…and I’ll tell you why
Imagine if you could fit 38-inch rubber to your dual-cab 4X4 – without a body lift. It is possible, and it’s being done every day in the small capital city of Reykjavik in Iceland. This is the home of Arctic Trucks. While you’re out flying over desert dunes and burning up a red dirt road, these guys are climbing glaciers, crossing icy creeks and driving over rocky lava beds.
They need big lift, but they don’t want their fourby to handle like a pile of poo on-road. It’s a sad fact that most 4WDs with big lift in Australia corner like a drunken sailor, and can be downright dangerous over 100km/h. Having driven an Arctic Truck HiLux running 38s up the second biggest glacier in the world, as well as up highways and a few hundred kilometres of dirt, I can say that it doesn’t handle badly at all. In fact, it was damn surprising. The vehicle actually cornered like it was at factory height. And no, I’m not on drugs, nor was I paid to write this yarn. I actually laid down $1700 of my own hard earned to have the privilege to drive one of these trucks for the day. Yes, I agree, it’s ball-tinglingly expensive (that’s a word, and no, don’t look it up). But hey, you only live once and you might as well die broke, I say!
But back to the Arctic Trucks, also known as Super Jeeps over in these parts. The guys at Arctic Trucks have been doing these vehicle lifts for years now, and they’re at the top of the game. They even send vehicles to Antarctica. How does a 6WD HiLux on 44s with 750-litre fuel tanks strike you? I know, I felt my willy just shrink two inches too … I blame the cold.
Arctic Trucks realised long ago, that the taller the vehicle, the harder it was to make it handle right. In Australia, we just tend to throw up our hands and yell ‘comp truck!’ while hoisting all manner of coil spacers, body blocks and springs under our vehicles. It’s easy-ish to do, but it doesn’t create an awesome tourer.
The Arctic Trucks boys do the hard work early. First, they lift the body completely off the chassis, pop it on a jig and get to work. All manner of cutting, shaping and modifying then goes into the body to allow it to accept those whopping big tyres. This is probably the most critical, and most difficult part, as if you don’t get this right you can’t expect your 4X4 to handle properly.
Then, depending on the vehicle, the chassis is modified. In the case of the HiLux, the chassis is extended, and a new longer and stronger chassis is installed in the rear. The leaf springs are ditched and replaced with coils, while the rear axle is kept tracking with customised control arms.
Our AT38 HiLux had no engine mods, but still got along quite crisply. The reason for that, was the installation of 4.88 ring and pinion gearing. They help correct the gearing from the new tyre diameter.
The tyres are actually Arctic Truck branded. They’re made in China to Arctic Trucks’ specifications. They went to the trouble of designing their own tyres, because they found that most big tyres also had beefy sidewalls. As these tyres are regularly run at and below 5psi, the heavy sidewalls were prone to cracking, so more flexible and lighter weight sidewalls were given the nod. I’m also guessing that a lighter sidewall is easier to balance.
The vehicle I drove did get the steering wheel wobbles at around 70-80km/h, but they settled above and below those speeds. Arctic Trucks engineer Joi was in the back seat, and he said that this is an issue that doesn’t affect all vehicles, and could be improved with more tuning. Incidentally, given the massive size of the tyres, you might be wondering where the spare goes? It doesn’t. A tyre repair kit and compressor is the preferred way to go, and they chance it without a spare tyre. Although the Arctic Trucks boys do take spare tyres along for some of their more remote journeys into the Highlands.
For traction, the Arctic Trucks team prefer ARB Air Lockers, but that’s about where the Aussie products end. They don’t use our long-range tanks, because their tanks are side mounted next to the chassis, while we prefer the rear. To pump the rubber up, they use two Viair compressors (so they can simultaneously pump front and back tyres up at once), although many vehicles have central tyre inflation units. These wouldn’t work well in Australia though, as their external airlines would get ripped out every five minutes by sticks and rocks. Iceland has hardly any trees, so no problems!
They don’t use any traction boards if they get stuck, preferring just the old faithful shovel. But if they get really stuck, Anderson plugs and winch anchor points are mounted to the front and back of the vehicle, to enable front and rear winching with their Warn.
Most of the Toyotas on the Arctic Trucks fleet run 15-inch wheels, with a mega offset. Apparently, the more modern Prados with 17-inch rims can’t fit these 15-inch rims (due to their bigger brakes), so they have to retrofit old HiLux discs to the new rigs. A real shame. I suggested they throw some DBA Kangaroo Paws on there if that’s the case, to try and reclaim some of that brake efficiency.
In terms of the 4X4 models these guys modify, they’ll have a crack at anything. However, their favourites tend to be the makes with strong drivelines and transmissions. Hence, no Ford Rangers (dicky auto tranny), no Defenders (they don’t like the drivetrain), and no Chinese utes to speak of. Although they have done some weird ones – Hyundai Santa Fe anyone?! And they do a really cool version of a Mercedes Sprinter van. If you ask nicely, they’ll even install Unimog axles to your rig (bless their hearts). They do a small kit for Amaroks (just 33s), but I’m trying to bend their arm to throw some Mog axles under mine. That V6 of mine is getting bored running 32-inch rubber w.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if these vehicles are capable in other terrains, wonder no more. One of the Arctic Trucks engineers took his 44-inch tyre shod 4X4 to a winch challenge in France. He was disqualified by the organisers, because he didn’t get the winch out on any stage – not once. He drove the whole damn thing, unassisted. So now you can see why I want one…
On our day trip out of Reykjavik, we drove up a massive glacier in the Arctic Truck, and ventured into tunnels inside that glacier. The maze of tunnels stretched for 500 metres, and ventured 50 metres below the surface. We saw crevasses from within, and learned about the different types of ice. They’ve even carved a few rooms in there, one of which is a chapel with incredible acoustics. It was the pinnacle of a day spent in one of the most interesting countries on the planet.
SO WOSSITALL COST?
This is where organised crime is the only way to go for the 4WD purist, ‘cause you may need to do some shady deals to get your dollars together.
One set of (unpainted) flares? Around 1,000,000 Icelandic krona (yes, that says one MILLION!). But allow me to do the conversion. That’s around AUD$12,500. They do look bloody cool though…
But how about the whole box and dice? What does it cost for the lift, tyres and flares? That would be around four million krona – $50K-ish. One vehicle takes one bloke about three weeks to complete. Oh, and if you want compressors and winches, that will cost you some more.
So can you buy a kit and some drawings? Unfortunately, no. There is so much fabrication involved, not to mention left-hand drive vehicles to contend with, that it’s a genuine custom job each time. Personally, I’d love to see someone playing around with mods like these in Australia, as to get big lift, incredible capability and great handling and safety is such a nice combination. Of course, we’ve got a few draconian legislators we would have to mow down in the meantime. Hang on, I know just the vehicle…