WHAT DOES a family of seven do when they want to go on extended off-road adventures without a trailer in tow? Build a monster off-road rig with three axles and three rows of seats, and a decent-size service body on the back, of course. That’s the off-road freedom plan of MSA 4x4 proprietor Shane Miles and his clan.
“Between Tameka, my fiancée, and myself, we have five kids, so there’s not really any sort of vehicle where I can put drawers, fridge slide and all our camping gear in,” Shane explains. “The only way we can tour anywhere is to travel with a very large trailer or a caravan; and being a bit more of a four-wheel driver I don’t really want to tow a trailer when we go to places like Cape York or across the Simpson Desert … and finding something that’s got six or seven seats, and also some sort of ute or tray-back, it just doesn’t exist.”
Shane has been searching for a solution to his dilemma for some time now and he’s done plenty of research into six-wheelers, but most vehicles with a third axle added are dual cabs – and five seats just won’t cut it (pun intended).
“There’s no use in me cutting a vehicle behind the second row of seats because I’d have to leave two kids at home,” Shane says of the traditional process of chopping the back off a standard 4x4 wagon and converting it into an extended 6x6. “The standard dual cab conversions, there’s a whole heap of companies that do them … but no one would do the third row.”
Then Shane met Mick McMillan from Australian Expedition Vehicles (AEV), and the two began to hatch a plan.
“I spent a lot of time talking to Mick at AEV, discussing whether we could do this; cut a wagon and keep the third row,” Shane says. “Mick’s was the only company that said ‘yes, we can do this, and it will be legal’.”
Shane initially considered using a Nissan Y62 Patrol as the basis for his six-wheel drive project, but eventually settled on a new 200 Series Land Cruiser VX. “The Land Cruiser is a really good touring car, with enough power to do what I want to do; and to tow … and they’re just so reliable, so that’s why I chose the 200,” he says.
From Mick McMillan’s perspective, Shane’s 200 Series Cruiser would be quite a unique project. “The brief that Shane gave us originally, he obviously wanted to maintain it as a family car, so maintaining the third-row seats would be a high priority, which is not normally what we do,” explains Mick.
“Normally people are going more for the load carriage, so we’re trying to make a small compromise here, which is he wants to carry the personnel, the people, but still maintain why people go for the 6WD, and that is load carriage and enhanced off-road capability.”
In addition to its three-row seating capacity, Shane and Mick have come up with a solution that will allow for fitment of a 1.9m Trig Point canopy on the back, as well as significantly increased load-carrying capacity thanks to either a 4450kg or 6000kg GVM upgrade, to be confirmed as the project progresses.
“Basically, I’ve got my three rows of seats, and I’ve got enough space for four drawers in the back and two fridges, as well as all our camping gear,” says Shane.
As well as practicalities, Shane is also intent on ensuring the Cruiser looks “just right”, and he has asked Mick for a shorter wheelbase extension than is normally the case with an AEV 200 Series 6X6 conversion. This will involve additional fabrication and other work.
As well as lengthening Land Cruisers and developing military-spec vehicles, Mick was involved in development of the JMACX 6WD system that will be fitted to Shane’s 200 Series. “We developed it with JMACX,” says Mick. “JMACX was doing heavy-duty single-axle Land Cruiser 79s at the time and I had just got out of (the ADF), where I was an engineer working on an acquisition programme that had six-wheel drives … and I helped (Jason McIntosh at JMACX) develop (the 6WD system) with his axle housing.
“Essentially it’s two JMACX coil-sprung axle housings on the same cradle. It’s a fairly standard geometry; there’s nothing difficult about it from an aftermarket point of view. It’s all either 80 Series, 100 Series or 200 Series coils and shock absorber-type setup.
“The only variation is the centre diff housing, which is a Ford nine-inch diff, because with the Ford nine-inch, a commercial off-the-shelf product, you can buy a drive-through component, so you’re able to have 1:1 drive to the rear axle.”
Importantly, when completed, Shane’s triple-row, triple-axle LC200 will be legal in all states of Australia. “We have Federal Second Stage of Manufacture (SSM) approval, for both six-wheel drive in heavy and in a light-vehicle configuration,” confirms Mick.
So far Shane’s Super Cruiser, as he’s dubbed it, is in the early stages of its transformation from 4x4 to 6x6, and Mick McMillan has devised a precise workflow plan that recently began with the removal of the brand-new vehicle’s tailgate prior to undertaking more significant modifications.
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“The rear wheel arches have already been removed, internally, from the vehicle so we can start to access the rear of the car,” explains Mick. “We’ll now lift the cab – undo all the body bolts and jack the cab up – and that’s when we’ll start to cut the chassis off. There’s a reasonable amount of underbody prep as well, so we’ve got to prep the chassis, remove the coil tower supports and a few other bits and pieces.”
There’s a long way to go in the build process of what will undoubtedly become one of the most spectacular 6x6 Land Cruiser conversions ever undertaken, and it’s Shane’s intention to share the result as far and wide as possible.
“It will be doing 4x4 shows and I think the attention around it is going to be incredible,” predicts Shane. “We’re going to have some small catalogues printed up as well, with all of the people that have helped us along with this, and what it’s got on the vehicle.”
After the vehicle has toured Australia, Shane hopes it will garner some international attention as well. “It will definitely be at Overland Expo in Arizona next year … and possibly at the SEMA Show, either this year or next year, and then the plan is to take it to Africa at some stage.
“It’s going to be an internationally renowned vehicle!” says an understandably excited Shane.
4X4 Australia will be keeping a close eye on Project Super Cruiser, so stay tuned for further updates.