A man (and his truck) that really needs no introduction…
Owning what is arguably Australia’s best and most well known automatic workshop, Wholesale Automatic Transmissions, Rodney ‘Rocket’ Hudson-Davies has built up his 79 Series dual-cab as a test platform, tourer, and play truck. We caught up with Rocket recently when he was in Bundaberg and got to climb all over his ‘Cruiser, and ask him everything we wanted to know about the 6-speed 79 Series auto conversion and the vehicle as a whole.
Rocket’s 79 Series started out life as your standard run-of-the-mill GXL 79 Series back when he bought it new in 2014. Obviously the first thing thrown at it was a 6-speed auto conversion, and then pretty much everything he wanted… to make it one of Australia’s toughest and most well known tourers. Having travelled all over the country for work, the 79 Series hit the mark for a rig to modify, tour in, and also build up as a show vehicle for the day job. It’s seen many different software upgrades on the auto over the last few years, and has been the testing platform for Wholesale Autos and HGM Electronics. HGM makes the software and computers that control the cog shufflers and Rocket gives the computers and techies hell with his driving – getting them full of dust, drowning them and just generally being rough as guts on the lot of it to make sure it’ll stand up to the typical Aussie gear bashing we’re all guilty of.
Deciding that the only thing the 70 Series ’Cruisers really needed from the factory was an auto option, Rocket built this thing from the ground up with that in mind. Throwing a 6-speed auto at the VDJ was the first thing on the agenda; and seeing as how the 200 Series has a solid auto box to start with, that was the logical choice. That’s where the factory part of the conversion ends. With a massively upgraded valve body, HGM Auto ECU, and a huge auto cooler out of a HDJ100, you’re starting to get there… not to mention the completely custom shifter and display surround made specifically for the conversions. These things, despite utilising so many custom-made parts, look and drive better than factory.
For the rest of the driveline Rocket has thrown a fully floating Jmacx rear diff housing with chromoly axles inside, with front and rear factory lockers, which sees the wheel track back to inline (instead of offset as the VDJ70s are to support the V8s). The V8 and engine bay up the front have been left reasonably standard, aside from a Safari high flow snorkel, Dynomotive Turbo, Legendex 3-inch staino exhaust from the turbo back, and Unichip running everything else. The powerplant puts down a respectable 214kW at the rear treads; and yep, we got the dyno slip to prove it.
Putting the 214 killerwasps of fury down on the ground, Rocket has a set of Dick Cepek Torque rims in 17×9 wrapped in Mickey T MTZs in a 35-inch diameter. Keeping the chassis off the ground is a set of Lovells 3.9T upgraded 2-inch springs, and 90mm Koni shocks fitted up by Spicer Springs FTG Victoria. And helping to pull the whole lot up, Rocket’s got an upgraded double diaphragm brake booster and plastic coated braided brake lines.
On to the bar work. Rocket has an ARB front bar, brush bar and sliders looking after the paintwork. There’s also an ARB front bash plate to protect the underside of the V8. Rocket tells us he likes the ARB stuff as it’s a well-known brand, but he finds it a bit soft due to it bending too easily (did I mention he gives this thing a hiding?).
Mounted to the front bar, Rocket’s got a Dominator winch, but he’s got a Warn solenoid box mounted in the engine bay for reliability’s sake (and for not having the solenoids die after seeing a bit of water). In the centre hoops he’s got a pair of Baja Designs 24-inch ONX light bars keeping things lit. Battery duties are taken care of by the Piranha system looking after the main and auxiliary batteries.
In the cab, Rocket has a set of Recaro seats re-trimmed to his liking. GME UHF looks after comms with a 6db whip aerial. There’s a HGM Transmission Display in the custom centre console, and the factory stereo (and strangely enough he was very vocal about how terrible it is). That said, I was also very vocal about how terrible it is… I could hear him belting out Madonna, Like a Virgin over the poor factory Toyota jobbie. Might have to look at modding that next, mate. The stereo, not the singing.
From here we bust into the back of the 79, and the mint canopy he’s got set up. Metal Form Industries in Victoria knocked it up for him, with a set of toolboxes that seem to grab every single rock he steps up onto – suffice to say they’ve seen better days. He’s got a 90L long-range fuel tank, a 60L mid-mounted water tank with a 12V pump, an 80L ARB fridge, more 12V sockets than you can point a stick at, a Travel Buddy pie warmer (thanks for lunch, mate!) and switches, buttons and fuses everywhere else – but still enough room to carry all the random bits and pieces he needs for the remote touring that gets done in the vehicle.
THE FUTURE AND ROCKET’S THOUGHTS
Obviously being a work ute, this beast has had the works thrown at it; and moving into the future there are a few things Rocket wants to do to it. Ongoing refinements to the brain working out the cog shuffling are a given, as well as some bar modifications to strengthen it all up a bit. That said, Rocket tells us he’s ready to calm down a little and get more into the speccy touring.
“Well, now that most of the development is finished and while we are still doing testing, I have made the car my own,” he tells us. “Because I fell in love with her, she will stay with me for quite some time now and maybe instead of throwing massive mountains and challenges at her we might settle into some easy touring.”
He also said that besides the 200 Series 6-speed already being matched to a 1VD engine, that’s where the similarities end.
“A 6-speed conversion doesn’t just fall in,” he explains. “It took quite a while to design and build the complete conversion and refine it to the point where it is now; not to mention all the computer work that goes into making it quicker, stronger and smoother.”
Everything being equal, this is easily one of the most well known and well built 79s we’ve seen in a while. There are indeed plenty on the roads, and you rarely get to see a pioneer of the automatic industry hand-build his own from new to handle some of the most challenging terrain Australia has to offer (without ever having to worry if it’s been built to take the hiding it’s being given). We look forward to catching up with Rocket over the coming months and years to see where this thing ends up, and how it ends up looking.