To commemorate ANZAC Day, we road-tested two very different Land Rover Perenties… and have the bruises to prove it!
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It was about about 10am, and I was driving through the western suburbs of Sydney in an Ex-Army Land Rover Perentie. The only thing bigger than the smile on my face was the throbbing pain surging through my right arm after smashing it on the door skin once again. There’s no power-assisted steering here folks, and the gun racks sitting between the front seats kind of cement the notion that this isn’t your average off-roader.
While rolling to a set of lights, a tiny voice could be heard. “Hi, Mr Army man.” The small buzz-box parked next to me contained two of the most excited kids I have ever seen; both could not stop waving and gawking at the camo-painted ex-Army Landie. While the initial cuteness of the situation made me chuckle, I soon learned that it wasn’t just kids who were drawn to these vehicles. Nearly every man, woman or aging Maltese Terrier I drove past did a double take as I roared towards my destination (the Wollemi National Park). I was late to meet up with my colleague and Land Rover guru Sam Purcell, who was driving something even more special. A fine piece of engineering dubbed The Pimped Perentie built by Australian Frontline Machinery. This was going to be a road test to remember… and just in time for ANZAC Day.
THE HISTORY OF PROJECT PERENTIE
In the mid 1980s, the Australian Defence Force sent out tenders for nearly 3,000 vehicles to be produced for active service. The competition was reduced to three potential manufacturers: Land Rover, Jeep and Mercedes. Land Rover (Jaguar Rover Australia, to be precise) got the nod to build both 4X4 and 6X6 propelled vehicles; however the outcome couldn’t be more different to the equivalent Series Landies or later Defenders sold worldwide through dealer networks.
The Perentie chassis is damn-near bomb proof (I wonder why) and is completely hot-dipped galvanised to prevent rust. The standard small-capacity Land Rover engines were not deemed powerful enough, much to the dismay of Land Rover purists; and a Japanese-sourced Isuzu 3.9l 4BD1 power plant was chosen. This diesel engine is an absolute torque monster, even moreso in the 6X6 variants that were also turbo-charged to cope with additional loads. With so much torque from near idle, an ‘A’ Spec Land Rover LT95 4-speed gearbox was the only suitable gearbox strong enough in the Land Rover spare parts bin – thanks to the inclusion of stronger tapered roller bearings. “This gearbox runs on engine oil, not gear oil,” our resident Landy Man Sam Purcell exclaimed… not that I asked. The driveline is backed up by a Salisbury 8HA rear differential (based off a Dana 60), which is simply huge; it needs to be!
When you sit behind the wheel of one of these Land Rovers, you feel as though you are perched in a museum. There is so much history involved here, you will find yourself exploring every nook and cranny for evidence of the vehicle’s previous life. For some background info, these vehicles served with the Australian Army in peacekeeping missions around the world. Twenty-one peacekeeping missions to be precise – from 1990 until recently when the Army has begun auctioning them off to the public in anticipation of the newly-commissioned Mercedes replacement. The most common areas of service include Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Some vehicles also served in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. So when you buy a Perentie, you are legitimately purchasing a piece of Australian Military history that can legally be driven on the road.
As mentioned, the decision was made to not include a Land Rover engine in the Perentie series. Say what you will about Land Rover reliability, realistically engines such as the 300tdi and now the TD5 have proven to be up to the task when well cared for (while delivering exceptional fuel economy in the process, too). But the Army wanted more, and more is what they got.
The Isuzu 4BD1 engine is a truck engine, in every meaning of the word. It sounds like you are driving a 3T rental truck you hire when moving house; not a four-wheel drive. The second you turn the key (oh wait, there isn’t one) you can feel this engine means business. It shakes like a paint mixer at idle which is about 0.04rpm… well, it feels like it. Everything shakes; in fact we had to stop twice to tighten the factory-fitted roof rack, and the aftermarket snorkel. These engines are quite receptive to turbo-charging though – making them the logical choice for a military vehicle. They are also incredibly tough, and would nearly run on muddy water if you made them. When you opt for diesel instead (as we did), the fuel economy is impressively good – hovering around the low 12L/100km mark.
THE PRODUCTION PERENTIE
The production Perentie (as it was nicknamed) on this test was exactly as you would expect to purchase at auction from Australian Frontline Machinery. It’s as the troops would have experienced them in warzones, as well. Complete with gun racks in the front (which were initially mistaken for cup holders); shovel and axe on the bonnet; no power steering; and… oh, don’t even think about a radio or CD player! Third gear was quickly dubbed ‘the mystery gear’ as it takes a little bit of practice to find. The roof leaked, and when it wasn’t raining dust got onto and into everything. And in a sick way, I enjoyed every second of it.
Noise is also an issue as the back seats (which don’t have seatbelts and can’t legally carry passengers on-road) crashed and banged around; and the clutch is so heavy it felt as though you were trying to push a sleeping elephant uphill. So heavy, that when I jumped into my own GQ Patrol I thought its clutch was broken as my foot nearly pushed through the firewall. It was not broken.
The flapping from the soft top was pretty savage, but it must be said that the ride quality from the stock suspension was actually quite plush. Now, I’m not trying to paint these vehicles in a negative light; not at all. It would be irresponsible to say they are as refined as a Range Rover though. I guarantee you this is the most fun you will have on four wheels if you can live with these niggles. Everybody who had a drive agreed.
THE PIMPED PERENTIE
We just couldn’t stop looking at it! If you like older four-wheel drives this is one of the best on the road… Full stop. The power steering made it a joy to pilot, especially combined with the Garrett Turbo installed by KLR in Windsor (who supplied services for most of the build). Now, I was expecting more poke from the turbo. It sure did sound nice but it certainly didn’t pin you back into the seats. Again, our Landy expert Sam mentioned that you can push these systems pretty hard, and a conservative tune would have been employed for longevity. I just smiled politely while eyeing off the fuel adjustment screw and a suitable position to install an aftermarket intercooler.
The paint job was just glorious, when combined with the new grey (opposed to camo) soft top. It looked like a vehicle purpose-built for a Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie.
Even the chosen Terrafirma wheels fitted struck the perfect balance between being modern in appearance yet not so modern that they looked out of place. The 255/85 R16 BFG Mud Terrains gave the Pimped Perentie the edge off-road, and were quieter on-road; and the steel rock sliders filled us with confidence. While neither vehicle had cross-axle diff locks, at no stage did they require them (and we pushed them harder than any other press vehicle I’ve driven). As a side note, this vehicle felt tighter in all aspects. It rattled less and was a joy to drive. I’d happily own it and drive it every day of the week if only my wife and bank manager agreed.
We wanted to make special mention of all members of the Armed Forces, past and present, for their contribution and sacrifices made for our country. Spending just a few days with these vehicles really gave an insight into what they would have gone through on a daily basis just piloting these war machines. One could only imagine the enormity of driving these vehicles through war scenarios. You are one tough lot… that is for sure. From everyone at Unsealed 4X4, we thank you… Lest we forget.
Mention must also go to the kind people at Australian Frontline Machinery, who loaned these vehicles to us (over)eager Journalists. If you are in the market for the most attention-demanding and fun to drive four-wheel drives around, check out their auction page and make one yours. You might not need one, but you will want one… I sure do.
Click for more information: australianfrontlinemachinery.com.au
Words by by Evan Spence
Photography by Brett Hemmings