Having once experienced the joy and excitement of 4X4 adventure travel and the great outdoors, I reckon there’d be few individuals immune to the bug, who’d not start dreaming about their ultimate tourer or planning their next great escape, even before they return to civilisation.
This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s January 2011 issue.
I had the opportunity to meet a bloke who’s the epitome of what I’m talking about. Craig Perry is no stranger to the 4X4 scene and well respected by the local WA fraternity; in fact he’s the current chairman of the WA 4WD Association.
Craig’s interest started from an early age, instilled by his dad’s passion for off-road adventure. Truth be known, Craig’s probably already owned and enjoyed more 4X4s than most of us will know in a lifetime. Spend a few hours with him and it’s very evident that he has a real affinity with the Aussie bush, the environment and the many wonderful places WA has to offer, where only a 4X4 can take you.
Craig’s wife must be a patient person. If he’s not slaving away as a senior project manager or working for the WA 4WD Association, he’ll be doing something with the Alltracks 4WD Club or the Mitsubishi Owners Club; either cleaning up rubbish from the bush or organising busy bee environmental programs supporting local authorities. Or else you’ll find him under his truck with a spanner or tape measure in hand.
Yet, despite his heavy schedule, Craig was delighted to spare time to talk about his special truck; a 1998 100 Series LandCruiser modified well beyond OEM standards. It’s a very capable off-road tourer tailored to the types of conditions and driving he enjoys most.
My first impression of Craig’s rig conjured up thoughts of conquering white water rivers and climbing near-vertical rock faces. But how incredibly pristine is the presentation? You could be fooled into thinking this fourbie never saw real dirt; it’s so flash it’s won trophies for most accessorised 4X4 and best in show.
Look closer though, and you’ll see genuine battle scars, stone chips, scrapes and dings. Craig regularly visits great WA spots like Mundaring Powerlines, Pinjar Pine Forest, Moore River, and Wedge Island through to the Pinnacles, Wilbinga, Harvey, Brunswick Junction, Collie and the Blackwood River. This bruiser has already completed trips to Rudall River, Karijini, the southern coast and Murchison station country.
Craig’s favourite experience with the 100 Series was a trip out to Rudall River in 2004, due to the surprising sense of isolation, magnificent scenery and lack of people. Craig’s now thinking of future possibilities, with plans to explore the Canning Stock Route, east of Esperance, Cape York and far-north Queensland.
No stranger to long-distance touring; Craig’s at his happiest behind the wheel. Now, I love driving, but he sure beats me. How does around Australia, covering 18,000km in sixteen days sound? Good thing we’re on an island, otherwise heaven knows where he’d end up!
So why a 100 Series? “Dad had Toyotas since 1978 and I still fondly remember that FJ55,” Craig said. It obviously sparked his appreciation for LandCruisers and their near indestructible build quality. “I tried a Patrol but they lack the shoulder room I need. The standard 100 Series met most of my specific requirements. Interior space and a comfortable driving position are paramount for the long trips. Live axles are essential for their ability to articulate and then there’s all the cool aftermarket gear available for the 100 Series,” Craig said.
Craig’s had the Cruiser for six years and it’s not hard to see the enthusiasm and passion he has for continuing to perfect his dream machine. It started as a stock HZJ105 with the trusty 1HZ diesel bolted up to a five-speed stick shift with manual free-wheeling hubs.
Originally happy with the standard vehicle, Craig thought a couple of accessories might help protect his investment and improve occupant safety. Looking at Craig’s vehicle today I can’t help but think, “A couple of accessories? Now that’s what I call an understatement.”
Now, with any creative flair there first has to be inspiration and Craig got plenty of that from his mate Tony Mingo. They’d sit for hours discussing modifying their fourbies and what sort of capability their rigs could possibly have.
Initially Craig fitted some better 235/85/16 rubber, a two-inch suspension lift, some Rancho shocks and a steering damper to smooth things out. Then with the improvements in ride and handling Craig thought it wise to have some frontal protection, so added a bullbar and the Cruiser also scored a towbar, single rear wheel carrier and cargo barrier.
Sadly, the limitation of the Tojo’s standard rear LSD quickly made itself known and provided little argument against installing an ARB Air Locker. Craig recalls the sudden change in off-road ability was nothing short of astonishing. But then things started to get serious.
In no time the Cruiser was sporting GXL steel rims wrapped in 315/75/16 (35 inch) Goodyear MT/R mud tyres. With the front guards growling under cornering and the MT/Rs making their presence known across bumps and tight turns some more clearance was provided by a four-inch Tough Dog lift kit complete with big bore adjustable shocks.
With this much lift the driveline alignment began to suffer so to reset the diffs adjustable Panhard rods were fitted along with castor bushes and some stronger Snake Racing rear lower control arms. Keen to take advantage of the new ground clearance and try out some more difficult tracks, a Lokka front diff lock was installed to harness the better traction of the MT/Rs. Understandably, the more difficult the track the greater the propensity is for damage or needing recovery. So some ARB heavy-duty slider steps were also fitted to protect the sills under the doors and the ARB trade roof rack provided the perfect mounting for a hi-lift jack and shovel.
This story is beginning to sound like the man who kept trimming a chair leg to make them level – fit one thing and you just have to improve the next! Can you imagine the conversations Craig had with his wife?
Never one to shy away from a challenge Craig continued to push the boundaries in an effort to achieve the best dedicated off-road touring rig, now sporting Tough Dog coils, the Tough Dog shocks were replaced with Fox Racing Emulsion Shocks. Craig’s trusty spanner had a rest for this job as the existing shock mounts had to be removed and new mounts fabricated – a task capably managed by Perth 4X4 in Balcatta.
At this stage, Craig replaced the original bullbar with an ARB deluxe winch bar and fitted a Terrain Tamer 12,000lb winch. You have to understand, there was nothing wrong with his first choice – these were just better and you gotta have the best now don’t you?
Some Snake Racing front control arms and 3rds Production steering arms and rear upper control arms made sure everything stayed put when things got bumpy. And what better way to ensure you can take advantage of all that extra clearance off-road than by bolting on some 36-inch Simex Centipedes on 16 x 10 Pro Comp alloys. Although all this is making the diesel donk work that bit harder.
Speaking of performance, Craig was keen to improve the lung capacity of the asthmatic 1HZ’s output figures. So the Cruiser was sent to United Fuel Injection in Perth to install a DTS Turbo and intercooler system with new injectors. Running 12psi, the rollers claimed a healthy 135kW and 420Nm of torque.
With the new found power of the turbo 1HZ now delivering any of the Cruiser’s requirements for extra push or shove, towing the camper trailer was a breeze. But, interestingly, as most people transition from a tent to a camper trailer, Craig now did the opposite, as he found the camper trailer a hindrance when enjoying the big 100’s off-road climbing and exploring capability. He’s now opted for a very comfortable OzTent for its amazingly quick set up, providing a comfortable night’s sleep without impeding the Cruiser’s ability to find the next secluded and remote camp site.
The very latest upgrade was some newly developed Super Flex front control arms. After talking with the engineer that designed them, Craig ordered a set for the LandCruiser; this increased the front wheel travel to allow full extension of the 10-inch Fox Shox.
Even the Lokka installed in the front diff got the flick for an ARB Air Locker so Craig could disengage it quickly when needing full steering control in the tight stuff on those steep climbs.
Future plans are to replace the side steps with rock sliders and fit reduction gears in the transfer case. Craig’s also got himself a set of 37 x 12.5 x 16 Maxxis Trepador comp-spec tyres for when he wants to enjoy a little personal time driving some truly extreme terrain – such is the capability of this awesome vehicle.
Off-road this thing is amazing. Tough Dog coils allow huge wheel articulation, letting the Cruiser walk over obstacles with minimal fuss and retain a relatively flat stance. This thing’s got enough flex to make a yoga instructor black out!
Craig started with a two-inch, then went to a four-inch, but found the final set-up providing a 4.5-inch lift provided the best combination of ground clearance and flexibility in the extreme stuff. The Fox Racing Emulsion Shocks help control the recoil and smooth out the ride. Craig’s noticed a marked improvement over the other combinations he’s tried for both on- and off-road stability and handling.
Okay, so no one expects a 4.5-inch lifted 100 sporting massive 36-inch Simex Trekker Centipedes to handle like a race car, but have you ever seen a Group A touring car climb a wall? (Well, on purpose that is!) For our play in the bush, Craig had his wet weather set-up using the 37-inch Maxxis Trepadors and they applied tentacle-like suction to the rock faces, pulling the Cruiser forward with the relentless determination of a climber conquering Mt Everest.
Thanks to the front and rear ARB Air Lockers, the Cruiser never broke from a relaxed stride whether negotiating water crossings, mud, rock or shale. Extended diff breathers kept the good oil good when moving through the deeper water.
Yep, other vehicles would have scrambled for traction with spinning wheels and growling engines, but this Cruiser is so well set up it literally came to life like some prehistoric animal, pausing momentarily to survey its surroundings, then irresistibly moving forward without fuss or complaint.
Driving difficult off-road terrain is one thing, but how about doing it in the dark? Not a problem here, with the flick of a switch you have lighting power just short of a nuclear flash… I did ask Craig if he had a small plasma ion drive generator under the hood to supply the electricity for the three 220 Britax HID spot and spread lights for the bullbar that instantly ignite the bark on trees and blow the retinas out of kangaroo eyeballs at 1000 metres. He assured me the dual battery system installed using a Redarc solenoid works a treat. Seriously, the white light generated by the HIDs was superb – minimising eyestrain and reducing driver fatigue on long trips.
The four Britax 160 HID spot and spread lights for the roof rack do a great job of filling in all the blank spots to the side of the front HID laser beams. Now with the HID reverse lights, HID headlight conversion and the three dichroic halogen rock lights under the chassis for night time rock crawling, you’ve got pretty much every lighting eventuality covered.
When it’s time to have a chat, Craig’s well and truly got the comms covered with Telstra Iridium 9555 satphone for those really out of the way places, a GME UHF radio for the convoy work, and two Uniden UHF hand-held units for helping out on the foot-printing duties when the going gets really rough.
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As for getting lost, it isn’t likely to happen much in this rig. The beast is kitted with a dash-mounted Magellan eXplorist GPS and there’s even a dash-mounted video camera to catch all the action. There’s plenty of capacity for keeping the fish fresh and the drinks cold, too, with 40L Engel and Waeco fridge/freezers.
Craig’s Cruiser is not for the faint hearted, this is a real working truck. It’s regularly seen strutting its stuff at 4X4 show displays, covers all the family touring and camping holidays, can play hardcore with the big boys, doubles as a catwalk model for Britax Xray Vision Lighting systems; it even lends a hand in the hard yakka of recovering competition vehicles on 4X4 comp days – this thing should be wearing a cape!
A vehicle like Craig’s Cruiser takes years of hard work, time and effort to achieve this capability, not to mention a hell of a lot of the hard-earned. It’s been a real labour of love. Sadly Craig lost his brother recently, but has the treasured memories and laughs he and his brother shared on their many trips together in the big Cruiser through the Murchison area.
So, next time you’re travelling through the WA bush and you see something very large slowly moving across an impossible landscape, take a second look – it’s probably Craig taking this mighty Cruiser for its regular playtime.