Old vs. New: Which 4WD is better?

I can’t help it, I’m locked in the past. I love older vehicles for one simple reason – I understand them so I can fix them. My generation isn’t good with computers but we can wire almost anything back together.

There are seven four wheel drives, sorry nine counting the old Tojos rotting behind the shed, here and eight of them are pre-1984, pretty much the cut off point for points, carby, mechanical injection sort of technology. After that it all went high tech with fool injection and engine management systems – aka, computers. Yes, I am typing this, why do you ask?

Milo, a collection of 40 Series Toyota bits ranging from 1969 to ’83 that’s clocked over a million kilometres, runs a mechanical injection turbo diesel 13BT four cylinder motor, the one you’d usually find buried under a Coaster bus. It’s a ‘proper’ little truck engine which means it’ll run without electrics as long as someone gives us a push. When I built her 15 years ago battery failure was the number one breakdown – apart from tyres – caused by outback corrugations. Doesn’t matter if you don’t need them!

Contrast that with the seven hours it took three of us – all experienced mechanics – to pluck the alternator out of a new 200 Series after it got swamped with mud up Cape York. Two days under the house at Musgrave Station waiting for a new one and another seven hours to fit it. Twin turbo complexity meant the front wheel and inner guard had to be pulled to get access to pipe work that’d have a plumber cringing. And because it’s a ‘computer’ truck it won’t run with less than 11.4 volts which meant even getting to Musgrave was a mission. We had to strap a Honda generator on the roof rack…

Last February the LowRange DVD team did a trip through the Finke and back via the Flinders Ranges. It was 40 plus degrees outside and almost 50 inside Milo with constant dust clouds every time we belted a pot hole up the Strezlecki. My mate Glen Hadden was cruising it at 23 degrees with the air on in his new Disco 4, listening to the stereo. His Landy blew a tyre but the high tech suspension auto leveling system and the isolation of a leather clad cabin meant he didn’t notice until it was shredded. Try finding an 18” low profile tyre in the outback?

It was rough, the dirt roads out that way trashed by the big trucks running the Moonbi energy fields. Milo lost both driving lights, a headlight and the left hand fender but I wired that back on and purred all the way home. Glen’s Landy doesn’t even have a dip stick, it relies on a light on the dash to tell you you’re low on oil…

Sorry, but in my book simplicity means strength. Older vehicles are simple and built to handle rougher roads too. An old mechanic mate of mine once said that there’s nothing you can’t get a new lease of life out of with a handful of new parts. That’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea but the fact is that most old bushies can chuck spanners around an older truck, but you wouldn’t ask them to fix your iPod…

– a very biased view by John Rooth…

John “Roothy” Rooth is one of Australia’s most well known 4WD journalists. Read more on Facebook or visit