OUR EXPEDITION PATROL CONVERSION - from Wagon to Ute & CANOPY
STRETCHED & UTED
With just 60,000km on the clock back in 2004, we decided to convert our GU Patrol from a wagon to ute.
It’s a great option for a second hand or used wagon, I reckon. I mean who would want to chop up a brand new wagon and make it into a ute – who could afford it you may also ask? I let my GU Patrol clock up a few miles and it was three years old when I decided I could do the dastly deed!
I had always wanted a ute, but she-who-is-to-be-obeyed wouldn’t have a bar of any of those no-storage-space, single cab configurations and I didn’t like the smaller 1-tonne rigs available, while the big Ford F250 was out off the range of my wallet.
Of course, there were some serious advantages to modifying the Patrol with most of the options I had already fitted to it being able to stay on the vehicle. Secondly, I could modify the vehicle to whatever I had in mind, while lastly … and not unimportantly … I knew the Patrol would be a tough and reliable performer, whatever I chose to do.
I started my search in Perth where a number of companies modify both Land Cruisers and Patrols for the thriving mining industry and for the state’s sprawling pastoral businesses. Back closer to home in the suburbs of Melbourne I went on the prowl looking for some hint of a vehicle customiser who knew what I wanted, had the runs on the board as far as experience with such a mod was concerned and who could deliver in a given time frame. I came away very disappointed!
My eyes turned north to sunny Queensland where there is a healthy choice of businesses modifying Patrol and Cruiser wagons into all forms of utes and tray backs. I liked what I saw and before long committed my dollars, the Patrol being sent away on transporter for the trip north.
The brief to Creative Conversions, my chosen modifier, was simple enough. Cut and stretch the chassis 500 - 600mm, cut the back off the wagon at the C-pillar and put an alloy tray on the back.
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We then got a bit carried away and added a few options such as a 60-litre water tank under the tray and two alloy toolboxes. Then a full alloy canopy with lift-up mesh sides were added and then to finish off the whole deal, I wanted the whole lot painted the same original colour as the vehicle and while they were at, they could paint the Patrol from front to rear as well. Yeah, we got a bit enthused by it all, but the results were well worth it, I reckon.
For their part, Creative Conversions have been doing a range of mods to mainly Cruiser and Patrol wagons for ages, having started of as a crash repairer and spray painter, but have done nothing else for the last nine or so years but 4WD wagon modifications. And the range of modified wagons they produce is as wide as the imagination and desires of their hundreds of customers.
For example when we picked up our finished Patrol, there were six vehicles in varying stages of being modified. One Patrol was being made into a dual cab, having an 800mm chassis extension with a tray and an in-built heavy-duty, fifth-wheel tow coupling; two Cruisers for a well known hire company were simply having their backs cut off with a short tray fitted; another 100 Series and a GU Patrol were being cut with a chassis extension of 500mm with a standard steel tray fitted to both; another Patrol was being cut into a dual-cab, having a 350mm chassis extension, a lazy axle with air-bag suspension being fitted to both rear axles, the rear chassis being extended to take a 2.5-metre tray and a GVM upgrade to 4.8 tonnes.
But it is the attention to detail and the fine work that is attracting people from all over Australia to Creative Conversion’s workshop in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.
The chassis cut is arguably the most important aspect of the mod and there is no skimping on the details. In fact, I’d hazard a guess and say that the final product from Creative is probably stronger than the original.
The wheelbase extension is achieved by cutting the chassis in the area below the rear seat position, forward of any existing suspension mounting points. By using this method they are able to move the entire rear suspension and pick up points back as one.
As far as the chassis goes, most of which are formed by two channels welded to form a box section, Creative first cut the chassis then add a new section of inner channel, according to the amount of extension needed, then a new section of outer channel is then welded in place to overlap the ends of the original inner piece. To finish the job an angled fische-plate (or plates depending on the length of extension) is then welded over the entire joint area, extending beyond each end to form the final structure.
Nearly everything else remains standard including fuel tank, mounts, suspension, towbars, etc. The original exhaust pipe gets lengthened while the handbrake cable is extended by adding a new one-piece inner cable. The initial tail-shaft is used in combination with a centre bearing and lay shaft to gain the extra length required.
All wiring and brake lines are lengthen and extended, with most of the cable joining and junction work ended up tucked in behind the kick-board, inside the cab, on the very back wall. You’d be surprised at how much cabling there is too – especially on the latest 100 Series Cruisers.
Adding a great touch is what Creative do with what was the wheel arch of the wagon body. With a bit of deft metal work they turn these into two, smart looking and handy toolboxes.
A standard steel tray is then fitted to the back of the wagon – the size really depending on the length of the chassis extension and how much overhang the owner can live with. I wanted to go as light weight as possible, so opted for an alloy tray and not wanting the tray to overhang the rear of the chassis or a towball by too much, kept the tray length to 1.85 metres.
The tray is 1.95metres wide while there’s space for two spare tyres in the canopy, carried mid-ship, which maybe a bit of a pain to get to but they are in the right place as far as weight distribution is concerned.
The all-alloy canopy was built to my basic design and it wasn't bad, being built at that time by EDS Fabrications, Creative’s normal supplier of alloy canopies; they have since taken this in-house. However, I was dissapointed with it in may ways (not because of anything Creative had done), so decided to change it for a Carry Me Camper - see below.
Now such a mod and the great work it entails, doesn’t come cheap - even back in 2004 - it'll be more expensive nowadays. A wagon converted to a dual cab including a steel tray with a chassis extension of basically any length, costs then around $11,915. An all-alloy canopy like mine set us back over $5500 while toolboxes and a watertank added $995 and $295 respectively.
For the final accolade of Creative Conversion’s work we’ll go to the report on the Vic Roads Engineering Certificate, inspected and written by Enkelman Consulting Engineers. It stated in part: ‘This is a well-proven design; the workmanship is most professional’.
While the ‘new’ stretched Patrol makes for a fine touring and towing machine there is a price to pay. For starters the turning circle is larger while the ramp-over angle is less. The turning circle adds another dimension in city carparks while the difference in ramp-over angle has decreased the 4WD ability and agility slightly when in tough offroad conditions. A small price I’ve got to say.
And after over 10 years of travelling and 280,000km of tough touring how has the stretch to the chassis and the modified body work performed?
I gotta say it has never given us a problem in any form in all that time. The chassis is as good as ever and super strong while the body is fine with no cracks or any other issues, although the paintwork is showing signs of the hard work it has endured.
For more information on Creative Conversions and the range of modifications they can do, pricing, etc, ph: (07) 3881 0577 or check the web at: www.creativeconversions.com.au.
While your's truly had been involved in the design of the first canopy on our Patrol, it had never worked out the way I wanted it. With the thought of a rooftop tent and a better designed and laid out canopy and tyre set-up the attraction was just too much.
Carry Me Campers is now based in the South Australian town of Murray Bridge and built by Jacksons 4x4 Accessories (www.carrymecamper.com.au).
These campers come in a variety of different styles and lengths including units for standard and dual cab utes as well as for utes that are fitted with a tub tray. We opted for their standard camper unit that is suitable for a dual cab ute trayback. The bed area of these campers protrude over the vehicle cab to give you a full-length bed (6’6”) just like the proven single cab versions.
The main part of the box measures 1.65 metres long by 1.83m wide and is just a touch over a metre high. Made from zinc annealed coated steel this unit is a tough and robust box designed for a life time of work and play. Weight of these units (with jacks and tent attached) is 330kg.
Doors on each side lift on gas struts to make access easy while good dust seals ensure the interior stays dust and dirt free. The lockable door handles are easy to use and provide a positive pressure on the seals to ensure a perfect seal.
Normally the camper is designed as a slide-on unit and comes complete with a set of four jacks that allow the camper to be removed from the vehicle when it is not in use or if you want to use the vehicle and you don’t want to move your camp. As we our travels are normally pretty mobile and the camper erects and drops quickly we opted to fit the unit permanently to the Patrol. However if we ever change the vehicle six bolts on each side and the box will lift off.
The inside of the box is cavernous and we set the near side (passenger side of camper) up as a kitchen with a unique slide and tilt tray for Engel fridges which works a treat.
Candy also produce a stainless steel pantry for their campers that includes a fold-down table, three plastic draws, a tub and a cutlery drawer. These units are a little too long if you have a dual cab camper with a fridge already fitted so we opted for a few plastic drawers to fill the available space.
Adding to the usability of the kitchen area we’ve added a Black Widow table. These are designed to quickly clip into a couple of small brackets and with their easily extendable legs can be fitted basically anywhere you like.
We included a Candy electrical package into the camper. The normal package includes a fuse box, battery indicator, three power outlets, cargo lights on each of the doors as well as a 3.5amp battery charger and a 75amp/hr deep cycle battery. As we already had a dual battery in the Patrol we passed on the charger and the extra battery.
We mulled over how and where to carry the spare tyres. In the end it was decided to fit them to the very back of the camper on a Candy designed drop-down carrier arrangement. This demands an internal frame at the rear of the camper box to hold the extra weight of the tyres but it is easily fitted. This has proven to be an easy and effective way of carrying the tyres and they are always handy and ready to use.
Up top, the bed is a Queen size 100mm deep innerspring mattress, or if you prefer there’s a high quality foam mattress available. This is a beauty and is very comfortable.
The tent section of the camper is made from Aussie produced Bradmill canvas with 12oz material for the roof and 8oz material for the walls.
To erect the camper first take the dust cover off the unit and remove the poles and pegs from the box. Hammer a couple of pegs into the ground about three metres out from the front and back of the box of the camper. Fold the tent out from the box and erect a pole and use a rope to hold into position.
Immediately you have shelter over the kitchen area of the camper and the bed is now accessible – after just a couple of minutes. This is all you need to do for an overnight stop as there is plenty of room to dress in the tent section over the bed. The tent area has a large screen door while screened windows at each end give excellent ventilation.
The three external walls can be zipped on and pegged down in a matter of minutes. A draught skirt and a floor can also be attached if required. Spreader poles are also included and while these make the tent of the camper look much better as it stretches the canvas taught, we’ve never used them!
Packing up is a reverse of the set-up procedure and takes a little more time but is pretty hassle free, which is the way we like it.
Adding to the shade of the Camper or for those times we need a quick shelter from the sun or the rain when the camper isn’t erected we have an easy to erect Black Widow awning. These awnings come in a range of sizes designed to mount on either the sides or the rear of any four wheel drive vehicle. We’ve used them in the past, and found an awning to be invaluable and this unit is simple and very quick to set up while working a treat.
Inside the canopy we’ve added a 1000 watt Projecta inverter www.projecta.com.au to run a range of power tools. This unit is rated to carry a 2000 watt peak load for a short time as well as a 1000 watts continuous load. Still you need some fairly heavy cables supplying an inverter of this capacity so the boys at Outback 4WD done the job of running heavy power cables from the auxillary battery.
Finally for our around the world travels, but also more than handy for Australia, we’ve added a water filtration and purification system from Purifiers Australia www.purifiersaustralia.com.au.
Our Carry Me Camper has exceeded all our expectations and now back home after our around the world trip and numerous expeditions in Australia - it is over eight years old and has done about 200,000km – it is still going strong.
See you in the bush.
Ron and Viv.
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