An ex-hire Troopie becomes a tourer for Brad and Sue Newham. After all, a million backpackers can’t be wrong... can they?
After testing a Britz Troopie-based camper for a couple of weeks, Sue was convinced that we had to have one for ourselves.
We began looking for a pop-top design as the high-roof model would not fit under our carport, and I didn’t fit into the bed too well, either! I also wanted a standard, non turbo-diesel (1HZ), as I am wary that the all electric and computer-controlled later models won’t be as reliable in the more remote places that I want to take the old girl (and the Troopie as well!).
After searching through all the different types of conversions on the market, we decided to go for a KEA conversion. The KEA campers are much better set up in the rear than the others that we looked at, with much better use of the available space and more user-friendly layout.
I contacted Norman Roe, the KEA Campers sales manager in Sydney, and he told me of a 2006 model with 150,000km on the clock that was soon to be available.
The only problem? It was in Broome! Not to worry, it was an excuse for a trip and a shakedown for the new Troopie on the run home to Adelaide.
Norman and his team could not have been more helpful. He even provided a new canvas top, and replaced a few other worn or broken bits. With the deal done, Sue and I were on a plane heading to Perth and onwards to Broome.
We picked up the camper and discovered that the fridge, cutlery, cooking gear and everything that was in the camper when it was for hire had been included. It even had both fuel tanks filled! We headed back down the coast and spent a couple of weeks touring West Australia.
We visited Steep Point, which was really the only off-roading of the whole trip as Sue was sick with the flu – although, strangely, she was quite excited about crossing 90 Mile Straight on the Nullarbor.
The Troopie was pretty much stock standard, with split rims and a plastic bullbar, so as soon as I got it home it was straight into my workshop to be pulled apart and thoroughly examined. The first things that went on were a beefed-up gearbox and transfer case, as the standard ones were not going to be strong enough to handle the extra load with bigger tyres, diff locks and a turbo that I had planned for the upgrade.
The standard Toyota suspension was replaced with an Old Man Emu system complete with new springs, shocks, bushes, greasable shackles, steering damper and caster bushes. Next was to replace the ugly plastic bar with an ARB steel winch bar, equipped with a Warn XDC 9.5 winch, ARB side-rails and steps, IPF HID driving lights and covers and an IPF headlight upgrade.
An ARB dual battery kit was next on the list, followed by a set of black ROH steel 16 x 8 Trak 2 rims with Cooper ST-C 285/75-16 tyres with a set of ARB flares to keep it legal and a SensaTyre tyre-monitoring system for peace of mind. Inside, an Outback Interiors top shelf and door pockets along with a GME UHF radio provided storage and communications.
I already had a set of ARB Paratus seats in my trusty old 75 Series trayback, so I swapped these with the standard Toyota seats and fitted some comfy lambswool covers.
That was a good start, but then Sue was on my back to let her clean the Troopie and replace the curtains, fit the new canvas top and to generally put her personal touch on the inside. My other modifications would have to wait… Sue set to work modifying the interior. She replaced the curtains, cleaned the mattress covers along with the seat cushion covers, installed a porta-potty and filled the drawers and cupboards with all of our camping gear, so I could get on with the mechanical modifications.
First on my list was a Denco Turbo upgrade along with a complete Denco exhaust replacement. Now the Troopie performs much better, with heaps more torque down low, where you need it. Next item to go on was a VMS combination navigation and topographic GPS, DVD player and reverse camera with iPod and Bluetooth compatibility. These VMS units are great and save having all of those separate items cluttering up the dash, restricting visibility and rattling around in rough country.
When the time to test our new home finally arrived, we decided to head over to Yorke Peninsula for the New Year break and enjoy some bush camping along the coast. The first night was spent camped right on the beach, but the wind was blowing the sand all around us. We are traditionally used to swagging, so it was great to be inside, out of the sand-blasting gale.
We replaced the Troopie’s original metho stove with a two-burner gas model, along with the ever-reliable single-burner cartridge stove, so we could keep the sand out of our food. We spent the next few days travelling along as many sandy tracks as we could find, the OME suspension really coming into its own along some of them as they were very rough in places and in hindsight were probably more suited to a motorbike! Still, what’s a test for if not to exact the best from your new gear?
At one campsite on the southern coast we were camped back from the beach in a hollow behind some sand hills. The wind was extremely strong, to the point that I even considered climbing back down stairs and retracting the top for fear of the wind damaging the pop top!
However, we decided to see how it would stand up in the harsh conditions so, after a sleepless few hours, with the canvas top billowing in and out, the Troopie stood up to the elements soundly. As eventually was our slumber.
The Italian-made fridge that came with the ex-hire vehicle works well, but isn’t big enough for an extended trip, so we opted for a 60-litre Waeco unit that slots in perfectly and have also fitted a Waeco 11-litre compact cooler to use as a freezer or extra fridge space.
We have since bolted up a Kaymar rear-mounted twin spare-wheel carrier; these latest designs are a lot more refined than the previous versions. The bar has a more modern, rounded style and LED lights that will outlast halogens in the bush, as well as very strong stainless steel gas struts holding the arms open.
A softer cover on the handles also makes a welcome change from the old style. We have also had the boys from Out of Town 4X4, in Newcastle, NSW, custom-make a new, larger-capacity 60-litre stainless steel water tank to fit under the rear.
Early last year we took it across the Anne Beadell Highway, down through the Holland track, around the southern coast of WA, before heading home along the Old Eyre Highway. The conditions on the Anne Beadell Highway threw up everything from soft sand and rocks, to extreme corrugations. The rest of the trip varied from smooth blacktop through to rough gravel roads, with a bit of sand and rock tossed in to break things up a little. The Troopie handled everything we put it through with ease, Sue reckons that as a touring option it’s much more comfortable than the old tent and swag.
Easter last year saw us, along with the Ed and his wife, Rachel, tackling the Sandy Blight Junction Road, west of Alice Springs; once again, the Troopie had no problems at all.
Adding personal and practical modifications to an ex-hire vehicle has proved a good combination. We are very happy with the set-up and have many more adventures planned. But, as it is for all of us, we just need to find the time!