Fight or flight. It’s one of those inbuilt instinctive responses. You’ve either got it, or you don’t. Kind of like when you roll your ’86 MQ Patrol into an old abandoned clay quarry full of water. Are you going to freeze up, like a deer in the headlights, and drown along with everyone else in your rig? Or are you going to kick into gear with a precise sequence of actions that saves you and everyone with you without even having to think about it?
Thankfully for myself, my sister and my niece, I experienced the latter. While out for a spot of 4WDing at Bendigo around Christmas time, we came across an old abandoned clay quarry just out of town that just happened to be used by the Bendigo 4X4 Club. There was no one else there at the time, so we took it as an opportunity to have a little fun. So with my one-year-old niece asleep in the back (the natural rocking nature of 4WDing seems to put the little ones to sleep; it’s awesome!) we drove through the circuit and up and down a few of the mounds that had been placed throughout. Nothing too serious.
We’d already been up and down a hill out the other side of Bendigo and the day was getting on, so we decided to call it quits after not too long and head home. That’s when disaster struck.
While skirting around the northern side of the quarry to the exit point, we got a bit close to the edge and hit a bit of a wet spot, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem, except this time the back end slid out and into the water. Now, you’d think a good solid rig like an old ’86 Patrol would be able to handle something like this in its sleep. But what most people don’t know about clay water is you can’t see through the surface to what’s underneath. In this case … nothing! Absolutely squat! It was a sheer drop straight down and the weight and momentum of our rig was dragging us in!
With the windows already down from the heat of the day, I shouted “Get out! Get out!” at my sister, and as she went out the passenger window I whipped around in my seat and punched the release button on my niece’s harness, grabbed her with one arm, and out the driver’s window I went as my Patrol was sinking around me. I swam to the edge, holding my niece as high out of the water as I could, and turned around with just enough time to watch the last corner of my beloved Patrol disappear beneath the water, Titanic style. It was all over in just a few short seconds.
After getting over the initial shock, we walked to the nearest house we could find to borrow their phone and call my sister’s partner, now her husband, to come get us. What to do next? Everyone was alive and well, which was great, but I was now without a car.
We returned the next day with a crane we’d hired and set about diving in search of my rig, and found it after about a couple of hours. With guide ropes tied to the bull bar to keep a handle on its location (visibility in the water was pretty much zero) we set about the salvage operation, pulling up all manner of ‘artefacts’ from our discovery and attaching the chains from the crane to lift her out of the water. Watching my Patrol dangling from the end of the crane like a matchbox car as she came out was a bit surreal. In fact, the whole experience was a bit surreal. But I now had my car back and we could get it towed home.
With old Pattie sitting out front and drying out over the next few days, I had time to go over my options. An old MK Patrol (an ’82 or ’84, I think) had been spotted for sale nearby where I’d sank my MQ, so a rebuild was on the cards. Ironic, I thought. He wanted $1,100 for it, with no engine. Under any other circumstances I would have just walked away, but after closer inspection we discovered that this old MK was loaded with about four grand worth of heavy duty 4WD gear, all in good nick, and we thought, “Bargain!” So I bought it.
It took about nine to ten months for the rebuild, and I had to work away for a season in the Kimberley over the winter to pay for it, but with my in-law’s help we turned my old rig into an absolute beast. Everything was replaced, and I mean everything. The cab was gutted and replaced with the interior from the MK. We mixed and matched a bit and ended up with my old tan plastics over the new pastel blue trim in somewhat of a two-tone effect. Sounds horrid, I know, but against the white of my rig it actually looked pretty good.
Underneath, the chassis was lifted and out came all of the running gear, from the engine all the way back to the rear diff. The new suspension went in, which gave it a good inch lift and catered for the set of monster Mongrel mud tyres that came with our ‘bargain’ Patrol. We sourced a replacement SD33 engine and gearbox to go with it, and they were coupled with the diffs and shafts from the MK and inserted into the MQ. Fluids were drained and replaced, new pads, plugs, leads and lights installed, and we even dabbled in a little rewiring. But when we finally came to turning the key, after all that blood, sweat and hard earned cash had been poured into her, listening and waiting as the battery transferred power to the starter motor, engaging the flywheel, turning the crank over and pumping the pistons, one by one, hearing her sputter a little and then roar back to life came with a wave of pure joy. It had all been worth it.
Eventually, thanks to continued corrosion, I had to replace the fuel tank, sender unit, instrument panel, alternator, and fiddle around with a little more rewiring. But the end result, after all of the rebuilding, was a bigger, badder rig. She sits higher, and with the bigger mud tyres I can take her more places, which is why sinking her was probably one of the best things that could have happened … you know, apart from NOT dying. In hindsight, I probably could have spent less money buying another car. But when you love your 4X4 and you’ve got the chance to bring her back from the dead, well…