The ultimate 4WD isn’t bought from a showroom, it’s built at Roo Systems
Automatic Vs Manual transmissions. It’s an argument that’s raged on since there was transmissions to argue about. Auto owners claim their transmission of choice gives them more continuous drive and increased low-down grunt, while manual gearbox owners say that doesn’t make up for the control a manual cog-swapper gives you or the ability to clutch start if you get a flat battery in the bush. And you know what? Absolutely none of that matters. Like most things in life people will choose their transmission like they would a football team, waving their chosen flag through highs and lows. Now that’s all well and good, but what happens when the 4WD you want, doesn’t come with the transmission you like? Now that part is simple, you call Roo Systems.
While we’ve earnt a name for ourselves as the go-to workshop for tuning diesels it’s far from the only trick up our sleeve. The workshop is routinely lined front to back with 4WDs getting the tourer treatment, but something that’s becoming more and more common is transmission swaps. 20 years ago it’d be a row of auto’s all being yanked out for far superior manual gearboxes, now we’re yanking lethargic manual gearboxes for trick modern automatic transmissions.
SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT
Before the naysayers get themselves in a huff it’s worth making the point that auto’s aren’t the same thing they used to be. Far from it. The old automatics you probably remember were generally three speeds and hydraulically controlled. Now there’s a couple of bad things about that, but the biggest is only having three gears to choose from. With each gear having to cover a larger space on the speedo it means the engine would rarely be in the right rev range for power and economy, it’d rev its head off higher in the gear and drop to just off idle when it kicks up. Modern autos with 6 or even 8 speeds keep the engine in its optimum RPM constantly. The result is more performance, a more direct feeling between your right foot and the engine, and better fuel economy as the engine isn’t labouring constantly.
It’s not just more ratios either. Old slush boxes used hydraulics to control the gear shifts, but the hydraulic fluid itself was controlled by clunky vacuum valves. It was a very rudimentary system that lead to lethargic gear changes and would often see the box doing the exact opposite of what you wanted it to. Modern boxes still use hydraulics to operate the clutch packs engaging each gear, but with electronic precision guiding them shifts are far smoother and more precise, knocking you into the gear you need before you can even think about changing a manual cog-swapper. Combine that with off-road modes, torque convertor lock ups, and improved cooling systems and the negative list of an automatic transmission starts getting awfully small.
BENEFITS OF AN AUTO
The 70 Series Cruiser is already one of the best 4WDs money can buy, why would you want to mess with it? To make it better of course. Like it or not modern automatic transmissions have a whole host of benefits over a manual cog-swapper, and not a whole lot of negatives.
Sure, there’s the simple stuff like they’re easier to drive when you’re not doing an Irish jig just to get into a parking spot, but they also make life off-road a whole lot easier. There’s an old saying that autos are for going up hills and manuals are for going downhills; it’s because autos are able to provide constant drive even through gearshifts where a manual would see your 4WD momentarily hesitate costing you precious momentum. They also act like a giant shock absorber between the engine and wheels so you can maintain a smoother power delivery compared to a manual unit. Combine that with the torque convertor acting as a torque multiplier giving your 4WD more low-down grunt off the line and it’s clear where that saying comes from.
In fact the only reason manual gearboxes were seen as superior heading down hill was the ability to engine brake, but with intelligent computer controlled autos being able to lock the transmission as well as Hill Descent Control things are starting to stack up in the autos favour.
When we do an auto conversion we’re slotting in the latest and greatest options too, Toyota’s 6-speed AB60 transmission, the same setup you’ll find in an LC200. We use brand new boxes that are rated for a huge 900Nm and drop freeway revs by 500rpm.
SO WHY NOT BUY A 200?
The 200 Series LandCruiser is a hell of a rig, and arguably one of the most versatile 4WDs on the tracks. But it’s not for everybody. They’re big, real big, and they’re bloody nice; too nice to go punting through a back-country track covered in lantana. They’re also independently sprung up front and have plenty of soft body panels hanging out in every direction. Now all of these things can be overcome, but it’s kind of like ordering a beer then complaining you don’t like beer. The 70 series range of Cruisers are significantly cheaper, have a more robust drivetrain with a solid axle up front and are more suited to the kind of touring you’ll find when reaching for the diff lock button. Not only that, it’s significantly cheaper to put an automatic transmission into a 70 than it is to turn a 200 into a ute. Sure, they’re a little down on power compared to the twin-turbo donk in the 200, but I know some blokes who can sort that for you too.