THE BUDGET CUSTOM KING

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”Bought and built for under 10 grand with custom bar work that’ll blow you away, this Isuzu MU is no stranger to tough tracks”[/blockquote]

• Turbo diesel Engine conversion
• 3:1 low range reduction gears
• Out of this world custom bar work
• All work done in the front driveway

Think about how many mods you have done to your 4WD that make it unique, and not ones done by the book. It may be many, a few or none at all. We know it can be hard to build up a 4WD that’s not by the book, but it’s an extremely rewarding and satisfying process when you witness the end result.

Hailing from Brisbane just minutes away from Stradbroke Island, Blake Singleton is one of those blokes who burned the book and built his Isuzu MU the way HE wanted. He purchased it for $1600 in a completely stock, rough condition. Blake proceeded to build it up into the ultimate custom 4WD. But, halfway through the build the engine spat a timing belt. Blake’s partner convinced him that it wasn’t time to hang up the keys on the old girl just yet and thank goodness for that. After dropping in a new engine and continuing with the build, this Isuzu MU is one tough budget 4WD that’ll put a big solid-axle LandCruiser or Patrol through its paces.

Q: Why did you choose an Isuzu MU?
A: “They always used to catch my eye when I was younger. They are just something different that stood out to me and no one else I knew had one. So an MU it was. I look back sometimes and ask myself why I didn’t just choose a SWB Patrol with aftermarket support on live axle coils. But these dark thoughts disappear every time I hop in the old girl.”

ENGINE AND DRIVELINE
  • 2002 4JB1T 2.8L turbo diesel engine
  • Custom intercooler
  • Custom fitted 3in inlet POD filter
  • Mandrel bent 2.5in exhaust
  • 3:1 low range conversion reduction gears
  • Front LOKKA and rear LSD
  • Diff-drop

After the original engine spat a timing belt, it was time to drop in a 2002 2.8L turbo diesel engine while keeping the manifolds from the old one. Blake has tweaked a few little things on the engine such as rotating the boost compensator slightly, adding a Go Fast Bits boost control valve, installing a custom intercooler and rotating the turbo to suit. He has also added an alloy radiator from a Jackaroo to help with cooling.

A LOKKA was fitted into the front and in the rear is the standard LSD, along with 3:1 reduction gears. “The front locker and reduction gears are the biggest capability modifications that have been made to the MU, they are awesome. In three years of driving the truck hard I had only broken a total of 3 CVs, which was surprising to me. Whilst I had the front diff out though I thought it would be silly not to modify the brackets and drop the diff 32mm.”

UNIQUE HANDBREAKE SETUP

Take a read of how and why Blake’s made a custom and unique handbrake setup!
“Foot brakes are all standard however the handbrake is a custom setup. The normal handbrake on the MU won’t hold on flat ground so I had to think out of the box. Short of replacing the whole diff with a sister cars drum brake set up (and then filling drums with mud/the downfalls of old drum brakes) I decided to build a hydraulic handbrake. It is the same style handbrake that you would find in a drift 4WD.

Hydraulic in-line brake cylinder locking the rear wheels. From the cab you can’t tell the difference as it all looks stock. I use the factory handbrake cable to activate the hydro brake under the car. I don’t use it for long amounts of time (put it in gear for that) but it’s a whole different world having a handbrake while 4WDing. To failsafe the hydro I also have a bypass pipe I keep in the 4WD. If I split a brake line on the tracks or the hydro brake fails I bypass it.”

CUSTOM BODYWORK
  • 2in body lift
  • SR5 HiLux modified front bar
  • Custom water tank rock sliders
  • Custom rear bar
  • Custom roof rack
  • 12000lb Grande winch
  • 31in LED light bar and 7in HID spotties

Basically every single body modification done to this MU has either been custom built or modified, and installed in Blake’s driveway by himself and his old man. He installed a 2in body lift which was done at home, but has since got it fully engineered.

“The front bar is an SR5 HiLux bar that almost perfectly lines up with the width of the MU. With a bit of wizardry with the welder, the old man crafted a winch and bulbar cradle. I also made in the shed some RHS sliders. I love the square look (tube doesn’t tickle my fancy). I bought galvanised RHS and use the sliders as water tanks, and they each hold approximately 11L.”

The custom bodywork doesn’t stop there though, with a custom rear bar and roof rack all made in the shed as well. “The rear bar is made out of 6mm structural C beam. I designed the rear bar to suit the rear quarter chop I was doing at the same time. I have landed on the bar several times and it usually breaks the rock it lands on. I’ll feel sorry for the poor bloke who happens to run into the back of the MU one day.”

“The roof rack is also now a custom creation. It’s braced back onto the rear bar and sliders and wraps the side of the car. The whole unit is removable (therefore I can call it a roof rack) in about five minutes. It’s made out of RHS and is home to the awning and 80W solar panel.”

Q: During the modification process, were there any unusual/unforeseen circumstances or problems that had to be overcome?
A: “Being a 4WD you can’t just buy parts of the shelf for, many of my problems lie with availability of parts/aftermarket support and the solution usually was a lot of research, brain storming and custom work in the shed.”

INTERIOR & 12V
  • Boost, EGT and water temp gauges
  • GME TX3100 UHF
  • Custom rear drawer system
  • Dual battery system
  • 80W solar panel
  • Dual alternators

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”Nearly every mod has been custom built and installed in the driveway”[/blockquote]

“I’ve kept it simple in the interior department, having fitted a couple of gauges to monitor the engine, a UHF, an ARB fridge and custom drawers. The rear drawers were originally from a Prado, and have modified and changed them over the years to suit my needs. I also have a custom cupboard behind the front seats. I also built a custom drop down table on the rear door, which is actually one of my favourite mods, allowing me to easily prepare food on the tracks.”

“The MU carries a whole 83L of fuel in the factory tank. But the fuel economy when loaded up and 4WDing sees the old girl skip every second fuel station! It’s definitely not the most comfortable 4WD to sweat it out in whilst 4WDing or touring, but you would struggle to find a 4WD with more character.”

“The charging system has seen many reforms over the years but now it consists of a CTEK 250DS, 80W solar panel and dual alternators under the bonnet. The dual alternators are currently a work in wiring progress (I want them automated) but I can currently manually engage the second alternator for winching or post sinking the factory one in mud.”

FUTURE PLANS

Blake may have some big mods coming for the MU in the future. “The words ‘solid axle conversion’ has been thrown around during camp fire conversations for a few years, so it may be on the cards in the future. I would also like to rebuild the drawers in the back to utilise the space a little better.”
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”He burned the book and built his ISUZU the way ‘he’ wanted”[/blockquote]

RUNDOWN

VEHICLE: 1991 Isuzu MU
GEARBOX: 5-speed manual
4WD ACTIVATION: Manual locking hubs
SUSPENSION: 2in coils with Gabriel shocks up front, and 2in raised leafs with Gabriel shocks in the rear
WHEELS AND TYRES: 32in BFG KM2 on 15in steel sunnies
ADVICE TO 4WDERS: Blake’s got some downright cracking advice for 4WDers who are or about to build up their 4WD. “Don’t be scared of something that’s not off the shelf. Chances are someone, somewhere has information for your question that you can adapt to your own build. It’s a great feeling driving a uniquely built 4WD, not one that’s bought with a credit card and no imagination.”

THANKS

“Massive thanks to the old man who is an absolute wizard with a welder. Even after moving out I come home to do a lot of my modifications to the MU because deep down I know dad loves helping out/working together. Mum for putting up with the MU being pulled apart in her yard every second weekend and my partner for convincing me that it wasn’t time to hang the keys up on the old girl when she spat a timing belt.”

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