The Race to Equip Begins!
It's not fun unless you lose a bit of blood, sweat and tears.
I love aluminum. I love the raw knife like edge of it, and how you can go from trying to fit a drawer system to standing in a small puddle of blood fairly quickly. By the end of day two of working on Matilda, frustrations were high, I was coated in a thick layer of dust, oil and sweat, and for a brief moment, equipping the truck almost wasn't fun.
Let me rewind a bit to a few days prior. It was a beautiful bright blue sky day, as usual, our newest member of the family, Matilda, was primed and ready for work. While not totally stock, she still needed a decent amount of work to be expedition ready, so we took stock of what we had, didn't have, and what we needed. To start with, the truck has good mud terrain tires, a 2 inch Old Man Emu lift (my favorite!), an alloy 'roo bar, LED spotlight, roof rack, dual batteries and dual diesel fuel tanks. Now where to begin for what we needed:
- Drawer system
- Rooftop tent
- Water storage
- Emergency fuel storage
- Solar panel and power control module
- Dual Battery Isolator
- Recovery equipment
- Air compressor
- Full camping kit
- Power management system
And I'm sure there are some other bits that I have forgotten to mention, but as you can see we had a lot of work to do. The pressure was on, as it was Monday, and we were due to leave for our first camping test trip on Friday. With the full motivation that you usually have before starting a massive project, we began eagerly working on our rig.
When we bought the truck, it had some with a spare third row jump seat, as well as a flat aluminum sleeping platform. All this had to go, and upon removing the rear seat we made an awesome discovery. Ants. Lots and lots of ants. It seems like us, they had chosen to make this Patrol their home. Awesome. We dropped the seat on the ground and it exploded in a deluge of black ants scrambling out of their makeshift home. Well, the eviction notice came swiftly and in the form of ant spray inside and outside of the car. Lucky for us it seems their colony was limited to the spare seat, which has now been disposed of in the dump!
That discovery taken care of, we had to remove the bubbled and warped window tinting from the front windows. If there's one thing that drives me nuts, it's window tints for whatever reason. Razor blade in hand, I began the arduous process of peeling the nasty film from the windows. Perhaps I hadn't learned my lesson when I did this a few years back to my Land Rover Discovery, but this "simple" job soon evolved into a several hours long venture of delicately scraping two layers of strong smelling glue off of the windows. Tedious is an understatement. Once all that was peeled off, there was still a fine layer of resin on the windows that was so tough not even a can of WD-40 would break through. What did work though, was some product called Sugar Scrub, or something along that line, and within another 10 minutes we had brightly cleaned windows, tint free! Due to this "little" project taking about 4 hours, we were running out of daylight and had to close up shop for the day, which gave us time to put in an order to buy all the big equipment we needed! Call placed to the super cheap and aptly named 4WD Supacentre, we had a nice big bundle set to pick up the next day!
With a bright new day and full diesel tanks we embarked on our way down to Brendale to the 4WD Supacentre warehouse to pick up our goods! There's something very exciting about driving to a designated four wheel drive shop knowing you have a whole truckload of accessories just waiting to be mounted on our vehicle, a feeling that is very rare in the States where overlanding just isn't anywhere near as popular as down here. Invoice in hand, the warehouse worker told us to wait by the car, and soon a yellow forklift came careening out of the massive bay door loaded with an assortment of boxes. We eagerly stowed our newly found parts and made our way back to our home base to install them!
Before we could do anything, we had to cut the roof basket to accommodate the tent, otherwise the tent would've sat too high and made our center of gravity too tall. So with safety glasses donned and wide brimmed hat pulled low, I broke out the angle grinder and began a home lesson in metal shop. 20 minutes later, with all my fingers still attached although maybe slightly hearing damaged, the back part of the roof basket popped right off like it was meant to, keeping a basket up front for storage and a nice flat platform on the back for the tent. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!
So, easy task done, throwing a pre-assembled drawer system into the back of the truck shouldn't be too difficult right? Well, we made an ass out of U and ME because that was a totally wrong assumption. It should be as simple as using the factory tie down hook bolts through the cross bars, at least you would think, but the bolts much to my frustration were just a tad short. No amount of finesse could get that first miraculous thread of the bolt to catch. So out came the carpet, maybe that will give us a bit more reach. It sure did, for one bolt at least. From there came a battle for the next 4 hours of trying to get a few simple bolts to catch, and there brings us back around to the beginning of our saga, and the blood sacrifice I had given the Nissan Patrol Gods.
Perhaps my sacrifice had worked, because in the waning light the remaining bolts managed to pull into place and we finally had the main frame of the drawers bolted into place. The struggle continued until 8 pm, trying to fit the top deck and side storage wings, which for being precision cut for the Nissan Patrol, proved to be slightly less than precision cut. Don't worry though, there'll be a gear review on these in the near future where I can really fill you all in on the trials and tribulations of the Titan Drawer System. A shower and bed felt incredible, as I could rest my sore and cut up hands, re-bandage my cut foot, and recharge for another exciting day of work!
The new day broke in a not so sunny and clear way, rain showers drifted casually in and out, constantly interrupting any progress I had made on installing our 110W Kings Solar Panel. This task took a bit of tricky thinking, as we had to mount the panel on a slant so we wouldn't lose any precious roof rack space. I would say a good part of a few hours was spent thinking and holding up bits and pieces of metal brackets to try and fabricate a proper fit, along with a constant shuffle inside and outside when the rains came and forced us to retreat into the garage. Finally by the afternoon when the weather broke, I hopped up on the rack, made a few holes and pieced our panel together. Unfortunately the skies opened up again and any hope of finishing the wiring was dashed until the next day.
A bit drier and a bit sunnier out, the next day I found myself trying to snake wires under the windshield sill, into the engine bay, hooked to a power control module and the wired to the battery. When compared to a Jeep, there are a lot less options of access into and through the firewall on a Patrol, so it posed a bit of a challenge but nevertheless I found a tiny hole to snake the wires through. With a large amount of satisfaction, I found myself smiling at the little blinking lights indicating the solar panel was working and actively charging our auxiliary battery!
To keep the auxiliary battery from draining the primary crank battery, I had to install an isolator that would charge the dual system while the vehicle was running. While the instruction were slightly less than vague, I managed to work my way through with no short circuited fuses or hands! Dual battery system operational and charging, we plugged in our newly acquired Dometic fridge and saw the power light flick on and heard the compressor kick in! Another success, at least for 15 minutes until the battery died. With an inkling that something may not have been right, we took it to get tested and quickly learned that our auxiliary battery was actually a normal cranking battery was at a life of less than 20%. So now we own a brand new high quality deep cycle battery that is specifically suited for the dual battery purpose!
We decided to remove one of the rear passenger seats so that we could carry more water and equipment. In the open space where the seat had been I constructed a small shelf that fit three 20L water cubes with space to keep a food bin as well. That done, we strapped our Kings Tourer Rooftop Tent to our rack and got our ARB Awning mounted nice and tight.
By the end of day four, Matilda had transformed from basically a stock truck to a fully equipped expedition rig. It pains me to say, but in 4 days we had done almost as much if not more work to the Patrol than we had to our Jeep over the 3 years we owned her. So now its time to test her and give her a good ole shakedown! Expedition ready and rearing to go, we hit the hay ready to take off bright and early the next day to go to Rainbow Beach for our first official camping trip in our new home on wheels! Stay tuned for some video updates as well, and an official walk-around of Matilda!