Jason Morris’s love of the bush runs long and deep.
When he was a young fella, his dad, Len, had an EJ Holden station wagon built on a Toyota Land Cruiser chassis.
“That was a ball-tearer of a thing!” Jason says, recalling his dad’s Holden-Cruiser beast. “Dad made his own winch out of a helicopter starter motor. Every town we went to, we had people chatting to us for hours. It was a real crowd-puller.”
The hybrid Holden wagon took the family all around Australia. “So pretty much from when I was born, I’ve been out camping,” Jason says.
A generation later, the Melbourne-based maintenance carpenter (he looks after places including universities, child care centres and courthouses) is doing much the same thing with his wife, Trang, and kids, Lakota, and Khulan with this, the second of his built-for-touring Hiluxes.
“It was a forced upgrade,” Jason says, cryptically, of his first Hilux. “A BMW X5 drove into us on the highway. It absolutely annihilated us.” On board was Jason and Trang – the couple had just dropped off the kids. “It was an offset head-on crash, I ended up with a fractured skull…”
Not surprisingly, Jason took some time to recover from the 2012 crash. It was no surprise, too, that the Hilux was a write-off and was replaced with a new one, soon pressed into duty for weekend camping as well as week-day work.
“Anyhow, it was wet and I was on the edge of control on the greasy hill from the Cooma side. I hit one of the erosion humps. Crunch! And then I hit another one. Crunch! And when I got to the bottom of the hill, I noticed the back had dropped a couple of inches… I’d bent the chassis.”
Jason had to limp the broken-backed Hilux home to Victoria to assess the damage. The insurance company wanted to write-off the vehicle, but with some negotiation, Jason came to an agreement where the vehicle would be repaired.
This outcome was better for Jason, because he got to keep the vehicle, and it also benefited the insurance company, which didn’t have to suffer a payout.
The repair occurred with a tweak: a chassis extension. Wide Bay Motor Bodies, originally based in Queensland but now in Victoria, was commissioned to repair and modify the Hilux’s chassis.
Due to the dual-cab ute’s general layout, when it’s loaded it carries plenty of weight behind the rear-axle line, so there’s plenty of bending-type stress on its chassis, especially in rough terrain or when towing. By lengthening the chassis, the weight can be carried over the rear axle, rather than behind it, with less stress on the chassis.
After discussion ideas with Jason, WBMB’s Matt Wreford got to work. As well as the straight-line wheelbase stretch, Matt installed profile-cut chassis reinforcing plates to the sides of the chassis rails where they were damaged over the axle line.
Of course, a chassis stretch such as this includes modifications to the tail shaft, exhaust, fuel and brake systems, and the wiring harness (including the ABS).
So there’s more to the task than just cut ’n’ shut. The result for Jason was an extra 355mm in the Hilux’s wheelbase, placing the rear wheels almost directly under the centre of the tray/canopy area, and a reinforced chassis, better able to cope with a load.
But there’s far more to Jason’s truck than just a stretch – from head to tail he’s set up his Hilux to be a competent and comfortable go-anywhere family tourer. Up front is an ARB frontal protection bar with brush bars and side steps.
Within the bar is a Warn XP9000 winch, a pair of Lightforce Genesis HID driving lights and an LED light bar. There are also lights for illuminating in front of the wheels during steep climbs at night, when the Lightforces are pointing at the sky.
“You need to be looking out the window to look into a creek or over a conservation mound,” Jason says.
There’s a full complement of ARB under-vehicle protection, too. Unlike plenty of simple laser-cut online cheapies, the ARB gear has stout box-section reinforced edges and recessed fasteners to make the plates just about fool-proof and to prevent the vehicle becoming hung-up on a protruding bolt-head.
Under the bonnet is an ARB battery tray with its Delco battery run by a Piranha system. Sometimes, if he needs the extra capacity – such as for summer camping over several days – Jason installs a third in-vehicle battery within the canopy.
His camper trailer also has a battery installed, fed by an Anderson plug. Sometimes, this Toyota’s alternator doesn’t do much freewheeling!
The canopy – used for work and play – is a Boss Aluminium unit. Based in Bayswater, Boss made it based on Jason’s ideas. “I wanted it built in a particular way to suit my equipment,” Jason explains.
“You’ll see I’ve got air lines and other stuff in it, such as switches for the lights. When the doors are closed, they’re sealed away from dust and the elements.”
If he doesn’t need it for whatever reason, the canopy can be removed, because it sits on a specially built steel frame. “I simply undo a few bolts and it lifts off.”
For now, the canopy carries two spare wheels on the rear; Jason is thinking of getting the weight of them down and forward (much better for off-road) by carrying them against the rear of the cab. The rack on the canopy is custom-made and the cab-rack is an ARB.
When he’s heading bush for the weekend, Jason loads a few food boxes into the canopy area. The small gas cooker gets used on job sites as well as campsites, as does the Engel fridge that routinely stays in the vehicle.
“Except for the 25 switches for all the bullshit, it’s almost stock as a rock inside,” Jason laughs.
Keeping the seats clean are MSA seat covers. Finishing touches to this terrific tourer include the vehicle-mounted ARB compressor and an ARB Touring awning on the near-side roof. It’s all very KISS – keep is simple, silly!
Like most Hiluxes, the engine is Toyota’s 3.0-litre D4D turbodiesel unit.
“I’ve recently fitted an HKS chip; it’s improved the fuel use from 16s down to around 13s,” Jason explains.
“I asked around for advice on an exhaust, too. The feedback I got was that the standard system is more than adequate; a replacement pipe does absolutely nothing except make it louder.”
To feed the beast, Long Range Automotive provided a 145-litre long-range replacement fuel tank to provide greater touring range when Jason packs his family into the vehicle and heads off to his Victorian High Country retreat – or further.
Buyers' Guide: Aftermarket fuel tank
The wheels are simple steel Dynamic 17x7-inchers, shod with Mickey Thompson AP3 tyres, which Jason says have been terrific all-rounders in the 30,000km he’s had them for.
The suspension under the Hilux is Old Man Emu, assisted under the rear by a pair of Firestone airbags.
Even after his heart- and chassis-breaking trek to Bendethera, Jason is confident in the light-to-loaded assistance the airbags provide now that he has a suitably reinforced chassis.
And yes, any vehicle built with this much touring equipment will be heavy: Jason mentions his Hilux is beyond 2500kg empty and has a GVM upgrade to 2900kg.
But with the right equipment on-board for work-day and weekend wanderings, it’s the ideal dual-purpose tourer.
“I can drive it to the city every day,” Jason says. “Or jump in it and cross a desert or drive it to Cape York.”
For the full Toyota Hilux range review click here.