Keeping Jillaroo Jess' custom Toyota LC79 fit

When you’re clocking up as many remote outback miles as Jillaroo Jess does each year, you need a rig that is super tough and enjoyable to drive for long distances.

Jillaroo Jess' custom Toyota LC79 mods

Modified tourers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are built for weekend rock-crawling or fun in the mud, while others are built for specific reasons, which is the case for outback social media icon, Jillaroo Jess.

As readers would know after reading our recent profile on Jess, her job – indeed, her life – is one big outback road trip, travelling from one seasonal job on a remote property to another. For this very busy lady, there’s only one choice when it comes to her own vehicle: it must be a reliable, bombproof rig that will get her there, back and there again as she criss-crosses the outback for work. The rig of choice for Jillaroo Jess is a Toyota Land Cruiser 79 Series ute – yep, the iconic outback workhorse – that has, as you would expect, copped a few essential mods from the team at Terrain Tamer.

The Land Cruiser 79 build was the focus of the recent TV series Terrain Tamer meets Jillaroo Jess, with Jess joining 4x4 icon Allan Gray and his son to fit some bush-ready accessories to Jess’s ute and make it even more capable, something which most of us could do with for our own rigs, as Brent Hutchinson from Terrain Tamer explains.

“Jess and her vehicle were the perfect example because they do such long kilometres,” Brent says. “So the whole reason behind fitting her vehicle out was it was just such a great example to so many of our core customers out there that needed to be aware those accessories were available [for the LC79 and other vehicles].”

One of the interesting things about this modification story was the fact that the Terrain Tamer team initially had to try and figure out the mods needed from, quite literally, the other side of the country.

With Jess being nomadic but mostly based somewhere in the huge state of Western Australia, and Terrain Tamer HQ in Melbourne, it meant more than a few phone calls to figure out what was needed – and nail down any problems Jess was experiencing with the ute that could be fixed by fitment of certain accessories.

“This was a different one because we were a long way away, literally on the other side of the country trying to diagnose things before heading out there,” Brent says. “So there was a lot of dialogue based around what her vehicle has and needs and what problems she comes across.

“So, certainly, Alan and I would discuss that before we put everything together, but we knew we had a number of parts that were just released – or shortly to be released – that would be of great benefit.”

One of these parts to be ‘just released’ was Terrain Tamer’s replacement fifth gear for the LC79. The final gear in the Toyota workhorse is notoriously low, meaning that big lazy 4.5TV8 is actually not so sedate, staying relatively high (for a diesel) in the rev range.

Terrain Tamer’s replacement fifth gear, manufactured from Rockwell steel, drops RPM by a claimed 20 per cent – a significant reduction, especially for someone who is driving many thousands of kilometres each year – which means a big saving in fuel costs for Jess.

Another essential mod for Jess’s LC79 was fitment of Terrain Tamer’s Pro Shock Absorbers, Smart Coils, and matched leaf springs and bushes. Brent goes into more detail about the full suspension kit, and just how ‘smart’ those Smart Coils are.

“It is a Terrain Tamer suspension kit and it has the Terrain Tamer Pro Shock, so they’re the ones with the remote canister and the adjustable dial,” he says. “The reason for that [fitment] is that she is travelling such high kilometres and also travelling a lot on bitumen to get to a job. Then she’ll be travelling for three months at a time on the station where she’s not seeing the bitumen, so she can adjust the dial there.”

In terms of the Smart Coils, fitting them was a must, with the end result of more stability when on- and off-road, and improved cornering.

“We test for body roll and try and keep things as stable as possible, so there is less wear and tear on the suspension and she’s got more control over the vehicle,” Brent explains. “So that smart coil on the front of the vehicle; it gets thinner (tapers) higher up the coil and this means that as you are leaning into a corner, there is less rebound as it is coming back out of the corner, so you’ve got more stability.”

The Pro Shock’s additional oil reservoir, courtesy of the remote canister, also means lower shock temps, thus minimising the chance of the shocks fading due to overheating – another no-brainer for anyone driving many outback kilometres in trying conditions. Brent mentioned that, during testing over a short 8km off-road drive course, the Pro Shocks measured approximately 9.3 per cent cooler. And that’s over a very short test distance – over a longer all-day journey, the benefits of shocks that cope with heat build-up more effectively is immeasurable.

One thing Jess – as a certified rev-head – was keen on was a bit more grunt from the 4.5TDV8 donk. Terrain Tamer fitted a Safari Armax ECU, a ‘piggy-back’ style unit (it works with the stock ECU) that is claimed to produce up to a 25 per cent increase in power, along with improved fuel economy, in conjunction with a Safari Armax snorkel. This lead to another mod: fitment of a Terrain Tamer Fortified clutch. Again, this was with a focus on reliability, as Brent explains.

“We knew that we could get more power – and more fuel economy – and we know the Toyota 70 Series is right on the threshold with the clutch and it will start to slip once you put that modification (the Armax ECU) on. We just know that from experience,” Brent affirms. “And really interestingly it did – Jess mentioned it during filming – it did slightly slip driving from her homestead into Karratha, which is about an hours’ drive. So it was good to know it had happened in ‘real life’ before we went and changed it to the fortified clutch.”

Jess is often driving at highway speeds for long distances and, on these more remote roads, the risk of animal strike, whether wildlife or wandering stock, is high. Therefore, a decent set of stoppers is handy. The need for braking power to match the LC79’s increased grunt led to Terrain Tamer fitting its own high performance rotors and heavy-duty brake pads.

Further reliability-boosting mods to the Cruiser included fitment of a Flashlube diesel pre-filter, owing to the fact that Jess could not always be sure of the quality of diesel she was filling the Cruiser with. A well-proved Piranha dual-battery system – to keep those after-work coldies, ahem, cold, in the fridge/freezer – was also added.

Of course, on a more serious note, the dual-battery system minimises the chance of Jess being left stranded in the middle of nowhere due to said fridge/freezer draining the battery. If this modified LC79 sounds relatively straightforward, it’s because it is just that – and it is also smart.

The modification process for this rig reflects both Terrain Tamer’s many years of experience at tweaking off-roaders, and the common-sense approach of its owner. As a station worker who travels many kilometres during the year over a variety of road/track surfaces and into some very remote parts of this country, Jess needed a modified workhorse built that was as close to unstoppable as can be – and with the clever modification process by Terrain Tamer team and Jess, that’s exactly what she got – and she’s stoked.

In fact, this LC79’s sensible mods list is a bloody good example for anyone considering building up a bush-tourer in which to explore this awesome country of ours. Now, where’s that Terrain Tamer HQ phone number… 


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Justin Walker

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