Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

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Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby Amanda_P » August 29th, 2018, 3:13 pm

I've had my Suntrekker since (I think) 1995 or so, when I bought it from Balmer Lawn Garage near Lymington, a Toyota dealership. The owner had bought it new from Island Plastics, and used it once a year for a run down to the south of France on whatever Hilux he happened to have in stock at the time; apart from that it hadn't been used. I only bought the camper, and I had to borrow rather too much to do that: I couldn't afford a nearly new truck as well. A couple of months later, I bought a Ford P100 to carry it. That truck carried me a long way, but it cost me a lot of money too... but that's another story.

I think the camper had been originally set up to go on Hiluxes, because to hook it on to the P100, I had to get slightly different hooks made. (These are the hooks which bolt into the underside of the camper's 'flare' - where it bulges out above the sides of the truck bed, and hook onto the rolled-over rim of the truck bed). But it fitted just fine once that was done.

Years later, when I got a Mk 6 Hilux, I managed to find the original hooks, and it slotted straight in, with no drama at all.

Roll forward a few more years, and I got a Mk 7. The hooks still fitted, but I found that the cab doors extended a bit further up into the cab roof, so with the camper in place, you couldn't open the cab doors! I spent a couple of hours one winter night with a padsaw and a file making a curved step in the skirt that extends down from the camper's overcab floor to give clearance for the doors.

And now, it's time to replace that red Mk 7, with a shiny new Mk 8 - and a 4WD for the first time. I'm a firm believer in Hiluxes - I've had lots of them and other pickups at work, and they have always been the whole team's favourites. Tough as old boots, comfortable, sensibly and thoughtfully put together, with practicality in mind, and, off-road, pretty much unstickable with good tyres. I'd been watching the market for some time: it's limited, because single-cab Hiluxes are quite rare these days. Most are run by utility companies or farmers, or belong to rental fleets like SHB, which, indirectly, is where mine came from. There are really only three or four dealers that specialise in them, though, which, if you're in the market for a used Hilux, makes it easy to find one. The ex-rentals are actually quite a good option, as they're mainly rented on long leases by civil engineers and the like, and used as little more than cars: an easy life (whereas farmers' trucks often haul heavy stuff and trailers in awful conditions. Even a Hilux can be worked to death given this treatment, and insufficient maintenance, long enough).

And now we come to the fun bit: would the Suntrekker fit on the new, bigger and taller truck? I hoped so, I'd already bought the thing!

The first task was to remove the tailgate. Easy enough: there's a bolt at each lower corner, just as on other single-cab Hiluxes. Remove the bolt, and the tailgate lifts free -but take care not to lose the bolt - it's an obscure Japanese thread that's virtually unobtainable in Europe. Take care also not to lose the top-hat washer from each side: it will fall out and roll down a drain given a chance, and is also hard to replace.

Of course, the Mk 8 has a fancy-schmancy high level brake light in the tailgate, and that has to be disconnected too. It turns out its wires run through a grommet in the truck bed and there's a connector just behind. If you undo the connector, the grommet hole is big enough for the connector to come through it, so it's easy to disconnect everything and the tailgate is free. Thoughtful design.

I demounted the camper from my old red truck, and on reversing the new truck up to the it, the first thing that became clear was that, wound up to their maximum height, the legs weren't long enough to get the new truck underneath!

I lowered it back onto the old truck, and tried again, with some bricks beneath the legs as a temporary way to get a bit more height. Now, it was high enough...

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...but it was also clear that the cab is an inch or so taller than on the old truck. I was going to need a subframe or something to raise the camper up a little bit relative to the cab roof. I had to leave the job at this point (don't worry, I didn't leave the camper teetering at the top of those propped-up legs), so I had a few days to mull over what to use. Timber would be cheap, but potentially quite heavy if it soaked up any water, and it would eventually rot (remember, I've had this camper 20+ years already!). What about PVC window frame profile stuff? Tough, not so light, and, it turns out, not so easy to source in small quantities if you don't happen to be a window manufacturer. I was walking through B&Q when the answer struck me: Jablite - expanded polystyrene insulation sheet.

It weighs almost nothing, it doesn't rot, it doesn't hold water, and it's cheap as chips! It would even provide a slight cushion, spreading the weight of the camper's floor across the ribbed bedliner in the truck. But it's firm enough not to collapse under the relatively modest, evenly-spread weight of the camper. I knew I needed an extra inch or so of height under the camper, but on the red truck, the chassis rails flex enough that, on the right kind of undulations in the road, the overcab part of the camper would bump on the roof of the cab. I don't know if the Mk 8 is any stiffer, but to avoid the overcab coming into contact with the new truck's roof, I decided to try 3" - 75mm jablite, so give a bit of room for some flexing.

An 8 x 4' sheet of jablite fits just nicely in the truck bed, just needing a little trimming around the wheel arches, and extending an inch or so beyond the back edge.

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With this in place, time for another offering-up. Cue drum roll....

It looks like it's going to fit, although with the wider truck, there's not a lot of clearance between the legs and the sides of the truck. Enough, though.

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It's all going rather well!

But then...

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...it becomes clear that the rear leg is going to contact the bumper...

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...well before the camper is all the way forward towards the cab. Ah.

But my old red truck didn't come with a rear bumper. Even if it had, it wouldn't have provided any protection for the back of the camper. In fact, for that very reason, I made this bumper-cum-step thingy, which telescopes out to provide an always-there step and some body protection when the camper's on, and telescopes back in to protect the truck's back corners without sticking out to far when it's not.

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Since the bumper's not going to provide much protection on the new truck, why not remove it - at least temporarily?

So...

It's easy to get underneath a 4WD Hilux, and examination showed that the bumper was held on with four bolts through the chassis-rail extension pieces which end up supporting that towbar/protection thingy. The bolts turned out to be encouragingly (but not worryingly) easy to get undone (the truck's not old enough, and perhaps hasn't spent enough time on salty roads for everything to be rusted solid under there), and the bumper came away without too much trouble.

It turns out that the number plate lights in the bumper are on the end of little extension cables. If you remove these, the number plate lights fit into the vacant sockets on the ends of the oringal cables, and there's a slot in the bodywork behind the bumper for them to fit into. There are even holes in the bodywork for the number plate to screw into, so it all works without the bumper perfectly well and with minimal fiddling about: no cutting of wires, soldering or crimping required. Again, thoughtfully designed.

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So, once again, a drum roll as we back beneath the camper another time...

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Now it goes all the way...

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...and in contrast to the old truck, the camper fits almost entirely within the length of the truck bed! So there's a bit of Jablite sticking out, which made removing the rear leg a bit difficult.

But it's also clear that 75mm is a bit generous - 50mm would have done.

Another day (I didn't take photos), I demounted again (my neighbours are beginning to look forward to another show) and put in a more judiciously-trimmed sheet of denser, grey 50mm Jablite. This provides comfortable clearance above the cab, while of course reducing the centre of gravity of the whole thing a bit.

So it physically fits in the space, but being about two inches wider than the old truck, those hooks don't fit. With the 50mm Jablite "subframe", you'd think they'd need to be 50mm longer, but it turns out the truckbed walls are about 50mm taller than on the old truck, so the hooks' length is about right, but rather than being L-shaped, they need to be C-shaped to reach the truckbed's lip. (The single-cab, agricultural model Hilux, which this is, still has that lip, and external tie-down hooks, and a payload of 1200 kg, and rubber flooring in the cab, and comes with a towbar as standard. All sensible stuff... who'd want a pickup without a towbar? - it's a workhorse, not a saloon car for showing off at the golf club....)

I made some measurements and knocked up an aluminium prototype, just to be sure it would do the doing, then made some drawings and took them and an example of the old, stout steel hooks, to show how they were built, to my friendly local fabrication engineers'. I'll be away travelling next week, but when I come back, I should be able to actually drive the new outfit!

To begin with, the new truck seemed huge, and dwarfed the camper. Now I'm getting used to how they look together, and, actually, I think it all looks rather neat. Better proportioned than the old arrangement, in fact.

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Is it my imagination, or does my old truck look a bit forlorn at seeing her duties taken over by this brash young upstart....?

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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby zildjian » August 29th, 2018, 4:53 pm

Interesting write-up thanks,
Keep seeing car transporters delivering single cab Toyota and wondered who's buying them.
I would add they are more often not all white as you might expect fleet vehicles to be
But different colours.

You obviously like that Suntrekker as you've not changed it and on that new truck it looks about right, but what camper would choose instead given the option out of interest?
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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby mjb666 » August 29th, 2018, 5:29 pm

That is a Great write up and with photo's makes a really interesting read even better.

Is the load bed on the newer truck just that bit longer as looking at it mounted on both it's now flush at the back on the blue one?

In fact, that really is a good advert now for a well balanced set-up & i love the blue colour.

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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby Amanda_P » August 29th, 2018, 5:59 pm

zildjian wrote:You obviously like that Suntrekker as you've not changed it and on that new truck it looks about right, but what camper would choose instead given the option out of interest?


I've looked at other demountables over the years, but seen no reason to change. Those parts of the Suntrekker that degrade and wear out are replaceable, and most have been replaced at some point. The GRP body loses its shine, but I've not long spent 20 or so hours machine polishing it, and it's back like new. And it has no steel or timber structural components to rot, so it should last more or less forever. (Okay, there are a few bits of ply encapsulated in there, and one of them - the overcab floor - has been replaced, but it wasn't major surgery). It virtually can't leak.

It's compact and light, but contains almost everything I need, even for quite long trips. I don't need a double-cab truck, as I rarely carry passengers (when I do, I've got a 5-door car for that). I don't really need more space that costs fuel to lug around and keep warm. What I do have is a camper that has the footprint of a big car, so will go pretty much anywhere (except multi-storey car parks): I don't really worry about parking it or threading it through traffic, even in a big city.

It might be nice to have a water heater and a shower, but it's rare I miss those, and I think it's worth managing without for the sake of compactness, lightness and manouvreability.

Even if someone were still building brand-new Suntrekkers, or something similar in a GRP (or carbon?) monocoque, as there's nothing much wrong with mine, why change?

I'm quite content, thanks.
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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby wonkywheel » August 29th, 2018, 10:45 pm

A great write up. I think the camper looks made for the new truck. I love the "If it A'nt broke don't fix it"attitude and why change something you're happy with. 8-)

I hope mine lasts as long as I do :lol: :roll:

Mark
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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby Amanda_P » August 29th, 2018, 11:16 pm

mjb666 wrote:That is a Great write up and with photo's makes a really interesting read even better.


Thanks!

Is the load bed on the newer truck just that bit longer as looking at it mounted on both it's now flush at the back on the blue one?


Yes; it's about six inches longer, I think, and the bed is couple of inches wider, too, although the way the tailboard latches makes the tailboard opening a touch narrower than on the previous model. It's the same width between the wheel arches, though - that could be because of the wider wheels and longer articulation on the axle, being a 4WD.

In fact, that really is a good advert now for a well balanced set-up & i love the blue colour.


I liked the colour too. While there are other colours around, the majority of single cab Hiluxes I found on sale are white. I really didn't want a white one, but I love this colour!

After the hooks and 12S electrics, the next task is to make a stay-on step. When I first had the Suntrekker, I used the steps it came with, but they were a nuisance: I was always bruising my ankles on them as I climbed over them if I jumped in to retrieve something from the camper en route. And when deployed on anything other than flat ground, they'd usually sit at a funny angle so that you'd fall down them anyway. Hence the step-cum-bumper on the red truck.

It'll be harder to do on the new truck, because there's already a bumper-cum-towbar thing there, so I can't easily use that trick again unless I fabricate a whole new telescoping bar strong enough for towing from. That seems like overkill: I don't tow anything very often. I'm thinking a backplate sandwiched between the towball and its mounting plate, with box sections welded vertically along its edges. Then a step that slots into those box sections, bridging the towball itself to provide a step at (hopefully) just the right height without obscuring the number plate. If that's too high, maybe a second step that hinges down below it. Anyway, the whole thing can just lift out of the tubes on the backplate if I do need to tow something, or when the camper is demounted. Watch this space...
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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby Amanda_P » August 29th, 2018, 11:58 pm

Oh, and: I had to remove the old 'Suntrekker' logos from the camper's sides to allow polishing and a small repair. They were coming to bits and looking scruffy anyway. I thought I might get new ones made up in the same design, but in a colour to match the new truck.

Now, I seem to recall someone on here mentioning that they did laser-cut vinyl graphics... any suggestions?
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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby Ogden scamper » August 30th, 2018, 6:19 pm

Interesting comments there, theses are all new to me just now as i am still reading through the site, you mentioned the read legs can i ask if they can be used as steadies when camped out somewhere or does the new (nice) pickup not allow this?
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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby TheWalshyWay » August 30th, 2018, 11:08 pm

Hi, I had the same issue with the rear leg and bumper (although also with the side legs as my tyres are 3inches wider than the standard arch) my solution was to bolt on some box iron and extend the legs where they slot into the body ! Was meant to be a temporary fix but alas three years later and still functioning !

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Re: Fitting a Suntrekker to a Mk 8 Hilux

Postby Amanda_P » August 31st, 2018, 9:40 am

Ogden scamper wrote:Interesting comments there, theses are all new to me just now as i am still reading through the site, you mentioned the read legs can i ask if they can be used as steadies when camped out somewhere or does the new (nice) pickup not allow this?


The side legs could be used as steadies, no problem. And now that I've removed the truck's bumper, so could the rear leg. But on the Suntrekker, the legs do not live attached to the camper; they detach and stow away in a locker in the floor. You could get them out, attach them, wind them down and use them as steadies, but it would be a bit of a hassle to do (they're HEAVY!), and I've never found steadies to be necessary; the truck doesn't swing about when you walk around inside it - or not enough to be a problem at all. (Stiff, commercial vehicle springs built for a 1200kg payload and a light camper!)

TheWalshyWay wrote:I had the same issue with the rear leg and bumper (although also with the side legs as my tyres are 3inches wider than the standard arch) my solution was to bolt on some box iron and extend the legs where they slot into the body ! Was meant to be a temporary fix but alas three years later and still functioning !


I thought of that too. But of course, with a shiny new truck, I wanted to get the camper mounted as soon as possible! I couldn't see a way to easily extend the leg that would also be quick and do-able RIGHT NOW. Removing the bumper took about ten minutes: instant gratification!

Looking at the rig now, I can see that, actually the camper sits so tightly inside the truckbed that the bumper would give it some protection from rear-end bumps, so it would be worthwhile extending the rear leg. I have some welding kit, so it shouldn't be too hard to make extended versions of the top hook (that fits underneath the stud on the camper wall) and the box-section 'prong' (that fits in the socket on the camper floor), cut off the existing ones, and weld the extended ones on. (A shame to spoil the galvanising, though, but hey...) I'd like to be able to keep the legs in the on-board storage, though: once or twice, an emergency demount 'in the field' has been a helpful thing to do. If I make them too big to fit, that will no longer be possible.

Can I see a picture of your fix, The WalshyWay?

Similarly, I'm thinking about a way to extend the legs' length too, so that I won't need those dodgy piles of bricks. I'm thinking that most of the leg is empty apart from the lead screw down the centre, so a slightly smaller piece of box section could telescope up inside the end of the leg when stored (which wouldn't make it take up any more space in the floor locker), and then drop down and be secured with a big pin near the bottom when needed.

Anyone else done this, or anything like it, with square-section legs?
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