STRETCH LIMO

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]Reckon this Mazda BT50 looks big? It’s hiding a full 300mm more length than when it left the factory[/blockquote]

At first glance this looks like a tough but relatively straightforward BT50. Sure, it’s running 35s, and the distinctive matt khaki vinyl wrap and black barwork make it stand out from the crowd, but that’s not where this vehicle’s real talents lay.

Owner Steve Caris is a machine operator by trade, working long shifts in a recycling plant in Sydney. For a while Steve punted around in a BT50 as a work ute, and when it came time to upgrade his personal vehicle from a 2008 HiLux, he didn’t have to look far.

“The BT50 work ute was great, it never let me down,” says Steve. “Plus, Mazda offered me more trade-in than anyone else.” And so that’s how Steve ended up with a brand-new stock-standard 4WD BT50 in his driveway back in 2014. Of course, it didn’t stay that way for long, being built into a tough all-rounder with the usual assortment of tough goodies. It helped having a group of mates all with big IFS utes, and regular readers will recall Ty’s monster Ranger from a couple of issues ago, with Steve and Ty sharing info and ideas for modifications.

Then Steve got an idea for a modification that would truly make the BT50 stand out – and make every dual-cab owner running a factory tub jealous. After a couple of chats to Brad at Ultimate Metal Works, it was decided that the rear of the vehicle would be stripped right down to the chassis rails and a full 300mm added to the length to accommodate a longer extra-cab tub. The conversion’s done so well that you can hardly tell anything has been done at all, but eagle-eyed 4WDers will instantly pick the increased wheelbase.

Along with a bunch of tough accessories like 35s, slick custom barwork and that ultra-cool tyre gate rear wheel carrier, this BT50 really is a one-of-a-kind. Let’s take a closer look at what’s gone into it.

GO-FURTHER MODS
  • 3inch exhaust
  • Forefront Industries EGT and boost gauges
  • Full vinyl wrap

It’s all well and good having a truck that can drive hard, but what about when the exploration bug bites? Having lost a bit of fuel economy to the 35inch tyres, Steve had a 3inch exhaust installed to let the 3.2 turbo-diesel breathe a bit better. It’s helped with the economy somewhat, but let’s not beat around the bush – it sounds tough as guts, and for us that’s just as important! At the other end of the combustion equation, a set of Forefront Industries EGT and boost gauges have been installed in the cabin so Steve can keep an eye on how the engine’s running.

Being an all-rounder kind of ute, Steve uses the BT50 to haul a big fishing boat often, so has recently invested in a couple of towing-specific upgrades. There’s a set of the monster Clearview tow mirrors to keep the boat in clear sight, and a new Redarc digital brake controller to bring everything to a stop when it’s needed.

That trick looking khaki paintjob isn’t in fact actually a paintjob. It is in reality a full vinyl wrap, which Steve says isn’t bad but hasn’t weathered the best over the last couple of years. Living near the beach and parking the truck with one side facing the ocean, it’s copped a bit of spray and some of the vinyl is wearing off. Still, we’d take that any day just for the ability to remove it all come selling time and being able to sell a vehicle with near-immaculate paintwork!

GO-HARDER MODS
  • 3inch lift with weld-in diff drop
  • Fox remote reservoir shocks
  • Front ARB bar, custom sliders
  • Tyregate replacement tailgate spare wheel carrier

You’d be right if you said this BT50 was big for a dual-cab ute. Setting up more than two inches of lift in an IFS dual-cab has always been a tricky proposition because the higher you lift the vehicle, the more of an angle you put the front CV shafts on. It’s not an issue with a solid-axle 4WD like a Patrol or most LandCruisers, because the diff centre always stays in line with the wheel hubs. On an IFS vehicle however it is solid-mounted to the chassis, which means the more you lift the vehicle the further away from the wheel hub line the diff centre sits.

Steve’s running a three inch lift on the BT50, using Fox remote-reservoir coil-over struts in the front end, and Fox remote-reservoir shocks and Old Man Emu leaf springs in the rear. He says it’s a great combination that works really well regardless of how much weight is in the vehicle, but that it required the installation of a weld-in diff drop kit. This spaces the front diff down a couple of inches away from its original mounts hard up against the chassis, returning the CV angles to a lot closer to their factory (almost flat) natural position. What’s more, the weld-in diff drop was engineered at the same time as the chassis extension, meaning that it’s 100% legal as well as being 100% reliable.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”A dual-cab ute, with an extra-cab tray”[/blockquote]

Remember how we mentioned Steve and Ty, the owner of the big urban camo Ranger we featured a few issues back, shared ideas? Steve’s also running a Tyregate replacement tailgate that doubles as a rear wheel carrier. It’s a seriously clever bit of gear that can be interchanged to either swing out to the driver’s or the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Plus it looks the part on the big BT50 too! Rounding out the barwork is an ARB bulbar up the front with the usual assortment of lights and winches, one of the new Ironman 4×4 heavy duty towbar/rear bar combinations plus a set of bombproof rock sliders from Benji at Rampt Customs. 

THE BIG STRETCH
  • 300mm chassis and wheelbase stretch
  • Extra-cab (300mm longer) ute tub
  • Extended sliders, tailshaft and chassis rails to suit

The core premise is this. Dual-cab utes rock for their ability to carry four or five passengers with ample room, but the compromise is a relatively short ute tub. Sure, you can pull the tub off and fit a big custom tray, but what if you like the ute of the style-side ute? Doing his research, Steve found that the extra-cab ute tub was a full 300mm longer than the dual-cab tub. Now, a foot or so doesn’t sound like enough to warrant such a huge job as a chassis stretch at first, but how many times have you gone to close your tailgate to find whatever you’re carrying juuuuuust doesn’t fit?

“The conversion was all done by Brad Gretch at Ultimate Metal Works,” says Steve. “The chassis is extended about half-way down the sliders. To do the job, the tub and all the rear suspension is removed so that you’re left with bare chassis rails from the rear wall of the cabin back.”

To ensure that the conversion was ultimately strong and wouldn’t come to grief down the track, the chassis rails were internally sleeved and rewelded in a way that you could never tell it didn’t leave the factory like this. All the factory weld lines were extended, and the job even went as far as extending the rock sliders so they suited the extra length between the wheel wells. A custom length heavy-duty tailshaft was built to spec to suit the vehicle’s extended length, and a new heavy-duty gearbox crossmember was made as well.

A large part of the reason the conversion looks so good is the fact that the extra 300mm of length in the ute tub is all found forward of the wheel wells. This means that there was no need to change the rear leaf spring mounting points, and that the rear axle still sits the same distance from the tail-lights. The whole setup has been engineered to be 100% legal, and makes for one seriously unique and useful 4WD.

THANKS TO

Steve wants to thank the following people and shops for their help with the buildup;

  • Duncan Scott at Macquarie 4×4
  • Brad Gretch at Ultimate Metal Works
  • Ben Tuohy at Bent Offroad Fabrications
  • Benji Saunders at Rampt Customs
  • Ben Hathaway at Rhino Racks

THE RUNDOWN

VEHICLE:  2014 Mazda BT50
ENGINE: 3.2L inline five-cylinder turbo-diesel
4WD ACTIVATION: Part time, auto locking hubs
SUSPENSION: Three inch lift, Fox racing coil-over struts and shocks, Old Man Emu leaves
WHEELS AND TYRES: 315/75R16 Maxxis Bighorns

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