ISUZU FAMILY TOURER – IS THIS AUSTRALIA’S TOUGHEST MU-X?
When life throws more than a fair share of challenges your way, what do you do? You bounce back, restore bikes and a build a wild MU-X … until your house burns down.
Words and Images by Harry Temple
Damien is not your average 25-year-old. Four years ago, he shattered every bone in both his feet and broke his back in five places while serving in the military. After a lengthy recovery process, he began restoring dirt bikes full-time and selling them on for a bit of coin. Just when he was finding his feet again, his house burnt down in October last year. A brand new welder exploded and a flash fire started, leaving him completely alight. After his mate put him out with a wet blanket, they ran through the house, grabbed the family and escaped out the front door.
Damien explained, “I owe my life to him. The generosity of close friends has been amazing, we’ve been staying on their lounge for a few weeks now. It’s shaping up to be a lengthy legal process to pursue the manufacturer. We might as well have got our savings out of our account and thrown it into the fire as well.”
The bills don’t stop just because your life has been turned upside down. Now struggling with ongoing expenses on the military disability pension, they have escaped with barely the clothes on their backs and very nearly lost the MU-X as well. Losing over 200k in 24 hours is a bad day in anyone’s books, and a brief insurance mix-up has left them fighting to stay afloat. If anyone in the 4WD community has a spare couple of bucks and wants to help a fellow 4WDer and his family get back to normality sooner, visit the GoFundMe page here.
Growing up watching his father succeed as a professional hunter and vermin control expert in Victoria, 4WDs were an integral part of his young life. In the ensuing years, he has owned several V8s and a built 1984 HiLux, but they were pushed to the side after the arrival of two young ankle-biters. In the pursuit of reliability and technology, Damien picked up the brand new 2017 MU-X from the dealer, ensuring that he will know the complete history of the build.
Completing several trips to Victoria and Queensland in stock form, he was blown away by the wading depth and off-road manners of the Isuzu. Old habits die hard, as Damien soon had a plan to coax as much power from the 3.0-litre power-plant as possible and build Australia’s toughest MU-X. Needless to say, given his current situation any plans for future mods and a camper trailer have been pushed onto the backburner, but the accessories already on the vehicle are impressive.
A keen fisherman, getting to those hard-to-reach spots was high on Damien’s list. The factory suspension was replaced by a complete GVM upgrade kit from Pedders TrakRyder range. The three-inch kit was signed off by an engineer (along with the rest of the car) and increases the payload by 450kg. It also allowed for the fitment of 33-inch BF Goodrich rubber on some tasteful factory alloy rims. If the near five inches of lift doesn’t cut it, the MU-X is also twin-locked thanks to a pair of E-lockers! I don’t know about you, but nearly every MU-X I’ve seen up to this point has been hard pushed to have anything more than a bull bar, so seeing one with MCC bar work from front to rear is refreshing.
The front bar houses a Warn Zeon winch and fits a pair of blinding Lightforce HTXs. Moulding to the body lines, the brush bars and steps protect the panels and the rear bar carries two spares on solid swing-away arms. The spare space under the boot vacated by the spare wheel is now occupied by a 95-litre auxiliary fuel tank, giving an impressive 160-litre capacity. That will last between 1200-1800km (or 9-12L/100km) depending on driving conditions.
A Rhino-Rack backbone platform is bolted to the roof, usually adorned with a shovel, hi-lift and some Max-Trax on the roof, but those were all lost in the blaze. The 2.5m Sunseeker awning was slightly singed but still operates perfectly. Isuzu’s 4JJ1 motor comes with a respectable 130kW and 439Nm, but that wasn’t enough for Damien. Through a contact at CRD Automotive, he was able to source an Ecu=Shop Super 4 ECU, which he rates as his best modification to date; it provides lightning fast response, fantastic fuel economy and a much smoother power band. The stock turbo was a sticking point in the pursuit of power, so CRD made the smart decision to send it away.
It came back as a ball-bearing turbo (instead of bush – reducing friction) and hi-flowed for more air, all while keeping the stock look and ancillary parts. Now pushing out 230kW and nearly 800Nm, it lights up the 33s without hesitation. Feeding cold, dust-free air are the Dobinsons snorkel and upgraded stainless intercooler piping; a necessity after the rubber ones blew up like balloons under load.
He was told from the start that he couldn’t fit everything he wanted under the bonnet. Fast-forward and he now has a dual-battery system, Redarc BC-DC 1225D charger, fuel separator, catch can and some diff, transmission and transfer breathers all underneath the bonnet, which is supported by a gas strut kit meant for a D-Max. That is a solid effort!
We are becoming accustomed to seeing decked out interiors sporting upgraded headunits, dials and gauges that scream ‘modified 4WD’. However, in a lot of newer vehicles with fresh fascias I have noticed a trend towards maintaining stock look. Damien is a subscriber to this ideal, with the only noticeable difference in the interior being the GME hideaway microphone hanging off the dash.
The Super 4 ECU is tucked up high in the glovebox. The back seats are taken up with two full-size booster seats (#familytourer) and behind seats six and seven he usually has a 60-litre Waeco fridge, but that was also lost in the fire. A 12V outlet panel is recessed in the back, providing power for all the rear accessories, like his fridge, compressor, USB chargers and solar panel input.
Externally, the side steps and rear bar will one day be united with rear brush rails to provide 360 degrees of protection. A Super 4 transmission ECU will be installed to reduce shift times and lag. For the future trips towing a camper, some electronic brakes just need to be wired in and the roof accessories replaced with ones that aren’t melted into oblivion. The family wants to visit the Red Centre and see some more of our diverse landscapes. Even though things will slow down until they find their feet, and while there is a long haul ahead of Damien and his young family, I believe we will be seeing more of this MU-X in years to come! Keep us updated mate.