A bar is born – what goes into making a bull bar?

By Mark Allen 12 Min Read

A new HiAce has a monocoque body; it’ll be too weak, they said. 

Stick with the old style “bolt over the top of the plastic bumper bar”, they screamed.

Rated recovery hooks; you’re dreaming, they said.

Upswept wings, great approach angle and integrated fog lights with the ability to add driving lights and antennae; you’ve flipped your lid, they bellowed from the grandstand.

What’s the story?

Seems like there was a hell of a lot of naysayers when I started looking for a bull bar for my 4×4 converted HiAce. Granted, there aren’t many people or companies making aftermarket 4×4 accessories for new vehicles that begin life as a 2WD and then get a 4×4 conversion. I understand the lack of need, want and numbers to justify the costs involved in manufacturing a new bar.

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I know there were already a few companies that can supply a bull bar for a standard 2WD HiAce, but they don’t offer a replacement bar whereby the OE low-hanging plastic bumper bar is removed and replaced by a solid steel (or even aluminium) bar with upswept wings. My want for a winch and rated recovery points seemed ludicrous. 

In steps EnduroCo 4×4, the specialty conversion company that undertook the job on our van to convert it to 4×4. EnduroCo 4×4 saw the gap in the market and set about designing and manufacturing a brand new style of bar, specifically to suit the 300 Series HiAce that has undergone the EnduroCo 4×4 conversion treatment. The finished product is powder coated in Textura Black and incorporates dual fog lights, a wide meshed opening to fit a 32-inch light bar, a winch cradle (rated to take up to a 10,000 pound winch), which is part of the mounting assembly and two 4000kg rated recovery points. 

Weight is always a consideration when adding aftermarket products; this bar tips the scales at 26kg, but the winch cradle and all brackets add another 31kg.

They set about to design a “slimline, aggressive looking bar that offered better features such as the improved approach angles”. From that design brief, I’d say they’ve nailed it!

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Bar – not a bull bar

Let’s get a few terminologies sorted, eh?

Technically, the bar you see here, fitted to my HiAce, is not and cannot be officially called a bull bar or roo bar. Nope, it’s a replacement steel bumper bar. 

While the exact technicalities are a little blurry, it seems the modern trend of bull bars being designed and fitted to new vehicles without central hoops or outer sections to protect the OE headlights makes it possible for them to be designated a replacement bar. This, supposedly, makes it easier, or even possible, to have them fitted.

Yes, I would have preferred my bar to have the central hoop to protect the grill and radiator, plus the outer hoops to protect the headlights, but… beggars can’t be choosers, eh? But, what I’ve ended up with is far superior (for my needs) to what was previously available, so I’m happy. 

Minor issues

Don’t go thinking this EnduroCo 4×4 bar will slot straight onto your standard HiAce; nope, it’s specifically for an EnduroCo 4×4 converted HiAce and nothing else. 

Also, while a small (in my mind) oversight is the non-smoothed or rounded edges of the recovery eyes. That doesn’t go well for using soft shackles, although the eyes are large enough to fit an adequate steel shackle.

Although I have fitted large-diameter driving lights, this bar was intended to incorporate a 32-inch light bar that fits in place of, or behind, the perforated mesh cover above my number plate. Strangely, an antennae mount has yet to be incorporated into the design, although drilling into the bar’s body overcomes the problem. Version two may have these minor details updated.

Fitting a winch

I love trying new products rather than sticking to the same old gear, provided the new product is equally as good or better than the old. With respect to choosing a winch for the HiAce, I couldn’t go past the recently released COVERT winch from Bushranger 4×4

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While there was the choice of a steel cable version, I went for the synthetic rope for the lighter weight, easier handling and, well, hell, that black fairlead and rope looks so damn cool, eh! 

Presenting the first inbuilt control unit, this winch is at the forefront of modern design. The COVERT winch body incorporates the control unit instead of having to mount a separate large box (the control unit) either on your winch/bar or relocate under the bonnet. Not only does this make mounting easier and faster, but it also provides a neater fitment on modern vehicles, which have less room than traditional older styles. 

This is a premium winch, not only in design, the performance of the 5.3HP 12V motor driving a 4-stage gearbox achieves fast line speeds at lower current draws. That gearbox features hardened steel gearing for improved load distribution, maximum strength and durability.

A bugbear of mine with some other winches is the difficulty in drawing/unspooling the rope out when under no load – it’s so damn hard sometimes that it would be easier and faster to power out. With the COVERT winch, its zero drag braking system allows you to do so – power out under no load, for simple unspooling without damage and still offers total load holding when hooked up.

What’s in the box?

The kit includes a compact hand controller with a 30m wireless range, as well as a plugged controller with a five-meter lead. A 500amp isolation switch with a universal mounting bracket, stainless lanyard and dust cover makes the fitting just that little bit safer from fools intent on causing havoc with others’ property. Mine has been fitted under the bonnet for easy reach when needed.

An aircraft-grade aluminium Hawse fairlead is used, in black of course, along with a black forged hook with a pull tag to round out a total blackout… covert look.  

To date, I have not had to use the COVERT winch in anger to retrieve either myself or others from a sticky situation. I am confident it’ll do the job, given Bushrangers’ design and engineering have taken place right here in Australia, not just rebadging another cheaply-made winch. Now, we’ll have to start planning another trip away, all in the name of testing and evaluating the Bushranger winch to its maximum potential – no point having it unless you’re game to get into a situation where you might use it.

Driving lights

As per the above winch choice, I have gone for something different for driving lights. Ya’ see, I’ve been using the Bushranger Night Hawk VLI (Variable Light Intensity) lights on my Troopy for about four years now and reckon they’re the bee’s knees for the combination of distance and spread that they cast. 

For the HiAce, because I was so happy with the Troopy lights, I decided to stick with Bushranger Night Hawks but went for the newer VBP (Variable Beam Pattern). These allow the brightness and light pattern to be customised to suit the driver. The kit features a dual-dial dash-mounted control: one dial allows the light intensity to be adjusted in eight increments, while the other changes the beam pattern, again with eight settings, from a concentrated spot to a wide-angled spread. 

That broad range adjustability of brightness and beam pattern allows the perfect light for all driving conditions to be chosen at the twist of a dial – simply brilliant!

Imagine driving a twisty road, potentially full of bouncing wildlife, perfectly tree-lined to hide any potential dangers. I adjust the beam pattern to wide, perhaps knocking the brightness down a notch or two to give me the best chance of spotting anything that may hop into my line. There’s no need for the long-distance concentrated spot here, which may hinder your peripheral viewing. 

Now let’s drive a gun barrel straight road, still with the inherent wildlife dangers, but less need for a wide angle. I can zoom my beam in narrower to provide a more extended reach, turn the brightness up to full scale and bingo. I have a totally different light beam and output to make the best of the conditions.

Adjustability

I’ve also been turning the intensity down a touch when there are large roadside signs about; you know, the ones that blind you with the glare and reflection of super-bright lights. Well, with the Night Hawk VBP lights, I can continue to use them instead of flicking them off at every blinding road sign.

I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the irregular decahedron shape of these lights sure looks the goods on modern angular vehicles and sitting on the HiAce sets both the vehicle, the bar and the lights off perfectly.

Not that I wanted to, but the system allows up to four lights to be mounted and controlled by the included controller, so if more is better, then the Night Hawks have you covered. 

Night Hawk Tech specs

To hit you with a few technical specs, these VBP lights utilise 72 genuine high-performance CREE LEDs, which return 939m maximum distance @1lux (on the full spot setting) and 164m maximum width @1lux (on the full flood setting). That offers more than adequate lighting in all arenas and virtually means you have numerous sets of lights all rolled into one.



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