ROAD READY

WORDS DEAN MELLOR PHOTOS SHANE MILES

MSA 4X4 6WD LC200 (PART 5)

AFTER significant delays at the body shop, Project Super Cruiser has been signed off and is fully registered, and the massively stretched 6WD Land Cruiser triple-cab is now an imposing sight on Queensland’s roads.


MSA 4x4’s Shane Miles bought the brand-new 200 Series Land Cruiser VX around five months ago and immediately shipped it off to Mick McMillan at Australian Expedition Vehicles (AEV), where its into one of the country’s most impressive custom began. AEV removed the rear of the wagon, stretched the installed a JMACX 6WD system and sent the Cruiser off to David Taylor Spray Painting & Panel Beating, where all the major body fabrication took place. It was this body fabrication stage of the project that took significantly longer than expected; after all, no-one has ever built a triple-cab Land Cruiser before.

In the last Project Super Cruiser update, the craftsmen at David Taylor’s had finished fabricating the Land Cruiser’s new rear wall, and AEV had test-fitted the Trig Point Canopy and JMACX middle axle before the vehicle was shipped back to the body shop for painting. The next step was to put the whole thing back together.

“Because it’s a process we’re familiar with, it’s not a difficult one, and we can manage it quite quickly,” says Mick McMillan. “Apart from being slightly bigger in the body, it’s exactly the same process as our dual-cab builds.”

Having said that, Mick admitted reassembling the interior was far more complicated than usual, “because of the extra air-conditioning unit (in the rear), how it was installed, and the extra covers and cowlings that have been custom fabricated for the system”.

All of the effort and hard work put into the interior is reflected in its factory-like finish, and Shane Miles is more than happy with how it has turned out. “The finish inside looks incredible,” he says. “If it was done in the factory, that’s how it would have looked. It’s just unreal. They have used matching leather to trim the air-conditioning box, and have laid matching carpet over the wheel arches, and they’ve matched the roof-liner with the infill piece at the back … it’s just incredible the way they’ve trimmed it.”

As well as refitting the third axle and the Trig Point canopy, the team at AEV installed a 180-litre Brown Davis long-range fuel tank; Icon suspension kit in the front, middle and rear; Airbag Man air bags; an ARB twin-compressor; an Air On Board 18-litre air tank; Icon alloy wheels with Mickey Thompson ATZ P3 rubber; TJM bar work; and Warn winches front and rear.

“The Trig Point canopy fitting went smoothly,” says Mick. “We’ve had to make custom fuel fillers, so we’ve custom-manufactured the bracket in there, powdercoated it and fitted it. Normally it would be a single entry, but we’ve fitted two individual ones so Shane can fill the front and rear tanks in isolation.”

“I GAVE THEM MY CREDIT CARD AND IT’S ALL FULLY REGISTERED AS A HEAVY VEHICLE”

“The long-range tank, it’s a custom tank that we have developed with Brown Davis, so it has an AEV part number, but it’s essentially an LC79 long-range tank with some different brackets on it,” adds Mick. “It fits in the 200 perfectly and fuel capacity is 180 litres, so with the standard 90-litre tank Shane now has a total fuel capacity of 270 litres.”

While the TJM Outback bullbar and side rails are standard 200 Series parts, AEV had to modify the TJM side steps due to the Super Cruiser’s extended wheelbase. “The side steps have been custom-made by us to Shane’s specifications,” says Mick. “Shane actually sourced two sets of side-steps, and out of those two sets we’ve made one set to fit the vehicle. We’ve CNC-laser cut the top tread plate as a custom item, and we’re happy with the outcome.”

With reassembly complete, the next step was for AEV to fit the compliance plates before Mick and Shane headed down to a Queensland transport and motoring service centre to register the beast.

“Rego was awesome,” says Shane. “Mick McMillan had all of the documents ready - it was like he was talking in another language with the transit people - and at the end of the day it got stamped and I gave them my credit card and it’s all fully registered as a heavy vehicle.”

Yep, at around 5000kg (and with a 6000kg GVM) the SuperCruiser is no lightweight, and Shane had to get an HR (Heavy Rigid) licence to drive it. “It’s only a one-day test to do it; it’s a small practical and a small theory test,” says Shane. “You do instruction for about three hours and then you go and do the test, which is about an hour drive with a testing instructor, and a small theory test, and that’s it.”

So, what is the 6WD Cruiser like to drive on the road? “It’s just so nice to drive, it feels better than the ‘normal’ 200 Series that I had before,” says an obviously excited Shane. “It turns, it stops, it goes … it’s just so smooth, it’s unbelievably smooth; and it’s quiet.”

Once registered, Shane waved goodbye to Mick and pointed his Super Cruiser south from AEV’s HQ in Townsville towards MSA 4x4’s home base on the Gold Coast.

“I don’t know if it’s the Icon dampers or the progressive rate coils working together (see ‘Icon Suspension & Wheels’ breakout on page 92), but it is so damn smooth,” continues Shane. “Driving down the freeway, it feels just like a luxury car. I was expecting it to be military-like and vibrating and shaking, but I’ve never been so happy driving a car.

“With the windows up you barely notice an increase in road or wind noise; it’s similar to any other standard 200 Series wagon fitted with all-terrain tyres. The Mickey Thompson ATZ P3 tyres are really quiet considering their quite aggressive tread pattern.”

Of course, the SuperCruiser is now a fair bit heavier than a standard 200 Series wagon, and it has six wheels instead of four, which obviously has an affect on on-road performance, but Shane is more than content with how it went on its freeway shakedown. “It’s really good,” he says. “You just need to push the ECT power button if you need a little bit more, but it’s really good.” While the ECT power mode doesn’t result in the Cruiser’s V8 producing more power, it speeds up the automatic transmission’s shift response, so it will drop a cog or two more readily when confronted with an incline, or when asked to provide more acceleration with a prod on the accelerator.

The Super Cruiser will be subjected to towing duties down the track, so the engine will soon score a few upgrades. “I’m possibly going to get a bit of exhaust work done, and there’s a PWR intercooler going on,” says Shane. “And Safari 4x4 are sending their head engineer up here to fit an ARMAX snorkel and ECU to it, so hopefully that will result in more than enough towing power. But just cruising back from Townsville to the Gold Coast, it had more than enough power.”


You might think a vehicle that measures a tad over seven metres long - with six wheels - would not be the most manoeuvrable thing on the road, and while Shane is unlikely to ever park it at the local Westfield shopping centre, he is surprised with how easy it is to drive. “Up here (in Queensland), you’re allowed to do U-turns at the lights where posted, and I can do U-turns at the lights,” he says. “If I have two lanes on the other side, I’m more than fine; the turning circle is incredible, not as good as standard, but still good.

“At roundabouts, you just drive it like a normal car. You don’t realise that there’s all this extra stuff (the extra length and extra axle) behind you. And visibility is good, too, because we have our new MSA 4x4 towing mirrors on there, you can see right to the back of the vehicle. And the reversing camera and the OE sensors and all that sort of stuff still work as they should.”

Of course, this is one Cruiser that won’t be confined to on-road duties, as Shane has big plans to take his family touring in the 6WD monster. It’s already fitted with Warn Zeon Platinum winches (front and rear) running synthetic rope, and two ARB Air Lockers (one in the front diff and one in the rear) are set to join the OE Toyota locker in the middle diff. And while the Rhino-Rack Backbone system is in place, other items still to be fitted include the Rhino-Rack roof trays for the cabin and the canopy, two rooftop tents, driving lights and more.

“The Rhino-Rack Backbone mount is installed but we still have to put the trays on, and then we can put the two iKampers on,” says Shane. “After that, all of the Lightforce products will go on - front driving lights, roof light bar, side lights and rear lights - and then we get to the electrical stage. We have five 60amp/h Revolution Power Australia Lithium batteries to go in the back, and a custom water tank in the back as well, and then we have four MSA 4x4 drawers and three MSA drop slides (one for the kitchen and two for fridges) to go in, and then it will be ready for the electrical fit-out.”

THIS IS ONE LAND CRUISER THAT WON’T BE CONFINED TO ON-ROAD DUTIES


“The electrical fit-out will be huge,” adds Shane. “A Redarc RedVision system will be installed to control all the electrical items including the air compressors, water pumps, GME communications gear and all of the other electrical gear around the vehicle.”

While the Super Cruiser is still far from finished, Shane is already impressed by the way it looks, from the reshaped bodywork through to the Trig Point canopy. “The Trig Point canopy, I like the look of it,” says Shane. “It just looks like it’s supposed to be there. All the body lines look really good and the canopy fits really well with the body of the car.

Before settling on the Trig Point, I spoke to Michael Ellem (Offroad Images), who has one fitted to his Land Cruiser 79, and it’s amazing that, considering where he’s taken it, it has been completely dust-free. The quality of the Trig Point is just next level, and I really like the profile from the rear, too.”

Shane is also impressed with the overall stance of the stretched Land Cruiser. “Most 200 Series Cruisers look too nose down, but with the Icon coil-overs, Mick McMillan wound them up 30mm and the vehicle sits reasonably level,” says Shane. “The rear is fitted out with Icon remote reservoir shocks and the JMACX variable-rate coils. JMACX offers a heap of suspension options depending on your requirements, but I wanted the variable rate springs so it would be a bit softer at the start of compression but still have good carrying ability when it’s loaded right up.”

“I can’t speak highly enough about the work that AEV has done,” says Shane. “I’ve watched over the whole project and it’s incredible, what they have done. I was concerned that it would look out of proportion and a bit odd, but once it has its roof racks on and all the other gear it’s going to look awesome. And it’s really cool that it drives so well; I was expecting a rough, horrible thing … something very military.”

ICON SUSPENSION AND WHEELS

IN ADDITION to its trick JMACX 6WD system, the MSA 4x4 Super Cruiser has been equipped with top-shelf suspension components from US specialist Icon Vehicle Dynamics, which is distributed in Australia by Tough Vehicle Accessories. It also wears eight (six plus two canopy-mounted spares) Icon Alloys Rebound Satin Black 8.5 x 17 rims with a 25mm offset and a 1250kg load rating.

The front of the Super Cruiser sports a pair of Icon 3.0 Remote Reservoir CDCV (Compression Damping Conrol Valve) coil-overs and Icon billet aluminium control arms, while the rear has JMACX’s progressive-rate springs mated to Icon 2.5 Remote Reservoir CDCV shocks.

The Icon shocks feature corrosion-resistant plated bodies with one-inch shafts in the 3.0 Series and 7/8-inch shafts in the 2.5 Series, and they are fully rebuildable and re-valveable. A bolt-on design means they can be fitted without welding or cutting.

“The kit on Shane’s Cruiser consists of off-the-shelf items, but with three axles it’s obviously not what a standard kit would be,” explains Ashley Gibbons, director at Tough Vehicle Accessories. “It’s got the Icon 3.0 coil-overs in the front, so a much larger bore and piston size than what you would usually run on a 200 Series - you’d normally be running a 2.0 or a 2.5 - whereas because this is a very heavy vehicle we’ve gone with the 3.0 up front. It has remote reservoirs and compression adjustment, so Shane can really fine-tune it the way he wants it to be in terms of comfort and compliance.”

The compression damping adjustment is by way of a dial, so no tools are needed to make damping changes. The front coil-overs are also adjustable for height, but that is generally set prior to installation and then left alone. According to Shane, Mick McMillan set up the Super Cruiser’s front-end with 30mm of lift for a level stance.

“As well as the shocks, we’ve fitted Icon billet aluminium control arms at the front, which are adjustable at the mount so you can get the camber and castor correct,” continues Ashley. “And down the back-end it’s running 2.5 remote reservoir shocks - it’s got four of them being a dual-axle in the back - and all those shocks have compression adjustment as well.”

“It will take a little bit of tweaking once he plays with his loads to find the setting that he likes, or he might have two ‘go to’ settings, where he’s got one when the vehicle is loaded and one when the vehicle is empty,” adds Ashley.

The overall aim of the Icon setup is to provide the Land Cruiser with increased wheel travel and ride quality over stock, along with improved vehicle handling and decreased body roll. Going by Shane’s first drive impressions, it’s mission accomplished.