As a single ex-pat Pom, Alistair ‘Ali’ Nelson was having a great time discovering the Australian outback on two wheels.
This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s May 2010 issue
His BMW R1100GS had taken him to places like the Simpson Desert, Cameron Corner, Alice Springs to Bamaga via the Sandover Highway, the Gulf of Carpentaria, cross-country to South Australia and up and down the eastern seaboard. But with a new family and the offer of another outback adventure at hand, Ali knew he needed something more accommodating than the trusty GS.
While BMW’s GS bikes are considered the world over to be the ultimate long-distance, cross-country touring bikes, the four-wheeled equivalent would have to be the venerable Toyota TroopCarrier. You can find Troopies travelling in all quarters of the globe – delivering aid in Africa, conquering dunes in the Sahara, transporting supplies in South America and kicking up dust in the Aussie bush.
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“I was thinking of a D4D standard Prado,” recalls Ali, “but at the time they were still too pricey, and I was worried that I wouldn’t want to point a Prado up a rugged, overgrown trail for fear of dinging panels and scratching the duco. I was also concerned about doing DIY mechanical tasks on a Prado and the Troopie is much more basic.
“I wanted a vehicle that needs to be driven purposely and moderately, especially on long-distance trips. If I had a Prado, I know I’d tend to stay behind the wheel longer and set unrealistic drive times. You can’t do that with the Troopie; it’ll cruise at 115km/h on the right roads, but it’s noisy, and hard work to keep it on the boil. Diesel use and tyre wear is horrendous at those speeds.
“Having the Troopie demands a more relaxed approach to travel and requires more sensible and realistic travel objectives, which adds up to a better travel experience overall."
Ali bought a six-seat, naturally aspirated RV Troopie and, with a tight schedule to have it ready for the trip, set about equipping it for family travel. Always the workhorse, this particular Troopie was originally an electricity company vehicle in the Snowy Mountains before serving duty as a builder’s truck in Brisbane. You could say it is now semi-retired as it’s the Nelson family transport for bush adventures.
The vehicle came with the TJM steel bullbar, Ox electric winch, alloy roof rack and just over 100,000km on the clock – just run in! An initial service saw the timing belt renewed and a few suspension bushes replaced to get the Troopie roadworthy and reliable. The winch needed a rebuild with new bushes in the motor and a new steel cable replaced the bird’s nest that was on it.
Working on a budget, the modifications were well planned and considered using the advice of specialists, rather than simply rolling in and having the store catalogue fitted. The Troopie is already a pretty solid vehicle so trip preparation centred on fitting accessories, including an Opposite Lock rear bar with tyre and jerry can carriers, Lightforce spotlights and an Opposite Lock 40-litre water tank under the back of the vehicle.
A fair bit of shopping was done at Opposite Lock’s Springwood (Qld) store and Ali thanks Greg Browne there for his assistance in getting everything right after some initial installation problems.
Other Oppy Lock gear includes the Mean Green recovery kit, sand flag, Blue Tongue IV air compressor and Rackmaster LPG bottle holder on the roof rack. The rack itself is an alloy tradie’s rack and also carries things like swags, extra spare tyre, shovel and tent. The PVC tube at the front of the rack not only carries the tent poles but acts as a windbreak for the rack.
“It has reduced the wind noise to zero – it was horrendous before fitting the tube,” Ali says.
Taking all the troops – Ali, his wife Yenny and kids Lachlan (five), Alexander (three) and Emily (one) – away for weeks at a time requires plenty of gear to be carried, so as well as what goes on the roof, the cavernous cargo area also takes a load.
To better carry gear in the back Ali elected to fit a set of drawers and chose OffRoad Systems’ DIY kit, which he installed and finished off himself. He had the drawers made to a custom length and he completed the installation with timber, marine carpet and fittings, saving around $1000 by doing it himself.
A set of ARB adjustable track-mount tie-downs are fitted to the top of the drawers for securing loads including a Spacecase and any other packaging that might come adrift. Behind the Spacecase, a 39-litre Autofridge rides on a National Luna fridge slide.
Ali chose not to fit a cargo barrier to the Troopie as, being a two-door wagon, in the event of an accident, the rear doors could be the only access to the cabin. As such he is stringent in ensuring everything in the back is solidly tied down.
Carrying so much gear and passengers requires beefed-up suspension, even in a pack mule like a TroopCarrier. Opposite Lock fitted a set of Firestone airbags above the rear leaves to assist with the load. These are perfect for load lugging as the pressure in them can be reduced when there is no load, to soften the ride.
Since returning from a trip to Central Australia, the Troopie’s aging springs and shocks have been replaced with King front coils and rear leaf springs and KYB shocks, plus a steering damper. The new kit provides around a 40mm raise in ride height.
“I rang around lots of shops and wholesalers asking about suspension,” said Ali, “but I never really felt I was speaking to anyone with any real suspension knowledge; they all seemed to be reading it out of a manual. I ended up putting my trust in David Ledger and the crew at Sunshine Steering and they came up with a relatively low-cost replacement that gives a noticeably better on-road ride with almost zero body roll.
“Climbing up a familiar, moderately gnarly section of track in the local woods seems to be achieved with less driving effort than before the suspension was renewed,” said Ali. The only downside to the suspension upgrade has been that the higher ride-height makes it a bit harder for the kids to climb in and for Yenny to access the fridge in the back.
The Nelson clan ride in a basically standard Troopie cabin. A previous owner had fitted an aftermarket MP3-compatible stereo and Ali has fitted a GME UHF radio.
Dingo canvas seat covers protect the front seats and supply valuable storage pockets in the back, while the rear perch is taken up by the three kids’ seats. An advantage of travelling with kids this age, with their short legs, is that it leaves extra space on the floor for gear, in this case the family’s soft luggage.
Mechanically, the rest of the Troopie is standard, with the venerable 1HZ diesel chugging along ahead of a five-speed stick-shift. A factory rear LSD is the only traction aid. A custom-made alloy bash plate protects the bottom of the radiator from impact damage, while a dual battery system, using a Redarc Smart solenoid, ensures there’s enough power to run accessories without draining the main battery.
The Troopie came with a set of alloy wheels with Sime tyres but Ali has chosen to run with split rims for their ease of serviceability and the availability of cheap, durable tyres.
“I’ve taught myself how to safely handle split rims in the bush and love their simplicity and ease of repair. I can handle the negatives, like regular maintenance to prevent rust and sand ingress, the inability to use plugs and the odd balancing difficulties. These are more than offset by the availability of full second-hand sets for less than half the retail price, and the ability to go outback with just one spare and an additional tyre on the rack, rather than carrying a sixth safety rim. I might have a go with alloys later to compare life on safety rims, but I’m happy for now on my skinnies.”
Ali uses a set of Tyrepliers and Gedore tyre levers plus a Rema Tip Top puncture repair kit for any tyre troubles. The Tyrepliers-supplied levers didn’t fit the split rims.
Since owning the Troopie Ali has put more than 20,000 puncture-free kilometres on it, taking in farm visits to Boomi (NSW) the Simpson Desert, Coongie Lakes, Mount Kaputar, Currawinya Lakes, Lightning Ridge, New England National Parks, Budawang Ranges and the Sunshine Coast hinterland forests.
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He has his long service leave coming up and is contemplating a round-Australia trip or to fulfil a dream with an overland trip to Europe. With the family growing (in age, not numbers) there could be a camper trailer or off-road van behind the Troopie for any future extended trips.
Ali says he loves driving the Troopie. “When opting for wheels to drive to work I should take the Camry with its far superior fuel economy, but I’m always making pathetic excuses to drive the Troopie just because I love driving the thing so much. The kids love it, too. When they are in the back in their child seats, they sit up high like kings and from that vantage point they never miss a thing.”
If there is one thing that would vastly improve the TroopCarrier, it’s the thing that so many people have been asking for for more that 20 years – a four-door Troopie!
“Four doors; that would just be twice as many mechanical things for the kids to destroy,” concluded Ali with his KISS approach to the vehicle.
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2002 Toyota LC78 TroopCarrier RV
Owner: Alistair Nelson
Engine: 4.2-litre 1HZ diesel
Power: 96kW at 3800rpm
Torque: 285Nm at 2200rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Differential: Std Toyota with rear LSD
List of modifications
Intake: Safari intake snorkel
Suspension: King Springs, 40-50mm lift; KYB Skorched4 shocks; Firestone airbags under rear
Wheels & Tyres: Standard split rims with eight-ply Dunlop Road Grippers, 7.5 x 16-inch with Michelin tubes; Speedy alloys, with 265/75/R16 Sime Road Trekkers
Exterior modifications: TJM steel bullbar; Ox 10,000lb electric winch; 40L Opposite Lock water tank under vehicle; Lightforce 170 Striker lights; Opposite Lock rear bar with wheel carrier and jerry can holders; Alloy roof rack; Alloy lower radiator guard
Interior modifications: Dingo front seat covers; GME TX4400 UHF radio; Off Road Systems DIY cargo drawers; National Luna fridge slide; 39L Autofridge; Space case; ARB adjustable tie-down tracks; Fire extinguisher