Build progress update


Central Australian trip report

It's now almost three years since I began modifying the Project 200 Land Cruiser. Over this time, the vehicle has been a daily drive, carried us on numerous 4WDing weekends, and also covered a few longer trips towing our home-made camper trailer.

June-July 2015 was the first really big test of the vehicle and accessories, with an extended trip into Central Australia. I thought this would be a good opportunity to document the trip and assess how the vehicle and modifications have performed so far.

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The trip through Central Australia

Travelling with two other families, our trip to Central Australia was planned to take us across NSW into South Australia, then north to Coober Pedy and out to the painted desert before heading across to Uluru. From there we would visit Mt Dare, then across the Simpson to Birdsville via the Rig Road, then back to Sydney via Cameron Corner and Broken Hill.

The first 2,000km across the Hay plains to the Barossa then up the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, was on asphalt. We then headed North on the dirt to Arckaringa Station and the Painted Desert for a few days. It's an area we had planned to visit previously, and it's well worth the detour if you're travelling on the Stuart Highway.

Our next stop was a quick overnight stay at Kulgera, before heading out to Uluru for several nights, staying at Yulara. We then headed to Kings Canyon and then Palm Valley for a couple of nights each, travelling on the Mareenie Loop Road, which wasn't in particularly good condition. Access to Palm Valley requires a proper 4WD, making it less popular than Uluru and Kings Canyon, which makes it a more peaceful destination.

From Palm Valley, we went on to Alice Springs. We'd planned on three nights at Alice, but extended our stay for a couple more nights so one of our group could get some repairs done, taking the opportunity to explore the sights around town on several day trips.

From Alice, we headed down the Old Ghan Road then out to Chamber's Pillar. The Ghan road was in terrible condition thanks to the heavy traffic from the Finke Desert Race a few weeks earlier, which made for slow progress. The side road to Chamber's wasn't much better, with some corrugations that you can see in the video. It was my third visit to the Pillar, and we timed it well with moonrise co-inciding with sunset for some great shots.

We planned to go from Chambers straight through to Mt Dare, but lost a day due to the slow drive, and spent the night at Lambert's Gravitational Centre instead, going on to Mt Dare the next day. As we were now running a few days late and with rain and poor track conditions reported on the Eastern end of the Rig Road and up to Birdsville, we decided to skip the planned Simpson crossing this time around. Instead, we took a day trip down to Dalhousie Springs and out into the Simpson before heading home on the Oodnadatta and Strzelecki tracks to Cameron Corner, then via Broken Hill.

In total, we covered 8,500km over five weeks, travelling on a mix of highways, dirt roads and tracks. We generally cruised at 90-100km/h on the tar and 70-80km/h on reasonable dirt. Speeds were substantially slower on the road to Palm Valley and also the Old Ghan Road between Alice and Finke.

Fuel consumption

Overall fuel consumption for the Central Australian trip was slightly higher than we had expected, averaging 16.3L/100km. Head and tail winds greatly influenced the result, for example driving in to Uluru with a headwind, we were using around 18L/100km, but on the same road back out with a tailwind, consumption dropped to just 13L/100km.

The best result of the trip was travelling home at 100km/h from Broken Hill (with our lowest weight and a tailwind), recording 12L/100km.

The worst result was travelling down the Old Ghan Road (with high weights over rough sandy roads), recording about 25L/100km.

Getting the most from your fuel dollar on a trip

Some travellers say they don't care about how much they spend on fuel. I do. Every dollar wasted on fuel is a dollar you can't spend on something more useful, like more accessories or an activity along the way. There are two factors related to fuel costs: Consumption and Price.

Consumption: There are a few ways to minimise consumption. Driving more slowly reduces consumption, but it can also be painful! We typically drive at 90-95km/h when towing, which uses about 20% less fuel than sitting on 110. The 200's standard gearbox programming doesn't help, and you will probably have to drive in S5 to get the best results, or S4 in hilly terrain or headwinds. This will allow the torque converter to lock. Of course, fitting a torque converter lockup kit will allow the TC to remain locked in 5th, reducing consumption by 10-30%. Cost aside, with fuel being a finite resource it makes sense to minimise how much of it you consume.

Price: Although diesel prices tend to vary less than petrol or LPG, it does get more expensive the further you travel from major cities, and there are often much cheaper places to buy even in country locations. For example, we found one major supplier in the Coober Pedy industrial area was 10c/litre cheaper than the stations out on the highway. I strongly recommend getting the Petrol Spy app (for Apple iOS and Android), which shows fuel prices all over Australia, and allows you to update current prices for other users. The app allows forward planning for your trip and could easily save you hundreds of dollars. Installing a long range tank also allows you to buy fuel at cheaper locations and avoid the expensive ones.

LandCruiser 200 - Long Term Update

How have the vehicle and each accessory performed so far, both up-to and during the trip?
Read the details below:

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The Land Cruiser itself

Overall, I continue to rate the 200 very highly. There's no other vehicle that matches it for all-round performance and capability as an off-road touring vehicle. It cruises and tows effortlessly, it's comfortable and there's plenty of room. On the road it's quiet and off-road it's very capable.

Other than the already-mentioned complaints about the automatic transmission, there are a few areas where the 200 needs improvement:

Dust sealing: Dust sealing on the 200 is pretty poor. Dust leaks in at every door and the rear tailgate. Gaps in the door mouldings where the seals sit seem to be route of ingress. See photo for an example.

Cruise Control: There's only one word to describe the 200's cruise control system: Abysmal. It doesn't seem to have any predictive capability like most other systems I've used. It's particularly bad on undulating roads. For example, if you are going downhill, and the speed has crept above set speed by a few km/h, then you reach the bottom of the hill and begin to slow as you head up the other side, the 200 doesn't apply any throttle until you're 2-3km/h below set speed. By which time the ECU's reaction seems to be "Holy crap, we're going too slow, floor it". On my other vehicle, the system observes the slowdown and starts applying some throttle before underspeed occurs, making the transition from cruising to accellerating very smooth. It amazes me that a company as large and technologically advanced as Toyota has done such a terrible job programming the software for such a basic piece of equipment.

Rear shock absorber placement: Like the 100 series, Toyota have placed the rear shocks forward of the rear axle. This means they are on the receiving end of plenty of stones thrown up by the front tyres, which can cause damage to the shocks and the retaining bolts. Knowing this from previous experience, I made some very quick guards up before the trip, but I'll document a more permanent solution in the future.

Air On Board compressor

The AOB compressor and reservoir continue to operate flawlessly. The compressor is mainly used to inflate tyres (we generally deflate them on both dirt tracks and sand), and to operate the airbag suspension in the trailer and the helper airbags in the rear of the 'Cruiser.

> Read main compressor install article

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Tough Dog suspension

One of the standout performers of the trip was the Toughdog suspension. It worked perfectly all the time, not suffering any fade even when dealing with endless corrugations and dips in the road.

The suspension now has around 50,000km on it (including the trip), and continues to work well.

> Read main suspension install article

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Firestone Coil-rite helper airbags

We were running 30psi in the airbags during the trip to cope with the extra weight of the gear and trailer. They worked extremely well in this role, with no problems to report.

> Read main airbag install article

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SuperPro Upper Control Arms (UCAs)

Tyre wear and handling continue to be greatly improved since fitting the SuperPro UCAs. They survived the incredibly rough roads of the trip unscathed, and wheel alignment is still correct.

> Read main UCA install article

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ARB Bullbar

No complaints about the ARB deluxe bar. It hasn't suffered any ill-effects from the corrugations, and I haven't had any animal strikes.

I have made up some matt-black adhesive light shields (see photo) to stop the headlights reflecting into my eyes, which is a side-effect of having a light-coloured bullbar. You can buy them on eBay.

> Read main bullbar install article

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Warn Tabor 10k winch

Since fitting the winch, it's only been used a few times in anger, but has always performed flawlessly. The bolts retaining the control box did work loose during the trip, even with the star washers fitted to the nuts, but applying some loctite solved the problem.

> Read main winch install and test article

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iPad mini with MudMap software

We tracked our entire trip with the MudMap2 software running on the iPad. It was a brilliant system, allowing us to see where we were going, where we'd been and mark points of interest swapping between a huge range of maps depending on the area. Mud Map 3 is now available.

> Read main interior electrics article

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Safari snorkel

The Safari snorkel continues to operate well. I've had no issues with it either before or during the trip. In addition to the standard ram head, I also took a Donaldson precleaner with me, which I fitted when we were in dusty conditions, particularly if not the lead car in our convoy. This captured a lot of dust, minimising the cleaning required for the standard air filter.

> Read main snorkel install article

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Outback Accessories rear bar and wheel carriers

The Outback bar was worth its weight in gold during the trip, carrying our two spare tyres, a dirty gear bag and also a set of Maxtrax via a bracket I fabricated before we left.

Despite all the weight, dust and corrugations, the bar and carriers suffered no ill-effects and continue to operate as-new.

> Read main rear bar install article

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ROH Octagon wheels

I've had no real issues with the Octagons since fitting them to both the 200 and the camper around 18 months and 36,000km ago. They balance well and have no problems with the load.

The only minor issue is that the wheels on the trailer have suffered some stone damage to the painted sections, presumably from rocks thrown up by the 'Cruiser's tyres. I imagine the same thing would happen to any wheels, however.

> Read main wheel/tyre article

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Mickey Thompson Baja ATZP3 tyres

The P3s have been one of the standout performers of the build. After decades running mostly BF Goodrich tyres on a variety of vehicles, this was my first set of Mickeys, and it's very hard to fault them.

I've found them excellent on-road in both wet and dry conditions. Similarly, they perform very well off-road whether it be in mud, dirt or on rocks. My only complaint is that they have become noisier as they've worn. They're still quieter than a typical mud-terrain tyre, but considerably louder than the factory rubber. I suppose this is to be expected given their more aggressive tread pattern. I've found that regular rotations from front to rear and left to right reduces the noise as it helps the tread blocks to wear evenly.

On the trip, despite the heavy loads, high temperatures and sometimes atrocious tracks littered with sharp rocks, the tyres performed flawlessly. I didn't suffer a single puncture or failure, which makes a pleasant change from previous outback trips running other tyres. There weren't even any major chunks of rubber missing when we returned. Another family travelling with us in a Nissan Patrol running P3s also suffered no punctures or failures. An outstanding result.

The tyres are wearing very well. It's been 18 months and 36,000km since they were fitted, and tread depth is still 9mm, down from the 14mm depth when new. This should give them a useful life of around 80,000km.

> Read main wheel/tyre article

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Richards torque converter lock-up kit

Another standout performer from the trip was the torque converter lockup system. I'd estimate that the lockup was active for at least 95% of our 8,500km trip, either because we were travelling above the 75km/h automatic-lock speed, or because I'd engaged it manually at lower speeds.

The ATF temperature sat on a comfortable ~70ºC most of the time, instead of heading upwards of 110ºC which is common on vehicles towing uphill or into headwinds without a lockup kit active. That alone has to be beneficial to the oil and transmission components.

Based on my estimated fuel economy improvement of 15%, the kit reduced fuel consumption by around 200 litres over the trip, saving about $350.

> Read main Torque Converter lockup article

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Fyrlyt Nemesis driving lights

The Nemesis lights got quite a lot of use during the trip and worked perfectly. They helped me avoid kangaroos across the Hay plains at night, illuminating far and wide along the road ahead. The casings, lenses and reflectors are all as-new. Despite extensive use over the last 6 months and the heavy corrugations on the trip, the original globes still survive. They are absolutely brilliant lights.

> Read main Nemesis install/comparison article

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Osram Night Breaker Unlimited Low / High-beam upgrades

I previously noted that the low-beam Nightbreakers had a relatively short life, having to be replaced after about 6 months of daily use (I always drive with my headlights on). For this reason, I wouldn't recommend them if you also drive with your lights on all the time despite their improved light output.

The Nightbreakers in high beam have continued to operate well after a year of use, including quite a lot of hours (switched on) during the trip, often over corrugated roads. I continue to recommend them as the best option for a legal upgrade of the high beam output.

> Read main lighting install article

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Long Ranger fuel tank

The Long Ranger tank continues to work perfectly.

Thanks to the massive fuel capacity, we could do some pre-planning using the Petrol Spy phone app to avoid the most expensive fuel locations completely. For example, we could fill up at Coober Pedy ($1.50), then skip Kulgera ($1.99), top up at Erldunda ($1.80), then skip Yulara ($2.20) and Kings Canyon ($2.30), making it all the way to Alice Springs ($1.50) before needing to refuel. On this trip alone, we saved hundreds of dollars in fuel thanks to the extra capacity.

> Read main fuel tank install article

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