John Rooth – adventurer, cook, journo, biker and more – has machines and spares stacked and racked in a shed on a little piece of paradise in southern Queensland.
Roothy doesn’t throw much away and he’s pretty self-sufficient when it comes to mechanical, chassis or bodywork. He’s also a bit hooked on the mid-1980s – inside his red shed, there’s only one machine built after that classic decade and it’ll be the first to be shown the roller door.
The star here is the famed Milo – the green and white 45 Series Toyota Land Cruiser that’s rambled and clambered around Australia any number of times. Sharing the shed are a few other four-wheel-drive Toyotas, a grey World War II Jeep, plus a gleaming old Jaguar on the far side.
But to get to these four-wheeled machines you first have to fight past the clutter of motorbikes. There’s a 1959 BMW, originally a 600cc clunker but now with 1000cc BMW twin hanging out either side. That was his first bike, so it’s a keeper.
Alongside is a more modern 1986 Trans-Alp.“That’s my ute,” Roothy says. “It would’ve been the perfect bike when I was opal mining; would’ve been magic to come to town on.”
There’s a 1984 Harley Davidson (plus a spare for bits), a 1942 Indian Scout, a 1952 Matchless 500 and three old Yamaha trials bikes.
The TY Yamahas are part of Roothy’s retirement plan.
“Most people move to golf, I’m going back to trials riding. It’s really slow, it gets you out in the paddocks and there’s still the competition and the camaraderie – but without the pain.”
Next to the two-wheelers is a ’42 Jeep, which was once a rust bucket that ran in Anzac Day parades with star pickets holding the frame rails apart.
As Roothy appreciated, the $7000 Jeep had real history and was a genuine survivor. He balanced and blueprinted the motor, then added a reproduction body. It’s also had a two-inch suspension lift on original springs and now sits on 15-inch wheels. The Jeep is insane to drive and fantastic in the sands of Moreton Island, but it won’t be around forever.
“I’m probably going to sell it at some stage – the fun for me was rebuilding it,” Roothy says.
One mean machine that’s not up for sale is Milo, the Cruiser that in a past life was a bog-standard 45 Series Troopie owned by a scout master who travelled some 200,000km, carting kids on holiday trips.
“I reckon that’s why it had such good karma,” Roothy says of his faithful friend.
The back section was rusted (because it stuck out of the scout master’s carport in a beachside suburb), so Roothy hacked the worst of it off and added a 1967 wagon tailgate. t’s been modified and customised and modified again over the past 20 years.
Early on, Roothy painted it green and soon grew tired of the petrol motor, so in went a 13BT Toyota diesel, used in Japanese trucks.
Originally, the 3.4-litre engine put out 43kW. When balanced it pushed out 54kW and ran like a Swiss watch. With extra fuel delivery, a new turbo and an intercooler, it’s now producing 85kW on 8psi boost.
Roothy wanted durable performance and tonnes of reliability, and has proved Milo has both over some 800,000km and a couple of laps of Australia.
The rebuilt four-speed gearbox has a Marks Adaptor transfer case – 10 per cent higher in high range and 32 per cent less in low. Milo sits at 1900rpm at 100km/h. Beyond that speed, the little truck’s ordinary aerodynamics start sucking fuel.
It has a 60 Series rear end and 60 Series power steering with 17-inch rims and 33-inch Cooper tyres, ventilated disc brakes, plus a roof-mounted snorkel. Electrical wiring runs through the roof, with dash-mounted switches and fuses so Roothy can turn things off before deep water or mud.
Yep, Milo has seen a lot of action. It’s come back from Tasmania with its body mounts all broken. “I knew it was broken because I could see the wheels poking out each side as I went around a corner.”
It’s driven up the Newell Highway with red tape over a Dolphin torch as a makeshift tail-light. It’s returned from the Kimberley on one-wheel drive after it busted a rear pinion and then a front CV joint. “I put the front locking diff on and drove back to Brisbane. It was fantastic, every time you accelerated it went to the right and when you backed off it pulled back in.”
But Milo – bought for $500 and named after Roothy’s favourite drink and a Greek god – always gets the man home.
Yet the truck John Rooth says he’ll keep forever is the yellow 1983 Troopie parked alongside.
He paid $5000 for this, having ‘bargained’ the owner up from his asking price of $3000 because it was a one-owner, very original wagon with 340,000km up and a Fairey overdrive.
The Toyota 2H diesel motor, juiced up with help from Roo Systems, makes 61kW. The trick here is to run a pyrometer off the turbocharger; when pushed hard, temperatures can soar from 350°C to 700°C and maybe melt pistons. Roothy never lets it run beyond 450°C.
This Cruiser boasts refreshed suspension, lockers front and rear, ventilated disc brakes and that trademark roof-mounted snorkel.
“I’ll keep this truck forever, just love it. Love it. There’s something about 1983/1984 machines that works for me.”
He’s not so keen on his V8-engined 76 Series Toyota. Originally a mine manager’s work wagon, it was bought at auction for $44,000 as a test bed for suspension and Opposite Lock and Roo Systems’ gear. It makes a considerable 201kW.
“But it’s also the first one I’ll sell,” he says. “As fast as it is, as good as it is off-road and everything else, there’s things about it I don’t understand.
“I never got into computers from the motoring side of things. The only time this thing has gone wrong I couldn’t fix it. I found it eventually (air flow meter), but it sent me around the twist, ringing people on the side of the road – try this, try that, try the other. Pain in the arse.”
Roothy moves to the last shed bay and takes the covers off his swoopy black Mark V Jaguar. A calm falls over man and beard. His first car was a Jag. He found this one in 1984.
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