This dark grey 79 Series, sitting proud on chunky Coopers, is country through and through. A serious four-wheel drive for touring, climbing out of farm bogs or maybe motivating another set of hit songs. This is country music star Lee Kernaghan’s fourth LandCruiser ute; back in 1993 the first inspired She’s My Ute –

Kickin’ past the dealers on the edge of townSaw a lot of pretty pickupsNot a ute to be foundTwin cam Jap foursA bloke’d be nutsGive me a six or an eightA four wheel mateThe dents and the dust
And the grasshopper guts …

She’s my ute: Lee Kernaghan behind the wheel of his fourth LC ute

Queensland-based Lee has long loved 4WD utes, well before the genre reached the suburbs.

“It’s interesting that ute culture exploded in the early 1990s and it was around that time I wrote my first ute song, She’s My Ute, and that’s gone on to be like a classic,” he says.

“It was an interesting time because, until then, utes were just like farm vehicles, utility vehicles,” says Lee, high up in South-East Queensland’s McPherson Range. “But then they became so much more, and they say a lot about the driver. I played at that first Deniliquin Ute Muster in 1999 and I’ve always felt a real affinity for ute culture.”

Raising back-road dust and utes often feature in Lee’s first 14 albums. His career took off with the release of The Outback Club in 1992, adding a rock ’n’ roll swagger and driving tempos to country music. Since then, he’s sold more than two million albums, has had 41 number one hits, won 38 Golden Guitars and four ARIA awards. He received the Order of Australia medal in 2004 and was Australian of the Year in 2008 for work raising funds, and spirits, for outback and regional ommunities in need.

In 2022 there’s already a new three-CD set collecting 30 years of his music, songwriting and concerts, The Very Best Of Lee Kernaghan – Three Decades of Hits plus Live at the Deni Ute Muster, 23 tracks recorded at Deniliquin Ute Muster’s 21st anniversary. Plus, he is writing yet another album in his bolt-hole in the range.

Four-wheelin’

It’s up here in lush green bush paddocks, as much as it is out in the Channel Country or a weekend’s hardcore driving at LandCruiser Mountain Park, where Lee counts on a decent vehicle to get away with partner Robby and sons Rock and Jet.

“I’ve tried to keep it as standard as possible and just do the necessary upgrades for extreme off-road,” Lee explains. He left Toyota’s V8 motor and transmission standard, then planned out what he wanted on this graphite-coloured dual cab – built in late 2020 and then wrangled out of a Darwin dealer – before handing over much of the outfitting to his mate Roger Vickery at ARB Caboolture.

Bullbar and side-rails, plus the winch, are Toyota factory fittings. Also up front are a pair of ARB Intensity driving lights and a Safari snorkel – all proven and reliable gear.

Then there’s an Old Man Emu suspension lift with BP-51 shocks and steel Dynamic wheels with 25mm offset up front and 50mm offset on the rear, to square up the LandCruiser’s track widths.

“It’s got everything tracking beautifully,” Lee says. “When these wheels and tyres went on, you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face, it was just so good.

“These Cooper STT Pros (315/70R17) are muddies, but they’re great on the highway as well. And incredibly capable off road. That was the thing that really took the ute to a new level. On the highway they’re really, really good and they’ve got maximum grip in the wet. I just love ’em so much.”

Lee’s just as happy with the Gold Coast-built PCOR tray and its 60-litre pressurised water tank, twin compressors, slide-out drawers and “lots of lights which are really handy when you’re camping out”. He baptised this new ute with a trip to Birdsville and Old Cork Station; that’s where an ARB Elements fridge, fixed permanently to the tray, also came in handy.

“It’s a ball tearer. It’s hooked up to an Invicta lithium battery, sits there and runs 24/7. Just awesome; keeps the drinks super-duper cold.”

Helping out with power is a solar panel on the Rhino roof rack – minus the ARB awning for now after Lee slid off a greasy track and glanced a tree in his mountain paddock.

For helping others out of sticky spots, Lee’s 79 Cruiser has a Hayman Reese X-Bar fitted with tow hitch and three recovery points.

It all adds up to a good-looking truck, a handsome marriage of style and substance with a meaningful road stance.

PCOR tray includes slide-out drawers among its features

Departmentalised

The four-door cabin has been done over with Department of the Interior fittings from new centre console to overhead console for the GME UHF radio. Then there are extra USB outlets, more cupholders plus custom-made speaker pods front and rear. Hit-making musicians need a well-sorted stereo.

“The boys from the Department of the Interior really went to town on this,” said Lee. “So I’ve got a Kenwood head with a Focal audio system with 1200-watt five-channel amplifier and 10-inch sub-woofer behind the back seat, and it just cranks.”

On the pragmatic side, the Cruiser’s cabin windows have a deep and solar-reflecting tint for the glass and there’s a set of Sand Grabba floor mats; Lee learnt the hard way not to get in to the mud without them. (And, through Queensland’s Big Wet of early 2022, those Cooper tyres were also much appreciated for traction on his 50-acre bush block.)

For now Lee Kernaghan is not wanting for anything more on this latest ute, now with some 18,000km on the clock. It’s family friendly and capable, he says, for anything from a trip far back in to the mulga or poking around his mountain retreat.

“During that wet spell we had, I don’t think there’s any other vehicle that could’ve got through up here in the ranges,” Lee said. “It was horrendous.”

Up here, where locals believe the mountains have a special energy, has been home to much of Lee’s songwriting through the years. But ute and 4WD songs are more likely inspired by getting out and dirty; Baptise the Ute was released in 2002 after a weekend at LandCruiser Park. “It was almost like it wrote itself,” Lee revealed.

As you’d expect, the sound system befits a music star

I saw the uteI heard the voiceI knew I had to make her mineShiny and red, on the showroom floorI scratched my name on the dotted lineI’m on a mission, the Grand TraditionThere’s only one thing left to doThere’s a clay pan, there’s a big old mud holeGunna take my brand-new baby right on throughBaptise the uteBaptise the ute
You won’t be satisfied until you do

Lee’s favourite escape remains a western Queensland run. “Out through Thargomindah, Noccundra, Innamincka, up through the Stony Desert, back up to Birdsville,” he tells us. “I feel the weight of the world comes off your shoulders the further west you head, there’s an incredible sense of freedom out there.”

And Lee Kernaghan knows his well-dressed LandCruiser 79 Series will get him there, and back, with comfort and competence.

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