The off-road pickup segment has exploded in recent years, leading automakers to introduce several intriguing new models that cater to the niche. Take Toyota, for example—drivers in the market for a new Toyota Tacoma for sale now have seven distinct trims to choose from, including three ready-made off-road trims in the TRD Off-Road, TRD Pro, and Trailhunter.
From new front springs and FOX internal-bypass shocks that give the pickups a 1.1- to 1.5-inch lift to skid plates, electronic-locking rear differentials, Kevlar-lined all-terrain tires, and more, these Tacomas are ready to be driven straight from the dealership to your nearest off-road trails. That said, customization has always been a big part of off-road culture, with drivers spending countless hours tinkering with their rides and upping their off-road components.
The Tacoma is certainly well-equipped right out of the box, but when you’re tackling some of the most challenging terrain around, a few upgrades can never hurt. In the off-road suspension game, one name comes up time and time again: Old Man Emu. This Australian brand—owned by off-road accessory supplier ARB—has been making some of the hardiest, battle-tested off-road gear since 1976. Let’s take a closer look at Old Man Emu’s background and product lineup and see how and why this company has become one of the undisputed leaders in the 4×4 equipment industry.
Out of the Frying Pan…
To understand just how rugged Old Man Emu suspensions are, it’s helpful to look at the landscape that helped inspire the brand. For those who’ve never ventured Down Under, it can be tough to wrap your mind around just how harsh and unforgiving this continent can be.
Australia is similar in size to the contiguous US but has just 7% of the population, with a vast majority of residents sticking within 100 miles of either the eastern or southern coasts. The country’s dry, desert-like interior—commonly known as the Outback—is a ruthless crucible for humans and vehicles alike, threatening to trap any ill-prepared adventurers in a veritable frying pan of beating sun and deadly wildlife. Just imagine if everything between Las Vegas and Cleveland was a vast, semi-arid desert filled with giant bugs, snakes, and 100-plus-degree temps, and you’ll start to get the picture.
While most drivers in their right mind would steer well away from such an imposing environment, the Outback has always attracted a unique breed of hardscrabble trailblazers. From Alfred Canning—an Australian surveyor who mapped the 1,150-mile Canning Stock Route cattle track from Halls Creek to Wiluna—to Len Beadell, the “the last true Australian explorer” who surveyed and constructed 3,700 miles of Outback roads, this region provides the ultimate test for Man versus Nature, not to mention Machine.
It was from these early Outback explorations that a new form of off-roading was born. ‘Overlanding,’ as it’s known, describes any off-road journey to a remote destination wherein the ride itself—not any specific obstacles one might encounter—is the primary focus. Originating amongst the cattle drivers who would use the trails cut by the likes of Canning and Beadell to bring their far-flung Outback herds to market, overlanding became a popular hobby in the 1940s and ’50s as adventurous travelers developed a taste for the privacy and thrills that this off-road endurance pursuit could provide.
Off-roading had come a long way since Canning and Beadell coaxed their early 4x4s through the Outback, but the sport was still largely relying on improvised, homemade components when ARB founder Tony Brown took a trip through the Outback’s Top End region in 1975. Brown’s Series 1 Land Rover took its fair share of bumps and bruises along his journey, necessitating the replacement of countless components and inspiring a new business venture in the process. Brown returned to Melbourne an inspired man, determined to craft a new line of heavy-duty equipment that could withstand the rigors of the 4WD lifestyle. ARB—short for Anthony Ronald Brown—would be founded in 1976, giving Brown a chance to share his durable off-road components with the world.
Old Man Emu joined the ARB empire a little over a decade later, with Brown leveraging the company’s background in off-road racing to expand ARB’s growing portfolio of products. For those who are curious about the name, the inspiration for Old Man Emu’s unusual moniker can be credited to two sources: the fact that an emu—a large, flightless bird similar to an ostrich—can maintain stability while tearing across desert terrain at high speeds, and a 1970 song of the same name written and recorded by Australian country singer John Williamson (and famously covered by Australian kid’s music sensation, The Wiggles).
The acquisition was the perfect parking for ARB’s growing business, allowing the company to perfect Old Man Emu’s products in the unforgiving desert climate. Today, ARB produces Old Man Emu suspension products for over 200 distinct 4WD models, allowing off-roaders of every shape and size to enjoy the unparalleled performance of these battle-tested suspension products. So what makes Old Man Emu products so special in the crowded market of off-road components? Well…
The Wisdom of an Old Man
Modern pickups are a far cry from the bare-bones 4WD vehicles that first explored the Outback, with automakers introducing new, off-road-minded models with each passing year. From so-called “soft-roaders” (which do little more than look the part) to driver favorites like the Toyota Land Cruiser and full-fledged desert racing supertrucks, the average driver has never enjoyed quite such a diverse selection of off-road vehicles. With so many capable off-roaders already on the market, it might beg the question: Why upgrade your pickup’s suspension in the first place? Well, it all comes down to how you plan to use it.
Just like a truck designed to be a comfortable, around-town daily driver might not excel as a heavily-laden work truck, different off-road specialties require entirely different suspension setups. The wear-and-tear faced by a typical off-road model—as well as the added weight of supplies, available wheel travel, and traction-related issues—necessitate a slightly more bespoke approach, which is where Old Man Emu’s suspension products come in. Designed to prioritize ride quality and control across specific types of terrain and driving styles, Old Man Emu products are tailor-made to get the job done.
The average vehicle suspension is specially designed to work within the model’s gross vehicle mass (GVM), which describes the weight of an empty vehicle plus the weight of the maximum payload it was designed to carry. Within this range, most off-the-shelf pickups perform well enough, but once you start weighing them down with the sort of heavy equipment you might need for your next off-road excursion—like spare tires, fuel, and water—it’s all too easy to run afoul of the GVM. This can have a noticeable impact on your ride, making for muddy steering, poor cornering and braking, and even issues with headlight alignment.
That’s where shocks, springs, and struts come in. Shocks are the centerpiece of any suspension setup, and Old Man Emu offers two different options to work with. First is the Nitrocharger Sport shock absorbers—twin-tube, nitrogen-filled shocks tuned to work with a variety of spring designs. These feature more discs within the valve than your average shocks, ensuring consistent performance no matter how fast you’re tearing through the off-road environment. Their twin-tube design protects the shock’s internal components from the dents and dings that come with punishing off-road use, so you’ll never have to worry about taking it easy.
For those seeking a more practical suspension setup, Old Man Emu’s BP-51 internal bypass shock absorbers are designed to excel in both on- and off-road scenarios, and the rebound and compression can both be easily adjusted by the driver to cater to a wide range of driving styles. They might not be quite as heavy-duty as the Nitrocharger Sport design, but the BP-51 is ideal for any driver who wants the ability to tailor the feel of their ride at a moment’s notice.
But there are lots of companies that produce aftermarket suspension kits, so how is Old Man Emu different? In a word, customization.
Unlike many other aftermarket suspension brands, Old Man Emu designs its products to perfectly complement specific models, meaning you’ll have a suspension that was fabricated with your off-roader’s exact dimensions, design, and quirks in mind. This tailor-made approach means you’ll enjoy unparalleled performance in off-road scenarios, giving you the ability to haul heavier loads without worrying about the impact on your overall ride quality and responsiveness—and a smooth ride means less fatigue, allowing off-road drivers to spend more time on the trail while improving their overall safety.
For most drivers, a suspension overhaul starts and ends with the replacement of the current shock absorbers, struts, and springs, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on what sort of terrain you’re going to be encountering or what specific off-road niches you’re looking to explore, a suspension upgrade could also include everything from sway bars, control arms, and new bushings protected by greasable shackle to anti-inversion plates that prevent the leaf spring from inverting at full extension, adjustable drag links and caster correction kits that enable easier steering, spring trims packers to reduce noise, and more.
In addition to its flagship products like the Nitrocharger Sport and BP-51 shock absorbers, Old Man Emu also offers a hardy lineup of leaf springs suited to every off-roading style, as well as greasable shackles that continually lubricate the leaf spring’s urethane bushings, which means less time on maintenance and more time out on the trail.
Old Man Emu’s coil springs are built from a proprietary blend of micro-alloyed spring steel, which offers some of the best corrosion and sagging resistance in the industry. These coil springs can also go a long way toward improving an off-roader’s ride height, which is a crucial factor in many off-road excursions. Of course, no off-roader is complete without a set of torsion bars, which effectively complement the coils to improve overall ride quality by reducing the twisting force exerted on the vehicle; these work especially well when paired with a full Old Man Emu suspension setup, specifically rear coil or leaf springs.
Upgrades From Down Under
From cutting-edge shocks like the Nitrocharger Sport and BP-51 internal bypass products to leaf and coil springs, torsion bars, greasable shackles, and more, Old Man Emu’s products are one of the easiest ways to level up your off-roading game. With a storied background and designs informed by some of the toughest off-road conditions in the world, Old Man Emu has learned a thing or two about building heavy-duty components that will stand the test of time.
For those who’re just cutting their teeth in the ways of off-roading, stock models like the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road, TRD Pro, and Trailhunter provide the perfect starting point, but as soon as you develop an appetite for the road less traveled, some upgrades might be in order. If you’re looking to take your off-roading experience to the next level, Old Man Emu suspension products are one of the easiest and wisest ways to realize those dreams.