They call Australia the lucky country, and it’s true. My wife and I feel pretty lucky. We are taking time off to visit this gigantic land and explore it off-road. Blessed with plenty of sunshine, Australia is surrounded by beautiful beaches, an economy that shrugged off the Great Financial Crash, and a small, happy population. There are millions of empty square miles just an hour out of any city. The luxury of the Outback means humans don’t need to compete for solitude. It’s peaceful in the desert, so beautiful at night.
Poking around the desert is good for your soul
Poking around the desert is good for your soul, and in the Outback a sturdy 4x4 is the best way to haul the soul’s earthly requirements. All that solitude can be daunting though; you’ll want a stone-reliable vehicle to explore the emptiness. We chose the wildly popular Nissan Patrol, a model unavailable in America. Stock, the Patrol has an excellent reputation, second only to Toyota’s Land Cruiser, which must be a truck CNC-milled from solid gold judging by the Land Cruiser’s astronomical resale value.
Of course, this being Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road we can’t leave anything stock. Our 183,000km, 2008 ST wore Bridgestone Smoothies with a decided street bias, had a tired front suspension that was struggling on mild washboard roads, and, more importantly, had nowhere for us to sleep. We picked up an extra 17-inch alloy Patrol wheel at the local junkyard. Total Traction Tires of Adelaide installed six Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ P3 tires, giving us the two spares (the Outback minimum). The LT265/70R17 Mickeys are slightly taller than the Smoothies but didn’t greatly affect the gearing. With the ATZ P3s, the speedometer is spot on, while the odometer is off about 5 percent (using the GPS as a reference).
Solving the sleeping issue, ARB installed a roof rack and one of ARB’s Simpson III rooftop tents. ARB stuff has a Toyota-like reputation and is not cheap, but with the price of bottom-shelf motel rooms averaging $150 a night (if you can find one) we made our investment back in a few weeks. Shade is scarce in the Outback, so we also bought a slick-working ARB rollout side awning, which gives us a nice place to fry Kranskies and eggs in the morning.
After changing the engine oil and filter, air filter, fuel filter, front and rear differential oil, belts, belt tensioner, brake pads, coolant, transmission oil, and transfer case oil, I felt less guilty for having ARB’s mechanic install the company’s longer-than-stock Old Man Emu shocks and springs. The system ARB recommended was model specific, eliminating the need to string together a bunch of disjointed part numbers and hoping to nail the correct mix. A heavy-duty OME steering damper was included as part of the suspension package.
With the suspension work done, we took the Patrol back to Total Traction Tires, where Darren installed offset bushings on the front axle swing arms to correct the caster change due to the added lift. Total Traction also did a front-end alignment, and somehow through all this messing about, the Patrol lost its tendency to pull left.
The Old Man Emu suspension setup lifted our Patrol about 11⁄2 inches and really firmed up the spongy front end. A good thing, as we added a second battery under the hood to run our energy-stingy, Engle 12-volt refrigerator. To keep the auxiliary battery topped up, I rigged an Engle voltage-controlled relay. The relay allows for charging the auxiliary battery if the engine is running. When the ignition key is off, the relay prevents any drain on the starting battery. With this setup the fridge has power all the time, even after the rig has been parked three days.
Our changes make banging around the desert more comfy and our rig less likely to get stuck on the way to those beautiful night skies. Really, it’s not a huge list of modifications, but then we’re on a tight budget. Lucky for us, the Nissan Patrol is well designed and fairly indestructible right from the factory.
You learn something new every day. In addition to the sticky tape that comes with them, Darren at True Traction Tire uses a dab of silicone caulk to glue the tape-weights on, preventing mud, rocks, or vibration from knocking things loose.
Baby’s got new shoes! For tires with such an aggressive tread, the Mickey Thompson ATZ P3s run fairly quiet. You can hear them with the windows down, but the sound is reassuring, not annoying. We ran these tires at 20-25 psi all the time in the dirt. With the amount of weight we carried, the rears got a workout conforming to sharp rocks on the rougher trails.
ARB brought in the Wolverine (aka Lee) to install our Old Man Emu suspension kit. The front-end install went smoothly—just don’t mix up the unequal-length springs. The sway bar mounting points and brake hoses remain stock.
Old Man Emu Nitro Charger twin-tube gas shocks keep the bouncing to a minimum and can even dampen the ride over the lumpiest of kangaroos. They look cool cruising the cattle-station paddock to boot. We hammered the rig at high speed into some pretty deep gullies and only bottomed out once.
The OME steering damper is twice as big as our stock 2008 Nissan unit. The damper was not as huge an improvement as the rest of the suspension mods mainly because we didn’t have much unintended steering input with the stocker. Maybe the power steering helps in that department. Anyway, all our thumbs survived intact.
The rear lift required two short extension pieces for sway bar clearance. A few holes and Wolverine had the backend together toot sweet. Amazingly, none of his work rattled apart driving over thousands of miles of dirt.
The four-link rear with a track bar and a sway bar looks like something out of a 1970s Trans-Am race car.
ARB sells gear for nearly every popular truck made. Stacks of springs and Roo-bumpers were everywhere. I’ll have to get some plush, ARB long-travel springs for my stiff-legged YJ when I get back home.
These nice guys installed our home away from home. Snug as bugs, we saved tens of thousands of dollars with this setup. Although, after five months living in the thing my wife was getting a little tent-crazy.
ARB Adelaide sent us to Total Traction Tires for the front-end alignment, so back we went to see Darren. He dropped the radius arms and installed ARB nylon offset bushings to bring our caster back into spec.
You’ll need a pretty stout press to install the offset bushings. I would have pounded them into an unrecognizable pulp with a 16-pound sledgehammer. Darren was more delicate.
The ARB bushings come with a template to position the bushing centers. Different spring kits get different templates. Couldn’t be easier.