MuleWagon 80 Series Ute Chop
Joe Marshall, Mule Expedition Outfitters co-owner and mastermind behind the MuleWagon build; (photo/Bryon Dorr)

Turn Your SUV Into a Pickup: The ‘Ute Chop’ Will Transform American Off-Road Touring

An idea commonplace in the land down under, the ‘ute chop’ makes its way to the U.S. by way of the MuleWagon.

If you didn’t already know, a “ute chop” is the conversion of an SUV into a pickup. Usually, this involves chopping the cab of a body-on-frame SUV and adding a flatbed ute tray. This is a relatively common vehicle style in places like Australia, but rarely will you see it in North America.

You’re probably asking why you’d do such a thing to a perfectly good SUV — a valid question! Ute chopping adds utility, capability, and a rugged, cool aesthetic.

By doing a ute chop, you can create a mid-size, super-capable flatbed truck that has an impressive load capacity. And the U.S. market really doesn’t have anything like it (the Jeep Gladiator being the closest OEM option).

Of course, a ute chop is neither inexpensive nor a small undertaking. You will need money, time, and skilled custom fabricators to do it right.

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

MuleWagon: Ute Chop Land Cruiser

While not the first ute chop to hit North American backroads, Mule Expedition Outfitters’ (MEO) most recent build, the MuleWagon, stands as one of the most impressive. The off-road touring vehicle is built on a 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser 80-Series with a MITS Alloy tray and canopy system.

Sold with nearly 300,000 miles on the clock, the base SUV had a lump of an iron-block straight 6 under the hood and a rough interior. Luckily for this build, the body, frame, and axles were all this beast really needed, and they were still in good shape.

Ute Chop

First up, the Land Cruiser went under the knife. The body was cut just forward of the rear wheel arch. Then, the rear of the cab was closed out with sheet metal after a 3D scan and computer modeling. The team also deleted the sunroof with some custom sheet metal work.

Next up, the frame. It was cut just behind the rear wheels, after which MEO mounted a custom rear frame clip with an integrated winch mount and skid plate. This optimized the frame for the flatbed installation, improved the departure angle, and stiffened up the chassis.

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

Next for install was a MITS Alloy 5.5-foot tray with a 4-foot canopy system. Completing this ute system were dual spare tire mounts, solar panels, a roof rack with an Alucab Shadow 270 awning, dual spare tire mounts, and a full-length trundle drawer out back.

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

Inside the canopy is a full power system with Blue Oasis LiPOE batteries, Redarc power management, and a massive Dometic 75L fridge/freezer. All these systems are complemented by a configurable interior system that featured a sliding drawer with a compound sliding shelf, as well as a ClearView fridge drop-slide.

More Power

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

The anemic, gas-guzzling, and extremely heavy stock motor had to go. In its place went a 495-horsepower aluminum-block Chevy Performance LS3 crate motor. This not only ramped up the power considerably but also provided better fuel economy. It’s also a whopping 500 pounds lighter!

A streamlined custom 4-inch stainless steel snorkel ensures that the big, shiny, new engine breathes easy with cool, clean, fresh air.

Outfitted

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

Of course, this build wouldn’t be complete without a total overhaul of the running gear and rolling stock. The axles were beefed up with Nitro CroMoly shafts, regeared to 4.88 gearing, ARB AirLockers were installed, and a massive six-piston Power Brake upgrade was fitted up front.

MEO also installed a 2-inch coil lift, along with upgrading sway bars and Old Man Emu BP-51 shocks. That lift allowed for meaty 37-inch mud-terrain Yokohama Geolander tires to fit on TeraFlex Nomad wheels. The burly wheels feature integrated rub rings and air dump valves.

The MuleWagon also features Come Up winches at both ends, with a classic ARB bull bar supporting the front one. Victory 4×4 rock sliders keep the cleaned and repainted bodywork protected from rocks, while a FrontRunner roof rack carries two sets of Maxtrax and two Wolfpack Pro storage boxes.

A variety of Baja Designs LEDs and headlights with IPF LED bulb upgrades take care of lighting all around the truck.

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

But it doesn’t stop there — a bevy of electronics upgrades grace the MuleWagon’s interior. It features PRP Enduro Elite Recliner seats, which are heated, offer adjustable lumbar support, and even have a goggle and hydration pack pocket.

A four-point safety harness attaches to a custom half cage with an integrated harness bar. Completing the interior is a custom shifter console housing a Winters ArtCar gated shifter.

Other Options

Tacoma with Norweld tray and canopy
Tacoma with Norweld tray and canopy; (photo/Bryon Dorr)

While a ute chop can create a truly impressive custom build, you do have other options to achieve somewhat similar results. The way to do this is to take an off-road-capable mid-size truck, remove the OEM truck bed, and add a ute tray.

Custom chopped Jeep Gladiator with PCOR flatbed/canopy setup
Custom chopped Jeep Gladiator with PCOR flatbed/canopy setup; (photo/Bryon Dorr)

A number of U.S. companies make flatbeds, but the best quality, most versatile, and lightest seem to come out of Australia. Companies like PCOR 4×4, Norweld, and MITS Alloy have all been importing aluminum tray and canopy systems for a few years now and are readily available across North America.

By using an OEM truck, you cut out all the custom fab work a ute chop requires, along with the associated costs. What you won’t have, however, is the super unique custom ute that will turn heads wherever you go.

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(Photo/Bryon Dorr)
Bryon Dorr
By

Bryon Dorr caught the outdoor adventure addiction through whitewater kayaking, and worldwide adventures to remote places ensued. He crafted his own professional path as a photographer, journalist, and marketing consultant in the automotive and outdoor industries, while full-time overland traveling for nearly 8 years. You’ll usually find him out exploring by 4x4, adventure motorcycle, or sports car while seeking out opportunities to ski, mountain bike, and kayak. Bryon now has a home base in Portland, OR with his wife and young daughter.