Operation Black Ops

The 76 Station Wagon that has kept the heads turning in our workshop for the past two weeks.
An idea of Anthony’s that has kept him awake for the last year, has finally come to light and a lifelong dream for most!
When Anthony arrived with his stock-standard cruiser, none of us had any idea of what this station wagon was going to transform into. Anthony had an idea in his head, but no clear image of the finished product. Who knew that the idea in Anthony’s head was to become masterpiece and nothing like anything that we have built before!
Day 1
Straight onto the lift for the removal of the standard suspension. This was replaced with a full Tough Dog Suspension kit that included –
– Big Bore adjustable shocks
– Medium-load leaf pack
– Greaseable pins and shackles
– Nine-stage adjustable steering damper which is protected by a 5mm sump guard from Front Runner.
Suspension Removal
In the meantime, we sent the six 17″ Pro Comp mags to be fitted with BF Goodrich tyres. This gave the guys time to finish off with fitting the suspension and the LA Sport rear wheel-spacers.
Measurements are taken before and after any suspension fitment. We need to be sure that the lift and droop (full shock extension) does not exceed what is recommended by the OEM.
The leaf springs and front coil springs constant load rate is determined by the additional weight of accessories that will be added to the vehicle as permanent fixtures.
What this means is that the vehicle will maintain a 40-50mm lift with the additional weight of accessories. So, by determining what accessories will be added we can gauge what the estimated “constant” weight will be and therefor can be sure to fit the correct leaf pack and coil springs for this specific vehicle.
It is important that the vehicle is neither over sprung nor under sprung. If a vehicle is over sprung meaning the springs constant rated weight is more than the constant loaded weight. The vehicle will sit too high and therefore will cause over extension on the shocks which will result in premature bush failings.
If the vehicle is under sprung, when the constant load is exerted onto the suspension, the vehicle will have sag and sit below the recommended ride height. This means the suspension will be under constant load with very little room for movement. So, the shocks will bottom out more than normal. This affects the handling and stability of the vehicle drastically.
Day 2
We removed all fender flares and front grill to be sent off to be spray painted matt black and the side steps were sent for powder coating.
The original front and back bumpers were removed and later replaced with –
– ONCA wrap around bull bar
– ONCA replacement tow bar with integrated double spare wheel carrier on the rear.
The console inside between the front seats needed to be taken out as well to be replaced with a Big Country centre console.
Center Console
The Big Country console also includes a built-in safe, drink holders and additional storage space. The lid of the console is held closed with magnets. This design works well as in most cases the clips to hold these consoles closed become fragile and start to perish over time.
Big country makes great indicator light protectors for the two small indicators on the side of the front fenders. These are a good protection option and were an easy fit!
Also, fitted was the Outback Interior Roof Console. This fits to the roof lining of the vehicle. This creates usable space and is also compatible with a range of two-way radios
Lights on roof
Then the guys then got started with the assembly of the Front Runner roof rack
Front Runner roof racks are a “bolt together” system. Made up of side profiles and slats that run from side to side of the vehicle. This design allows some flex in the rack which eliminates any cracking or breaking of welds.
Once the tray is assembled, they can fit the accessories to the rack, which included –
– 45L Water tank with mounting bracket, hose kit and a lockable tap
– Gas bottle holder which is suitable for both 3kg and 5kg CADAC bottles
– Side mount bracket for a set of Maxtrax
– Hi Lift Jack bracket
– Under rack stainless steel table bracket.
Day 3
The start of day three brought some serious excitement to the build as we were now starting to fit accessories.
Whilst we had the grill and front bumper off, we could neatly fit the radiator seed net. This helps with keeping grass seeds, bugs and other small objects that could potentially block the radiator vents.
A Warn VR Evo 12000LBS winch with steel cable was bolted into the bull bar before mounting the bull bar to the vehicle. This was because, when the bar is mounted, there is no space to get the winch into position.
Once the winch was mounted, we could get the bull bar onto the vehicle and secured. The electricians then got to work with connecting fog lights and getting the winch wired up and
at the same time, could run the wiring harness for the later added Lightforce Genesis spotlights.
Next was the spare wheel carrier. This was a full replacement rear tow bar which included a double spare wheel carrier. The carrier had integrated brake and indicator lights. Reason for this is that the factory tail lamps are covered when the spare wheels are in place. These were wired up in conjunction to the factory tail lights.
Closing the day off we fitted the roof rack with accessories. This rack is a gutter mount rack which means a nice easy fitment to the vehicle with no additional modifications needed.
Day 4
Now that the front bull bar fog lights and winch wiring was complete, the guys could then get onto connecting the rear taillights and number plate light on the wheel carrier.
Lightforce Genesis spotlights were then fitted to the bull bar and easily plugged in. The Genesis lights are phenomenal. One Lux of light at over 1000m puts these lights in a class of their own! These were controlled with a separate vehicle-specific switch.
Bull bar fitment
Next to have come off were the rear side windows. These were replaced with Big Country gullwing doors and internal storage boxes. The storage boxes take up “unused” space in the load area of the 76 and turns it into usable storage compartments.
The storage boxes are a great place to keep anything that you may need access to whilst out on the trails without having to unpack your whole rig. Good place to keep the coffee! We all love our early morning coffee on the road, we know we do!
Storage boxes
Inside the storage box on the drivers side we installed a fire extinguisher bracket with a 1.5KG fire extinguisher. Being out in remote and sometimes extremely dry areas where water is hard to come by in most cases, having a fire extinguisher is must have!
Anthony had earlier told us of a story years ago whilst he was in the Central Kalahari a vehicle he had been following for a few km had picked up dry grass around the rear differential and brakes and from the heat build the grass started smouldering and set light.
Luckily for them Anthony managed to flag them down and quickly reacted with his fire extinguisher to put the fire out. Anthony said he did not appreciate having a fire extinguisher in his car as much as he did that day! Now he doesn’t travel anywhere without it!
Day 5
The start of day 5 and Anthony was excited about what the 76 had already transformed into and still, we had loads of work ahead of us!
Anthony had been in the workshop with us throughout the build, so his appreciation for the build had been that much more, to see the transformation step by step. Not everyday you get to watch your dream come to life like this.
The auto electricians got cracking with the Intervolt DC-DC battery system.
How this works is, cables (positive and negative) run from the main starter battery neatly wired in plastic sleeving and cable tied down on the inside of the chassis where it will be well protected and then up though the back of the tail light into the back of the 76.
Fabrication at this point was busy with fabricating a battery bracket to support the 115ah deep cycle AGM Discoverer battery above the passenger side wheel arch.
The Intervolt unit was going to be mounted in the engine compartment next to the starter battery with a custom bracket being made up from the fabrication workshop.
Part 2 of day five was the installation of the sound system. Dirk who has been fitting sound for several years really had something special lined up for Anthony. Part of the kit included –
– 6.5″ Mid/High Front Speakers (front doors)
– 6.5″ Coaxial Speakers (rear doors)
– Tweeters
– Kicker 12″ Subwoofer
– Kicker CXA 5 Channel Amplifier
For Dirk to install speakers into the front and rear passenger doors, a speaker panel from ONCA was first installed. The speakers were then fitted into this custom panel.
On the inside of the door panel, Dirk inserted “égg box” material which drastically improves the sound proofing the doors.
The tweeters were fitted directly into the door panel in-line with the mids for a better sound quality as both speakers play in-line with each other. In some cases, tweeters are mounted to the top of the dashboard which will work fine whilst the doors are closed. As soon as the doors are open the mids play “separately” from the tweeters. So, there is a science behind Dirk’s thinking
In the back between the right-hand side rear wheel arch and Big Country storage box, Dirk mounted the Kicker subwoofer box. Which is perfectly positioned as once Anthony puts his fridge in the subwoofer will be well protected
Door panel
The amp was bolted to the bottom of the passenger side storage box.
Now this sounds easy, but Dirk is very particular about his workmanship. Which for a sound installation is very important right? It’s one thing having all the equipment, but if its not installed and set up correctly, you won’t get the most out of the system.
Day 6
Window tinting day – The Ground Control team got to leave their mark on the 76. With a 35% tint on the front driver and passenger doors and a doubled-up 20% tint on the rear windows.
Once, the fabricated battery bracket was finished off, rubberized and ready to be fitted. The Front Runner steel battery box that houses the auxiliary battery could be bolted down and battery inserted. The intervolt was then connected and programmed.
After the intervolt was connected and programmed we could get onto fitting the snorkel.
To fit the Armax Safari Snorkel, we need to remove the factory snorkel and airbox. We also remove the factory air pick-up which normally sits inside the wheel arch. Once the airbox is removed and the plastic cover on the inside of the wheel arch has been taken out we can line up the template used to mark the cut out.
Hood up
The cut out is on the driver side fender and that is where the snorkel fits through which was then connected to the airbox with the correct rubber hose and fittings. A snorkel fitment is typically around a 3-4-hour job to get done.
There is a lot of controversy around the purpose of a snorkel. The most common thoughts around it is water crossings. This is not entirely wrong and yes, we do need them when crossing through deep water but it’s not the only purpose for them.
Snorkels have other benefits for your engine by providing cooler and cleaner air. By providing cooler and cleaner to your engine, general performance is increased and helps in prolonging the life span of your engine.
Anthony also had an air filter preference over the factory filter. So, we brought in a K&N Performance filter which replaces the standard filter. This also allows for better airflow and this filter is washable. Which in the dusty conditions of Botswana and Namibia, where Anthony spends most of his time the filter can be cleaned more regularly.
Another wise choice by Anthony was the Donaldson diesel filter. This is a pre-filter that gets plumed in, between the fuel tank and the factory diesel filter. This Donaldson filter is also a water separator which is very important in diesel vehicles. In the remote areas that Anthony resides in, their diesel is stored in above ground tanks.
What tends to happen is these tanks, over time they develop condensation inside the tank. Because water is denser than diesel the water falls to the bottom of the tank. This is then picked up when filling the vehicles tank. So, to ensure that no water passes through the fuel system and into the injectors the Donaldson pre-filter separates the water and catches it in a small glass catch can, which can be emptied out regularly.
Fabrication made up a bracket for this to be mounted in the engine compartment. It’s easily accessible. So, maintaining it can easily be done!
Day 7
Down to the nitty gritty!
The side steps, grill and fender flares were back from painting and powder coating. We couldn’t wait to get these parts back on! Fitting the fender flares was a tedious job as they are held on with plastic body parts that are known to break.
The change in colour of these parts changed the look of this vehicle completely! We were all very surprised what the contrast of colour did for the 76. Suddenly “Black Op’s” became more fitting!
Once the trims and side steps were fitted, we could get the station wagon back onto the lift to fit the De Graaf 76mm stainless steel performance exhaust and diff breather extensions.
Diff breathers are extremely important and is advisable to extend the factory breathers. The sudden change of heat on a diff when going through water will cause the diff to contract and as a result will suck air/water into the diff. If the diff breathers are not high enough or blocked – the diff will suck water in through either a breather that is too short or through wheel bearing seals if the breather is blocked.
The new extensions ran up to the fire wall in the engine compartment. This will be a high enough point and clear of any water being taken in.
Ground Control supplied and fitted wind deflectors on the driver and passenger windows. This will help deflect wind whilst driving with the windows open. Nice little add on that makes driving with windows open that much better!
The last piece of the puzzle in the back of the 76 was the fridge slider. Now that the storage boxes, battery box and sound system was in place we could bolt down the Front Runner 60L fridge slider.
Once all the work had been done inside and outside of the 76, we could fit the Takla signature range seat covers.
The signature range has a 3mm laminated foam which is stitched to the inside of the material. This differs from their standard CanTech range as the foam allows for different stitching patterns to be made, such as – Fountain, diamond and hunters pattern.
Takla signature range seat covers
Anthony went for the fountain pattern with black on black stitching. This choice in colour and pattern suited this vehicle really well!
For protection of the floor and foot wells we fitted Takla’s sound and heat deadening Takmats. The sound and heat deadening option
reducing heat transferred from the engine and gearbox but also protects the original carpeting in the vehicle from dirt and water.
Sound and heat deadening takmats
Hand-over Day
As a whole and like many other builds we have done there were challenges. However, these challenges have been somewhat different.
This build was about being completely different to anything else we have done and required all of us to think outside the box. It’s safe to say that in the end this build exceeded all expectations even Anthony’s!
We couldn’t have been more honored to have been part of making Anthony’s lifelong dream a reality.
So, after long hours, lots of planning and hard work from our team, it’s sad to say that we can call this tremendous build a wrap!