was going to leave Conqueror and go back out on his own, so I sort of gave him a bit of a hand because I’ve known him for a long time – it’s always hard when you’re just starting a business.
I said to him: “Well, how about we just leave the car over there and then when you don’t have any jobs on just work on my car. He was happy with that, and then just at every different stage, as we went through it, we spoke about what we were trying to achieve, and how and why.”
Darren equipped the Cruiser with a full Dobinson suspension set-up and raised the cabin by 50mm. In addition to the new springs and shocks, the rear-end of the 40 Series was fitted with Airbag Man airbags to better handle the weight of the vehicle when Brett has it fully loaded for a week away. An Eaton ELocker in the rear diff was also installed, to endow the Cruiser with additional traction when required. And it’d be hard to miss the set of 315/75R16 Dick Cepek Fun Country II tyres mounted to 16x10 Sunraysia-style steel rims.
Up the pointy end, Darren modified the existing bumper with a cradle to house Myrtle’s winch, and he mounted a couple of X-Ray Vision HID driving lights. He also fabricated the vehicle’s smart-looking three-inch snorkel and modified the engine’s standard air filter box to suit, then fitted extractors and a custom-made two-and-a-half inch stainless-steel exhaust system.
The design and fabrication of the canopy was specific to Brett’s requirements. “Brett wanted the retro look so that’s why it has curved corners on it,” Darren explains. The canopy is heavily braced around the rear so that it’s strong enough to hold the Cruiser’s spare wheel and a pair of recovery tracks, as well as to support the weight of a person climbing the ladder to the custom-made rack up top.
“The roof rack on the top; you can fully stand on that roof,” Darren says. “When you look at Brett, he’s like 140kg of man, so I made it pretty strong for him, so he can walk around up there.”
On the driver’s side, the rack is home to a shovel, while on the passenger side there’s an awning to provide shelter over the ‘kitchen’ side of the Cruiser. A Kaymar mount in front of the driver’s door means the bulky high-lift jack can be easily accessed and stowed without having to climb up onto the roof rack.
Brett was very specific with the way he wanted the interior of the canopy laid out.
“I knew what I wanted as far as the layout with the fridges because I’ve got an 80-litre Engel on one side and a 40-litre Engel on the other,” he says. “One of the problems that we had, because we were going to Fraser for a week, the bait wouldn’t last – those last few days the pillies would be all soft, so I wanted to keep the 40-litre Engel to use as a freezer for the bait for the second half of the holiday.
“What we needed, as far as batteries and the Redarc charging system and how it was all going to work with the battery gauges and switches – Darren knew how to make it all work, with what I wanted to achieve.”
Darren has hidden a lot of the electrical gear behind a neat chequerplate panel at the rear of the drawer system. To make sure there’s always plenty of electrical power for the fridges and lights, Myrtle has been equipped with a Redarc BCDC1240 charging system and a pair of Intimidator AGM batteries, while a Baintech volts/amperes gauge displays the state of charge. There’s also the facility to plug in solar panels and a generator for long stints in the one camping spot.
“There are two solar inputs, one on each side, and it’s got a battery charger as well, so if there’s no sun about and we want to charge it up we can just plug it into a generator,” Brett explains. “When we go up there [to Fraser Island], we do a couple of day trips, but the first few days we just like to set up and hang out and not really do too much, so the batteries don’t get that much of a charge up.”
As well as the fridges, the canopy houses a massive drawer system so there’s plenty of space for food, cooking gear, luggage and tools. There’s also a big icebox for when the capacity of the fridges has been exceeded on successful fishing expeditions.
At the rear of the canopy is another chequerplate panel, behind which is the plumbing for the shower. “He’s got hot and cold water there,” Darren says. “And he’s got a remote water pick-up; it’s a three-way valve, so you just turn the valve one way and you can pick up out of a bucket or he can draw from his tank, plus he’s got a hot water system in it as well, a heat exchanger.”
There’s plenty of water capacity, with a couple of big water tanks located on the underside of the canopy, and a 20L drinking water tank above the drawer system. An air compressor sits on top of the drawer system, and there’s an air tank underneath the tray. Darren has fitted a couple of air outlets, one on the back of the canopy near the water outlet for airing-up tyres and another near the air tank.
“You don’t want to be filling up your air tank while you’re filling up your tyres, because it’d take forever,” Darren says, “so there’s a switch inside where you just flick the air tank off, and then it’s just completely out of that one [air outlet] out the back to pump his tyres up with.”
The interior of the 40 Series is relatively standard; other than a switch to operate the Eaton ELocker, a screen for the reversing camera and Roothy’s signed approval on the glovebox lid, the dash looks pretty much like it did when the vehicle first saw the light of day more than 30 years ago.
The seats have been re-foamed and re-trimmed, there’s a basic GME UHF radio and there’s a mount for an iPod. There’s also a JVC head unit hooked up to a couple of 6x9 speakers mounted permanently in the canopy’s cabinetry.
“When you’ve got the awning out and you’re set up down the beach having a fish, you can have a bit of music going without having to blast it out the doors,” Brett says.
Despite having access to a new 79 Series Land Cruiser … and a Hilux … and a Prado, we can see why Brett Anderson would rather spend his recreational time in the old 40 Series he calls Myrtle.
After all, with the way he and Darren Vassie have set up the old girl, she truly is a home away from home, especially for a bloke who loves nothing more than to wile away the hours, fishing on the beach.
Where to next?
Brett’s pretty happy with the way Myrtle turned out, but – like most four-wheel drivers – he’s not entirely satisfied, so he has plans to pull out the old 2H diesel engine and four-speed gearbox.
“I bought an old 60 Series with a 12H-T and a five-speed in it,” Brett says. “I took that out last weekend and we’re just cleaning that up; Darren’s going to change the rear main seal and put new gaskets and seals through the whole motor, and then we’re going to pop that in and we’re going to re-spray [the cabin] at the same time.”
Once the new engine has been fitted, Brett intends to take the 40 Series on a few longer expeditions than the annual week-long getaway at Fraser Island. “We’re going to do a trip up to The Cape next year, so it’s all leading towards that,” he explains.
“I wouldn’t mind going out to Ayers Rock, across the Simpson. I’d like to plan a big trip once a year, because obviously being a seasonal business we’re really busy from September to May, so none of us have any time off during that period.
“I basically work seven days a week – so when winter comes along we take a few holidays then.” The seasonal nature of Brett’s business is perfectly matched to the four-wheel-drive touring season; perhaps we should all get into landscaping.
“I take my staff away a couple of times a year,” Brett says. “Normally at the end of our season, which is in May, I take them up to Land Cruiser [Mountain] Park up at Jimna, and then normally at the beginning of the season I take them up to Double Island Point for a weekend. We normally take the Friday off work and go up there.
“All of my staff, most of them are in to four-wheel driving, camping, fishing and that sort of stuff as well.” Is that a prerequisite for the job? “It is.” Brett laughs.
“I obviously try to employ guys who are like-minded because they’re going to get on well. I find that guys who are into four-wheel driving and camping, they think outside the square and are good at problem solving, and they can adapt that to their work as well.
“If they don’t own a four-wheel drive, it doesn’t mean that they don’t get the job, but it does help if they do.”