Choices – What Were The Alternatives?
It took me seemingly, an age, to drop my coin on the HiAce. Wanting to totally exhaust the alternatives, to rule every one of them out, for both technical, practical, head and heart, as well as monetary reasons.
Initially, I was sure I’d like to be steering an OKA, a Mitsubishi Fuso or similar 4WD truck as my ultimate offroad machine. Sure, they would return superior offroad performance compared to the HiAce, but… I couldn’t bring myself to want to be driving a truck all day every day. I do have an MR truck licence but didn’t want the overall vehicle weight and bulk. Sometimes, bigger is not better.
The Unimog; awesome, if you are happy wearing earmuffs, spending a fortune on running costs and upkeep, content to trundle along below highway speed limits and had a spare set of hands to sit on the roof racks with a chainsaw to clear many of the tracks I hope to tackle… no thanks!
Then the Iveco Daily; that ticks a lot of boxes for both off road prowess, on road comfort and driveability, along with the overall size being perfect for camping and living in. The factory 36-inch tyre size is perfect, as are the factory front and rear lockers, plus its dual low range selection and suspension flex is amazing. This is the one vehicle that I still would love to work with… and the OKA.
The Mercedes Sprinter and Volkswagen Transporter; the simple answer is “no way”, but an explanation is warranted. While the physical size of the Sprinter seems ideal, its 4WD ability is second rate. Yeah, I know plenty of people have taken them to a lot of places both here and abroad, but the specs fall a long way short to what I call a serious offroad 4WD. Yep, some had low range, but the gearing is hardly low, when compared to a LandCruiser or Petrol transfer case. Later models ditched the low range for increased gear ratios, and they rely heavily on electronics to aid in the offroad scene. Overseas has a few kits that allow for up to 35-inch rubber, but the ability to have them legally fitted here in Australia was (at the time of writing) subject to scrutiny. The Transporter 4Motion with a Seikel kit (from Germany) takes the VW further than standard, but it’s still limited with the lack of deep gearing, ground clearance and relies heavily on traction control. As great as these two options are on gravel roads and most slippery surfaces, just like a Subaru, they simply are not a serious off-road vehicle.
The mighty TroopCarrier. I’m on my second Troopy and love it. Its heavy-duty build sports the go-anywhere ability that I want and has a gazillion aftermarket products available to kit it out to enhance it in so many ways. The failing, for me, was the lack of live-in ability. Sure, I could chop the roof and have a pop-top to allow standing room, but other than standing up in it, that doesn’t allow for anything else. Sleeping would still be in the equivalent to a roof top tent, in the pop top roof section. Yep, I could tow a camper tailer with a Troopy, but I’m trying to avoid towing anything for this project.
Slide on campers, onto a ute, also seemed to tick a few boxes, but the height and bulk, plus the lack of walk through from drivers and passengers’ seats to living area crossed them of my list.
The popular Mitsubishi Delica sure got a look in; it’s pretty much everything the HiAce is, but unfortunately, they are getting a little old in the tooth for what we wanted. Yes, they have low range, decent ground clearance and have been a proven 4WD around the world, but, for us… no cigar.
Better than decent offroad ability is the number one need and want for this project. No, I don’t need or want a competition-like rock hoping, mud bashing mauler, but want the equivalent of, say my Troopy. Sure, I know I’ll get bogged more than some of the alternate offerings but, I’ll carry the required gear to get out on those odd occasions.
To be able to drive to the most remote, hard-to-reach corners of Australia, to be self-sufficient, offer reliability, liveability, comfort, decent fuel economy and ease of use all makes the converted HiAce a winner in my mind. While the HiAce offers plenty of modern safety features, it’s still a relatively simplistic vehicle in that it is literally a commercial van, which I like.
The ability to slide open the side door, walk in, boil the billy, reach for food, water, camping gear, clothing, or simply flop onto the permanent set-up bed without having to deploy the pop top roof lends pure comfort and practicability. Given I stand at six foot tall, I do need to pop the roof to stand up straight, but at least I can walk into a useable living and sleeping space without having to.
The HiAce ticks all those boxes; so, for us, the conversion to 4WD was the perfect mating of liveable van with great off-road ability. Given the 4WD conversion utilises mostly 200 Series LandCruiser parts, it remains as reliable as can be and ensures parts are available Australia and world-wide.
HELP IS AT HAND
There’s not a snowflakes chance in the Simpson Desert that I’ll allow substandard parts to get the slightest sniff of inclusion. With that in mind, we have teamed up with a select few companies who’ll help with quality gear in the Aussie HiLander.
RedArc has seen and appreciated the project early in the build and have helped with a complete electrical system, this yet to be released new system called Red Vision is the perfect battery management, we will have plenty more on this new system in an upcoming issue.
Eberspacher; yeah, I know it’s a hard one to wrap your tongue around, but as hard as it may be to pronounce, I assure you the Eberspacher is the Rolls Royce of diesel air and water heating. The one unit provides instant hot water for showering and washing up, plus the hot air system keeps the Aussie HiLander toasty warm inside.
We are also very pleased to have VMS come on board as our navigation partner with their top class VMS 3DX system.
Off Road Systems are no strangers to fitting out touring 4WD’s. Given we didn’t want a traditional luxury motorhome or campervan fit out, it only seemed logical that we employ them to wave their magic over the HiAce. Again, we’ll show off the custom ORS system in a later magazine.
SLWB HIACE – THE AUSSIE HILANDER
Let’s make it clear; this project is not all about building the most capable offroad machine that can climb boulders, smash through the deepest mud and water holes or push through undergrowth regardless of terrain. Rather, it’s all about being a capable 4WD camping van, that can be lived in, utilises the best off-grid accessories all while being more capable than any off-the-shelf van available.
Have we nailed it, failed or are you sitting on the fence until you see more of the project? Let us know, you won’t hurt our feelings. One thing is for sure, many of the products fitted to the Aussie HiLander can be used in almost any other 4WD, so there’s still plenty to learn and discover on the way.
Project Aussie HiLander; the next level of ultimate outback touring.