WHAT would be your ultimate rig for doing the full-time lap of Australia? For Queenslanders Brendan and Nikita Shanley it’s this incredible portal axle-equipped 79 Series LandCruiser and the mind-boggling Bruder EXP-6 caravan. We certainly can’t argue with their choices.
The venerable Toyota workhorse has been the first choice as an expedition vehicle for many travellers for near-on 40 years, but the double-cab variety brought with it a new-found popularity with family adventurers. Such was the attraction for the Shanley family, but it hasn’t been a straightforward journey getting to this point.
Starting out with a LandCruiser 200 Series and Patriot Campers Toy Hauler, they whetted their appetite for travel and soon ordered the 2015 LC79 double-cab to give them some more flexibility.
“I always loved the 79 Series farm truck and wanted to build it into the ultimate off-road touring rig,” says Brendan. “The plan was to set it up to take the family touring this great country, on- and off-road and into those quieter ‘off the beaten track’ camp spots.”
With a basic tray behind the cabin, ARB bar work and suspension, Redback three-inch exhaust, Safari Armax snorkel, and the TH610 in tow, the four-door farm truck took them all over Queensland and to the Top End of the Territory, but the idea was always to set off on a full-time lap of the map.
To do that job the Toy Hauler was set up with two tents, one for Brendan and Nikita and the other for their daughters – Bella (6) and Hannah (3). A rack is fitted to carry a tinny with space to haul a pair of dirt bikes, the outboard motor, and all the tools and kit needed when you’re travelling with your toys.
Further extending the flexibility of the Cruiser, the factory tray was replaced with a tray and canopy from Outback Customs. It is filled with drawers from Loaded Drawers and an MSA Drop Slide for an Engel 40-litre fridge. A rooftop tent on top of the canopy has been equipped so the Cruiser can be used for camping when the trailer is left behind.
“Living in the bush made it a little tricky to get work done,” recalls Brendan. “But the rewarding bit was the end result, as the Outback Customs build went on the rear just before taking off on our lap.”
Late in 2019 the Shanleys set off with their Cruiser and Toy Hauler to start their year-long trip around Australia. They headed south and took in all the highlights of the High Country and other parts of Victoria before discovering the coast of South Australia with its many remote beaches, coves and fishing spots.
2020 proved to be a year of cancelled plans for many of us and the Shanleys were not exempt from such interruptions. As COVID spread and borders closed restricting travel, they retreated back home to rural Queensland to see out the pandemic and put their travel aspirations on hold. No one could have predicted such a global event and no one knew the extent of it and how long it would last.
Never one to sit back and waste time, Brendan used the time to refine their set-up and make further improvements to the Cruiser.
“We spent our ‘quarantine time’ on the banks of the Balonne River and not being able to travel is dangerous for the bank account,” says Brendan. “We loved the Patriot Toy Hauler for its ability to carry so much including motorbikes and boat, however we found it was a lot of set-up and pack-up every three days with the rooftop tents and we were constantly dusty with this. We decided to sacrifice the bikes and boat and go for a caravan for ease of set-up and the amenities.”
Bruder is a Queensland company producing what can only be described as one of the most impressive off-road caravans ever seen. No stone was left unturned when they designed and created the EXP-6 caravan, with its unique height-adjustable suspension, top-end levels of equipment and lightweight but durable construction. So much so that Brendan and Nikita put in an order for one built to their own requirements.
“We chose the Bruder for many reasons, but mostly because it is like no other van. The Bruder is the same width and height as the car, and tracks in line with the car making it much easier to tow and good for fuel economy. It has plenty of storage, great off-grid power, and full-size toilet and shower.”
Extras fitted to the EXP-6 include an additional 60-litre water tank, a powered 4.5m 12V awning, a pair of drop-down external tables, an internal 60-litre drawer fridge, the front bar protection system to carry pushbikes and firewood, midgee screens to the kitchen and bedroom, child bunk screens, a 240V microwave oven, extra USB and power points throughout, plus a Warn winch on the rear of the 'van.
While the van was being built, the Cruiser was sent to Mick Tighe Automotive in Toowoomba where a set of Marks 4WD portal axles and a Marks 4WD hydraulic brake booster system were fitted. The portal axles are the ultimate off-road accessory as they give the Cruiser plenty of clearance under the axles without a massive suspension lift, and they are nationally approved to run with 35-inch tyres under the Second Stage approval scheme. The hydraulic brake booster fixes the less-than-optimal performance of the standard Toyota braking system, especially on Cruisers with big tyres and extra weight onboard or in tow.
With the wider wheel track of the portal axles, the wheels used are equivalent to 200 Series in their offset. Brendan chose ROH Vapour wheels shod in 35-inch BFG KM3s and, when you add the two spares on the back of the canopy plus another four on the Bruder van, this is not a tyre bill you want to think about.
The suspension retains the ARB coils up front and leaf packs at the back with OME BP-51 shock absorbers all around and Airbag Man bags under the back to assist with the towing loads. JMACX arms are used to maintain proper front axle location and caster angles.
Once the now taller Cruiser and its Bruder caboose were completed a couple of shakedown runs were done in regional Queensland, to Gordon Country and to Stradbroke Island where we were able to get these photos shot.
“We loved the Bruder with our first few trips. We did find it quite compact with not much room in the interior. However we are all about outdoor living and only use inside for sleeping or to get out of the elements. We haven’t found anything we would change, although we are working on putting the motorbike on the drawbar so we can take the bike on the trip with us.”