Evolution, not revolution. This custom Ranger and camper combo is purpose-built for adventure.
Building a 4X4 is best done with hindsight in mind. It’s only through experiences and failures that we’re able to decide not only what works and what doesn’t… but more importantly, what we actually want. It’s the reason we see people building multiple setups time and time again. Suspension lifts go up and down, storage systems go from simple to complex and back again, and bar work ranges from five-poster Kangaroo killers to comp style tube. All of this often while projects are still at the drawing stage.
Sometimes your end goal can change so far from the original plan that your best bet is to wipe your hands, then start with a clean slate and all the knowledge you’ve gained from past attempts. An evolution in ideas to reach the new goal.
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Like many of us, Matt Clark wasn’t born behind the wheel of a dirty old 4X4. He didn’t turn up to get his licence behind the tiller of a leaf-sprung 40 Series, and he doesn’t have fond memories of moving out of home at 17 with all of his worldly possessions piled in the back of an MQ Patrol. In fact, before he first slotted himself into a 4X4 he had spent more than a few pay cheques on turbo-charged go-fast cars. At the time Matt was blissfully unaware what life had in store for him; and just like the iconic bushfires that drastically change the Australian landscape, Matt’s life was about to be altered… and all because of a single spark.
In Matt’s case, that spark was a dirt bike. Try as you might there’s no chance of loading a dirt bike into the back seat of a sleek turbo coupe – so Matt opened up the wallet again and came home with an SR5 HiLux extra cab: Just the tool to get him and his bike where he needed to be. Now, 16 years later it’s safe to say that spark has forever altered Matt’s course in life. Red-lined gear shifts have been replaced with beach fishing, the scream of high-revving engines swapped for the sounds of wind blowing through quite campsites, and late nights on the tools replaced with, well, late nights on the tools. Some things never change.
For a man who had a late start into the world of off-roading, Matt didn’t waste any time getting up to speed. In the 16 years since he first locked in the hubs he’s owned everything from a solid-axle supercharged HiLux on 35s through to a Fraser Island-conquering Mitsubishi Express van and everything imaginable in between.
Each new vehicle brought an evolution of its own. Tyres got smaller but travelled further, superchargers made way for solar panels, and 35in mud tyres were replaced by camper trailers and a bit of clever line selection.
With the camping and adventure bug firmly planted, Matt went shopping for a suitable replacement for his V6 Triton. It didn’t take a great deal of searching before the new Ford Ranger was given the nod. Enough mumbo under the bonnet, modern styling, and a back seat big enough for a couple of teenage boys made it the perfect fit. Now he just needed to make it the perfect 4X4.
One of the first pieces of the puzzle to go in was a comprehensive suspension overhaul. Rather than an off-the-shelf kit, Matt pieced together the components himself. In the rear there’s a pair of 300kg constant load leaf springs from Old Man Emu teamed up with Tough Dog big bore shock absorbers. The front end has had a similar altitude adjustment with full replacement Tough Dog struts and an additional 25mm lift from a strut top spacer. The combined package has lifted the Ranger roughly 75mm over standard, with added towing ability.
Shoehorned into the wheel arches are a set of BFG KM2 mud tyres measuring in at 305/70R16 and wrapped around CSA Jackal alloy wheels – a factory option from Ford and the perfect offset to keep the rubber in the guards. But it takes more than some tyres and lift to make a tourer, and Matt’s Ranger never comes up short. Starting from the front end there’s a full suite of colour-coded ARB bar work with a Smittybilt X20 winch tucked inside and twin 30in LED lightbars filling in the gaps; while underneath a full set of ARB underbody protection keeps things dent-free. Those with keen eyes may have noticed that the ARB fog lamps in the bar have been replaced by a pair of 100mm Hella driving lights, too.
In the back, the factory alloy tray has been fitted with a steel frame that supports the canvas canopy and alloy roof rack. Despite being a ‘no-name’ brand, Matt tells us the roof rack is perfect due to its low weight. It provides mounting options for a 20in light bar, roll-out awning, high-lift jack and twin 90W solar panels. The canopy houses twin fridges: An ARB 47L on a slide; and the second, an Engel 45L. Both fridges are powered by a 130Ah AGM battery with a RedArc isolator. The interior of the Ranger is mostly stock, aside from a tasteful stereo install. For now, the driveline remains relatively standard with a Safari snorkel and 2.75in free-flowing exhaust letting it breathe better; and a Wind Booster throttle control giving more throttle response. Looking ahead, a pair of E-Lockers could be on the cards.
If you’re trying to figure out what trailer Matt is towing, you might as well give up now. Despite never picking up a welder before Matt enlisted a mate, and with a few key purchases they pieced together the trailer you’re looking at in the front driveway at home. The trailer was fabricated around the wheels and tyres, which of course match the Ranger – giving Matt effectively four spare tyres in a pinch. From there the box was made to suit the tent from Skamper Kampers, before Matt pieced together all the little luxuries.
Up front the alloy toolbox was purchased straight off eBay and it now houses a 130Ah AGM battery which is connected to the Ranger through an Anderson plug. The box also serves as a mounting point for the Joolca hot water system fed by the twin 40L water tanks bolted onto the trailer’s flanks.
There are all the usual suspects as well… like gas bottle holders, firewood storage, LED lighting and side lock boxes. But up the back is where the magic happens, with a stainless steel slide-out kitchen (also courtesy of eBay). Matt estimates the trailer owes him around $6,500 all said and done – which, when you consider the options he’s got, makes for money well spent. It’s indicative of the entire build, really. The right gear, in the right places, and a bit of cost-cutting where required. That’s the recipe for success no matter what your goals are.
By Scott Mason