Pass-ing the test

Text: Danie Botha
Photographs: Milton Slabber

When Milton and Jeanne Slabber led a Land Cruiser Club convoy up the notorious Baboons Pass in Lesotho in 2009, it took three days to scale the pass, and return to the starting point again.

“In ideal conditions Baboons is a severe 4×4 test. But on that trip in 2009 it was also real wet and muddy. It was a real challenge. I completed that trip in my Land Cruiser 79 diesel Pick Up. I love the challenge of Baboons. And I love Cruiser. So when I bought a good-as-new Land Cruiser 4.5EFI late in 2009, I decided that I will definitely take it to Baboons. But I was certainly not going to damage it either. So I gave it a bit of an extreme upgrade, to handle extreme 4×4 conditions,” explains Milton.

Milton, who is a fitter and turner by trade and works in the family’s engineering business in Piet Retief, started setting about creating the ultimate Baboons Pass and exteme trails 4×4 machine. His aim was not to create the ultimate overlanding vehicle. Instead his Cruiser was to be an extreme 4×4 that also happened to provide overnight lodging, if needs be.

“Since I knew what what was required following my Baboons experiences, I decided to design and build what I could myself,” says Milton.

The first thing Milton had to fabricate himself was the self-machined, 45mm aluminium rear wheel spacers to widen the rear differential width to be the same as the front (there’s a 90mm width difference between front and rear diffs on the Cruiser).

Once these spacers were fitted to the rear differential he mounted Merit Racing wheels, shod with big BF Goodrich KM2 315/75 R16 Mud Terrain tyres. Although the bigger-than-standard wheels provided more ground clearance, it was still not enough.

A two-inch Toyota lift-kit was installed. So Milton added another 2,5-inches worth of lift, courtesy of his own modifications. The result is a Cruiser that has about 155mm more ground clearance than the standard version’s already impressive 235mm clearance. That’s a total of around 390mm!

Next followed an IEF Engineering spare wheel carrier and rear bumper. The impressive looking front “bar” is another one of Milton’s designs, endowing the Cruiser with an extreme approach angle. As a bonus, it looks mighty fine too. The bar is fitted with a heavy-duty Warn 8274 winch, and two IPF spotlights.

On the sides Milton fitted custom Onca rocksliders, essential gear for the rocky Baboons pass. He shortened the sliders though, to accommodate Onca side toolboxes, on either side of the pick up. Next followed a pipe platform for the Cruiser’s “bak” to fit the roof-top tent onto. This Milton made himself too, and it also features mounting points for the highlift jack and Alu 10-litre water tank. A Howling Moon roof-top tent was fitted to the custom platform.

In the “bak” itself lives yet another Milton creation: a custom drawer system. It shares this space with a 40-litre plastic water tank and a 40-litre Engel fridge. A National Luna Dual battery system was also installed to run the big fridge.

In the cabin Milton added Escape Gear seat covers and Dash Protector, and a VHF two-way radio system. In said cabin Milton now also enjoys another modifed aspect of his Cruiser: the specially tuned 4,5-litre Big Six engine.

“It has a CRD Stage 1 conversion, and now produces around 200 kW of power. That’s nearly 40 kW more than the standard bakkie’s 162 kW. The power is phenomenal! She runs like a dream on the open road, and on a 4×4 track she is unstoppable, expecially if you lock the Cruiser’s standard front and rear differential locks too,” says Milton.

The CRD conversion consists of a Unichip engine management chip, a free-flow exhaust system and a special air-cleaner element.

The powerful Cruiser drinks about 20-litres of petrol every 100km, and with its standard 180-litre fuel capacity (two tanks), it can reach about 900km between refills.

But why DIY it when most of the modifications made are available over the shelf?

“It definitely made the process more fun, building and testing my own modifications. Sure, it is way easier and faster to go to a 4×4 accessories shop and buy all the fancy bolt-on stuff, but when you design and build your own gear for your vehicle and they perform the way you intended them to perform, the satisfaction is just so much sweeter. It also gives the bakkie its own, unique identity,” explains Milton.

But are the modifications any good?

They sure are. Milton and the Cruiser led another Toyota Land Cruiser Club convoy up Baboons Pass, early in 2010. The roof-top tent provided comfortable lodgings for Milton and wife Jeanne on the side of the mountain, and with lots of fresh water and food supplies carried in the fridge, Milton had no worries “roughing it” on Baboons.

“It was our third time tackling Baboons, and it was as much fun and as challenging as the first time. Although I have played off-road a lot, that pass is definitely my favourite. All the mods on the Cruiser worked perfectly, which made it all the more special. And my mission to create a super-4×4 which also happens to provide accommodation, and not a house on wheels that can do some 4×4-ing, proved to be very successful too. Now I just need to install a snorkel,” says Milton.

And then you’re all done, right?

“Not even close. I really love to play and experiment, so on the sideline I’m also busy with an old ’78 Land Cruiser 45 project. I’ve already replaced the suspension with an 80 Series coil version, and installed a Chevrolet 350 V8 engine. That’s still an ongoing project. And besides, I have lots of fun building the accessories myself, machining the parts myself, experimenting. That? will never change,” concludes Milton.

* For Milton’s comprehensive shopping list, check out the August issue of Leisure Wheels.