A Prado gets transformed from mall crawler to Outback Warrior in a single day… for a hell of a good reason
We Aussies are a funny mob – separated by the vast distances that this magnificent country covers, we really are just a big island community with an amazing ability to look out for each other and help out our mates when times are tough.
It was in this spirit that we came to meet Jo Mufale: Hairdresser, loving wife of Santo, and mother to three energetic lads – Alex, Sam and Will. Living in Darwin, Jo and family love the outdoors lifestyle that so many Territorians enjoy.
In 2010, Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer and over the next couple of years she fought hard with the disease. Following treatment, she went into remission and the family began planning those milestones that so many of us take for granted – the biggest being a trip around Australia in their family Prado.
In March 2016, Jo travelled to Melbourne for routine scans and testing. Initial test results were positive, but celebration turned to heartbreak when secondary cancers were located in Jo’s spine, lymph nodes and chest wall. The prognosis was bleak – the cancer was incurable, and doctors were unsure of how long Jo had.
When Unsealed 4X4 heard of Jo’s story, it struck a chord with many of us who knew survivors, or had lost loved ones to the big-C. A plan was soon hatched that would see the mag and many of our partners join together to give her family a helping hand.
The plan was simple: Get them into the great Australian outdoors as quickly as possible by ‘Unsealing their 4X4’, all the while keeping Jo in the dark until the Prado was a touring weapon fit for its intended purpose.
Calls were made and Dean and the team at TJM Darwin were the first of many to come on board. The TJM crew dived in boots and all, not only contributing some products but also volunteering their workshop and expertise for the build. Over the coming weeks, more and more members of the 4X4 aftermarket industry joined us in our common goal. But that was only the start!
After several months of planning, scheming and conspiring, the day of the build dawned and the project Prado was at TJM bright and early with Jo under the impression that only a dual-battery system was being fitted. Cue the ‘Mission: Impossible’ music.
Two of the major modifications the Prado needed were the right tyres and a suitable suspension setup. A call to Dobinson Springs and Suspension in Queensland soon had the Prado fitted with a 2in lift kit specially suited to the family’s needs. The tyres came courtesy of Exclusive Tyre Distributors via Cotton Tyres and TyrePower at Stuart Park, Darwin (who fitted the new treads). The most chosen rubber was the venerable Cooper Tires ST Maxx, which offer the Armor-Tek3 carcass construction to handle Australia’s rugged conditions. Being rated for 50% road and sand, and 50% dirt and mud, they were a perfect fit for the Prado’s future usage.
TJM Darwin donated a complete dual-battery system to the project – including a tray, management system and Exide battery. They included a power outlet in the rear of the Prado for the fridge; and an Anderson plug at the rear of the vehicle to provide power on the go to the Mufale’s camper trailer.
Driving in the bush at night can be fraught with danger if your lights aren’t up to the task, and Lightforce Australia stepped up to chip in with a set of the brand-new Lightforce HTX hybrid driving lights. New to the market, these driving lights feature a 70-watt HID light surrounded by 20 LED lights – the combination provides wide lighting ‘in close’ for critter-spotting, and the long throw of the HID globes to see well into the future.
The HTX lights came with the optional Lightforce plug-and-play wiring harness that made mounting and connecting them a breeze.
Hearing of Jo’s story, our mates at Uniden Australia sent up one of their new release UH9000 UHF radios teamed with an AT970 antenna. The UH9000 offers all the features of a high-end UHF radio including the full 80 channels and Uniden’s new Smart Mic Technology in a compact package that made mounting the radio a simple affair. Uniden Australia also threw in a UH810 hand-held UHF radio to use for recovery work, or for keeping the kids entertained around camp.
With a family of five shoehorned into the Prado, space was always going to be at a premium and options for gaining some much-needed storage space for the family were discussed with the build team. Enter Yakima Roof Racks, who donated a set of their LockN’Load roof bars and a MegaWarrior roof basket to give some additional hectares on the roof for stowage. The highly versatile LockN’Load system has some innovative features including tie-down points at the sides of the bars; while the basket allows the family to carry gear on the roof when required.
But that wasn’t all that was in store for the roof of the Prado.
Accommodating a family of five ‘out bush’ can present its challenges… and Darche went above and beyond in answer to the call. Darche has had a long association with the 4WD community, and its reputation is reflected in the quality of its products. The Intrepidor 2 roof top tent that Darche sent to Darwin for the build was no exception. It offers clever design features to allow for the tropical environment, and the 65mm high-density mattress provides plenty of comfort. The tent also came in well under the roof load limit of the Prado, so there were no worries about having too much weight up high.
But you can’t fit a family of five inside a roof top tent, so Darche also sent up three of its Calibre king single swags for the boys to claim. And for those quiet nights sitting around the campfire, Darche donated five of its super-comfy 260 camp chairs.
With plans for travelling to some remote destinations, keeping the batteries alive and the drinks cold is a challenge for remote camper. REDARC very kindly resolved this problem with one of its 90W portable solar panel kits. The setup comes complete with a regulator, wiring kit and its own padded carry bag to protect it from bumps and scrapes on the trail; and the portable panel can be set up in full sun while the Prado kicks back in the shade.
TJM and MaxTrax joined forces to give the Mufales the means to self-recover in the event that forward motion ceases. TJM donated a full recovery kit, as well as a TJM air compressor and tyre repair kit for trackside fixes. Meanwhile, MaxTrax sent up a set of special edition pink MaxTrax recovery treads – making self-recovery across a variety of terrains a breeze.
Keeping on track was made a lot easier by Hema Maps, with a Hema Navigator 7 unit making its way onto the Prado. Featuring Hema 4WD and touring maps, street navigation and the Camps 8 POI features, this nifty little device will allow the Mufales to easily plan their trips out.
Chris and the team at Tasco Sales Australia also heard of Jo’s story and donated a pair of Bushnell’s awesome Trophy XLT binoculars for spotting wildlife on the go, as well as a Bushnell lantern and head torch to keep things illuminated around camp at night.
The day of the build arrived and the project Prado was safely dropped in to TJM Darwin. No time was wasted as work kicked off. The Dobinson suspension kit was installed, giving the Prado some extra height; while Tim, TJM’s 12V guru, hooked straight into the dual-battery system.
Matt worked on the auxiliary power socket in the rear; quickly followed by the Uniden UHF radio and AT970 antenna. The Lightforce HTX driving lights were next to be tackled, before the Yakima LockN’Load roof bars found their way up top. With that done, we had a decision to make: Mount the Darche Intrepidor 2 roof top tent, or the Yakima MegaWarrior roof basket? We opted for the roof top tent as it was the harder of the two to mount; but where the tent wasn’t required it was easy to replace it with the Yakima basket… giving the Mufales the ability to swap between the two options.
The Coopers ST Maxx tyres were installed thanks to Tyrepower Stuart Park, where Grant and the team ensured that the tyres were fitted and balanced correctly. There’s nothing like seeing a robust 4X4 with a new set of shiny black shoes – adding traction, control and a certain sex appeal to the Prado (probably the first one ever to have it, if we’re being honest).
With time ticking away and the deadline approaching, last-minute jobs were tackled and ticked off the job sheet: The MaxTrax recovery treads, TJM recovery kit and air compressor, and the Hema Navigator 7, were unboxed and stowed in the Prado. The Bushnell gear was unwrapped and the Darche swags and chairs were also opened and set up to showcase the Mufale family’s new touring essentials.
Finally, Jo (still unaware of the events of the day) and family arrived at TJM Darwin to collect the Prado. Innocently browsing the store, Jo and family were spirited away by the build team tothe workshop where the roller door slid up to reveal their newly Unsealed Toyota Prado.
A shocked, speechless and clearly overwhelmed Jo thanked the build team with joyful tears and hugs – the Prado’s overhaul and newfound capabilities opened up a lot of possibilities for the family to get out and enjoy some of the Aussie bush.
And that’s exactly what the Mufale family have done. Within a week of the build, the family were on the road from Darwin to Broome via the Kimberley and all stops in between – the trip of a lifetime for all Australians and a trip that was high on Jo’s bucket list.
Special projects like this rely on the support and generosity of some amazing people and the businesses that they represent, and each and every one of them deserves a massive ‘thanks’ that words simply can’t convey. But to each of the following, a deep and heartfelt ‘thank you’ for making a difference to the Mufale family and their journey:
- Dean Cummings and the amazing team at TJM Darwin, especially Tim and Matt for their tireless work
- Ben Meddows and the team at Lightforce Australia
- Ben Dobinson and the team at Dobinson Springs and Suspension
- Lee Spouse and the team at Darche, and their agents CampingWorld Darwin
- Andrew Collings and the team at Exclusive Tyres, and their agents Cotton Tyres in Adelaide, and Grant and the team TyrePower Stuart Park
- Chris Lyons and the team at Yakima Roof Racks
- Brad McCarthy and the team at MaxTrax
- Jessica Torres and the team at REDARC Australia
- Natasha Muratidis and the team at Hema Maps
- Evan Black and the team at TJM Corporate
- Brad Hales and the team at Uniden Australia
- Chris Watkins and the team at Tasco Sales Australia