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War Hero

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An ex-Australian Army Land Rover Perentie enjoys a well-earned retirement on the streets and beaches of Queensland.

Queensland’s coastal resort of Noosa isn’t the most natural setting for a Land Rover Defender decked out in camouflage paint. But this Landie’s owner, Carly Reeves, doesn’t really do conventional. As designer for a Brisbane digital agency, you may expect her to clamber out of a Range Rover Evoque’s sleek bodywork, rather than the insignia-marked and well-used riveted door of a four-wheeled military veteran.

“I’ve always loved Defenders,” she said, “and my mum lived in Africa for a while and I think we caught the Africa bug from her. We’d watch safari movies and all the vehicles were Land Rover Defenders, so

I started looking around for what was available.” Having caught the classic car bug from her dad – custodian of an MG TF – Carly and her siblings have all dabbled in the old vehicle game. Her Defender would share garage space with an under restoration first-generation Toyota Celica and Honda CT110 Postie Bike, ensuring her weekends would now be permanently taken up with sourcing and fitting spare parts to her collection.

Her search led her towards the Land Rover Perentie; the nickname for Land Rover Defender 110s used by the Australian Army. “They attracted me partly by their character, partly by their heritage,” Carly said. Named after a large, brown and yellow monitor lizard found in arid Australian regions (quite fitting), these Perenties were produced by JRA Limited in Sydney in the 1980s and 90s. They still look very much like Defender 110s, but use an Isuzu 3.9-litre 4BD1 direct injection diesel engine typically found in trucks. Also key were an increased payload and galvanised chassis to prevent rust (apparently normal Land Rovers are partial to a bit of tin worm…), while the spare wheel was moved to beneath the rear load area. As Carly uses hers for camping, her spare’s now strapped inside the tray to leave space for custom built-in storage.

Some 2500 4×4 and 700 6×6 Perenties were built – the latter using turbocharged Isuzu engines – and saw service in regions such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Rwanda. Even the naturally aspirated ones offered a whopping 270Nm of torque to go with 83kW power, so Land Rover’s LT95A four-speed gearbox built to military specification was employed along with giant 3.54:1 Salisbury 8HA rear differential. Perenties were lifted 2.5-inches higher than normal Defender 110s, and are coil sprung all round.

With Mercedes-Benz G-Wagons ultimately replacing these Perenties after 2013, they’ve been popping up at auctions so the general public can get their hands on these distinctive bits of military history. Carly bought hers privately last year, explaining: “Knowing these were built for the Army they had to be pretty tough, so all the bad things you hear about Defenders, these Perenties seem to avoid. They should have been well maintained too. I don’t have a log book for it, but one of the other owners looked up the Christmas tree symbol, which is 6490, so that’s the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. But I haven’t been able to get hold of information from the Army about where it served.”

Carly’s grandfather was with the 55th/53rd Battalion in World War II, serving in Bougainville and Rabaul. To honour this, Carly’s added the Unit’s Colour Patch to her Perentie’s doors. Such family history adds an extra level of affection for this camo-painted 110, and Carly brushes off worries about ride comfort, engine noise, no power steering, potentially leaking canvas back and lack of creature comforts in the cabin. What she does have is an incredibly capable off-roader with ample room for sleeping in a tray originally built to carry six members of the military.

Fairly minor things were needed to have it roadworthy in Queensland. A transfer case rear seal and driver’s side mirror needed replacing, so Carly teamed up with her engineer father to do the required work as parts are easy to come by. They fitted a new front prop shaft found at Queensland specialist British Off Road, she’s used marine ply and marine carpeting to create the bespoke built-in for camping, and even in wind and rain Carly says it’s cosy, leak-free and spacious enough for a double air bed mattress. “For sand driving to the camp site I just dropped the tyres to 21psi and it went straight through soft sand and over some fallen tree trunks,” she said. “It’s really easy to drive off-road and so very, very capable.”

On road is a bit less comfort zone for a Perentie. “It just about goes around a roundabout, you have to lean on the steering wheel a little,” she said. “It gets up to speed alright, but I don’t push it over 100km/h. I never drive this car when I’m in a hurry. I like being higher off the road, there’s plenty of movement and roll, and with the canvas flapping away behind you there’s no point having a radio.” Which of course, it doesn’t. Or air conditioning. “You’ve got two vents in front of you…just go faster and it gets stronger!”

What adds to the personality of Carly’s Perentie are its lived-in looks. Having served in war zones you wouldn’t expect it to be a shiny showroom special, so the little dents and paint imperfections are appreciated.

Fit for purpose too, with Jerry can latched to the rear, dust-sealed storage bins built into the body and pickaxe, axe and shovel mounted to the bonnet. With that giant bull bar as well, as a pedestrian if you’re going to be hit by any vehicle, Carly’s Perentie would be bottom of your list.

So what’s next for this Perentie? Carly’s still enjoying a honeymoon period with her Army vet, but she’s planning to work on the steering and is keen on a few cosmetic touch-ups. “There’s a battle in my head if I’ll keep the camo paint or to go back to the Olive that’s underneath, as seen in the cabin. I also want to find a way of getting my Postie bike into the back of it. The wheels fit perfectly into the Jerry can holders, but getting it up there is a challenge for one girl!”

There’s also the 2020 Anzac Parade. Carly bought the Perentie a few weeks before last year’s parade, had just fitted her grandfather’s colours to the door, and was all lined up ready to go when the engine refused to fire. “Turns out it was the EDIC, literally one of the only slightly computerised things in the car, and it let me down. It had collected rain in the plastic baggie the EDIC sits in, the fuse went and there was a melting plastic smell. We had the fire extinguisher to hand, just as the parade was starting. Really disappointing, but it’s ready for a comeback in 2020.”

Perentie ownership may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it’ll never be boring and Carly has huge affection for her military hero. From serving overseas to serving as personality-packed camping 4×4 and road cruiser that’ll always turn heads. The inevitable little (and sometimes big) mechanical jobs needed to stop it going AWOL will guarantee an ongoing project, but keeping it alive and in use are the least this war hero deserves.

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