BUDGET PRADO BUILD
A desire to get back to basics saw returning Kiwi Richard Soult borrow a family Prado and costeffectively kit it out for overnight 4x4 trips.
I left New Zealand in 1981 and didn’t return for 33 years. When people in Europe used to ask me why I hadn’t returned, even for a holiday, my answer was always the same. “I’m worried I would fall in love with the place and stay.” In fact, in 2014, that’s exactly what happened... I came for a holiday and decided that I was going to move back. I was living in France and recovering from the economical meltdown of 2008. New Zealand was as beautiful as I remembered it, but what surprised me was how easy life seemed to be and how friendly and happy everyone was. In France, I had had a 2005 Range Rover for five years and in which I had traversed the Pyrenees, and the French/ Italian Alps twice. I really wanted another but was told that New Zealand was really Toyota country and a Range Rover would just cost too much to maintain. As it turned out, my father, who spends several months a year in New Zealand, had a 1999 Toyota Prado with very few kms on the clock and having just sold his boat, offered to sell me it for a “good price”. Whilst it wasn’t the colour I would have chosen, he ensured me that it was a “proper” 4WD and good for what I wanted to use it for.
Whilst still in France, I started planning routes that I was going to do on my return and how I was going to prep the Prado for these trips. There were many items on the initial list including roof racks, a leisure battery, fridge, on-board water tank, winch, snorkel, lighting kit, robust tyres and a decent awning.
Reality sets in
On arriving back in New Zealand and exploring a bit of the South Island, a few things quickly dawned on me... Every petrol station here sells ice, so no need for a fridge and leisure battery when a decent chilly bin will do fine and at a fraction of the cost. There’s also water everywhere, so no need for a water tank. Travelling alone, if a river crossing warranted a snorkel, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. The same applied to the winch. Discretion is the better part of valour and it is easier to turn around than risking getting stuck and needing a winch. There was also the fact that the Prado was, at the same time as being my adventure wagon, my only vehicle and everyday car.
One thing that was important was that I could sleep in the car easily and comfortably. I wanted a full flat double bed and plenty of storage for food, cooking and recovery gear. To achieve this, I started by removing the two seats in the boot. A trip to The Warehouse to buy four large plastic boxes gave me the measurements for the plywood box that I would create in the boot to house my gear and provide a pull- out cooking space. It was crucial that the box was the same height as the back seats folded down and pushed forward. An additional sheet of plywood that
sits on the box in the boot, and can be pulled forward once the back seats are down, creates a flat bed space measuring 195x140cm. To make this more comfortable, I glued foam roll mat material to the sleeping platform elements and added a double self-inflating mattress which folds back into the boot when not in use. A happy coincidence was that there was enough room above the wheel arches to house two folding chairs. My mother kindly whipped up a set of black hessian curtains that are run from front to back on a simple bungy. A normal sunshade on the windscreen completes the sleeping area. All of this can be set up in minutes after a long day’s drive.
To provide shade and cover for the cooking area at the rear of the truck, I added a Foxwing awning. This deploys quickly and easily and provides shelter for the sun and rain. The only drawbacks with this are that it cannot be used if there are kayaks on the roof and in windy conditions. The additional lighting kit that they produce is LED and provides superb lighting whilst using very lit tle charge. Though if you follow my lead, make sure that if you’re using it for the evening, you connect it directly to the battery with the crocodile clips provided, otherwise you’ll wake up to a flat battery... I added a set of Cooper AT3 tyres which are not a full on/ off road tyre but have now done thousands of kms, been up most of the Canterbury high country valleys and are still like new. They are guaranteed for 80,000kms... A good investment. As a touch of luxury, I bought an electric shower that plugs into the 12V power point. All you need is a source of water, I use a folding bucket, and you can have a proper shower to wash all the dust off. This was bought for about $ 30 from one of the major outdoor retailers. Since the initial prep, the only additions have been a PLB ( Personal Locator Beacon), essential if you’re heading a long way off the beaten track, a GPS mounted to the dashboard and a Bluetooth speaker for the evenings... I still dream about making the Prado look more the part and adding all the pieces of kit that so many trucks seem to have, but the reality is that it does all that I want it to do with just the DIY mods that I have made. It’s as happy up the Godley Valley as it is in Auckland and apart from the colour, I can’t complain.
About the author
Richard Soult grew up in Christchurch before spending 36 years in Europe – in the UK and France. A latecomer to the world of 4WD, he enjoys the freedom that his truck provides and is happiest away from it all in the mountains. He has crossed the French and Italian Alps, the Pyrenees and having returned to New Zealand in 2014 is now enjoying exploring the country of his childhood.
Early morning exit from Hopkins Valley.
Portable shower and check out blackout curtains inside.
Basic storage compartments exposed.
With back seats in place.
And with seats down and ready for the night.