Drive your old 4WD every day: 10 ways to improve it
It's hard to deny modern 4WDs have strayed far from their agricultural heritage. They're reliable, comfortable, capable, and quiet.
The problem is the whole thing is reminiscent of spending your hard-earned holidays playing Scrabble in a comfortably air-conditioned off-white room. It's just not exciting.
There's nothing passionate about heated steering wheels, nothing fulfilling about flicking the cheap plastic switch that seems to go 4WDing for you so you can get on with something else. Mowing the lawn presumably.
To make matters worse, unless you're looking at something made in Eastern Europe or rural China you can expect to have a monthly repayment bigger than Craig Thompson's credit card bill. Even a base model LandCruiser will set you back over $80k. All for the privilege of isolating you from the exact thing you've just driven hundreds of Ks to see. The whole thing is mental.
Let's get one thing clear. Old 4WDs, or old anything for that matter, aren't for everyone. But if you're chasing serious adventure nothing compares to old tin. The oversized steering wheel, the feedback through the wheel and peddles when something's going wrong, or right, the little knacks to get it started, and knowing how to fix it when it stops. It's almost romantic, in a blokey, diff oil in your beard kinda way.
It's one of those situations where old metal is more than the sum of its parts. It's a bond you build with the vehicle, you head into the outback with it, not in it. Not to mention you'll actually experience the tracks, and grow as a 4WDer without a million electronic aids between you and the rock you're hung up on.
It's not all sunshine and roses though. Over the next few pages we'll take a look at the top 10 places that make old 4WDs just that little too uncomfortable to spin the tiller on every day, and how to improve them while still retaining that classic 4WD fun.
10. SOUND DEADENING
Modern 4WDs have taken sound deadening a little too far, but it's hard to deny the deafening roar inside a classic rig doesn't get old fast.
It's due to a combination of issues, some fixable, others not. Noise is generally caused from three areas, the driveline, wind, and tyres. Older vehicles have loud unrefined motors, the aerodynamics of a brick and bodies that are riveted or even bolted together, add a set of aggressive mud tyres and it's a recipe for life long hearing damage.
The easiest fix is to gut the interior and line every bit of metal you can see with sound deadener. You'll still get noise through the glass but it's enough to cut it down so you can hear the passenger talk while you're doing 100km/h.
Lining the firewall and roof has the added benefit of keeping heat down. Win win.
9. HEAT AND A/C
Over four decades it's a safe bet the radiator will be replaced multiple times, and cleaned double that. It's pretty obvious why, they get clogged up internally and lose their ability to transfer heat and keep your engine cool.
Your 4WD's heater is essentially a 2nd, miniature radiator under your dash. The difference is it's a safe bet it's never been flushed, let alone replaced. The result is a very restricted and underperforming heater and more load on your waterpump.
When you consider a brand new unit can be had for just a little over $100, it's a cheap and easy upgrade. If the bank account can stretch a little further there are air-conditioning kits designed for hot rods that can be fitted under the dash of any classic 4WD, even if A/C was never an option.
8. SOLID FLOORS
Old 4WDs rust; it's a fact of life. Average paint, less than average metal prep and designs that practically beg for rust to form. It's a wonder there's anything on the tracks older than 20 years.
Nothing kills old rigs quicker than rust, even leaving a thumbnail size chunk can see you Fred Flintstoning your way down the tracks within a year or two.
While you've got the interior out grab a grinder, cut any rust out and plate it up with some new tin. It doesn't need to be pretty as long as it's solid.
A few extra holes in the back side of sill panels and the bottom of doors can help stop water pooling, although it's worth giving everything a solid coating in rust preventative treatments to ensure those floors stay solid.
Part of the charm of an old 4WD is the direct connection you get to the tracks through the suspension. There's no sea of high-tech bushes and fancy links isolating you from every little bump and washout. If your tyre is climbing a rock, you can feel it; if you're losing traction, you can feel it.
The downside to this is you can feel every little bump in the road too. And believe us, if you're heading somewhere like Cape York there are a whole lot of bumps on the way.
New springs and modern shocks go a long way to curing these woes but it's becoming more and more common to swap modern suspension under classic 4WDs. It'll take a little bit of doing, but the payoff is an old 4WD that performs like a new one.
6. MODERN POWERPLANTS
Old 4WDs rock; waiting half an hour for them to warm up just enough to crawl out of your driveway in low range doesn't.
Of course it's all part of the fun, knowing just when to knock it back a gear to keep up momentum climbing a hill, the solid exhaust note only an old cast iron block can give, and of course getting to know every single service station owner on your drive to work.
If you like your 4WDing a little simpler, the Holden LS1 V8 swap is an absolute no brainer these days. They're dirt cheap to buy and fix, every man and his dog makes adaptors for just about every 4WD ever made, they'll punch out three times the power of an older engine and do it reliably, with close to late model turbo-diesel fuel economy.
5. BETTER BRAKES
Just about every aspect of an old 4WD can be looked at with rose-coloured glasses, except the brakes. The brakes slowing down most old 4WDs are borderline useless.
You'll always bump into someone who rants and raves about how drum brakes, when properly adjusted, will outbreak a disc brake setup. The problem is they don't stay properly adjusted for long, and just the mention of water will see them all but pack it in.
A disc brake conversion is a popular upgrade for most older 4WDs and can be done with minimal technical abilities and little more than a few hours with some basic hand tools. If you're not keen to go that far, it's surprising just how much difference rebuilt brakes with quality pads and shoes can really make.
4. UPGRADE THE SEATS
Despite what Roothy will tell you, the bench seat of an older 4WD isn't a fantastic way to see the country.
Sure, there's almost nothing cooler than sliding around on an old slab of vinyl behind the tiller of a 40, but if you're covering big distances you better be packing a kidney belt and a whole heap of painkillers.
Steer clear of the cheap "race seats" at your local parts store and head to the local wreckers. Anything out of a late model luxury car is normally going to be right on the money. They're perfect for long days in the saddle, normally fully adjustable and more often than not they're leather - sounds flash but it makes for easy clean-up of mud!
3. UPGRADE THE HEADLIGHTS
Years ago headlights used to be measured in candlepower, and for good reason, they weren't much better than a pack of candles cable tied together. They also chewed a tonne of power putting a strain on your battery and alternator.
Older vehicles mostly used a standard sized headlight, either 7" round or a 4"x6" rectangle. That means there's a whole heap of upgraded headlights available that'll bolt in with just a few wiring modifications.
Halogen and LED upgrades make some pretty outrageous claims for output but even a bolt in H4 (the modern light globe) unit will give you leaps and bounds more usable light than an old sealed beam. All with a lower power draw and without blinding the poor bloke heading the other way.
2. GET IT BALANCED
This one might sound a little odd but vibrations make a big difference in an old bus, especially if you're planning on covering a lot of ground north of 100kmh.
The most obvious offender is tyres. Even one tyre out of balance can be enough to give you a workout just trying to hold onto the steering wheel. A driveshaft out of balance could be the difference between hitting 110kmh and being stuck vibrating your teeth out at 70.
Unless you're rock bouncing, driveshafts are generally a do-it-once-and-leave-it-alone affair; unfortunately tyres can get knocked out of balance just from clipping a rock or filling the bead with mud, so it's worth staying on top of them.
1. ALL THE LITTLE STUFF
If there's one thing that's all but guaranteed to drop its guts in any classic 4WD it'd be the "everything".
Over the decades the common components flog out and are replaced. Tie rod ends, suspension bushes, belts and hoses, they're all no-brainers and get fixed quick smart.
Other items such as body mount rubbers, exhaust mounts, window winder motors, bonnet release cables and even door seals only get replaced when something goes wrong, which is always at the worst time.
The good news is the parts that often get overlooked generally aren't too expensive to fix. They're all minor fixes and can be picked up for just a couple of bucks online and will go a long way to keeping your 4WD in operable condition for years to come.