Kit­ting out a brand-new Jeep

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS -

HI JOHN, you want to do lunch?” Talk about tim­ing. Luke Hawkins’ call came right af­ter I’d pol­ished off the bowl of card­board for break­fast dished out as part of a new ‘lose weight’ regime. I would have said yes to a pie cart meet, but lunch with Luke is al­ways a plea­sure. A sec­ond gen­er­a­tion car dealer and dealer prin­ci­pal of the West­point Group, Luke’s the sort of bloke an old journo can learn plenty from. Any­way, he chooses up­mar­ket pubs a few cuts above the tiled walls I’m usu­ally seen in. Af­ter a beer and a laugh, Luke said: “Johno, have you seen any of the guff on so­cial me­dia about Jeeps lately?” “You mean com­plaints? Yes, I’ve seen ’em,” I replied. “But it’s sort of par for the course, isn’t it? Sort of a mix of tall poppy syn­drome and knock­ing things you don’t un­der­stand.” And that’s sort of true, but not the whole story as I was about to find out. For a while, Jeeps were sell­ing like crazy – a com­bi­na­tion of great ad­ver­tis­ing, great pric­ing and a bloody good prod­uct. But some­where up the line a few years ago, things got a bit too self-con­fi­dent and sud­denly cus­tomer and war­ranty is­sues weren’t al­ways com­ing first. Some­times suc­cess breeds com­pla­cency. And there’s noth­ing like a few dis­grun­tled cus­tomers to make a lot of noise. None of this was Luke’s im­me­di­ate prob­lem; West­point’s growth has been based on cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, but one of its fran­chises sells Jeeps and no­ticed a big drop in sales. There’d been some ma­jor changes at dis­trib­u­tor level to cor­rect the com­pla­cency is­sues, in­clud­ing a new ‘there and back’ guar­an­tee aimed di­rectly at the knock­ers but, on the sales floor, things needed a shake-up. And the Hawkins family has gone a long way based on their abil­ity to make things hap­pen. “What I want to do is lend you a new Jeep, you head bush and work it as hard as you want,” Luke said. “We’ve got com­plete con­fi­dence the prod­uct will sur­vive some Rooth­less test­ing. What do you reckon?” I reck­oned I al­ready have a truck. Ac­tu­ally, I al­ready have sev­eral trucks; all old and smelly maybe but, hey, look who’s talking? I like my old trucks, too; nice and sim­ple, like me. Maybe even a tad over­weight and in­clined to con­sume more fuel, like me again. But I did have a film­ing trip com­ing up and that meant room for a cam­era car. Now, I don’t want to be mean to our cam­era teams but the fact of the mat­ter is, when your brain is over­flow­ing with ‘what’s charg­ing where?’ and ‘what’s the next shot?’ and ‘how do I get the mud out of that?’, things can get pretty hec­tic for the driver. Cam­era cars need to be re­li­able, strong and pow­er­ful enough to catch up. They also have to go al­most anywhere and, err, take a beat­ing from blokes who know they’ll be giv­ing them back. They have to sit be­hind the con­voy in the dust all day un­til they get bounced off the road for an­other tran­si­tion shot. The ideal cam­era car would be an M1 Abrams tank. So I ran all this past Luke and he of­fered up a brand-new Jeep Grand Chero­kee. I must have paled a bit be­cause the next thing he said was to take it to Aaron at Op­po­site Lock West­side and get it decked out to do the job. Aaron’s young and en­thu­si­as­tic but, boy, he

knows his stuff! Be­tween us, we came up with a ‘noth­ing but the best’ ap­proach to get­ting the Chero­kee sorted to do the job. Be­ing a brand­new model, there wasn’t any­thing avail­able and proven sus­pen­sion-wise – one of my big con­cerns was the ground clear­ance, so an­other 40 or 50mm would have been nice – but I reckon we nailed the rest of it re­ally well. Next month I’ll tell you how it worked! For now, let’s take a look at how an old bushy with a fair bit of of­froad ex­pe­ri­ence and a young bloke who knows his prod­ucts came to­gether to come up with the right clob­ber. First off was the bat­tery pack. When Aaron told me he’d like to use a Phoenix in­verter, I was over the moon. For those of you old enough to re­mem­ber, I built a car­a­van us­ing the ‘noth­ing but the best’ phi­los­o­phy years ago and Bain­bridge sup­plied one of its Vic­tron Phoenix in­vert­ers be­cause we needed pure and re­li­able 240V power in Vicki too. The van was used as a base for cam­era teams, when the wife wasn’t plug­ging in her hairdryer, any­way. With dual Swedish CTEK 20A charg­ers feed­ing two 120Ah lead crys­tal bat­ter­ies to power the Vic­tron, we had the per­fect com­bi­na­tion. I’d asked Aaron to go for a Front Run­ner roof rack, hav­ing tested them so ex­ten­sively in the Kala­hari, and while he was sourc­ing that, he came up with the idea to fit the bat­ter­ies into a Front Run­ner Wolf Pack stor­age box with the CTEKs mounted on the lid and power out­lets re­cessed into the pro­tected sides. It was a stroke of bril­liance, com­bin­ing strength and pro­tec­tion with the abil­ity to be trans­ferred to an­other ve­hi­cle if re­quired. We looked the Chero­kee over long and hard. Be­cause it couldn’t be lifted, Aaron sourced a steel front panel from UNEEK 4x4 and then, af­ter ask­ing me what sort of winch was best, he got his team to fit a VRS 9500lb job with rope. A bit of bash plate style pro­tec­tion up front on mod­ern ve­hi­cles is al­most manda­tory if you’re se­ri­ous about go­ing bush, and the beaut thing about go­ing through Op­po­site Lock is you get the choice of every prod­uct avail­able on the mar­ket. In the old days, we got away with­out it thanks to steel bumpers and big spa­ces be­tween sim­ple com­po­nents. These days, any­thing from a roo to a rock can see your hol­i­day plans sit­ting on the side of the road in a cloud of steam if you’re not pre­pared. Tyres were next. Stock tyres are great for mak­ing ve­hi­cles sound good dur­ing test drives but punc­tures and side wall fail­ures are the num­ber one break­down in the out­back. Lately, I’ve been prov­ing that strong tyres do not nec­es­sar­ily come with big brand names and big­ger prices. I’d men­tioned that to Aaron and pre­dictably he came up with a brand I’d never heard of. Visual in­spec­tion showed the Achilles Desert Hawks to be round, black, kind of chunky and with a hole in the mid­dle – pretty much what you’d ex­pect from a top shelf of­froad tyre. At around $300 each in that weird 18in size, I was pretty im­pressed! Would they do the job? I fig­ured I’d find out soon enough, but it only took eyes to see how much tougher they had to be over stan­dard rub­ber. At least I knew the Op­po­site Lock awning would do the job. I’ve tested these over the years and can’t fault them long-term, a stage a lot of the cheaper awnings never get to.


Last but not least, I asked Aaron to fit some mounts to the roof rack to take a set of MaxTrax re­cov­ery tracks. Look, leav­ing home with­out MaxTrax is stupid. I’ve had plenty of trips where the MaxTrax never left the roof but, fact is, when they do, they’ve re­cov­ered the ve­hi­cle and of­ten saved it, too. Max­ies are the cheap­est in­sur­ance any of­froader can have. Front Run­ner is a South African based com­pany but it’s telling that it makes a bracket for its racks specif­i­cally for MaxTrax be­cause the or­ange boards are a favourite over there, too. I guess you don’t want to be muck­ing around with cheap crack­ing plas­tic when there’s a pride of li­ons wak­ing up un­der those trees. Righto… So with swags and bunks strapped up top, the back seat folded to take end­less Pel­i­can cases and Milo smok­ing away up front, we left Bris­bane head­ing for Dar­win via a whole bunch of out­back tracks. How did we go? Next month… same time… same channel. With a 3500kg tow­ing ca­pac­ity, I reckon a few of you might be pretty keen to find out how these Jeeps go in the real world, eh? That’s the real world of Rooth­less out­back pun­ish­ment and huge dis­tances. Maybe I’d bet­ter go book a seat at that pie cart meet.

hand­shake of ap­proval Luke Hawkins gives Roothy the rooth­less test­ing to tor­ture the Jeep with some

A fella could get used to a lit­tle lux­ury in the bush, eh?

A roof rack from Front Run­ner al­lows us to mount a set of MaxTrax up top along with room for the crew's swags Un­der­car­riage pro­tec­tion is pretty much manda­tory for most 4WDs The Achillies Desert Hawks mud­dies are round, chunky and a big step up over stan­dard road tyres for bush touring Two 120Ah lead crys­tal bat­ter­ies and a Vic­tron Phoenix in­verter ought to keep the film crew happy

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