ANSWERING a job advert for a bull-mustering gig back in her native state of Queensland, Jillaroo Jess knew she was up for it, but for one thing: needed a bull buggy. These vehicles are the toughest of the tough; traditionally FJ40s stripped down to the bare essentials mechanically and, in regards to body panels, they’re then wrapped in protective bar-work and accompanied by the odd tyre or two attached to the sides and front.
THE FINAL result of the bar-work, chopped roof and attached tyres is akin to a Mad Max-esque rig, but it is all done for a reason. The main task of a bull buggy is to assist in mustering cattle that… err… may actually not want to be mustered. The bull buggy allows the driver to ‘nudge’ recalcitrant bovines in the direction they’re supposed to go when being mustered, which isn’t always an easy task. These rigs don’t see much in the way of formed tracks – all the work is offtrack, deep in the bush – so having to plow through track-free terrain and cop the odd knock or two means the mustering vehicles must be tough enough for those accidental impacts. They must also be mechanically basic, allowing for an easy bush-fix if the worst does go wrong.
FOR JESS, a short-wheelbase Toyota BJ70 was the perfect choice; it’s just a more modern BJ40. A short wheelbase vehicle is ideal for bull-buggy work, as it needs to be highly manoeuvrable for winding through the densely forested areas that runaway cattle like to use as hiding spots.
The BJ’s basic-but-well-proved mechanicals meant there was limited chance of anything failing. To make the blue bruiser even more bombproof, Jess enlisted the help of Terrain Tamer gurus, Allan and Andrew Gray. It was this dynamic duo’s job to get the BJ into the sort of mechanical shape that could cope with the heat, rugged terrain and expected rough treatment.
Jess had to help muster 20,000 cattle, and the job was looking like it would take a couple of months, with long working hours. All things that needed consideration when building a bull buggy, Andrew explained.
“I think the most important part of building a bull buggy is having a decent vehicle to start with,” he said. “I mean, if you start with something that’s rubbish, you’re going to end up with something that’s rubbish. You’ve gotta have a reliable, robust vehicle to start with and then you improve on that.” For its age, the BJ was in good order – nearly too good, Andrew reckoned. “I actually thought the Cruiser was in too good a nick to chastise,” he laughed.
“There’d be collectors crying everywhere at what we did to that car. It did need some work, but it was a really good place to start – it was in excellent nick.” However, Andrew does remember the first brake test they did, reminding them of the vehicle’s age. “It was entertaining,” he recalled with amusement. “The brakes were abysmal, for lack of a better description. In fact, the best description would be not calling them brakes but saying they offered mild retardation!” And so the build project began…
ANDREW and Allan had their work cut out for them with the build. The BJ was in good nick but tired, with some 370,000km on the clock, so most mechanical components were well and truly worn-in and in need of replacement. The duo, along with Jess, got stuck in quickly as they were on a short timeline before mustering – 16-hour days were commonplace, and the whole job was done in 12 days.
They raided Terrain Tamer’s (TT) extensive parts list for all the mods and improvements (see Taming The Bull sidebar), starting with the fitment of TT heavy-duty brake pads, high-performance rotors, brake shoes and calipers, to provide vastly improved stopping power (read: it actually stopped). The blue beast had well and truly settled onto its springs at its advanced age, too, so a TT suspension kit (with a two-inch lift) was fitted, bringing it back to (close to) original standard height.
Engine reliability is paramount with these rigs, so to ensure the donk kept humming along in its advanced age it was rejuvenated with the fitment of TT injectors, water pump, glow plugs, a fan belt kit, an alternator and – perfect for the conditions the rig would be working in – a reconditioned radiator. Speaking of conditions, due to the challenging tracks and terrain Jess would be negotiating, the team also fitted a TT ELocker kit inside a TT reconditioned diff, with all that traction pushed through TT CVs and axle shafts.
It’s been a little while since the project was finished, but so far so good for both Jess and the BJ – performance has been flawless. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect this face-lifted and revitalised BJ to see out another few hundred thousand kays.
So what about the owner? As you’d expect, Jess is mega-stoked with how the BJ has turned out, and she’s equally confident ‘Blue Steel’ has plenty of bullnudging life still in it.
“I’m loving driving my mustering buggy around,” Jess told us. “Blue Steel is probably the flashest in the Top End. I haven’t driven a buggy with so much thought put into it, so I know it’s going to have a long life ahead.”