My present car is a 1997 Toyota Hilux Tamworth 2.4 litre petrol with leaf springs all round. I have owned this for almost a year, and have done a few little modifications to make it more capable and enjoyable. When I purchased it, the car came with a rear bar, aluminium bull bar, side steps, stereo, a good service history and just over 231,000 kilometres. This sounds like quite a lot, but these cars are known to do well into the 400,000 kilometres if they are treated well and serviced regularly. I spent a lot of time planning what I wanted my car to do and as a result ended up with something which meets almost every single need that I have for it. The Tamworth Hilux is a special edition and it has a few stronger parts and cup holders.
My Hilux was fairly standard when I bought it, and in order to make it a little more comfortable, economical and capable I have made a few changes. Since then I have changed the car by doing the following:
• Custom Rear Tyre Carrier
• 2 inch body lift
• 15×8 inch black ROH rims
• 33×12.5 inch Maxxis Bighorn Tyres
• Gas conversion
• Tough dog steering damper
As you can see the list of modifications is not overly long, and the best part about it is that they were very cheap to do. In the car’s current condition it can do almost anything that I throw at it, which means that I have a capable, economical and fun car without spending a huge amount of money. In total I have spent under $13000. I haven’t touched the suspension (although the front leaf springs are almost flat!) which means the ride isn’t great, but it’s a compromise that I am more than willing to live with at the moment.
Why I bought the Hilux
There were a number of reasons that made me choose my Toyota Hilux. I was looking for a four wheel drive that was reliable, good looking, capable and strong, economical and preferably a Ute. This really limited my options to a Hilux, so I began the search for the right one. There was only one model that I was really looking for as well, which made it quite difficult to find. I wanted a petrol Hilux without independent front suspension, that had been well looked after with little off-road work. My budget was set at in between $8,000 and $15,000 depending on the modifications that had already been installed.
The reason I was after a petrol Hilux is because the 2.8 litre diesels are extremely slow without turbo’s, and I wanted to convert the car to gas. I was also after the model Hilux with leaf springs all round, because they tend to be stronger and better off-road. Strength is a major issue when doing serious four wheel driving, especially with bigger tyres, which is why I was trying to buy a solid axle Hilux front and rear. I wanted a Ute being someone who often needs to carry things to and from work, as well as it makes it easy to go snorkelling and fishing off the beach! Even if you spill something you can hose it out, unlike the back of a normal car!
Hilux Body Lift
A body lift involves lifting the body away from the chassis. This is basically the cheapest way to lift your car. The reason I needed the extra height was to allow for some larger tyres to fit in comfortably. Hilux’s have a name for rolling easily (Rollux) so be careful how you go about it. You can fit the body lift yourself, if you feel like it or you can pay for someone else to do it. I took the easy way out and got Wilkinson’s Suspension to take care of it. I paid just over $500 dollars for the blocks, bolts and labour. Alternatively, you can buy the kits for around $200 from Snake Racing and fit them yourself. There are 12 bolts that need to be replaced with longer ones once the body blocks are fitted.
The blocks are usually made of a very hard plastic, or you can get aluminium ones made up. The aluminium ones tend to be more expensive, and the plastic ones do the job just fine. Make sure you get the right grade bolts as well, otherwise they will just snap. My body lift was quite simple, because other than changing a radiator hose and taking a little notch out of the steering shaft, nothing else had to be changed. In Western Australia, a 2 inch body lift is the maximum body lift you can do. Some body lifts can become complicated, because you may have to move the radiator up, extend brake lines, modify the low range gear leaver as well as change other bits and pieces. For example, Range Rovers have the seatbelts attached to the chassis, so you have to change that as well!
Hilux Gas Conversion
Once the body lift was in, I proceeded to get the car converted to gas. At this stage in time, the conversion was almost free because of the government rebates. I believe now it is only a $2000 dollar rebate (rather than $3000). Being a carburettor model Hilux, the gas conversion couldn’t be fuel injected, but it also meant it was only about $3200 to do. I had a 60 litre tank fitted, which does around 300 kilometres for about $35 dollars. Basically this means I have a big four wheel drive which costs less to run than the average commodore or falcon. If you want a good gas conversion done in Perth, be sure to take a look at Quickshift Auto’s in Myaree. I also use Quickshift for my services, because they do a great job at a reasonable price. The tank sits extremely high up, which is very important if you plan on doing some serious 4×4. The last thing you want is to dent or knock your tank off.
Custom Tyre Carrier
The problem with fitting a gas tank was that the place to fit your spare wheel was no longer available. Of course, with 33 inch tyres it probably wouldn’t have fitted anyway, but it gave me the chance to make up a tyre carrier. The Hilux already had a Kaymar rear bar fitted with the stub axle, so all I needed to do was source the bits, cut it up and weld it together. This can actually be a pain if you don’t know where to look. There is a company in O’Connor called Martins Trailer Parts which provides parts throughout Australia for the stub axles. With the help of a mate and a Saturday to spare, we set about making the tyre carrier. You can also purchase the swinging locks so that it stays shut when you want it to from various hardware stores, but make sure you get a heavy duty one. After cleaning it up, we gave it a coat of black paint and threw it on.
Something I should mention is to either copy a good design or make sure that it’s braced very well. Only a few weeks after building the carrier (and some very bumpy 4×4) I had a look and found a crack that was starting to develop. We pulled it off and braced the carrier in several ways, and it is now rock solid. The last thing you want is a big tyre landing on the road when you are flying down the freeway!
These are known commonly as Sunraisers, and are basic steel rims. I chose to go with black rims because they look much better than white, and they don’t cost any more. Something to be aware of is the offset of your rim. This basically refers to where the centre plate of the rim is located. Negatively offset rims stick out from the side of the car further, and positively rims sit closer together. To make it simpler, the more negatively offset your rims are, the bigger the distance between the two tyres. As mentioned above, Hilux’s tend to be prone to lying down, so I got rims which were heavily negatively offset. Combined with wider tyres, the car is now much more stable.
I spent a lot of time trying to work out what tyre I wanted. I wanted something that was cheap but that would last and still do a great job off-road. I also wanted a mud terrain because they look mean and go very well on rocks and mud. I looked at the Cooper mud terrains, BFG muddies, Good year and various other brands. The cooper tyres have a good reputation in America, and are quite strong but frankly were way too expensive for what I wanted. Sure, if you are travelling across Australia then it might be worth the extra dough, but not for me. After some thought I decided to buy a set of Maxxis Bighorns (33×12.5 inches). These rubbed a little on the sidesteps and mud flaps, so I had to cut the sidesteps and remove the mud flaps at the front.
They tend not to be so great on sand (because they like to dig holes) but if you deflate the tyres a fair bit beach work becomes very easy. I have now done about 15,000 kilometres on these Maxxis Bighorns, and they have performed flawlessly. Compared to other muddies, they are incredibly quiet on road. The wear has been almost nonexistent (but make sure proper rotation occurs). Considering they got rated second best in the latest 4×4 tyre testing, they can’t be too bad! I will definitely get another set, because they work brilliantly in mud and on rocks, and very well on the beach as well. They even rated higher than the Cooper muddies, which are about a hundred dollars more for each tyre!
What I don’t like about the Hilux
The Hilux does almost everything that I want it to, but there are a few areas that could be a bit better. The engine is only a 2.4 litre carbie, meaning that power is not huge. If you run it on petrol then its sure not slow, but having some extra power would be nice in the sand. I haven’t re geared it since putting new tyres on, which means beach work is usually always low range. Many people convert these engines to standard commodore v6’s, commodore v8’s and even other Toyota v8s. As a dual cab Ute the room in the back is pretty poor, but it’s significantly better than a 5 seater 2 door Ute. The only other thing I could complain about is the suspension, but the only reason it’s not the best is because it is old and really needs replacing. If I spent the money and got a set that was soft and flexible the ride would be much better.
What I love about the Hilux
• Being so light it goes so much better than a lot of the heavier vehicles off-road (it only weighs 1600kg with the bar work and a driver)
• Small differential pumpkins mean brilliant clearance. Compared to Land cruisers and Patrols who have to run 35’s to get good clearance, I have great clearance with tyres 2 inches smaller.
• Toyota reliability. For a truck that has done 250,000 kilometres now and has never missed a beat, I can’t complain. It gets looked after but at the end of the day Toyota’s are simply well built
• Having a tray at the back. This makes it easy to throw fishing gear and diving gear in the car. On the beach you can throw a wetsuit on whilst standing in the tray, and you avoid the sand.
• It’s decent on fuel; slightly more expensive to run than the average falcon or commodore. I get 14L/100km on Petrol and 18.5L/100km on gas.
• It looks great and handles well off-road.
• Roomy in the front seats; I am 6″6 and need the room. I have a few mates with other car’s that simply are not big enough for me to drive comfortably.
• Vinyl floors and seats make it extremely easy to clean. Vacuuming is easy and what is left you just sponge out.
Where I love going 4×4
I have been to a number of places around Perth, but my favourite still include the Mundaring Powerlines Track, Dwellingup, Dunsborough, Honeymoon Pool, Lancelin and Wedge Island, the Holland Track, beaches in Mandurah and the coast between Lancelin and Jurien Bay.
I will go into more detail of some day trips from Perth as well as camping and other holiday trips in future posts.