During the month since the Landcruiser rolled off the tilt tray I’ve been throwing a lot of time (and coin) into the upgrades to suit our plans of extended overland touring. Many of the parts and upgrade kits were ordered for the previous blue GXL but thankfully they hadn’t arrived before our decision to upgrade to the new grey tow mule. We had to wait nearly a month from purchasing of the VX until it was delivered from NSW, largely due to COVID transport restrictions – this gave me a good head start on the build planning and ordering of parts and material.
Now that the X3’s inaugural trip is completed (check out Lachie’s bucks’ party video) I have a chance to wrap up many of the vehicle upgrade jobs – so here’s a run down of where I’ve got to so far…
The need for a snorkel on the Landcruiser is a no-brainer given the dusty outback roads we plan to traverse. I had fitted a Safari Armax snorkel on the blue GXL and it did the job well however it had a habit of collecting lots of leaves and bugs, and presumably more dust, due to its forward facing ram inlet.
I noticed that the Toyota factory Paris-Dakar race Cruisers and others had rear facing fabricated snorkels and figured for them to use them there must be negligible power loss or ill effects, I also preferred the look of a fabricated accessory compared to molded plastic. After looking at options and getting quotes I settled on the 4″ mid-entry stainless steel snorkel with matt black powder coating from In-house Fabrication (Brisbane).
The snorkel came with paper templates that were a little hard to work out until I realised there was a page missing, soon rectified by a telephone call and the page was emailed through. Now, no matter how many time you do it, cutting fist sized holes in a newly acquired car is always cause for some anxious moments and triple checking….
So far I’m really impressed by fit and finish of the snorkel and it gives a throaty note when the throttle is opened up. It runs a little closer to the A pillar than I’d like due to where I drilled the mounting holes but so far there is no sign of it touching the pillar on rough roads. To complement the snorkel I run a Unifilter air cleaner element.
Rear fit out – drawer, fridge, oven…
I had made the drawers in the previous Cruiser based on the Drifta type design, with teflon slides rather than bearing runners on the main drawers. After having rattling metal drawers before the slide arrangement was now my strong preference.
I had experimented with a tilt-slide for the 50l Waeco fridge in the GXL so that Suzzanne could see into it, but it proved a poor solution. When empty you couldn’t keep the fridge slide down and when full you could hardly push it back into position. I had also decided to add a 12V oven, inverter and LiFePO4 battery into the rear of the wagon – together these changes meant a new design from the ground up.
In all of my drawer builds I start with a full 12mm ply floor as a platform for everything to mount to, with everything bolted factory mounting points using steel brackets. Wherever possible I use threaded fasteners rather than screws to hold the timber sections together, with my preference being use of metal Tee nuts on blind side of each piece.
During the drawer build I decided to add remote control to the coil helper air bags I have planned, so the build had to accommodate the compressor and a control manifold with solenoid valves. Rather than a traditional fridge slide I opted to go with 200kg runners to which I fitted a fridge mounting platform and supports for a metal slide-out shelf that was also an Eezyawn K9 camp table.
The end result is much lighter than typical metal drawers and exactly meets the criteria I want.
Kaymar rear bar and wheel carriers
Our plans for long distance remote travel means the need to carry additional fuel to supplement the 138l standard tank in the Cruiser. I also want to get the spare tyre out from under the car where it is prone to damage in rough terrain and can be an anchor in soft or rocky ground. While I was at it I opted to add a second wheel carrier to give the security of a second spare wheel/tyre without need to get it onto the roof rack and without the increased centre of gravity that imposes.
I had ordered a GXL spec Kaymar rear bar long before considering the grey VX, including colour coding in Onyx Blue. As soon as the VX was secured I cancelled the colour coding but it was too late to change to the VX style with reversing sensor cut outs.
When the bar arrived I cut out the sensor holes and colour matched it myself using Supercheap custom mixed spray packs, and it turned out surprisingly good. I had ordered a 6th spare wheel and tyre matched to rest of those on the car, ROH Trophy 18″ x 9″ +47 wheel with LT305/65R18 Nitto RidgeGrappler tyres.
Similar to the snorkel, fitting the Kaymar bar meant some serious hatchet work on the Landcruiser’s expensive panels, but once the first cut is made there’s no going back again. The bar installation is not the easiest vehicle modification as there are many components and you have to account for misalignment between the body and chassis due to original vehicle assembly. I wasn’t happy with the supplied reversing camera relocation bracket and made my own from aluminium RHS (pool fence post), which brought the camera over a little further for hitching the trailer. To complement the installation I added a LED worklight and installed a water tap for connection to the undercar water tank (refer next section).
Long range diesel tank and water tank
Extended outback travel distances require you to have good cruising range, which means ability to carry plenty of fuel. When towing, especially in sand, the fuel consumption rate can increase by 30% or more (for a diesel vehicle) so a long range tank is a worthy addition if you are prepared to carry the additional weight. Even if you do not intend long travel distances away from fuel stations outback refueling points are notorious for keeping odd hours, running out of fuel or having very high prices – having ability to bypass a refueling opportunity until the next town gives you a lot of flexibility as a traveller.
After considering the options of plastic or steel tanks I was drawn to the LongRanger combination tank, offering 215l total diesel capacity (up from 138l) and a separate stainless steel 55l water tank bonded on top. I thought this was a great option as I would rarely need the 270l of a full sized diesel tank. Even though steel tanks are heavy (and have a reputation of cracking) I was not sure about merits of a plastic tank which can not have internal baffles, and I couldn’t get the option of a water cell with the plastic tank options.
The diesel tank installation was one upgrade that I couldn’t DIY because it involves the fuel system and requires a Modification Plate signed of by a certifying authority. I did however complete the water installation including a 12lpm Seaflo pump mounted under the Kaymar bar side wings to push water to the rear mounted tap.
My only negative comment to the Longranger tank is the poor quality of the paint finish, including a mark where they must have sat it on a tyre when the paint was wet. I also found that the Torqit exhaust system runs very close to the tank and required some ‘modification’ for clearance, no fault of either party though given these are aftermarket modifications.
Upgrade of the electrical system includes several separate but interconnected components, each with their own requirements. These are broadly split into two:
- The equipment supplied from the vehicle’s cranking battery, or directly from the alternator when the engine is running.
- Equipment energised from the auxiliary battery in rear of the vehicle.
Connecting these two systems is a Redarc BCDC1250D 50A dc-dc charger with MPPT solar regulator.
Although I like the concept I steered away from integrated switching devices like ARB’s Linx or a full Redarc TVMS, instead opting for a gang of Lightforce custom switches in an extended version of the 200 Series dashboard panel.
These switches control the main systems supplied from the cranking battery including:
– Lightforce HTX spot lights and Stedi LED light bar
– Remote control of the Airbag Man coil helper airbags and onboard compressor
– Remote control of the Clearview towing mirror
– Harrop E-Lockers
– Stocklock Extreme torque converter lock up kit
– Redarc Tow Pro Elite electric trailer brake controller
There is also a switch to link the main and auxiliary batteries in case I need to jump start ourselves, or to supplement the cranking battery during heavy work such as winching.
Communication is an important part of any touring vehicle build and we opted for the GME XRS UHF radio with both 2.1dB and 6.6dB aerials.
Control of high powered accessories is done using a Prolec integrated fuse and relay module which gives a much tidier installation than having a half dozen separate relays and fuse holders scattered around the engine bay. This is mounted where a second under bonnet battery would normally go, along with isolators for the battery link and trailer Anderson plug circuit.
The auxiliary electrical system is energised from a 100AH DCS LiFePO4 lithium battery mounted in rear of the wagon. The DCS battery has its own integrated management system with Bluetooth connectivity. Equipment supplied from the auxiliary battery includes:
– 700W Redarc pure sine wave inverter, for charging electronic equipment and supplying small appliances
– The drinking water pump drawing from the under car tank
– Air compressor (normally I would advocate main battery supply, but the auxiliary is right beside)
– Road Chef 12V oven
– USB and 12V chargers throughout the vehicle
– interior and exterior LED area lighting
– front and rear dash cameras
Odds and ends…
Integrating the upgrades above is a host of smaller but equally important pieces of equipment. Much of this equipment was swapped across from the previous Cruiser and includes:
– Rhinorack platform on a backbone mounting system
– Torqit exhaust system and Power Module
– Custom made steel side steps (sliders)
– Brown Davis underbody protection plates
– ARB recovery points
– KAON cargo barrier and rear shelf
– Darche 180 degree awning with sidewalls
– 23Zero shower ensuite tent
I fitted most of the listed equipment myself and designed the supporting electrical system – this not only saves money but ensures that I know how and where components are installed should there be problems on the track. Being an electrical engineer with a mining equipment background helps in this regard.
Most of the equipment was sourced through Locked 4×4 (Australia), a local all in one online store that I have found to be very responsive with excellent prices that includes free shipping in many cases.