Hamish Auret | 2009 Toyota Hilux
NZV8: Hi, Hamish. Hilux engines are meant to be as tough as they come, so why did you ditch the diesel and throw an LS at yours?
Hamish: Hi, NZV8. I’ve actually had V8 Hiluxes for about 15 years. Originally, I had an old-school lifted 4WD Hilux with a 302 Windsor in it. It was a pretty cool truck for bashing around, but you almost needed a step ladder to get in, and [it] was really more suited to the bush than a daily-driver. After a few years, I upgraded to a slightly newer two-door one that had already had a 1UZ conversion. This one was much more reliable and was great fun to drive. I kept this for about 10 years, during which time I had gathered together a wife and three little new additions to the family. The two-door quickly became a real pain. So, about a year ago, I decided to get a newer shape four-door SR5 Hilux. Of course, it had to be a 4WD, and, of course, I always had a master plan to ensure I could hear that distinctive eight-cylinder rumble out of the rear pipes, because the sound of that diesel ticking over just does not cut it when you’re a true V8 fan!
This time, I wanted to set up a truck that I could still bundle the whole family in and drive across the country in comfort but also have the tough Hilux stance and, of course, the power and torque that only the LS family can provide. The plan was to have everything working as it did out of the factory, and this was achieved 100 per cent.
Was the conversion hard to do? And have you managed to keep it 4WD?
The conversion was completed by Shane at Mudmods in Taupo. He’s a mate from the 4x4 trials scene, and we have competed together for many years. He was aware of my master plan and did a lot of homework on the possibility of dropping an LS engine in. There are so many Lexus-Hilux conversions out there, particularly older models, but I wanted to have something totally different, and, being a very keen LS fan, there really was no other choice I would consider. The horsepower and, particularly, the torque of the LS just leaves all other V8 options for dead. The design brief for Shane was to keep it 4WD — and to make sure I could hear it!
Shane is a very clever fabricator who built his own competition 4x4 from scratch, so, although this was a tricky conversion, he got it done perfectly and all within the planned time frame. It required custom engine mounts, a body lift, and a front diff drop to help the angle of the CVs. He found an LS-to-Hilux bellhousing in Australia that made the job easier, however, he had to modify it to make room for the front driveshaft. The sump had to be heavily modified to clear the Hilux steering box, and it’s running a high-performance clutch, dual fuel pumps, and both Hilux and LS computers, so everything right down to the Hilux digital display works as it did when it drove out of the Toyota factory. The wiring was done by Darren from Mudmods Wellington. There is no room for conventional headers, so, on the driver’s side, we used special stepped log headers, custom-built by Mudmods, within the specifications given to us by another good friend of ours that now works for Triple Eight Racing in Australia. The rest of the exhaust system was made in house too, and it has a very nice tone and makes everyone lift their heads and take notice.
There aren’t many Hiluxes running around on 33-inch tyres either. Were they easy enough to fit? Did the rolling weight cause any issues with the brakes?
It really looks the part with those big wheels, but it did take a bit of nipping and tucking to get them comfortable at full lock. Not only are they 33s, but they are [also] particularly wide, and the aggressive mud tread actually makes them more like 34s. We have a good offset on the 20-inch rims and run bolt-on spacers. The front body mounts needed to be trimmed and certified. And, of course, we had to put a decent flare kit on to house all that rubber. The brakes were all overhauled and pull it up very well, so no issues there.
It sounds like you’ve got a bunch of 4x4 experience.
Yeah, I’ve been involved with NZ 4x4 Trials for about 12 years now and [been] competing at the top level for about seven years. My co-driver is Paul Barnes from New Plymouth. Together, we’ve competed from the top of the North Island right down to the bottom of the South Island. Over the last few years, we have managed to grab two NZ1 titles, as well as a NZ2 and a NZ3. It’s a very tough sport and the competition at the pointy end is getting stronger every year. And now, with the addition of the annual Suzuki Extreme Challenge for TV3’s CRC Motorsport, over the last few years, the demand for the sport is growing rapidly. There are now about 80 registered trials trucks nationwide. We also recently managed the first 4x4 backflip in New Zealand.
That’s a big achievement; what was the technique to get it done?
It was one of the biggest highlights of my career so far. It was a high-risk manoeuvre but I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie and really enjoy a challenge. My co-driver Barnsey first mentioned the idea of doing it, and, while I kind of blew off the idea at the start, I couldn’t get it out of my head! The more we looked into it, the more I was sure it was possible in our type of 4WD vehicles. We also decided to incorporate it into the Extreme Challenge for TV3, so went through a lot of planning with event organizer Dan Cowper to get the ramp cut to what we thought was just right. This can’t really be practised, as there is a lot of risk to the vehicle, so we just went with what felt would work. We couldn’t even copy the ramp specifications from the monster jam trucks that frequently do backflips, because they are a totally different scale and built for the job. Instead of having a kicker at the top of the ramp, I just purely relied on throttle timing and torque to flip us backwards and high enough to allow the full rotation. It was a lot of pressure with a huge crowd and TV cameras watching, but we managed to stay focused and got it done perfectly. If we didn’t get the rotation right, it could end pretty badly, so I have to admit there were a few deep breaths on the approach. The upside-down view at the top was one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It really was an insane moment, and it went absolutely viral within hours. It couldn’t be done in a less-capable truck, or without the amount of horsepower we have on board. The Cowper trucks that Dan builds are very strong and perfectly balanced, both of which are vital to our sport.
And what are the specs of your trials truck?
My current competition truck was built by Cowper Trucks and took a couple of years to build, but it was important to get everything just how we wanted it. We used the current model frame, but we pushed the horsepower bar right out to where no one else had done before. The trucks originally ran Lexus V8 engines before upgrading to the LS family. At the time of the build, there were LS1 and LS2 trucks, and even a couple of people ran LS3 engines, which were performing very well. I decided to go with a dry-sumped seven-litre LS7 out of a Z06 Corvette. I have a good contact in the States for LS engines, and managed to find one with only 6000 miles on the clock that had already had a cam installed. So, 600–650hp was a real eye-opener for a truck in our sport, but the extra power allows us to start any vertical climb in top gear and have 100-per-cent instant power on the throttle. Higher wheel speed instantly is what we need. The power is fed through a Toyota Windom manually shifted auto transmission, heavily beefed up to take the power locally by Cam at Automan Wanganui. I’m running aggressive 35-inch Mickey Thompson tyres and Fox shocks to get the power to the ground. We also run full hydraulic steering and four independent wheel brakes which the co-driver operates.
Sounds like an interesting ride! Any advice for people thinking of LS-converting their own road-going Hilux?
My only advice would be that you definitely won’t regret it! It is far superior to other V8 transplants I’ve had. I would strongly recommend talking to Shane at Mudmods Taupo because it will make your journey as pain-free as possible, and, because they do everything in house, it’s really easy. I got updates and photos with each step, and, because they are V8 nuts themselves, they totally understand our passion and what we want to achieve with our projects. I couldn’t be happier with the power and reliability as well as the finishing standards.