I had a pretty good idea of how our Dmax would end up when we purchased it. The only one we could get came with the normal wellbody, or tub, which I knew had to come off.
How you set up the tray part of a ute for touring is extremely important. Weight, functionality and comfort are areas that you need to think about. I removed the tub, and replaced it with a second hand chassis mount Bull Motor Body.
Why ditch the tub?
A few 4WD's ago, I had a Hilux dual cab running a well body. I found the tub insanely impractical, and even after installing a fibreglass canopy on top it was still extremely restrictive.
Tubs take up a lot of additional room, they weigh a fair amount and they are much easier to damage than a tray. They are also very hard to secure items in properly, have limited security, leak dust and hinder your departure angle.
Options for the Dmax
Fibreglass canopy and tub
I did (briefly) consider buying a fibreglass canopy and putting it on the tub, but it just isn't suited to our application. For starters, you are looking at anywhere from 2k - 4.5k for the canopy alone. That's moving into proper gull wing canopy pricing, and I hated the idea of limited access, less space, less security and needing a rear bar to protect the back of the vehicle.
Flat tray or tub and tonneau cover
I could have swapped the tub for a tray, or just bought a hard top tonneau cover, but the lack of storage space and accessibility again put me off.
Lastly, canvas canopies are also an option, mounted on a flat tray. You can make the frame, and have canvas that rolls up. Some people install cages behind the canvas, to give your gear some security. Canvas is a great, cheaper option, but it has its drawbacks. For starters, it will never seal as well as a proper canopy. Whilst unlikely to leak water, it will let dust in. They also have a habit of flapping and requiring some maintenance over time.
They also require some effort to open and close; you have to physically unclip each section and then get the canvas out of the way. Lastly, they offer no protection from the sun or rain if you want to stand next to your canopy.
Looking into Gull Wing canopies for the Dmax
I spent many, many hours trying to find a suitable canopy for the Dmax. For those of you who've looked into steel or aluminium canopies, you will know they are expensive. When I say expensive, we are talking a minimum of 5k, and working their way into the 15 - 20k for really high end units. Yep, I'm not kidding; they are insanely expensive.
Aluminium or steel
I knew right away I wanted aluminium for the weight difference, as dual cab utes already have a tendency of chassis damage when loaded up. I approached numerous companies in Perth and the eastern states for pricing on canopies, and had quotes ranging from $5500 to $15000.
Tray or chassis mount
You can choose to mount the canopy on a tray, or straight to the chassis. Both are designed differently. If you mount it to a tray, they are much easier to remove. However, I knew the canopy would never come off, so I was open to chassis mount options. By the time you buy a tray (good luck getting a good aluminium tray for under $2000), you can save a fortune by just going chassis mount.
New or second hand
I've scored some amazing deals by buying second hand in the past, and I decided I'd have to be patient. I checked Gumtree and Facebook every day, whilst researching and getting quotes from various companies for new units.
The problem, was majority of the build starts once the canopy arrives, and without it, you can't do much at all! There are a LOT of gull wing canopies that come up for sale, especially from mining and auction places. The problem is, they are often still pretty pricey.
What did I buy?
Eventually, I stumbled across a chassis mount Bull Motor Body canopy that had come off an extra cab Hilux, and had a 450mm tray on the rear. A quick measure and I realised I could chop the tray off, and end up with a perfect dual cab canopy. The seller had it advertised for $4000, and it had a 120w solar panel and 30a regulator, 2500w inverter, dual battery cabling, lights, 50L water tank and electric pump, central locking, shelving, underbody toolboxes, was powdercoated and it was only 4 years old. It's also got decent lighting, options for bolting racking in, is tall enough for me to stand under (6"6") and has some of the best dust/water sealing on the market.
After a quick look, I picked it up for $3800. To say I was stoked was an understatement; these are top quality canopies. Whilst I was considering a custom built canopy, going with a company that purely makes these is very sensible. They are built really well, are light weight, modular and are extremely functional.
Cutting the tray off
Removing the 450mm tray off the rear left the canopy at 1700mm long. It was a relatively straight forward job, but did give me a great appreciation of how well built these units are. The bumper was re-attached to the shorter tray, and it looks pretty much like it came out of the factory.
Removing the tub and installing the canopy
The tub removal was really simple. It's attached to the chassis with 8 bolts, and then you remove the wiring, fuel latch and fuel filler spout. We lifted it off with 3 people fairly easily.
Next, I put the Bull Motor body on, allowing 40 - 50mm gap between the cab and canopy for flex. I found the Dmax fuel tank just touched the canopies water tank, so made some spacers to suit. From there, it was a matter of making more spacers to level the canopy up.
This part was frustrating, as I had 3attempts at getting it level. It's almost an eyeball thing, as there's nothing you can really level the canopy off. With a variety of packers though, you'll get it right fairly quickly. Once its bolted down, I removed the plugs from the factory Dmax lights, and got a friend to solder them onto the canopy bumper lights.
The mud guards were easy to go back on, and the fuel filler was a little more tricky. I managed to make a bracket up to keep it out of the way, but not twist the factory hoses and still allow fuel to flow in easily.
Now the build can begin
EDIT: the build is finished. If you want to see the full setup, have a look at this - Isuzu Dmax 4WD for touring Australia.
Now that the major part of the vehicle is sorted, we can go about setting the canopy up to be functional, light weight and easy to use. I plan on installing a 150ah AGM, Projecta IDC25 DCDC charger, 200W solar panel, our 55L Evakool Fridge, some Oates drawers, pull out table and somewhere to keep recovery gear and tools. The focus will be on simplicity, budget, weight and of course functionality.
Other than that, we've fitted a HPD catch can, and have a Fuel manager pre filter, Redarc brake controller and ICOM UHF to go in.
I'll be ordering a Bull Bar, winch, differential breathers, snorkel, tyres, suspension kit and bash plates, and that will probably do it!
What canopy have you gone with?
Are you happy with your style of canopy? What do you dislike about it? I will do a post in the future covering the various pros and cons of different setups, but for now you probably get the idea that gull wing canopies are a great solution for touring.