BIG LIFT DONE RIGHT

Back In Issue 037 we said that big lifts suck. This bloke has shown the world how to do it right with miles of travel, perfect on-road manners and a lot of comfort for touring.

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This ain’t your average big-lift, big-tyred, big-travel GU. This one is more than a little special – mainly because the owner, Dan Potocki, has taken his time and done it all right. There was no ordering a long set of coils, mid-spec shocks, run-of-the-mill caster correction, off-the-shelf Panhard rods and calling it good here.

 

No, this is the exception to the rule. We maintain that big lifts still suck… but when they’re done right with the proper attention paid to suspension geometry, range of travel and handling characteristics, they stop being a huge compromise that raises the centre of gravity needlessly and become something flat out amazing – as you’re about to see.

 

THE OWNER

“So you guys ran that story on why big lifts are garbage,” Dan said as I hit him up for a chat about his GU.

“Well, they are,” I said, trying to defend the mag’s viewpoint (which I stand by, incidentally). Luckily for me, rather than throwing the left hook I thought might be coming, Dan just laughed and replied, “Too right they are – when you don’t do them properly.”

 

He has a point; nothing is impossible if you’re willing to put the effort, knowledge and dollars into it. And given Dan’s obvious familiarity with suspension geometry, and being a bit of a suspension nerd myself, I was keen to find out how he’s found the off-road holy grail – long-travel suspension that can be comfortably driven to the shops, or to the Kimberley, and walk up the hardest tracks in the Watagans in first low without losing traction or ever looking like reaching for the winch controller.

 

As he told me, Dan became mates with a guy he worked with over 10 years ago. This bloke’s name is Brent Davis; and in case you haven’t heard of Brent, he runs Wizard Performance, and is one of Australia’s foremost suspension experts – currently building up a Trophy Truck out of his workshop in northern NSW. Let’s just say that his business is aptly named; Brent is a deadset Dumbledore of instant centres, roll axles, anti-squat and any other suspension term you care to throw around.

 

The two of them built this Patrol up together – Brent providing the years of experience and Dan absorbing as much as he could while helping out on the spanner twirling. Dan reckons that he learned everything he knows from Brent; and if you talk to this guy for more than a couple of minutes, believe me, he knows a lot. Even if you’re passingly into suspension setups at all, read on and prepare to have your mind blown.

 

THE VEHICLE

Before we get into what’s underneath, let’s take a quick look at the base vehicle. This GU actually started life as a wagon, and was one of the first ever to be chopped into a ute. The job is that neat that I didn’t actually pick it until he told me. After a closer look I could see the extra 75mm in the cab (for a little more room behind the seats) and of course, the dead giveaway is the engine.

 

Yep, this ain’t no oil burner. It’s one of the most over-engineered motors Nissan ever put out – the TB48 4.8L straight-six petrol. And I know what you’re thinking: Yes, it’s thirsty. Dan actually owns a second GU Wagon with an LS1 V8 in it and reckons it uses less fuel than this bad boy. But given the weight of the rig, the massive tyres and the fact that Dan says, “I’m pretty much on it all the time,” the figure of 18L/100km really isn’t too bad. And with that much power on tap it starts actually looking like a decent alternative to the traditionally more popular TD42 diesel, which would struggle to put out the numbers this thing does without dropping some serious money.

 

THE MODIFICATIONS

Let’s start with the most impressive part of this GU – the suspension. In case you weren’t aware, Patrols come with a five-link setup out the back and a radius arm front end, with coils all around. While nothing is inherently wrong with this, no matter how you cut it both the front and rear factory systems will always carry a degree of compromise. Sure, there are plenty of band-aid solutions to fix handling and flex; but to get the absolute best out of the vehicle the boys went back to the drawing board.

 

The front radius arms were done away with in favour of a five-link setup, which Brent pioneered in this country on the older GQ Patrols about 100 years ago. It’s a mod that’s really only good for vehicles that are lifted more than five inches due to the need for the trailing arms to run parallel to the frame, but when dialled in correctly will give more flex than the radius arms could ever hope to achieve. And thanks to the factory front swaybar being able to be left in place, handling and driveability remain unaffected on the blacktop.

 

The rear is a little different again. The rear five-link was junked in favour of a full A-frame setup. This is officially designated as a three-link, but in terms of geometry it’s much closer to a four-link system and is capable of delivering as much flex as your shocks can handle… probably more.

 

The A-frame does away with the factory Panhard, yet again does not affect on-road handling. This is largely due to the Kartek swaybar in the rear. This stiffens up the ride considerably and maintains better-than-factory driveability. When it’s time to lower the pressures and lock the hubs Dan simply disconnects the swaybar and he’s ready to go crawling.

 

The 1.25-inch Heim joints have been used on the diff-end of all suspension arms, with the factory rubber bushes left in place on the chassis-end. Why is this important? Because due to the high misalignment capabilities of the Heims, the rubber bushes barely have to take any of the strain under articulation. Dan tells us that even under full flex, the chassis-mount rubber bushes are ‘sitting flat as a tack’. This means that they will last a hell of a lot longer than they would under an ordinary rig with this amount of articulation.

 

The coils were dumped all around too, and swapped out for some top-shelf Fox Racing coilovers. Dan’s running 12-inch travel 2.5-inch units with Eibach coils in the front, and 3.0-inch 16-inch travel units with Wizard Performance custom coils in the back, along with triple bypass Fox shocks. This is the kind of gear you’d commonly find in top-flight off-road race trucks, and Dan lists them as his favourite mod.

 

The whole suspension system works a treat; and in case you’re wondering, nope, there’s no bumpsteer or death wobbles at any speed on any terrain either. Not many big-lifted 4X4s can say that.

 

By now you’ve probably noticed that custom tray. Brent built it out of German-sourced steel tube. Apparently he refuses to work with Chinese steel, which the welders among us will know is notoriously unreliable in terms of quality. It’s a nifty design, allowing the main hoop stays to be removed for when Dan needs to fit extra gear on the back for a longer trip. It also allows three Pelican cases to be strapped down, which when added to the sunk-in toolbox gives an impressive amount of storage space.

 

As you’d expect, both diffs are fitted with lockers. An ARB Air Locker was slotted into the rear housing while an auto-locking Detroit unit is used up front. Dan rates the Detroit, saying the full carrier replacement locker makes the car that much more capable without the hassles of having to turn it on and off. “It’s been in there for over 10 years now,” he mentions. “A couple of years ago I pulled it out to check it for wear, and it still looked brand new.”

 

Rock crawler gears from Marks 4WD Adaptors have been installed in the transfer case to supply plenty of torque and crawlability to the huge 37-inch Maxxis Trepadors which actually get better economy in high range than the old 35s that were on there previously.

 

Up in the cabin the interior has been spruced up with a carbon dash console that houses the switchgear for all the lighting, the winch and the onboard hot water shower and 240V inverter (who said you can’t tour in a hardcore rig?).

 

If this isn’t the epitome of a well thought out, insanely high quality ‘big-lift’ 4X4 that’s nicer to drive on-road than a stocker and as capable off-road as a full-blown buggy, then I don’t know what is.

 

Big lifts still suck, but there are exceptions to every rule. And this is one of the tastiest slices of humble pie I’ve ever eaten. To make it even nicer, despite being over 10 years old and having been punted over just about every hardcore track on the Eastern Seaboard, Dan has not yet broken a single part. Not one.

 

I dips my lid to you, mate.  

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