FOR a bloke who takes pride in his own vehicles, it was pretty damn embarrassing.
This article was first published in 4x4 Australia's August 2012 issue.
I’d volunteered to give Andrew Browne’s 200 Series LandCruiser GX tourer a quick wash before my colleague Matt pointed his camera at it. After a few days of sometimes damp High-Country running – and the detritus from a pile of firewood carried on the roof-rack to our campsite just a few minutes before – the stark white Cruiser GX had a dirty face, shirt, jeans and boots.
No worries. I began by throwing a few buckets of water over the turret from the rear to get rid of the dirt and bark dropped from the firewood haul. Then I splashed down the left side of the Cruiser, across the bonnet and… then I discovered the driver’s window was down. S***.
Opening the door, there was bark floating in a puddle under the pedals. Did Andrew give a heck? Not really. After all, with the LandCruiser GX’s hose-out floor and Andrew’s fitment of canvas seat covers, there wasn’t too much damage I could’ve done… and after half a lifetime of hiking, travelling and off-road driving, Andrew certainly doesn’t suffer from ‘Oohh, it might get dirty’ syndrome.
“I’ve been playing with 4X4s off and on for 30 years,” says Andrew. “Depending on kids and work… I do it when I can. We used to take the kids four-wheel driving but then we had a break from it…” Andrew chuckles as he spools up for the next part of his tale: “We went into the Snowy River, Jacksons Crossing, one year on the Melbourne Cup weekend and got home at three o’clock on Wednesday morning.
As we drove through the front gate my wife Caroline said, ‘If you want to take me away for a weekend there are lots of five-star places in Melbourne, Sydney and in Queensland’.” But, oh boy, is he back into things now. And so, thankfully, is his wife. “Yeah, she’s forgotten the Melbourne Cup weekend disaster,” says Andrew.
In the intervening time, he hasn’t been a total urbanite, with a couple of Nissan Patrols and an 80 Series turbo-diesel LandCruiser on the driveway since that rainy, bogged-to-the-axles Melbourne Cup camping weekend. “That Cruiser was a beautiful vehicle except for descents in the High Country – it ran away a bit,” he recalls.
He’s also enjoyed plenty of bushwalking and hiking over the years – more on that later. This vehicle was bought in December, soon after Toyota’s late-2011 announcement of the new base-model GX that sliced about 10 grand from turbo-diesel 200’s pricing.
Anticipating plenty of two-up travel after a comprehensive fit-out, Andrew and Caroline didn’t need rear seats or any other fluff to either get in the way, or weigh the vehicle down, so the 200 GX was appealing in more ways than one. “We were looking at a HiLux,” reveals Andrew.
“We also looked at a Troopie. But as soon as we’d taken the GX for a drive there was no question; we knew that was the one we could see ourselves comfortable in doing big road distances, and off-road we knew not much could match it.” With pent-up demand for the new GX in late 2011, there weren’t many sitting on showroom floors in Victorian dealers.
Andrew could find just two. Being a new body style, the 200 GX was also new to the aftermarket companies – in particular ARB, Black Widow and Kaymar – so with Andrew’s co-operation these three companies were able to rapidly develop and revise their product ranges to cater for the GX’s rear barn doors.
The first stop was at ARB which fitted a long list of hardware such as the suspension, front bar and Warn winch, the front and rear Air Lockers and the roof rack. ARB also supplied the Long Ranger fuel tank that tucks under the tail replacing the Toyota’s standard butt-mounted auxiliary tank and the original spare wheel.
It takes fuel capacity to a very useful 270 litres, enough for 1600km-plus of typical back-country touring. Of course, the big tank meant relocating the spare wheel – and Andrew’s second spare – to either the roof or a swing-away carrier on the rear of the vehicle.
There was no way the two spares were going on the turret – too heavy to lift, too heavy to carry up there – so Kaymar jumped at the opportunity to re-jig its well-regarded swing-away wheel carrier to suit the GX’s rear doors, a task that Kaymar completed in a quick three days.
Black Widow was next to be let loose on the GX. There are minor differences in the GX’s body sheet metal (such as deleted seat mounts) and Black Widow appreciated being able to modify its product to suit. As you can see, the area behind the front seats of this 200 is equipped for touring.
Working forwards from the doors, there’s a pair of Black Widow drawers and a fridge slide, a centre divider and an overhead shelf. The first of two cargo barriers keeps the heavy stuff where it should be.
Forward of this is a driver’s-side Space Case for storing recovery gear and tools and, on the passenger side, is a space perfectly suited to storing two stout plastic tubs that can be easily lifted from the vehicle for packing food or equipment.
The second, forward, Black Widow cargo barrier doubles-up as a handy mount for a row of MSA storage sacks that Andrew and Caroline use to store personal items of clothing – for instance, their wet weather gear stays in the truck permanently so there are no ‘I forgot my raincoat’ moments.
In-cab electronics run to a mount for Andrew’s iPad (loaded with Hema maps) and a Uniden radio. The switches for the ARB compressor and both diffs live on the lower right side of the dash and – thankfully for my errant car-washing technique – Black Widow provided the canvas seat covers, too.
The original intention was to install an aluminium rack but steel was the only material ARB had in stock at the time. “Now, I’m really happy with the steel,” says Andrew. “I’ve got a Southern Cross touring tent so when I go away with my wife, that’ll be carried up there. The solo trips I do, I’m in the swag.”
Also up there on the rack is a shovel and a high-lift jack. When carried, the swag lives in an easily accessible place in the GX’s rear, right next to the ARB fridge. Powering the fridge at camp are the Toyota’s twin batteries, split into a dual system.
The suspension is ARB Old Man Emu with four new springs and dampers to help shoulder the extra weight of the now-loaded Cruiser. Part of the process of building the formidable tourer was a GVM upgrade. Now there’s no denying the 200 Series is a large, heavy vehicle and when installing equipment and accessories for dedicated long-term travel, the kegs soon add up.
As is the case with many other large wagons, Andrew anticipated his vehicle, fully-equipped and ready to travel, would be over its GVM of 3350kg. The upgrade to 3500kg was performed by ARB and part of the process was an assessment of the vehicle at a closed course to determine that all vehicle safety systems perform as intended.
Being ARB’s first 200 GX, this was the test vehicle providing ARB its type approval. “The vehicle stays pretty much as is,” says Andrew of his Cruiser. “So for a trip we simply load some fresh food in the fridge and off we go. Rather than an installed tank, we carry our water in 10-litre plastic containers.
More Custom 4x4 reviews
Usually three – I find the drums so much easier to fill and carry around than the usual 20-litre drums.” On the trips it has already completed – including the Drive 4 Life trek where we met Andrew – the GX has performed beyond expectations – all except brake-wear that the service team noticed at the Cruiser’s 10,000km service.
“Low-range first gear is just a little too quick downhill, in the wet,” Andrew reckons. “But if you use the electronics, it’s great.”