As was the case with a lot of people, 2020 was meant to be a big year of travel for Mark Maltby, the owner of this immaculately presented graphite LandCruiser dual cab ute. Initially, the travel was meant to be swanning around exotic international locations, but we all know how that turned out. Thanks for nothing COVID-19.
So, a new plan was hatched that focussed on our own big, brown land. Joining Mark on his trip around Australia will be his sister, Georgia, her partner, Clay, and their son Bowie, in their LandCruiser Troopy with a Zone RV Expedition10 hard bodied camper in tow.
Mark said his dad had also planned on setting up a ‘Cruiser, even going to the trouble of converting his home garage to fit it in. Unfortunately, Mark's dad passed away in 2019, and never got the chance to deck out his own ute.
So, even though Mark never thought he would ever spend this much on a vehicle, it was a nice way to remember his dad — it also fits with his new philosophy on life, “You only live once!”
CHASING THE DREAM
What Mark was chasing was a “No fuss freedom machine”, perfect for that last-minute surf mission up to Double Island Point, Qld, or a quick overnighter with mates, all the way up to an around-Australia adventure. Not a fan of towing, though, he was after an all-in-one package he could just get into and go. Minimal fuss, maximum enjoyment.
With the new travel plans in place, and a suitable vehicle chosen, attention turned to sourcing a new ‘Cruiser ute for Mark to turn into his ultimate touring weapon.
With dual cab ‘Cruiser utes being rarer than rocking horse shoes at his local Toyota dealerships, this proved harder than first thought. That was until an uncanny stroke of luck occurred.
Dave from Zone RV (who just also happens to be a mate of Mark's), heard on the grapevine that there was a graphite ute for sale on the Sunny Coast. Even better, it had already been through the Zone RV factory and was sporting one of its custom canopies with integrated rooftop tent.
Phone calls were made, deals were done, and soon Mark became the proud owner of the touring rig you see here. At this point the setup remains unchanged from when Mark purchased it, but he does have a few plans in mind. More on that later.
ALL THE GEAR, NO IDEA
With only 5000km on the clock, the ute had barely been run-in and was in ‘as new’ condition. Apart from that, it had pretty much had an ARB catalogue thrown at it thanks to the team at ARB Maroochydore.
In Mark's own words, he now has “all the gear and no idea”. With limited experience in offroad travel, he still has a few months to hone his skills before heading south in October, bound for New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia before finishing up in Western Australia.
Our day of testing on the tracks that run behind the freshwater lakes of Cooloola and Cootharaba, all the way to the headwaters of the Noosa River, was the first time the ‘Cruiser had seen dirt. We even managed a quick look in at Harry's Hut.
While we didn't get to try out the MaxTrax or the winch, the ute sure did need a bath by the end of the day!
THE NITTY GRITTY
After a quick once over in the carpark of Zone HQ, the canopy was loaded with camera gear and provisions for the day. Then it was on to the Sunshine Coast Motorway for a short sprint north. With the power of the V8 ‘Cruiser and the low weight of the canopy (only 396kg), I wondered why the original owner had fitted a GVM suspension upgrade to the ute? Perhaps there was a plan to hook a heavy van up behind.
So how does a fully customisable canopy with integrated rooftop tent (with options fitted) only tip the scales at 396kg?
For those of you familiar with Zone RV, you’ll know that the team don't mind doing things a little differently. Their caravans and hard-bodied campers are built using timberless technology, and while you wouldn't expect timber in a canopy build, they utilise the same materials and methods.
Floors, walls, doors and the roof are made from a composite fibreglass sandwich panel. Compared to an aluminium canopy, this keeps the weight right down. The panels are bonded together using a proprietary Zone process before laser-cut alloy corners are added for additional strength. A Raptor coating is then applied to fully seal the corners.
As an added bonus to the lightweight and structural properties of the composite panels, they are extremely thermally efficient and provide maximum insulation. I know you southerners will scoff at what I am about to say next, but on the day of our test it was a bit chilly.
But, typical of a winter's day on the Sunshine Coast, it had warmed up nicely by lunchtime. Considering it is a graphite-coloured ute, I was quite surprised at how cool it still was inside the canopy when we opened it up to grab out our sangas.
BARE BONES OR BUILT YOUR WAY
As with anything produced in the Zone RV factory, pretty much everything is customisable — you can purchase the canopy shell, or you can spec it up to suit your individual requirements.
Out of the box, the canopy comes standard with integrated aluminium wheel arches and mud guards, under-tray saddle lockers, gull wing doors with central locking, LED tail-lights and 2 Pac colour coding with Raptor detail.
Everything else is up to you. From the type of fridge you want, to the kitchen layout, the electrical system and if you want to be able to sleep up top. These are all personal choices.
On this particular setup, there have been quite a few add-ons, with the most obvious being the rooftop tent.
Being able to set your sleeping quarters up simply by releasing four latches and giving the lid a slight push sounds like an absolute dream to me. The top of the tent is also made from the same composite panels used on the rest of the canopy, so it will stay nice and cool, even in the summer months.
The big windows with midge screens and canvas covers allow for maximum ventilation. The lid of the tent does provide a slight overhang, which would enable you to keep the side windows open a little in the event of rain. However, the lack of an awning as standard over the rear opening would make it hard to get in or out of the tent without getting wet.
Add to that, the fact that the in-built rear ladder with its vertical position makes access and egress a little difficult at the best of times, you're going to end up more than a little damp. Even without it raining, using this ladder isn't the easiest thing in the world.
A better option would be to use a standalone, telescopic ladder that clips into place when setting up camp. You would need to find a spot to store it, but I'm sure that wouldn't be too hard considering you have a canopy.
Once inside, the sleeping quarters are quite spacious, and the 70mm high density foam mattress feels pretty darn comfy. LED strip lights are standard and, best of all, you can pack it all up with your bedding inside.
The internal layout on this particular build has been determined by a couple of specific items.
First was the supplied ARB ZERO 69L fridge/freezer and the MSA Drop Slide which is located on the passenger side. Second was the use of the Expedition 134 storage boxes, which are the preferred method of storing your gear by the team at Zone RV. The driver's side storage area has been fabricated to allow these boxes to slide in and out.
These tubs have been used thanks to their strength and low weight. By using these boxes, extra weight is saved by not having to fabricate drawers and their associated hardware. However, I do think you lose some of your storage capacity with this system.
Once again, all internal dividers are made from the same lightweight composite panel as the main canopy structure. Conveniently, if you did need the full expanse of the tray, the internal dividers are only held in place with four fixtures. While this modular type system does allow for convenient removal, you do lose storage space at both the front and rear of the internal dividers when compared to a fully built-in canopy.
Helping minimise the amount of wasted space at the front of the canopy, the electrical system, air compressor and water filtration system have been mounted in the void between the front of the canopy and the internal storage system.
The electrical system sports what Zone RV calls its Enerdrive Stage One Electrical Package. It consists of a single 100Ah lithium battery and a 20A DC to DC charger. The DC/DC charger also incorporates a MPPT solar regulator for the two 110W slim-line solar panels that have been fitted to the top of the tent.
A control panel with easily accessed fuses, switches, a 12V and USB sockets is also found here. An additional Anderson plug has also been fitted for a portable solar panel.
The rear section of the passenger side is where you find the kitchen/pantry area. There are a couple of drawers down low and four lightweight aluminium shelves above for dry food storage. Appearing from inside the saddle locker is the pull-out stainless-steel bench with pop-out sink, which is perfect for meal prep and setting up your cooker.
As I've already stated, Mark bought this ute as is and had no input whatsoever into the layout. While it ticks a lot of his boxes from the get-go, there are a few tweaks planned for the coming months.
A couple of them have already been mentioned previously, such as the addition of a telescopic ladder and the extra awning over the tent entry.
The other tweaks are mostly electrical, with upgrading the single 100Ah lithium battery to a full 200Ah Enerdrive system that also incorporates a 2000W inverter. This will allow Mark to run an induction cooktop for cooking duties on his adventures.
To keep his devices charged, Mark also plans on getting a couple of USB outlets fitted in the rooftop tent. The LED strip lights don't miss out either, as they will all be converted to bi-colour lighting to help keep the bugs at bay.
Last but not least, some form of awning will likely find its way along the passenger side to provide shade and cover while at camp.
THE FINAL WORD
At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what I think about this ute and its super fancy Zone RV canopy. It all comes down to Mark, what he is going to use it for, and the enjoyment he will get out of touring around this great country of ours.
I do know that wherever he goes, he's going to be doing it in style in one of the best built canopy campers on the market.
While Mark may be travelling by himself, I'm pretty sure there'll be a certain someone riding shotgun with him in spirit all the way. Enjoy it mate, ‘cause you only live once!
ZONE RV Z-UEV Canopy w/ Integrated RoofTop Tent
Weight (canopy only) 190kg
Weight (with accessories) 396kg
Body Closed cell composite panel
Style D/Cab Canopy w/ integrated rooftop tent
Canopy size 1654mm (L) x 1750mm (W) x 1126mm (H)
Rooftop tent size 1800mm (L) x 1554mm (W) x 933mm (H)
Mattress size 1800mm (L) x 1220mm (W)
Battery 1 x 100Ah Lithium
Solar 2 x 110W slimline panels
100L water tank with 12V pump
Internal shelving and pantry
Integrated roof-mounted tent and access ladder
MSA drop slide (supplied by customer)
PRICE AS TESTED
$30,054 (base price $17,500)
Address 85 Quanda Rd, Coolum Beach, Qld 4573