4X4 TouringCar Advice

Dashing across the Simpson in a Haval H9 and Great Wall Steed – Part 1

We just crossed the Simpson Desert with two vehicles that almost no-one expected us to drive: the Haval H9 and Great Wall Steed. Follow our journey.

THIS STORY BEGINS about three years ago when a friend of mine suggested a Simpson Desert crossing starting out from Melbourne…but she only had a week’s leave. Would that be enough, she wondered? It’s taken until now for us to find out.

Seven days is a lot less time than is usually planned for such a trip and, indeed last time I did the same journey we took three weeks. Pushing it out from just seven days, this time we allowed nine days – five weekdays and two weekends – plus Friday afternoon which would be good for knocking off the first few hundred kays. Nevertheless, a quick look at the map confirmed that if we didn’t have any rest days and put in some long hours then we’d make it within our allotted time. 

And that’s as far as things went for three years. Life got in the way, but my friend kept reminding me and I eventually followed one of my personal beliefs which is that you tend to regret things you’ve not done. We declared 2017 would be the year we’d do our Simpson Desert Dash, and we set a date – 4th to 12th of November.

Now those of you with experience in desert travel are probably making little noises of disapproval at this point, because normal people travel the outback in winter, around May to August and indeed the Simpson Desert is closed from 1st December every year due to heat concerns. But that was the only date that worked for us, so that’s what we went with. Also, I was kind of keen to see what it was like coming into summer, but more on that later in our series.

The next decision was vehicles. For my friend that was easy, she had a brand-new Mitsubishi Triton and was in the process of modifying it, so, that was her sorted. She had the critical mods of suspension, long-range fuel tank and light-truck tyres plus a lot more. I had my Ford Ranger PX which is perfectly suited for this sort of travel, set up with the same sort of mods, including a 140L long range tank, heavy-duty suspension, light-truck off-road tyres, service body, UHF radio, bullbar… but, I decided not to take it. 

I thought it would be much more interesting to drive a press car over the Simpson than my own Ranger. But which one? The criteria were simple; the vehicle had to be capable, yet something that would surprise people. So, the likes of Land Rover and Toyota was out as “I crossed the Simpson in a Prado” is not exactly ground-breaking stuff.

The vehicle also had to be appropriate, I didn’t want to drag something softroader-ish and expensive, like a BMW. After some thought I settled on an Haval H9, for two reasons. Firstly, nobody believes the thing is capable of even driving down a bitumen road, let alone into and then out of the Outback. And this is because it’s Chinese, and the received wisdom is that Chinese make takeaways and not cars, and certainly not Outback-capable 4WDs. But if there’s one thing I like doing, it’s challenging the status quo and having tested the H9 off-road I knew it was pretty damn good. And, the second reason was the engine. I have written that diesel is dying, so the H9’s petrol engine was ideal to back those words with actions. 

There was one more consideration for the vehicle choice. It’s about 550km from Mt Dare, our Simpson Desert start point, to the end destination of Birdsville, much of which is sand dunes where you are lucky to average 20km/h. Most 4x4s can’t do the trip on their standard fuel tank, and I knew the 80L tank on the H9 wouldn’t cut it. The best solution is a long-range tank, either an extra tank or a larger replacement for the stock tank. None were available for the H9, so the other solution is jerry cans. I’m not real keen on carrying petrol jerries inside a car, or even on a roof rack so I thought of a better solution.

Crossing the Simpson Desert with a Great Wall Steed

A mobile fuel bower, otherwise known as a Great Wall Steed. The Great Wall company owns Haval, so the two cars made a perfect fit. The Steed would carry five 20L jerries for the H9, and four for itself as being diesel it wouldn’t be as thirsty. And nobody would expect to see a Great Wall Steed in the Simpson, so it fitted the “why take that?” part of the plan too.

Having decided on the cars the next stage was to ask for them. I prepared a long explanation of what we wanted to do and why, then called up Haval’s PR boss. The conversation went something like this:

“I’d like to drive an H9 over the Simpson,” I asked.

“Sure!” was the immediate response.

That wasn’t how I thought the conversation would play out. Maybe I hadn’t explained enough. After all, this was not your average week-long test where a journo doesn’t even use a full tank of fuel and writes about off-road capability after glancing through the manual. It wasn’t even one of my off-road tests where we actually find the limits of the vehicle. We are talking the heart of the Outback, a tough trip where you’re at least a day’s drive from the nearest settlement. A serious expedition, one that is not to be trifled with. So just to make sure, I tried again:

“Drive it across the Simpson Desert in the outback, in November. I’ll need the vehicle for about three weeks, and I’ll need roof cross rails and a second spare tyre. And I’d like to take a Steed to carry fuel and just because it’ll be cool.”

“Fine, no problem at all!”

Well, that bit was easy. But you don’t just get into your car and head off over the Simpson, at least not if you want to come back. There’s a fair bit of planning and preparation to do first… and that’s exactly what we’ll cover in the following article due out next week. Stay tuned for updates every Monday.


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!