The north-west of Western Australia. The mighty Pilbara. Chock-full of eye-popping vistas and more endless kilometres than you could poke a stick at.
Staying in the one place, well, that’s a choice, but there’s a strong argument it would be the wrong one. Port Hedland locals Chris and Bekk Gillis decided they wanted to see more of it in style, so they pushed all their chips in to the pile, going all-in on their home-away-from-home.
If you were looking for something new, like ‘still peeling the plastic off’ kind of new, then this Obsidian Grey 2021 D-MAX X-Terrain ticks the box. But it’s much more than just a spec-built camper, with exceptional attention to detail and forethought at every progression.
Being a heavy-diesel mechanic, Chris was on the hunt for a new rig with proven driveline reliability and all the up-to-date tech after cutting his teeth on a keenly priced but not so dependable 1989 Pajero.
“I paid a carton for it, and rebuilt it for no more than $5000,” he tells us. “I learnt a lot about vehicle set-ups and what we wanted if we were to build our dream 4x4. Let’s get it done from the start and leave it at that.”
The new design of the D-MAX over other dual cabs was something that appealed straight out of the gate.
“As soon as I had seen the new D-MAX, I fell in love with it,” Chris admits. “Being short, the driver position was a factor and I felt more comfortable in it and we both enjoyed the (leather) interior, safety functions and factory accessories more than the Hilux.”
Those modern driver aids included Isuzu’s IDAS (Intelligent Driver Assist System) which helps with things like lane assist and adaptive cruise control. Remote engine start is also standard, but Chris also added the ability to drop and raise all four windows via the Isuzu key fob using the plug-and-play TRAC Electronics window module.
The mechanical monster that is the aftermarket auto-parts industry tends to take its sweet time to digest new models and spit out upgrades, and deciding to build a new tourer in the middle of a pandemic riddled with blown-out wait times took some gumption, but it afforded extra time to do proper research and get it just the way Chris and Bekk wanted.
“Everything was a long wait,” Chris says. “We looked in to a lot of options and were prepared to wait for exactly what we wanted to suit the style of the car. We pretty much put deposits on everything and waited six to eight months before getting them.”
Engine-wise, a few tasteful mods were green-lighted on the highly regarded Isuzu turbo-diesel 4JJ3-TCX 3.0L, given the considerable extra weight soon headed its way, but the dial was wound back for a bit more reliability in the outback.
This started with swapping out the factory intercooler piping for a Munji hard-pipe kit, with Munji also providing the gas-lift bonnet struts. Guarding against dodgy outback refills is a Western Filters pre-line fuel filter, plus its fitting kit for the Mann+Hummel Provent 200 catch can.
Adding touring range is an ARB Frontier fuel tank holding 133 litres. After hitting the rollers for a safe tune at Reaper Performance, the upgraded mill made 181hp with a respectable 656Nm of torque.
Gearbox internals were left factory, with a torque converter lock-up already on-board. The rear diff came loaded with a factory diff lock, with Chris installing a Harrop ELocker up front plus a Munji diff drop to keep his front CVs living their best life. Munji also sent out a pair of its CV guards for outer CV boot protection.
Raising and levelling the stance with a three-inch lift at the pointy end and two inches out back are uprated Dobinson springs and remote-reservoir MMR fully adjustable shocks.
Providing further support are a pair of AirBag Man heavy-duty airbags for when the rear leaf springs need assistance. In total, the GVM has been upgraded to a more portly 3600kg to handle the extra 980kg coming.
Developing a solid idea for what they needed when camping out bush, both Chris and Bekk set about researching companies to build their ultimate canopy.
“We had the RTT set up on our last car so we liked having that, but we also liked having a camper trailer for our longer stays,” Chris says. “We wanted to build something that was between them both. Just chuck your food in and away you go. Bull (Motor Bodies) were the only ones that came to the party and were very reasonably priced for what we wanted. There’s a lot of manufacturers out there that say they can do custom, but it’s only their own modules put together.”
After selecting one of Bull’s distinctive curved-side canopies as a base, over several emails, diagrams and phone conversations, Chris and Bekk had the final, well-thought-out design for Bull to construct. This consisted of a headboard-less tray, with lift-off style canopy containing copious amounts of storage, dual spare-tyre holders, under-tray toolboxes and a trundle drawer.
Constructing a capable electrical system was made easy, with the Enerdrive Wanderer being the all-encompassing box of tricks. Maintaining charge in the Enerdrive B-TEC 200amp/h slimline lithium battery is an Enerdrive DC2DC+ ePower charger, being able to handle up to 40amp of current from either the 220W Motop solar panel or vehicle alternator. Should 240V power be available then Enerdrive’s ePro Combi inverter/charger keeps the battery volts topped up.
“It’s a great battery, and size-wise you can’t go wrong as I didn’t want to run the dual-battery set-up,” Chris adds. “It fits right up against the headboard, and I couldn’t get any other batteries to fit in that space.”
Being a combination unit the ePro inverter/charger can also send power in the opposite direction, providing the dual GPO outlets with up to 1600-watt of 240-volt power via the battery, should it be needed.
Keeping an eye on the state of the inverter is Enerdrive’s remote-control unit, with a Simarine Pico colour display programmed to show (amongst a ton of other things) time to 100 per cent charge, total current draw, or individual draw for the fridge, LED lighting or the Travel Buddy oven.
An almost mandatory requirement according to Bekk was the inclusion of a slide-out kitchen, with the Dometic unit being their preferred choice. Coming with three gas burners, a decent-sized sink and extra storage underneath, the hob is fed by a gas bottle stored in an under-tray toolbox, with the sink drawing from two 50L water tanks via an automatic pressurising pump. The first tank located forward of the trundle drawer and the other cleverly mimicking a spare tyre in the original OEM location.
When it comes to drawer and cupboard storage the Bull/Gillis-designed set-up has a generous total of ten latch-able drawers/cupboards to tuck away provisions, food, utensils or camping equipment, plus extra free space for the unexpected.
Keeping fresh provisions cold has come a long way since the Esky. With canopy space being utilised as best as possible, Chris and Bekk decided a 40L Evakool drawer-style unit as their best option with its low-profile design. The back seat of the D-MAX is earmarked for a freezer if required further down the track.
Winding up their 16-month build a handful of weeks before setting off on the 2022 Variety 4WD Adventure, the intrepid couple have given their Dreamax a baptism of fire on its first real outing.
Working their way through the Pilbara before finishing around 1400km later in the Karijini NP, Chris reports the.Dreamax performed like the dream it was designed to be, doing everything with a minimum of fuss and maximum comfort.
Chris and Bekk would like to thank everyone involved in the build, but most importantly Bull Motor Bodies, AOM Welshpool, Land Raxx, Reaper Performance, Munji 4x4 Accessories and M Offroad for their valued assistance.
Land Raxx racks
Sorting a pair of racks was easy while working with the guys from Land Raxx, according to Chris. Starting with their Summit Platform they incorporated model-specific mounts, the Stedi light bar, colour-coded end-plates and wind deflector to suit the D-MAX.
Bolted to the top are the TJM shovel, full complement of MaxTrax recovery boards, and Hercules off-road jack. Copying over to the canopy, Land Raxx widened its standard rack to accept the Motop MT-120 Plus+ rooftop tent, with Chris reversing the endplate direction.
Once back in Port Hedland, Yurala Aboriginal Welding & Fabrication came on-board to add a pull-out support hoop to the rear underside of the rack.
“We’re developing the annex at the moment to suit the Motop, but also to suit most clamshell type tents,” explained Chris. “You can bolt it up and use any annex off the shelf as they all use the same kind of zip.”