A Simpson Desert crossing proves this tough, multi-use trailer can be easily towed just about anywhere
>> Multiple applications
>> Superb engineering
>> Corrugation-soaking suspension
NOT SO MUCH:
>> Insufficient stone protection on Base Mate
>> Larger universal brackets for side-tray tie-downs would be nice
When Marg and Doug Sprigg recently returned to the Simpson Desert to re-enact the 50th Anniversary of their family’s pioneering first vehicle crossing, they packed a similar short wheelbase Nissan G60 Patrol and took a couple of ‘Mates’ to do the heavy lifting… Track Trailer ‘Mate’ trailers, that is.
Geologist and Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary founder Reg Sprigg, his wife Griselda and their children Marg, then 10 and Doug, then 7, made history in September 1962 by completing the first full vehicle crossing of the world’s largest parallel dune desert.
It was a serious pioneering exercise back then, tracking by the stars, not GPS. They averaged just 5km/h as they scratched a path along the 26th parallel through saltbush and over the desert’s 1100 dunes; their painful progress punctuated by periods of desperate activity when they got ‘beached’ on small bushy dunes.
Griselda even ripped the smoking undergrowth from under the Nissan’s exhaust with her bare hands while Reg shovelled furiously in case the flames reached their 44 gallon drum of fuel in the back!
The Simpson Desert is now just a tick on many 4WD adventurers’ bucket list and life for its travellers has been made a lot easier today by the path the Spriggs paved. Not to mention the advanced equipment that has since come to market, such as the clever and rugged new off-road Mate camper trailer.
Melbourne-based Track Trailer, which is best known for its ingenious Tvan and more recently its Topaz pop-top crossover caravan based on similar rugged underpinnings, has created a distinctive new product with the multiple-use Mate.
The name, which I suspect was penned by a copywriter, is said to be an acronym for ‘Multiple Application Tactical Equipment’ and this modular off-road trailer has come to market in response Track’s military grade gear trailers originally designed to transport delicate Army communications equipment over rough terrain.
All trailers start life as a Base Mate, retailing for $14,300 tow away, and feature Track’s own chassis design and unique MC2 Asymmetric Link Suspension with Koni shocks, a hot-dipped galvanised chassis and galvanised steel body panels, finished in stipple powder coat for extra durability.
This setup incorporates external storage trays designed to hold up to four space cases and four jerry cans, a rear folding tailgate, a substantial swing-up jockey wheel, large mudflaps, plus a state of the art DO-35 off-road coupling rated for 3.5 tonnes incorporating a mechanical handbrake.
All Mates also come with a confidence-inspiring five-year chassis and suspension and three year body panel warranty.
WORK OR PLAY
In this form, the Mate can be a weekday tradie’s workhorse and a weekend plaything, being large and rugged enough with its 1.5 tonnes ATM and standard Al-Ko 10 inch electric drum brakes to haul a quad, dirt bikes, a few swags, a fridge and plenty of provisions.
And if you think that any $3000-odd 6×4 box trailer could perform the same double act, you haven’t travelled far enough in hard country to see the rusty relics of cheap trailers that litter the Outback, or the many awaiting recovery after spring, chassis damage or axle failure from the relentless pounding of the corrugations.
From there it’s up to you what gear you add. For a kitchen, water and basic power supply add $1760, $1060 and $779 respectively, but Track has made it easier by pre-configuring Mates into likely equipment groupings.
For example there’s the Weekend Mate, equipped with a sleek and stylish James Baroud Grand Raid Evolution hard top, pop-up canopy tent mounted on Rhino roof rack bars, which retails for $24,063.
Next up in October this year will be the Tour Mate, designed for families and featuring a larger, side folding soft-floor tent with zip-on extra rooms, mounted to a removable base that seals to the body.
Finally, there will be the Trade Mate, which will come equipped with a removable enclosed body with incorporated roof mounting for items like ladders.
However the beauty of the Mate concept is its modular construction, so whatever equipment you specify can easily be removed or swapped for other packs, turning a weekday workhorse into a weekend companion.
While the four members of the Sprigg family squeezed into the front seat of their Nissan Patrol in 1962 and carried their swags, food and fuel behind them in the short wheelbase vehicle body, the 2012 re-enactment required a lot more gear carrying, thanks to the omnipresence of a five-man film crew, a small media contingent, Nissan personnel and a service crew to keep the caravan rolling.
And when you need to fuel, feed, hydrate, warm and bed 19 people, you need to carry a lot of gear over inhospitable terrain.
We had two Mates and a base-model Tvan Yulara on the crossing for this purpose, all towed by current 3.0-litre diesel-engined ‘50th anniversary’ Y61 model Nissan Patrols, and they certainly earned their keep and performed faultlessly.
One was a Base Mate whose 2250mm x 1600mm load bed beneath the vehicle’s standard full tonneau cover was largely occupied by a bank of four 105 amp/hr deep cycle batteries powering three Waeco 40-litre fridge/freezers, secured to the Mates’ universal rails with ARB tie downs and brackets. The space in between was occupied by a row of full water and diesel jerry cans.
The outrigger storage trays forward of the wheels contained Pelican Space Cases and a further four full jerrys, while the remaining trays rear of the axle line – and whatever space was left in the tub – was chock-full of firewood gathered off the side of the Stuart Highway on our way to the Simpson.
In addition, the Base Mate was also fitted with a ($1595 extra) ARB Kakadu Roof Topper fold-out tent mounted on Rhino Roof Racks ($537 for mounting brackets and fixing), along with a damage-limiting tub liner that added a further $366 taking its total price to $16,798 without the fridges, batteries and their necessary electric connections.
The other trailer was a Weekend Mate, that along with its hard-shell James Baroud pop-up sleeper was also equipped with a full-width slide-out drawer ($1320) and a Rhino Rack-mounted Foxwing, 270 degree fold-out awning ($799), taking its total to $26,182.
But with the need to carry fuel and firewood critical as we departed from Mt.Dare Hotel, just south of the Northern Territory border on the first leg of the crossing, both Mates were loaded to near their 1500kg ATM.
Travelling in convoy it was fascinating to watch the long-travel coil and Koni MC2 suspension at work on the Mates, with the trailers generally coping better with the heavy corrugations than their tow cars, despite their weighty loads. Designed to follow Australian Army Unimogs across country, it allows the trailer to track faithfully and remain remarkable sTable, regardless of what was asked of them.
Over the following 437km of desert from Dalhousie to Birdsville, the Mates performed with amazing aplomb, admittedly with their payloads being depleted daily. Dropping pressures in their fat 265-section tyres to around 15psi made a big difference to their ‘flotation’ over deep sand albeit one very deep sandy hill – mea culpa here! – it made it across every dune in our path including the daunting Big Red at the eastern end (and not by the ‘chicken track’ either).
Perhaps the greatest practical testament to their ride was that firewood tied to one of the outrigger trays by a long shoelace found by the roadside remained in position for the entire crossing, despite being hammered mercilessly over dunes and across endless corrugations.
At night the roof-top accommodation was particularly appreciated in the desert, where temperatures fell below zero at night, particularly as our trip coincided with a plague of desert rats. The virtues of sleeping well off the ground were demonstrated when one of the film crew slipped into his swag one night only to find a pair of beady eyes welcoming him. He slept in one of the Patrols!
Both tents erected quickly and easily. Access to the ARB Kakadu came after removing its 270-degree zipped heavy duty vinyl cover. Then it was simply a matter of folding the tent to the left side, with the attached aluminium ladder forming the outrigger support.
The James Baroud was even simpler. Just release four catches and the tent popped up, ready for use, on its four telescopic struts, with access gained by a wheel-mounted metal step.
Towed back to Melbourne via the Birdsville Track, it was easy to forget that the Mates were behind, with their presence adding less than 2.0L/100km to the Patrol’s diesel consumption, which rounded around 17L/100km. But they did suffer a bit of stone damage as the result of the high travelling speed they made possible.
Track Trailer’s Mate fills a gaping niche in the Australian camper market with a rugged, well-engineered and built, go-anywhere trailer that will follow a 4WD anywhere its owner dares to travel.
Depending on the spec the owner chooses, the Mate can be a weekday workhorse or weekend play-base – or both – with a wide range of interchangeable options, ranging from an enclosed toolbox body to everything to make it a serious camper trailer, including a large fold-out tent, a slide-out kitchen, with provision for a water supply and deep cycle battery power.
Fully specced, the Mate almost matches the cost of the best dedicated camper trailers, but still keeps a restful distance from its older Tvan brother, which shares the same chassis and suspension and begins with the $39,990 Yulara.
In time to come it could also form a fascinating base for various other slide-on options which will surely appear soon from third-party suppliers.
TRACK TRAILER BASE MATE
Tub length: 2.416m
Travel length: 4.46m
External width: 2.063m
Tub width: 1.223m
Tub height: 4.51m
Wheel track: 1.65m
Departure angle: 30 degrees
Suspension travel: 250mm
Ball weight: 96kg
Body: Galvanised steel
Chassis: Galvanised hot-dipped steel
Suspension: Track Trailer MC2 with Koni telescopic shock absorbers
Price as reviewed: $16,798 tow-away (Base Mate, Victoria) and $26,182 (Weekend Mate).
Supplied by: Track Trailer, Bayswater, Victoria.