UPGRADE or modify? It’s a problem that plagues four-wheel drive owners across the country. On the one hand, you’ve often spent so much money on your ride that the thought of starting over again will see your wallet snap shut out of fear. On the other, you could be throwing good money after bad continually tweaking what you currently have into what you currently want. It’s a predicament that plagued Queensland local Jarad Roberts deep into the third iteration of his ML Triton.
Jarad’s Triton started life like so many other 4x4s. Just two years old when he got the keys, it received an altitude adjustment of two inches with a set of 33s slotted into the arches. It made the perfect beach-camping rig, but wasn’t up to the job when pointed towards some of the more serious tracks in South East Queensland’s numerous off-road parks.
Out went the two-inch lift and 33s; in went a five-inch lift and 35s. Despite the large lift and larger tyres, the Triton still wasn’t capable enough for what Jarad was asking of it.
He toyed with the idea of selling it and replacing it with something more hardcore, but then he’d lose the comfort and reliability he needed to take the family camping.
YOU may be wondering why Jarad choose an front axle from the USA when there are so many local options available. The first reason is due to the transfer case.
Transfer cases are either left- or right-hand drop, meaning the front driveshaft is located on the passenger or driver side of the car. In most live-axle 4x4s in Australia the driveshaft is right-hand drop, while in most late-model 4x4s the driveshaft is left-hand drop. So they simply won’t line up without extensive modifications. However, the Dana 44 was available in right- or left-hand offset to suit the transfer case drop.
The other major selling point was engineering. The Dana 44 under Jarad’s Triton is essentially the same spec as what was available in late-model International Scouts, which came standard with 35in tyres. This made it easy for the engineer to sign off on it all.
A call to Greg from Outcast Offroad in Queensland sealed the Triton’s fate. There’d be no more mucking around with the stock suspension; it was to go on a hoist and be stripped back to a clean set of chassis rails, then it would roll out of the Burleigh Heads workshop as a comptruck in tourer clothing.
First on the chopping block was the independent front suspension (IFS). IFS is ideal for comfort and handling, but it’s rarely as effective as a live axle when off-road.
Where the old complicated set-up used to live there’s now a heavy-duty Dana 44 from East Coast Gear Supply in the USA. It has been externally beefed up with bracing and a Solid Industry diff hat, while the insides are shoehorned full of 35-spline chrome-moly axles with Nitro Gear 4.11:1 ratios, wrapped around an ELocker. Before the Dana 44 could go in, the front chassis rails were stripped bare, ready for the new bracketry.
There’s a pair of custom Patrol-style radius arms with a custom Panhard rod keeping the diff in place, while a
Patrol steering box sends input to the D44 through a set of steering rods from an early full-size Jeep Cherokee. The whole lot is kept in check by a Fox steering damper.
Of course, keeping the diff in place is only half the battle. Welded to the chassis is a pair of custom shock towers that house 2.5-inch remote-reservoir Fox coil-overs.
They’re not only far easier to package than a traditional separate coil and shock arrangement, but they provide limitless tuning options to get the ride quality perfect in all conditions.
With the bugs ironed out in the front, it was time for Greg to wave his magic wand over the rear end. The lifted leaf springs work great for carrying a load but stumble when it comes to articulation and ride quality – two things you want in a rock-crawler-cum-family-tourer. With the rear suspension so far removed from the standard arrangement, most would be surprised to learn Jarad’s Triton still runs the standard rear axle: a huge 31-spline unit lifted straight out of the previous-generation Pajero, although now boasting an ARB Air Locker.
Holding the massive rear axle in place is a custom three-link suspension arrangement, with the upper link going to an extensive diff brace. Much like the front, the rear end is kept suspended via a set of 2.5-inch remotereservoir Fox coil-overs, although this time they’re mounted inside a pair of tube shock towers. Those with an eagle eye may have noticed the rear end is decidedly stubby, as there’s been a whopping 400mm lopped off
the end of the chassis rails to drastically improve the departure angle.
The Triton was slowly but surely making its way from family tourer to family crawler. The factory tub and canopy, along with the family’s extensive camping set-up, went up on Gumtree, while Greg set to work sculpting the stout tube tray based on Jarad’s designs. The combination of dimple-died plate, tube sides and thick flares make the tray near-on unbreakable, although camping duties have been relegated to the teardrop-style trailer the family now hauls behind the Triton. Underneath the tray rests a second battery and air compressor set-up, as well as spare tyre storage large enough to handle the 37in Maxxis Trepadors that Jarad fits for play. Street duties see the Triton wearing more reasonable 35-inch Mickey Thompson MTZs.
The visually striking custom bar up front is another Outcast Offroad masterpiece. Built to suit the 50mm bodylift, the bar houses a 12,000lb Avenger winch and Hella HID spotlights. The HIDs, a 42-inch quad-row light bar, LED replacement headlights and fog lights means the
Triton punches out close to 70,000 Lumens of usable light.
The TJM snorkel might give the impression there’s a stock engine tucked away under the bonnet, but that’s only half true. On its first pass on the dyno the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel punched out around 230Nm at the rear wheels, despite already being fitted with a three-inch straight-through exhaust and K&N filter. An ECU re-map and dyno tune netted a sweet increase, with 500Nm now punching through to the rear axle. Of course, that level of power doesn’t come easy.
A Chip It manual boost and drive controller lends a hand with the Exedy HD clutch and oversized radiator to keep it all cool. Power is sent rearwards through the stock transmission, although Marks 4WD Adaptors reduction gears get the Triton crawling better than stock with improved engine braking for steep downhill tracks, even with the 37-inch tyres.
Despite the extensive modifications, Jarad doesn’t hesitate loading up the family and heading off for an adventure with the camper in tow. There’s a modern stereo, power steering, cruise control, ABS and air conditioning, and the whole thing is engineered and completely road-legal. In fact, the only thing Jarad regrets is not building it right from the first day he got the keys.
There’s been a few hurdles and changes of direction along the way, but Jarad now has a 4x4 that will do it all, from hardcore rock crawling trips through to peaceful beach camping with the family. However, that’s to be expected from what is undoubtedly the best road-going Triton in Australia.