IF YOU haven’t heard the name Mitch Thorpe, then you’ve never heard of Ultra4 racing.
For those who have heard the name, you’d know he’s spent the best part of the last few years soaring through the air, bouncing off the rev-limiter in the 6.0-litre V8-powered rocket-ship that he tries to pass off as an off-road race car.
Like most off-road racers, Mitch doesn’t just turn up to a race meet, get dirty and then head home to take his Prius down to the local organic markets. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool 4x4er whose tow-tug-cum-weekend-warrior puts most of our pride and joys to shame.
We recently had the opportunity to not only chew his ear over all the things we could never afford to do to our rigs, but point the shiny end of a camera at his trick NP300 Nissan while he beat on it like it owes him money.
While the coil-sprung NP300 might not be everyone’s first pick as a tow tug, Mitch told us he’s given it no quarter but it keeps on ticking.
“I’ve had Navaras in the past and liked them,” he said. “They’re great value for money, and saving $10K on the purchase price of the car is probably the best way to go. I liked the coil rear-end for day-to-day ride comfort as well.”
Mitch is known to play musical chairs with wheels and tyres, but there’s a very good reason why. He works for the crew at Ozzy Tyres in their ‘flying through the air’ division, so he gets his choice of shoes as new models become available.
Filling out the Navara’s huge guards are a set of custom Hussla Stealth wheels. The matte bronze units punch in at 17x9in, giving the Nissan its aggressive stance. Of course, wheels alone aren’t enough to get drive to the ground, so Mitch opted for a set of the new Terrain Grippers from Aussie-based Monsta Tyres.
While the rest of the build is reserved, the suspension is where Mitch really cut loose. Most of the magic has been cast by SWAT (Suspension Wheel and Tyre). The WA-based company has gone to town on the NP300, giving it a 3.5-inch lift in the front and a 1.5-inch lift in the rear, with King Springs progressive rate coils front and back.
To keep things working as they should, PSR upper control arms have been fitted in the front to correct geometry and PSR heavy duty lower control arms went in the rear after Mitch bent the factory offerings. The rear also copped extended swaybar links to cope with the new flex, though that’s not Mitch’s key to success.
“It’s running West Coast Suspension remote res 2.0 shocks all ’round,” he told us. “They’re eight-stage adjustable, with a clicker on the reservoir controlling oil flow. There’s a little bit of tuning left to do, but they’re tenfold better than the shocks I had in before and only take around 10 minutes per shock to tune.”
One of the big issues with lifting any IFS 4x4 is running out of down travel the higher you lift. The result is poor ride and handling, and lifted wheels on even basic tracks. Despite the front sitting 3.5 inches higher than stock, Mitch reckons the Nissan NP300 still keeps a reasonable CV angle with a few inches of down travel left in reserve, helping the Navara stay planted in the rough stuff.
With Mitch earning a ‘never-lift’ reputation on and off the track, it’s no surprise he’s gone to town on bar work for the NP300. “I haven’t been nice to this car, I’ve beat on it pretty hard,” he told us with a laugh.
Keeping the big Nissan’s nose in line, despite Mitch’s best efforts, is a comp-style tube bar from Xrox. The hoopless unit keeps weight off the front suspension, which is perfect if you’re not playing whack-a-mole with kangaroos every night.
Plus, it improves the approach angle in the process. Down the flanks, the NP300’s vulnerable sill panels have been armoured thanks to a set of sliders from Southern Cross Fabworks; while the rear bar is a towbar/quarter protection arrangement from Ironman 4x4.
If you’re eyeing off the rear cargo rack with credit card in hand, you’ll be disappointed to hear it’s a custom-built unit by Mitch. “I had a local engineering shop fold up and dimple the legs for strength, then made the rest out of tube myself,” he said.
Depending on where he’s pointing the spotlights, the rack can either hold a roof-top tent or a space case and spare tyre. The arrangement keeps the centre of gravity nice and low with the tent on top, while also keeping the tray free for spares for the race car.
On the electrical front, Mitch kept things relatively simple, throwing all in with the buggy rather than decking out the tow tug with trinkets; although, it has still copped a couple of essentials for those late night runs out to the track.
A set of nine-inch LED driving lights help light the way, while a Redarc Tow-Pro Elite trailer brake controller helps to stop the trailer pushing the NP300 around when Mitch jumps on the anchors.
While Mitch’s NP300 takes him wherever he wants to go (even if he probably shouldn’t), it’s doing it with relatively few modifications.
The right gear here and there turns an already capable platform into something that’d leave some wildly modified rigs for dead. At the end of the day, getting out there is far more important than having all the kit, especially when you’ve got a race car in the shed.
MITCH and his dad Brett both campaign fully fledged off-road race cars in the Aust4 Racing Series, so it’s no surprise to hear Mitch’s buggy is one of the most competitive in both the rocks and the wide-open paddocks it races in.
Rather than modifying an existing vehicle, car #127 was pieced together one stick of chromoly tube at a time by industry legend Matt Dunk, before it copped a list of go-fast parts that’d be right at home with the best of Baja.
Slotted inside the tube frame is a secret-spec 6.0-litre L98 V8 engine built from the rocker covers to the sump by Russo Performance. It’s backed by a race-ready TH400 (from the guys at Wyong Automatics) in a Reid Racing case.
From here, drive is sent both ways through a 2:1 ratio Atlas race case and out to twin custom diffs with Dana 60 outers and 14 Bolt Chev centres, with Reid Racing knuckles and Cs on the steer axle. Spidertrax drive flanges, Solid Industries billet hubs and 300M custom RCV axles all ’round also got the nod.
Allowing the buggy to twist its way up rock ledges then fly through the air is a trick suspension arrangement, with Fox 2.0 coilovers and bump stops on each corner.
They’re backed by Fox 2.5 three-tube bypasses on the front and Fox 2.5 four-tube bypasses on the rear. Huge one-inch diameter Aussie-made Design Fab Industries sway bars keep things flat through hard cornering, while the huge 39-inch Toyo tyres are held in place with KMC Machete bead-locked wheels.