Anyone into cars, knows just how time-consuming it can be, and fun too, browsing the classifieds, thinking about your ‘next project’. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing ever since I found a wrecked Jayco pop-top camper that I thought would make a great project… See, I needed something to tow it.
I’d already made some notes on the sorts of vehicle I thought would do the job… but with a budget of less than $15,000 to buy something, I needed to shop carefully.
Here are the notes I’d made prior to flicking through Just 4x4s to see what my $15k would get me...
A Jeep Wrangler TJ soft top would be fun for summer and off roading but two fast-growing children aged six and nine, plus a Jayco Eagle Outback Camper exceeded the maximum braked towing capacity.
Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series offers a great V8, and there are lots to choose from. Single Cabs, which are excellent for camping and with loads of room in the tray and they offer the braked towing capacity I’m after, but they don’t offer enough seats. Unfortunately, the dual-cab variant was out of the budget.
What about a LandCruiser 76 Series Wagon? Now, that’s what I call a solid platform to base a build-up on. Sounds like a plan, lots of ex-mine and fleet vehicles out there including ex-rentals. The base models require a fair bit of extras to make them a comfortable family vehicle, and the GXL command a premium. Still on the list if the right vehicle presents its self.
Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series, the king of retained value. All the base models seem to be snapped up for dual-cab ute conversions. Lot’s on offer but the price will see them take all the budget with nothing left for maintainance and accessories. The petrol ones are good value, though. Yes, fuel consumption is higher than for diesel variants, but the $$$ savings on initial purchase over the diesel models buys a lot of unleaded petrol. Still on the list.
Toyota LandCruiser 100 Series, pretty much the same comments as a 200 Series, and also on the ‘consideration’ list.
What about a dual-cab ute?
My last four company vehicles had been dual-cab utes. And they were… A V6 Petrol D40 Nissan Navara which was a good vehicle but very thirsty under load. A Mazda BT-50 followed and gave 150,000km of relatively trouble-free motoring and was fully accessorised. The five-cylinder diesel is a great motor and the whole Ranger/BT-50 Package is a great platform with lots of accessories available but are a bigger vehicle than the other utes in the class.
A current-model Toyota Hilux followed the BT-50, which was a great improvement over previous models but I soon moved away from that and bought a Ford Ranger XLT PX2 which offered lots of refinement over the previous models and improved safety features too, but it’s not a cheap vehicle.
And then a curve ball…
By this stage I had formulated a list of vehicles to consider, then a friend rang for advice. He was buying a new family vehicle and had the same basic requirements as me (only a bigger budget), kids the same age and a Jayco in the shed.
My mate had decided on a new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and so had prepared for sale their Holden RA Rodeo. He’d owned it since new, and so it had a full service history, and had been optioned with a Carry Boy Canopy, colour coded TJM Winch Bar, suspension kit, electric brakes and more. Hmmm, are you starting to think what I’m thinking?
It was a total change in direction for me, but this vehicle started to make a lot of sense the more I talked to my mate… The Rodeo was a top of the line model with the factory safety pack of ABS Brakes and airbags, which was out of the ordinary for utes when this one came out.
Would the Rodeo work?
The RA Holden Rodeo arrived in 2003, and by then the Rodeo held around 15-18% of the light commercial market. The new RA variant was considered a big step ahead of the old ute, offering gruntier engines, although the early 3.5-litre V6 petrol was replaced in 2005 by a Holden-sourced 3.6-litre V6 which offered more power and torque than the Isuzu engine and proved more reliable too. Vehicles were offered with either a four-speed auto (with gradient logic control) or five-speed manual transmission; the manual variants offered more torque than their auto-equipped siblings.
The RA Rodeo offers decent ground clearance and 4WD can be engaged on the fly up to 80km/h. A test drive confirmed the top condition of my mate’s vehicle, some minor repairs were noted that would need attention; a roadworthy check that the owners had performed confirmed this.
Before settling on my mates Rodeo, I wandered around some used car yards and looked at other similar-age vehicles to get a benchmark. The Rodeo had been popular with tradies and many of the ones I looked at had suffered a much harder life than the vehicle I was considering.
So, I sat down and asked myself, could I with the help of the aftermarket refine this vehicle to meet the needs of my family? And the answer was, yes. See, it doesn’t need much, just a little bit of extra grunt, a few added creature comforts to update the vehicle and it will become a great all-rounder. A deal was reached with my mate and we settled on a price of around $10k. The Rodeo didn’t have a roadworthy certificate so our DIY project began in earnest.
With the car parked in the shed, I spent a day replacing globes and wipers and adjusting brakes, plus a couple of other minor mechanical jobs; repacking and adjusting the front wheel bearings and stopping a minor oil leak. After a day, we now had a roadworthy vehicle. I had the Rodeo checked over by a mechanic and it was given a tick of approval. It was promptly registered and a new set of numberplates issued.
A family discussion was held to name the vehicle and we settled on Ron, as in Ron Burgundy, the stay-classy Rodeo.
Follow along as we improve Ron, with some modern comforts and increase the performance over the coming months