In this cotton-wool world of molly-coddled SUVs and computer-chipped four-wheel drives, it’s refreshing to head scrub with a brutish bush-and-beach buggy built just for fun.
The Bush Ranger may not be the most civilised of machines, the quietest, or the most loaded with fripperies, but it is a 4WD of great competence and it’s loaded with go-anywhere character.
The short-arsed Bushie climbs and scrambles, slithers and splashes with style, allowing the driver the priceless bonus of experiencing unrestricted sights, sounds and smells of the bush or beach.
It cruises down the bitumen with all the poise of an older Land Rover Discovery, albeit with a little less body roll and a lot more engine, tyre and road noise.
This particular reborn example sits on a shortened 1995 Land Rover Discovery chassis with the 300TDI 2.5 litre diesel and four-speed auto. The wheelbase remains at 2540mm (100-inch) but about 450mm has been cut from the back of the chassis.
It’s a bit hard to miss in the car park, with a slicked-back windscreen, no doors, roll-cage and a high-rise rear end, all finished in one of Bush Ranger ATV’s favourite hues – Vermillion Fire – from Ford’s 1972 Falcon GT colour chart.
There’s a 16-inch wheel at each corner and a high-riding, sit-up attitude now that the Land Rover suspension is carrying around 700kg less. The ride height is about 75mm taller than the Disco.
The front end – headlights and grille – might be a bit old-style Morris-van looking, and this bullbar (pinched for now from a Nissan Patrol) doesn’t quite suit, but even so, the end result is a head-turner.
This particular Bush Ranger is a two seater. It will take a pair of seats in back, but just not those from the donor Discovery. There are plans to make the next Bush Ranger about 20mm longer in the body to add valuable space in the rear compartment so the Discovery rear seats will fit. There’s a vinyl roof and side curtains packed away for poor weather, but this off-roader – like most convertibles – is best enjoyed top-off.
Clamber up over the high sill and slot in behind a familiar Land Rover steering wheel, instruments and dashboard. It’s a snug driving spot, with plenty of room. It’s also well-protected in the tub of the buggy body. All the controls fall well to hand. The visibility is great in all directions, aside from directly to the rear where that kicked-up body style impedes a fair bit.
Fire up that old 2.5 diesel and drop the auto into drive. There’s a mere 83kW and 265Nm from 1800rpm here, so despite the lightening of the Land Rover’s load, the Bush Ranger doesn’t move off in any great hurry.
On road, the drivetrain is leisurely, the engine a bit coarse and there’s a fair swag of road noise, but it will sit on a steady 100km/h.
The surprise here is just how comfortable the Bush Ranger feels on its Discovery-based suspension, and how steering and roadholding in general are quite competent from the old British wagon’s underpinnings.
The Bush Ranger rumbles into the scrub to strut its stuff. Shift into low range, lock the centre diff and our Jaffa orange machine feels unstoppable. The Bush Ranger is a weapon in the scrub. Low(er) weight, low gearing and the Discovery’s supple, long-travel coil-sprung suspension allows the big buggy to walk over some obstacles and straddle others. There’s also that extra ride height for spotting dramas ahead, plus excellent approach and departure angles.
Bush Ranger builders David Marshall and John Hill haven’t measured it all up yet, but departure could be an amazing 80 degrees; a shade better than the 1995 Disco’s 32 degrees. At the front the angle’s been compromised a bit on this one by the soon-to-be-replaced Nissan bullbar.
Out here, wandering around in low range, the Bush Ranger feels a bit like a doorless, topless Land Rover Defender.
It rides on 245/75 Summit Mud Hog tyres on original Land Rover alloys. With style and substance, it’s an excellent machine for weekends on fun – or difficult – country.
“We wanted to have a macho car when we started to build this (first) one,” David says.
“John’s a Land Rover mechanic and we decided to just go mild and go with a two-inch lift.”
But even that made the Bushie, with a body now some 700kg lighter than original, sit far too high and look awkward.
“I don’t think the body weighs any more than 60 kilograms. John and I can pick it up, lift it above our heads and drop it on the chassis – and we’re old farts!”
David is a bit old-school when it comes to 4WDing and isn’t sure about having vehicles and computers take over from the driver.
“The sad and silly thing is you don’t need high skill-levels to drive in the bush with a modern motor car. Whereas with the older generation of 4WDs you have to be able to drive them and think all the time. You have to be involved and have to have a certain level of skill.”
That’s yet another reason for David being a Bush Ranger disciple: the driver involvement needed with older-style chassis and drivetrains. Plus there’s the open-top experience.
“I love driving through the bush with no top on, the smells and the sounds,” David says. “In a steel box with the air-conditioning on you don’t hear the whipbirds, you don’t smell the gum blossoms, you don’t smell the flying foxes. It’s a different way of travelling through the bush.”
And then there’s the ‘bush rod’ (as opposed to street rod) element to the Bush Ranger; the ability to customise the vehicle to suit individual needs and tastes.
David reckons it takes about two weeks to build a Bush Ranger. “But it’ll be ongoing because you’re never satisfied,” he reckons. “If you get something out of the showroom with this capability you don’t want to muck it up, you don’t want to change it, you don’t want to fiddle. But a Bush Ranger is a hobby, a passion. You can get into it, you can play with it.”
That’s the best thing about a Bush Ranger; the playfulness of this re-born off-roader. It’s an Australian machine with aptitude and a tonne of attitude.
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