Review: Mattracks ute tracks | Full Test

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Who hasn’t wanted to turn their fourby into an unstoppable tank? Matt Wood once again uses work as an excuse to play out his childhood fantasies during company time

The Mattracks front on
Aside from being exceedingly cool, these Mattracks make the Toyota very stable off-road
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So playing with 4x4s can be an expensive and potentially obsessive business: shopping for lift kits, diff locks, body lifts, bigger wheels, better shocks and bigger tyres … the list goes on. It’s all pretty much on the cards whether you use your 4x4 for work or for play.

One day you’re contemplating a winch, the next you’re trying to convince yourself that you also need some more bar work to go with it. And then you realise that all that bar work looks naked without extra lighting attached to it.

It can quickly become a dangerous and potentially wallet-lightening experience.

 I recently resorted to bumbling around on the internet in a foolish attempt to distract myself from buying 4x4 stuff and came across Mattracks. These track units are made in the US and turn the average 4x4, UTV or even light truck into masters of mud, snow or sand.

If you were unfortunate enough to see the movie Fate of the Furious you may have noticed it also featured a Mattracks-equipped RAM pickup. Ken Block has even had a crack with a tracked Ford Raptor in the snow.

This got me thinking.

Townsville-based Fire Express Australia is the Australian distributor for Mattracks, so I decided to catch up with owner and director Mark Dooley.

Basically I just wanted to see if they were as cool off-road as they looked. And, of course, to put them through their paces in some mud and muck.

Click here to watch the Mattracks video

 

Ditch the wheels

The Mattracks units essentially bolt on to a vehicle’s existing stud pattern. They can be removed at any time and wheels can be refitted reasonably easily. Some minor modifications are required to initially install the tracks and then it’s up to you if you need to swap between wheels and tracks.

These bolt-on mods don’t interfere with wheeled operation if you whack your wheels and tyres back on.

Mattracks come in sizes to fit most popular 4x4s as well as UTVs and even quad bikes. There are also non-driven variants for machinery as well as variants to suit trucks with a GVM of up to 10.5 tonnes.

Of course, the main advantage of a tracked vehicle is low ground pressure, whether it be a tractor, a dozer or a skid steer. Mud, snow and sand all pose challenges for wheeled vehicles even if they are 4x4s. Basically tracks give the vehicle a bigger yet lighter footprint.

For example, the Landcruiser you see here has a ground pressure of just 14kPa. To put that into perspective, while driving this setup I pulled up in a dry creek bed, hopped out and sank up to my ankles in sand. The ’Cruiser, however, had barely broken the surface. 

According to Dooley, it was the aftermath of cyclone Yasi in 2011 that sowed the seed of local Mattracks distribution. After Yasi had slammed into the North Queensland coast and left a trail of destruction in its wake, Dooley noted that the emergency services were having difficulty getting around in flooded and waterlogged areas.

Consequently, he thought Mattracks may have potential in the Australian market.

 

Fitting and turning

Firexpress is also the local distributor of Firexpress firefighting units. These units are compact, lightweight portable firefighting units that can be vehicle mounted, motorcycle mounted or even backpack mounted and feature a patented spray head.

But for me it’s all about the tracks. For the demo drive, Dooley fitted a set of these tracks to his son’s LC75 so we could test their mettle.

But before we could go make some marks in the mud I got to have a look at the installation and what it requires. In the case of the Landcruiser you have to remember to lock the hubs before fitting the tracks. Failure to do so will result in swearing and a possible facepalm as you’ll have to pull the front track units back off again to lock them.

Brackets are fitted to the ball joints on the front and the spring hangers on the rear to prevent the track units from rotating on their hubs when off road. A rubber torsion block within the unit’s housing also ensures that the tracks tilt upwards when confronted with an obstacle rather than trying to rotate downwards on the hub.

There’s also an optional power assist function that you’d be mad not to opt for. This requires a pressure sensor and quick-release fittings to be mounted to the power steering box.

This makes turning a hell of a lot easier as it raises the forward rollers as you turn the wheel, reducing drag and friction on the tracks.

Mattracks use a steel frame while the rollers are mounted to composite rods and, as you may have guessed, the tracks are rubber and are driven by a detachable sprocket.

Can you legally drive them on the road? It seems like that’s dependent on your state or territory. Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has a Mattracks-equipped LC79 complete with Firexpress firefighting unit based at Mount Buller that is road registered within the resort area, though it’s conditionally limited to 60km/h. However, up in sunny Queensland, Mark will happily trundle into town in the tracked ’Cruiser for a latte.

The downside is that you have to take it easy as the tracks can get quite hot, Dooley says: "Sixty k’s an hour is okay. You can do 80 but only for a 5km stint or so."

However, as I was to find out, the ride is also pretty unforgiving on hard road surfaces.

Maintenance-wise, the tracks need weekly greasing in full-time working roles. There are 18 grease nipples on each unit.

Dooley demonstrates the track unit installation, saying that a flexi head on the rattle gun is a big help when it comes to doing up the wheel … er … track nuts due to clearance issues.

With the right setup, installation isn’t too big a job, though the track units themselves are quite heavy. Dooley manoeuvres the units into place using a wheeled mechanic’s creeper. 

The Mattrack fitted Toyota Landcruiser taking on a hill
Another advantage of Mattracks is you gain between 150 and 200mm of ground clearance

 

Put to the test

Then it’s time to fire up the old 1HZ-powered ’Cruiser and go for a blast. This old girl is pretty typical of what you’d find in the back blocks used for work and play.

A 50mm suspension lifts becomes a substantial 200mm lift with the tracks fitted. There’s an ARB compressor on board with ARB diff-locks front and rear. The old NA diesel 6 has had an aftermarket turbo and intercooler fitted along with a suitably chunky exhaust.

The ’Cruiser certainly sounds the part as we idle out of the shed, a subdued turbo whistle builds in intensity as we pick up speed on the grass.

While the ride may be pretty harsh on the road, out in the paddock it’s as smooth as. The ’Cruiser just glides over the lumps and bumps that would usually have wheels juddering in their wheel arches. 

Of course I’m grinning like a fool while at the wheel. The Mattracks give the Landcruiser a tough, military look, and it feels as stable as a rock. The Toyota’s tough exhaust note only enhances my childish glee.

On dropping down into the slushy creek bed I give it the message with the right pedal and I’m rewarded with a spray of mud up the side. The truck just rumbles over the top of slush rather than sinking into it, hurling a couple of very satisfying muddy rooster tails into the air behind me.

If the ’Cruiser was fitted with wheels, I’m sure it would’ve still made it through most places we took it. However, it wouldn’t have done it anywhere near as quickly or easily.

Our photographer Nathan was getting a little frustrated with the shoot at this point. As a veteran 4x4 photographer he’s accustomed to framing shots of flexing fourbies with wheels hanging in the air as they clamber through the muck. In this instance, the track-equipped Toyota was just not raising a sweat. 

The only obstacles that really pose any challenge to the Mattracks are rocks. The tracks tend to butt up against a boulder rather than roll over the top of it like an off-road tyre running low air pressures would.

Clearly these tracks are most popular in snow applications, and rightly so. The Australian Antarctic Division uses them, as well as alpine fire and emergency services.

While that’s clearly a niche market, they’ve also found favour up in the tropics. A couple of North Queensland stations are now using Mattracks-equipped Landcruisers to get around during the wet season when they’d usually be isolated by water and mud.

Mattracks on a UTV
Mattracks are also available for UTVs and quad bikes. This example is also fitted with a portable firefighting unit from Firexpress


Endless possibilities

During my drive we clambered down soft sandy creek beds and river tributaries as well as wallowing in a bit of mud. With diff-locks only needed on a couple of occasions, the ’Cruiser was effortless off-road. The track units just plant the truck solidly on the ground.

A Mattracks-fitted Landcruiser was recently tested for lateral stability in Victoria and it reached a cross-slope angle of 50 degrees before threatening to tip.

While clambering through the bush, this was very apparent. It’s a very stable and confident way to carve through the scrub.

They aren’t cheap, however. Depending on the US dollar exchange rate you’d be looking at about $55,000 to outfit a Landcruiser like the one on these pages.

I feel like I should, at this point, be pointing out the practical and commercial applications of Mattracks, but I keep coming back to the fact that they are just awesome fun off-road and there’s nowhere you really can’t go.

How can you put a price on that?

The Convert

Paul Horton is the operations officer for Victoria’s Country Fire Authority and a while back he identified a logistical issue at the Mount Buller Alpine Resort: "Above the snowline during winter there are 200 beds we may need to get to in case of a fire."

At the time, the local CFA was dependent on a $1.3 million Bombardier oversnow which, while capable, is heavy and has a top speed of just 8km/h.

"It could potentially have taken us 30 minutes to get to a blaze," Horton says. "That is just way too long."

He saw a video of Ken Block honing around in the snow in a Ford F-150 Raptor and inspiration hit. He got on the phone to Mattracks in the US, which then put him in touch with Fire Express Australia.

A new dual-cab LC79 Workmate was purchased and fitted with a Firexpress firefighting unit as well as a set of Mattracks. A rigorous testing regime then ensued.

"Toyota even sent some people out from Japan to observe," Horton says. "After trials, engineers pulled the thing apart to check for wear, even down to the wheel studs, and it was spot on."

 An independent engineer was also enlisted to assess the setup.

"According to the engineer’s report braking, handling and driving was improved four-fold," Horton says. "Our Landcruiser can legally travel at 60km/h, which has been sanctioned by VicRoads, and this slashes our response times. As a fire service we’re back in the game."

Toyota even kept its standard new car warranty in place.

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