PICTURE this, you’re trundling down a well beaten track way out past nowhere when you clock the rising plume of dust ahead signalling a fellow traveller approaching at speed.
The track’s been pretty hard going on the fourby so your mind starts to speculate as to what kind of rig is also up to the task. With the mindset of most four-wheel drivers following the same tried and tested models it would be safe to say seeing a Toyota LandCruiser Prado 150 at this point would be a big surprise, and without a soccer field or schoolyard anywhere in sight!
Tom Ledger was tired of seeing the same vehicles being used on tourer builds, and saw the trusty Prado as an alternative. “Going against everyone’s opinions was a big risk but in the end I thought why not? I’ll just do it,” he says.
Tom shook hands on a brand-new 2019 Prado, before then enduring a two-month wait to collect his new Dusty Bronze ride, as his chosen colour had to be specially ordered. “I liked that it had dusty in its name so I took a gamble,” he said. “The dealership wasn’t helpful, the website was terrible, but I liked the name. I wasn’t too sure on the colour when I first saw it, and thought I’d made a huge mistake. But once I started fitting the black accessories to it, it really grew on me.”
Of course, the Prado was nicknamed ‘Dusty’, and Tom was soon on a mission to improve it and within a month of picking it up a plethora of gear had been fitted.
Starting with the colour-coded ARB Summit bar, and ARB 8-tonne recovery points; Bushranger 10,000lb winch, Nighthawk VLI LED spotlights, 43-inch light bar and 5.5-inch camp lights; Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform and Backbone roof Rack system soon changed the look of the wagon. When it’s time to head out for extended trips away an Alu-Cab Gen 3 rooftop tent bolts on complete with a matching 270-degree Batwing awning.
“I love it,” Tom told us. “It takes me less than 15 seconds to set (the tent) up, and another 15 seconds to pack it down. It’s got LED interior lights and USB charging points too. I can leave all my bedding in there when it’s closed. I don’t have to worry if I hit the tins too early either. The amount of times I’ve fallen asleep on a swag that’s not properly set up because I was too drunk to do it, I don’t know. It does still require some accuracy getting up the ladder though.”
With many modified vehicles you’ll hear the build “got out of hand”, but not in this case. After previously modifying several other 4x4s, Tom had a plan that would allow for some serious touring once the rattle guns and drills were put away. The end result had to accommodate everything needed for up to a month at a time.
“I don’t like being around people. I really enjoy being in the outdoors and heading bush. Growing up in the bush I’ve always favoured the isolation over the population,” says Tom.
Having previously owned a 79 Series single-cab, one of Tom’s biggest problems was trying to pack all the gear he’d grown accustomed to carrying inside the smaller 150 Series. “The Prado’s cabin space is basically one-metre deep by one-metre wide, so the ability to utilise every bit of space in the back of that car in an organised fashion is sensational.”
By removing the centre seat row and panelling out the space Tom was able to increase his useable cargo space considerably, allowing the fitment of a 60-litre water tank that operates through a pump to the Nitto food grade outlet just inside the tailgate. Above this sit the Redarc S2 Manager30 and a 1500W pure sinewave inverter, ARB twin-cylinder compressor, and fire extinguisher. “The inverter allows me to run all the camping accessories, and also charge my 56V chainsaw, the drone batteries, charge a laptop, and my missus likes to run her hair dryer off it.”
Chris Teirling from Custom Installations was called on to screw together the tailgate fitout, complete with custom drawers and enclosed fridge specific to Tom’s specifications. A dedicated panel houses switches for the water pump, compressor, auxiliary lights, USB/12V charging points, and ARB compressor outlet, keeping clutter to a minimum.
An Atlas 46 Yorktown tool roll fits perfectly into the space above the panel allowing Tom easy access should things go awry out on the track. One of ARB’s 60L fridge/freezers keeps the steaks cold with access gained by a custom lockable slide complete with a further slide-out workbench beneath it. Three different-size drawers house all of Tom’s camping and recovery equipment, while doubling as easily accessible knife mounts, with twin rum-bottle holders standing atop the whole arrangement.
Without a doubt loading a new car up with a swag of electrical accessories is going to place a hefty load on any existing automotive electrical system. Risking any interference to the shedload of new car electronics can result in a stranded traveller, so with the previous builds experience under his belt, Tom elected to keep the new accessories completely isolated from the vehicle’s existing electrical system − smart thinking.
In fact the only non-factory item you’ll find under the bonnet is the secondary deep-cycle Optima blue-top battery locked down in an Outback 4X4 Accessories auxiliary battery tray. This is fed by the Redarc Manager30 and powers all added accessories while keeping both starting and auxiliary batteries charged and in a workable condition.
A remote monitor is mounted high on the rear door’s inside trim, this area being Tom’s ‘hub’ once camp is set up. “I’m always at the back of the car when I’m camping. Whatever I need, whether it be food, water, air, cooking equipment, rum, it’s all within arm’s reach,” he said. “I don’t have to wander around and open doors or muck around with lights.”
Keeping the dash free of a bunch of obvious aftermarket switches and gauges was paramount to the clean look Tom was shooting for, so with this in mind he fitted QVEE Toyota-style switches to the existing Prado switch panel below the start button. These control the spotties, light bar and camp lights, while the wireless winch controller hides away in the glove box. “I hate dash clutter,” Tom admits. “It’s the absolute worst, especially on a newer type vehicle. It’s all good on a GQ or an 80 series to fit a tin box full of switches, but on a new car it looks absolutely terrible.”
Toyota sadly never made allowances for the easy fitment of a UHF radio however, but now that GME has released its XRS330C with all its display and controls contained on the hand piece, Tom was able to simply mount it where it was easily accessible. A GME 6.6db antenna complements the installation.
Rounding out the interior are a pair of custom made SupaFit padded denim seat covers.
“Between myself and Ken, the WA state manager at SupaFit, we wanted to come up with something that pays respect to ANZACs,” Tom said. “He went through six or seven attempts at getting the stitching on the Rising Sun right, but once he got it, it was like ‘take my money!’”
Knowing the Prado had serious touring kilometres ahead, and not having a lot of info available on what best works, proved a real challenge in getting the suspension right. Starting with each corner a set of Falken Wildpeak 285/70R17 AT3W All Terrain tyres were stretched over satin black 17x8 King wheels chosen for their ease of cleaning, but also as their +20 offset sat wider than standard inside the guards without the need for flares.
With a little more than 20,000km under their collective belts, Tom says: “They’ve been absolutely faultless. I needed a tyre that could handle corrugations, bull dust, limestone and sand exceptionally, and these Wildpeaks have been bloody brilliant!”
Nothing is ever a simple ‘bolt-up’ though, so to help the wheels maintain proper alignment and clear those fat tyres a pair of Blackhawk upper control arms were bolted on. The final item on the list being the remote reservior Old Man Emu BP-51 adjustable bypass shocks. These are a coil-over unit for the front combined with Old Man Emu H/D coils which raised the nose 65mm.
The extra load of the camping accessories necessitated a pair of Ironman 4X4 500kg springs for the rear, raising it 50mm. Having an internal bypass system located inside the OME BP-51 shock body allows the circulation of the shock’s oil within itself, paired with the adjustable bump and rebound allowing for maximum control when pushed to extreme temperature levels. This was tested to the limit when tackling the Anne Beadell Highway recently.
“Winding the compression right down and the rebound right up allowed the car to handle the corrugations effortlessly with no bottoming out of the vehicle. They’re bloody expensive to buy, but worth it,” says Tom. To further cope with extra loads or towing, a pair of Airbag Man helper airbags were also fitted inside the rear springs, their feed valves being mounted to the Kaymar rear bumper valance.
With all those mods onboard it’d be easy to assume Tom has tickled the driveline too, however this is not the case. The Prado remains standard Toyota from radiator to rear e-locker. This was done to prove a point that the OEM fare is more than enough to handle the punishment outback touring has to throw at it, and let’s face it, way back when folks were forging the 4x4 tracks we all know and love today, they were doing it in close to stock-standard rigs.
In the 26,000+ clicks so far, Dusty has given faultless service navigating tracks like the Cook, Nullabor and Great Australian Bite, with the aforementioned Anne Beadell Highway the toughest to date. The Canning Stock Route, Tanami and Finke are up in the near future.
What Tom has really done here is show how the norm is something to be challenged at all times. The reward being the satisfaction of proving the doubters wrong cannot be underestimated. Even moreso, the contentment from having the confidence to follow through with your vision, while taking you to all the places you’d rather be.
• Offroad Equipment Myaree (4X4 accessories).
• Dave Cobban (Auto electrician).
• Tammy at Busselton Toyota.
• Ken at SupaFit Seat Covers.
• Scott Montgomery at Redarc Electronics.
• Chris Teirling at Custom Installations.
• The doubters, for giving Tom the push to build Dusty his own way.