Proof you can tour in a Jeep!
The Jeep Wrangler has been synonymous with the hardcore off-road scene for decades with its incredible capability right off the showroom floor. And with a huge aftermarket industry specifically catering for the seven-slot grille brigade – allowing them to tailor the ability to build an all-out rock crawling monster – one would think that, due to the level of modifications that most perform, you need 35in muddies and a 6in lift just to head to the beach…Hamish McDonald is one bloke who has proven otherwise.
Growing up in the tropics of the Northern Territory you just know Hamish was raised living and breathing four-wheel driving. With his introduction to low range at seven years old in the family’s G60 Patrol, a life off-road became the norm. However it was 2011 before the touring bug really bit after he watched an inspirational film about off-road adventures up at Cape York. This led to an obsession for adventure that he and his wife Sharleen share passionately together. And thus emerged the birth of the exploration machine that is their JK Wrangler.
After previously owning a TJ Wrangler, and being very impressed with its capabilities, the choice of purchasing a four-door diesel JK for the purpose of 4X4 touring was an easy one. However with reliability the main concern whilst traveling remote, simplicity became the priority when deciding what modifications were necessary in order to make the red wagon more comfortable and capable.
When Hamish drove the Jeep out of the dealer’s yard it came with a mild 2in Mopar lift (yep, you can get everything from mild lifts to portal hubs for your Jeep as dealer options). Although aiding in additional ground clearance it lacked the performance required to take on the corrugations of the Outback.
ATV Automotive in Sydney is proclaimed by many as the Jeep specialist of Australia, so the choice to hand over the keys to ATV to take care of suspension and handling was done without any reluctance whatsoever. The crew quickly got to work replacing the suspension with a far superior kit, netting a 3in lift with Fox remote reservoir shocks and springs. Correct steering geometry was maintained by using castor correction drop brackets on the rear of the trailing arms and a track bar relocation bracket to centre the diff back to its original position; as well as extended brake lines to allow for the crazy amount of suspension articulation that the Wranglers have.
“The whole package is tuned together to suit the weight of the vehicle and the specific load on each spring,” says Hamish. “For example, the rear left spring is 15mm taller because the 65L fridge (when loaded) puts around 60kg of additional weight over that corner.”
Now that’s what I call attention to detail!
Under the ‘hood’ sleeps a 2.8L turbo-diesel engine that Jeep specifically produced to cater for the Australian market. The engine is so good that Hamish says he hasn’t had the need to touch a single thing on it.
“After completing a 7,500km trek across the Simpson Desert,” Hamish mentions, “We calculated the fuel consumption to be 13L/100km with the vehicle fully loaded… to allow us to be self-sufficient for three weeks of touring.”
Anything under 15L/100km whilst touring is astounding, in our book.
Three years ago Hamish’s wife surprised him with probably the best birthday present a four-wheel driver could ever get: An ARB bullbar and rear protection bar (hope my wife is taking notes here). And just before their Simpson trip they decided to add ARB’s optional spare wheel carrier to keep the spare up out of harm’s way. The ARB deluxe bullbar also houses the 9,000lb Bushranger winch.
“The Jeep’s capability continues to surprise us,” Hamish tells us, “So much so that we have only ever had to use the winch once!”
And as they say, the first time your winch recovers your vehicle is when it pays for itself. Cheap insurance, I reckon. Keeping the ’roos in sight is an Ultravision LED light bar and twin 50W Lightforce HID spotlights; however the spotties are removed when not touring. The trick-looking Spider LED headlights were sourced from Mad Jeeps in Brisbane… and they sure do look unique and perform much better than the factory candles.
For additional storage, Hamish looked at a few options for roof racks. One popular design is an external roll cage incorporated roof rack; although dual-purpose they are heavy and the additional weight up high affects the centre of gravity (which was a concern).
“I chose the Rhino Rack BackBone System instead as it has a lightweight aluminium construction and is fitted to the internal chassis of the Jeep, which allows me to store up to 120kg on the rack,” Hamish said.
He also installed twin 20L jerry can holders on the rack for additional diesel.
We all know how important awnings are on tourers. Well, there was no expense spared with a top-of-the-line Foxwing gracing the side of the JK (which takes next to nothing to set up and provides a massive amount of shade from the harsh Aussie elements).
Out back there is a drop-down stainless steel table, perfect for mixing up cocktails or shandies. A 65L Waeco fridge and an ARB compressor, powered by a slimline 100AH AGM battery, all sit in the rear cargo area. Hamish picked up the battery at the Sydney 4X4 show for a third of the retail price! I know what I’m hunting down for my Patrol at the next 4X4 show…