1995 LAND ROVER DEFENDER 300TDI
WITH 250,000km on the odo, it was initially thought the Land Rover Defender’s 300Tdi 2.5-litre direct injection turbo-diesel donk was in relatively good shape, and that the only mechanical issues were a leaking gearbox seal and a few minor brake issues. But when the vehicle was shipped from Perth to Melbourne for a final check-over, it was discovered the engine was terminally ill.
ARB’S resident Landy expert Stephen Lawn was asked to source, rebuild and fit a new 300Tdi, which he achieved in record time – the list of repairs runs deep.
Prior to this last-minute fix, the Defender was given a major tidy-up, including new foot wells, some panel beating and new paint. It was then accessorised from the ARB warehouse. The Defender wears a Commercial Bar up front with a Warn XDC 9.5 winch running synthetic rope.
Extra lighting is courtesy a pair of IPF 900XL HID driving lights and upgraded IPF headlights. Tasked with carrying nine of the swags required on the trip is an ARB roof rack.
An OME suspension kit with long travel springs and matching shocks gives a lift of around 30mm, as well as greater load-carrying ability. An ARB air locker at the rear provides additional traction.
Recaro seats add comfort, while other interior mods include a GME TX4500S UHF radio and Redarc gauges.
The Defender’s original Sunraysia rims were retained but fitted with LT235/85R16 Cooper Discoverer A/T3 tyres. While these were certainly the least aggressive of all the tyres fitted to the ARB Off Road Icons, they proved great performers in the desert and offered surprisingly good traction in muddy conditions.
THE Supp Regs were outlined on the first morning as we munched on egg and bacon rolls atop Alice Springs’ ANZAC Lookout. Sam Boden ran through the route, which would see us travel from Alice Springs to Chambers Pillar and then on to Mt Dare, before traversing the Simpson Desert via Dalhousie Springs, the French Line, the Rig Road, Knolls Track, back on to the French Line, Poeppel Corner, the QAA Line, and on to Birdsville. The plan was to then head to Cordillo Downs, Coongie Lakes, Innamincka, Burke’s Grave, the Burke and Wills Dig Tree, Cameron Corner, Tibooburra, Milparinka, Packsaddle, Silverton, Eldee Station and then on to Broken Hill, where the trip would officially conclude some two weeks after it began… weather permitting.
The sky was grey with ominous-looking clouds as we departed Alice Springs, and the weather forecast wasn’t great; a series of cold fronts were pushing their way across Central Australia from the southwest and they were supposedly going to bring plenty of rain. However, the skies began to clear as we headed out of Alice Springs on Old South Road and hit the gravel for the first time.
As the crew began to familiarise themselves with the vehicles, there was plenty of radio chatter. The occupants of the FJ40 were already wishing they’d packed earplugs, with the windows rattling furiously in their doors and the loose tailgate adding to the cacophony. The ambience inside the Defender was much calmer – although by today’s NVH standards it was still appalling, with rattles, squeaks and groans emanating from just about every part of the vehicle, except for that new 300Tdi engine which sounded fantastic and was blessed with copious amounts of low-rpm grunt.
The GQ Patrol and the LN106 Hilux were positively serene by comparison – with windows up and air conditioners on, noise levels inside these two Icons weren’t that far off modern-vehicle standards.
We stopped off at Ewaninga Rock Carvings on the way south where there is the Northern Territory’s highest concentration of petroglyphs. An information sign here includes a quote from a local regarding the
‘Rain Dreaming’, which states: “Big storm through here, big mobs of thunder and lightning and all that…” Considering the weather forecast, I thought maybe this could be a sign of things to come.
By the time we arrived at Chambers Pillar the sky had once again started to fill with clouds. There was still an hour or more of light as we rolled out our swags for the first time and set about unloading the firewood we’d collected earlier in the day. As we got the fire going,vicky cooked up our first meal, while Patrick cracked open a bottle of single malt whisky to celebrate the start of a new adventure. Of course, this was all washed down with the obligatory ration of beers and then, after dinner, a few of us took the opportunity for a night-time walk around Chambers Pillar, just as it started to rain.
The sky was cloudy again the next morning, but the rain had stopped – in fact, there had only been a light sprinkle overnight – and the clouds began to vanish as we ate brekky. After a stint in the Defender the previous day, I opted to go for a run in the GQ Patrol this morning; I had been itching to reacquaint myself with the Patrol after having driven it in standard form more than a year earlier. Now, with its aftermarket turbo and new Old Man Emu suspension, it was a far cry from the tired old beast it once was. It positively hauled!
We headed back out to Maryvale and then on to the Ghan Heritage Road, which became more and more corrugated as we headed south; in fact it was starting to feel a little uncomfortable in the Patrol, so it must’ve been positively diabolical (and deafening) in the rattly old FJ.
We had reached the Finke River by lunchtime, where we pulled up to regroup the convoy and have a bite to eat. I jumped into the LN106 Hilux after lunch and was amazed by the lack of squeaks and rattles despite the relatively poor condition of the road, including the final section of whoops on the Finke Desert Race track into Finke. Toyota’s build quality in the mid-1990s was second-to-none, and this Hilux was built in the middle of that period. It was also very well-prepared for this trip by Roger Vickery’s ARB Queensland team.
We pushed on towards Mt Dare thinking that the final muddy section just before the pub might be a bit tricky. Earlier in the day we’d chatted to some people who’d just left Mt Dare and they said it was a struggle, and the mud covering their vehicles seemed to confirm this. Nevertheless, we made it through the wet section easily enough and were soon chin-wagging at the bar with hotel proprietors Graham and Sandra Scott. They told us to expect some more rain overnight and organised for a sheltered area to be cleared where we could roll out our swags.
After another light overnight drizzle, it was quite a challenge trying to walk around a muddy and slippery Mt Dare in the morning. However, by the time we’d had breakfast, refuelled the vehicles, and packed and loaded our gear, the sun was out and the ground had started to dry.
INTO THE DESERT
WITH only a relatively short drive to Dalhousie Springs we could afford a leisurely start, and it was 10.30am by the time we departed Mt Dare. We stopped off for a look around Bloods Creek Ruins, where a fellow by the name of Gillen stopped in 1901, describing the pub here as “a miserable little store eating house and grog shanty kept by a man named Harvey; found half a dozen men there including the proprietor all more or less drunk – principally more.”
After the settlement was abandoned, Bloods Creek was leased to Edmund (Ted) Colson in 1931, the first European to cross the Simpson Desert. He was accompanied by Eringa Peter (Peter Ains) of the Antakurinya tribe, and in 1936 the pair completed the 885km round trip from Bloods Creek to Birdsville and back in just 35 days. He was apparently prompted to cross the desert by an ‘exceptionally wet season’, which sounded very similar to the conditions we were now experiencing 80 years later.
We were soon confronted by our first deep-water crossing. The petrol-powered FJ40 didn’t like it at all, and as soon as water splashed up into its engine bay the fire went out. After towing the FJ out of the drink with the Patrol, we dried the distributor, coil and leads and soon had the engine purring again. The other vehicles all made it through okay, but the deep water certainly tested the Defender’s door seals, which failed entirely to keep water out of the cabin.
After a few more wet and muddy sections we arrived at Dalhousie Springs in the mid-afternoon to find we had the place to ourselves. Not another visitor in sight… nada. After rolling out our swags we did what everyone does when they first arrive at Dalhousie Springs: we went for a dip in the warm waters of the mound springs, heated to a very pleasant 34-38°C by the ancient waters rising from the Great Artesian Basin.
We floated around for a couple of hours, discussing the adventure so far, how we thought the vehicles were performing, what the weather might do, how fortunate we were to be here, and what Vicky might be preparing for dinner. Yep, we were having a hell of a great time so far. The menu that night far exceeded anyone’s expectations: fresh oysters for entrée and a selection of kangaroo, lamb, beef and emu for the main course. Scrumptious.
Knowing we were about to spend the next three days in the desert, the following morning a few of us took the opportunity to indulge in a final swim in the mound springs. We were fed, packed and ready to roll by 9am and were soon on the move.
We’d only driven around 30km along Spring Creek Track when the convoy was
Defender’s door seals were badly inadequate for water crossings.
FJ40 was dubbed ‘Peppa Pig’, as it loved muddy puddles. Proof you don’t need a new 4x4 for an outback adventure. Our fearless leader Sam Boden, ARB’S marketing manager.
Turbocharged GQ made light work of the Simpson Desert.
No ground clearance dramas with a liveaxle Hilux.
One advantage of a dieselpowered 4x4...
Patrick Cruywagen enjoying the warm water at Dalhousie Springs.
Working together to pull a stalled FJ40 out of the drink.