Back in the swinging ’60s, the humble Volkswagen Kombi was the ride of choice for surfers in search of the perfect wave.
You’d find them crawling up and down coastlines in Australia and the USA, and exploring the wilds of the Baja Peninsula, usually with longboards stacked high on the roof and a trail of smoke trailing behind that was quite different to the smell of burning oil coming from the VW’s tailpipes. The off-road ability of those old buses was truly amazing but, when more remote beaches beckoned, four-wheel drive was the only way forwards.
VW went on to produce all-wheel drive ‘Syncro’ Kombis that extended their range, but for true go-anywhere ability in a vehicle you can live in nothing beats the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier.
Like the old Kombi, the Troopy is a vehicle that you can custom build into a mobile home. Ideally set-up for just two front seat passengers, the Troopy retains a cargo area long enough to allow adults to sleep inside and, with some clever design, space to accommodate all the comforts of home – including the kitchen sink. Oh yeah, that long roof will easily carry the longest Malibu boards.
Like many other global adventurers, West Australian Ryan Mikkelsen saw the Troopy’s potential as a home on the road and, with a lap of Australia with his girlfriend Antonia in the planning stages, he set about building the perfect coastal tourer.
“We wanted a car with off-road and on-road capabilities,” Ryan says of the choice of vehicle. “As the plan was to go on a round trip of Australia, it was vital that the car was able to perform off-road whilst not causing any issues for on-road legalities whilst travelling.”
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This VDJ78 Troopy is a 2010 GXL model affectionately know as Bruce and it’s been the subject of a comprehensive refit to make it the perfect touring companion.
Central to accommodating Ryan and Antonia on their lap of the map is the Alu-Cab rooftop conversion. This involved cutting the original roof off the Troopy and fitting the Alu-Cab ‘tent’ as a full pop-up top, and the conversion was done by Quick Pitch in WA.
The pop-top opens up the space in the back to allow the users to stand up within it, while the bed up above folds flat to create the sleeping space. The South African made Alu-Cab conversions are renowned for their versatility and durability and are used by many adventurers around the globe.
“Accessibility was of high importance to us,” says Ryan. “We wanted the ability to pack up and down at camp in a matter of minutes, and using every inch of space we had, and keeping everything as functional as possible.”
To achieve this Ryan and Antonia looked at a few different setups for the rear space but decided to custom build the fit-out themselves.
“With no carpentry skills between us whatsoever, we set up to build this on our own so we could take our time and figure out what worked best for us. I wouldn’t want to put a square on some parts but all worked out well in the end.”
The cabinetry has storage space for just about everything they need on their travels as well as accommodating their generous 75-litre Waeco fridge. Canvas pouches affixed to the underside of the roof/tent compartment accommodate smaller bits and pieces.
The custom storage also extends to the exterior of the Troopy, with the Kaymar rear bumper being used to mount a cabinet that conceals a Weber barbecue and its gas bottle. This rides on a swing-out arm so that it can easily swing into place for use where it is covered under the 270-degree Alu-Cab awning.
The other swing-out mounts the spare wheel and tyre, plus a frame that secures a trio of jerrycans for water. Speaking of water, there’s also a 45-litre tank from Thorburns in Sydney mounted under the tail of the car.
Improving access to the rear of the Troopy are gullwing flip-up windows replacing one of the sliding windows on each side of the rig. The left-side one accesses directly inside the back and is covered by the large awning, while the right side one houses the shower and accessories for when the Quick Pitch ensuite/shower tent is in use.
Another neat feature from Quick Pitch is the fold-down table/MaxTrax mount on the passenger side. The Trax Table not only secures your MaxTrax boards on a lockable mount that is easy to access when you need them, but is hinged at the bottom so that it folds down to give a flat, usable table space.
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On top of the roof tent is an OCAM mesh rack that is home to a 150W solar panel and a quiver of surfboards, so there’s always the right one at hand for the many different surf breaks they’ll encounter on the trip.
There’s also a 170W solar blanket that can be deployed to make the most of the available sunlight, and these panels feed the batteries via a Redarc BCDC system. An 800W inverter is used to charge and run the AC appliances.
Of course, adding all this equipment adds weight to the vehicle no matter how hard you try to keep it down when building. This required upgrades to the suspension and brakes using Dobinsons springs and remote reservoir shocks on all corners.
A Superior Engineering sway bar helps control the body roll that comes from a high centre of gravity vehicle like a Troopy with gear on the roof. The brakes were upgraded with slotted and dimpled rotors, to improve feel and durability.
The output of the V8 diesel has been improved as well with a dyno tune from Diesel Torque in Perth. A three-inch exhaust system helps the engine breathe, while an oil catch can and secondary fuel filter protect it from contaminants. An NPC Performance clutch handles the extra torque going back to the otherwise stock driveline.
Ryan spent the best part of four years outfitting the Cruiser, including on a number of shorter trips to try out all the equipment before he and Antonia embarked on their big trip.
“I can finally say I’m very happy with all products now on the car as they have been tried and tested on- and off-road,” he says. “So far we’re very happy with the use of space and functionality of the build and the overall performance of the car off-road. It’s powerful but also very comfortable.”
The adventurous couple were working their way up the west coast and enjoying life on the road when we pinned them down to get the story on their Troopy. Don’t believe us? Check out their Instagram feed @thealternateroad and you’ll no doubt be as jealous as we are.
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