DIRTY WORK

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - JOHN ROOTH

OVER the past few is­sues of 4X4 Aus­tralia I’ve de­tailed some of the work that’s gone into fix­ing up Milo, fol­low­ing 20 or so years of travel on some of the worst tracks in the coun­try.

It takes a par­tic­u­lar kind of time frame and mind­set to con­stantly re­pair an old truck. In re­cent years Milo copped what was needed to get back on the track, but it has rarely been more than patch-up jobs. Me­chan­i­cally she kept go­ing, but al­most ev­ery other part started de­te­ri­o­rat­ing quicker than prawns left in the sun.

I’d bought a half-way-de­cent ’83 Troopy with the in­ten­tion of re­plac­ing Milo’s body, but af­ter fish-plat­ing al­most ev­ery part of the chas­sis in the last decade I fig­ured the chas­sis would need swap­ping out, too.

This raised the ques­tion: when is the orig­i­nal truck no longer orig­i­nal? While both Milo’s body and chas­sis have suf­fered se­verely the truck it­self is es­sen­tially ‘the old girl’ I built a cou­ple of decades ago and, af­ter the last bout of re­pairs, I reckon she’s fine for road travel. Milo’s also safer than most of her gen­er­a­tion thanks to up­graded brakes, steer­ing and sus­pen­sion, which is all as good as it gets.

What both­ers me is that I know what I’ve done to both body and chas­sis, from the point of view of re­pairs and tak­ing it over too many tracks. Watch­ing the body split all the way from fire­wall to floor­pan was an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially when you could see the road through the crack. That was metal fa­tigue, so even af­ter re­in­forc­ing it with a strip of 1mm steel it’s just a mat­ter of time before it splits again. Sim­i­larly there’s no more fresh steel around the door frames to re­in­force; it’s all re­in­force­ment al­ready.

You’ve al­ready seen how my lads and I re­paired the cru­cial front panel by

build­ing a dummy one from an­gle iron. That’s work­ing well, but it can’t make up for the twist­ing ef­fect the last few years of belt­ing around with a weak­ened panel did. Yep, that’s the ul­ti­mate cost of mod­i­fi­ca­tion isn’t it? When the lads sug­gested bung­ing in an in­ter­cooler I knew there’d be a price to pay.

Parts of the chas­sis have been re­paired over the decades, too, but by re­plac­ing both body and chas­sis it was start­ing to look like a new truck with the same name. And there’s a part of my heart de­voted to old Milo. Af­ter all, we’ve shared the past 20 years and been to some in­cred­i­ble places. I’ve lived in the old girl for months at a time – you get con­nected!

So af­ter grap­pling with my con­science, and fol­low­ing some thought­pro­vok­ing beers, I re­alised the best bet would be to leave old Milo as she is and build a new truck for the harder tracks. En­ter Milo 2; although, it’s de­bat­able whether the name or the colour will re­main the same. If you’ve got an opin­ion on that I’d love to hear it.

Right, hav­ing de­cided a ‘new’ truck was the an­swer, I had to get real about who’d be do­ing the work. I barely get enough time for run­ning re­pairs these days, and the sheer ef­fort re­quired to get a project fin­ished in the time frame meant a fair bit of out­sourc­ing. But while some work­shops can han­dle ba­sic tuning and sim­ple up­grades, it takes a spe­cial sort of shop to build a truck suc­cess­fully from the ground up.

I started look­ing for the right skills and tools to do the job. Ideally it’d be part of a net­work of busi­nesses that are used to work­ing to­gether, so I could get some rust-proof­ing, glass work and the myr­iad other things in­volved in a full re­build done in the most time-ef­fec­tive man­ner pos­si­ble.

Then there’s the tech­ni­cal and le­gal as­pects in­volved in reg­is­ter­ing a mod­i­fied ve­hi­cle, some­thing only a hand­ful of spe­cial­ists un­der­stand. Plus it had to be a work­shop I could trust to do the job re­quired, while al­low­ing me plenty of in­put along the way.

Not an easy com­bi­na­tion un­til my mate Si­mon sug­gested hav­ing a yarn with the lads at Sun­shine Coast Op­po­site Lock. Yes, they’re based in Caloun­dra, al­most 100km from the Mud­flats, but they ticked ab­so­lutely ev­ery box I had, and then some.

OL Sunny Coast is op­er­ated by the Flan­ni­gan fam­ily, and I knew old Ron’s pedi­gree on the span­ners went back some 50 years since build­ing up me­chan­i­cal busi­nesses in Vic­to­ria. His sons Nick and An­drew are both trained me­chan­ics and to­tal 4WD nuts, too. They build and drive Nis­sans, but I fig­ured they de­served a taste of Toy­ota qual­ity.

So Si­mon had a yarn with his mate Nick Ball who man­ages the shop. Nick’s an­other off-road nut with a life­time of ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try and, cru­cially, the ex­per­tise to source the right parts. I went up to take a look at the last com­pe­ti­tion truck Nick Flan­ni­gan built with help from his brother An­drew and the crew. A week later, the decision was made: Milo 2 went on their trailer and now I com­mute up the coast on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

To get the old ’83 on the trailer we had to haul her up with the orig­i­nal Milo’s winch – it was very fit­ting. It was a tad em­bar­rass­ing that Nick brought his Nis­san down to tow the trailer, but I’m get­ting over that.

If you’ve ever wanted to build a truck from the ground up, I’ve got a few yarns you might en­joy.

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