We go to extremes this month, thanks to a pair of intrepid Dutch overlanders, and a well-travelled Defender-owning Irishman. Now regular readers may well recognise our Dutch friends and their glorious Toyota Land Cruiser 40-series (first featured in our May 2014 issue). At that time, the two were in Brazil where they met a group of fellow Banierante (as it was known there) Toyota enthusiasts. They had completed a great deal of travelling through South America and we were very envious of their experiences. This month, the pair are in Asia, crossing the Baluchistan Desert in south west Pakistan. This is not an area we were familiar with and discovered that it’s a remote wasteland, known to carry a risk for travellers, of which there are very few Westerners. It’s a terrific Adventure story and since they were travelling alone, with no support or obvious Plan B get-out opportunities, it has to be a journey that is really at the extreme of private overlanding. You can enjoy the tale starting on page 48 and decide yourself; foolish and foolhardy or flipping fabulous! We know where we stand, we are simply jealous, knowing also – in my case at least – it’s unlikely I’ll ever make it to the Baluchistan Desert, but you never know, it may come up as the answer in a pub quiz. That’s some consolation, I suppose.
We like a bit of nostalgia here on 4x4 Magazine; not in the tedious ‘it was better back then’ fashion, we just enjoy looking back and reflecting. This month we have been able to do this both directly and at long distance. Firstly we recognise the qualities of the original Toyota RAV4, driving a superb rebuilt version from Toyota GB. The RAV4 has been celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year, and the company decided they needed an original to add to the company’s growing heritage fleet, so they bought one – on eBay! Now we all know what was going to happen next, don’t we? The full story is on page 44 of this issue; suffice to say here that the project wasn’t quite as straightforward as first thought. The result, however, was a joy to drive; a 4x4 with a lightness of touch that you don’t get with today’s corpulent, heavily insulated, high tech, computer laden, diesel thumpers. It felt fresh and relevant and surely now deserves to be called a classic. Pick up any classic magazine these days and you’ll find people lovingly restoring some of the most ridiculous old sheds imaginable. How on earth can a Morris Marina be called a classic? Do you really want to be seen driving a Triumph Herald? And don’t get me started on things like Austin Maxis, or the ridiculously named Princess… It seems just about anything can be called a classic saloon these days; it’s about time that the 4x4 world got in on the act. The RAV4 that we drove this month, and the original Suzuki Vitara we tested in our May issue are surely real classics. I know the world of the dirty fingernails and pints of real ale will be shouting about various Land Rovers, but I’m not going in that direction, since that’s been done. Hare at 4x4 Magazine we want to see more older Toyotas, Suzukis, Jeeps and Mitsubishis rebuilt and returned to the roads. Who wouldn’t want to look at a restored Asia Rocsta? So if you own a ‘classic 4x4’, then we want to hear from you. There are enough ridiculous tinny soulless salons being called classics, let’s show them some star quality with some 4x4 classics!
This is a particularly special issue; or rather, this is an issue of Specials. We are taking a look at the fascinating world of bespoke 4x4s, built for those people who want, and can afford, something very different. Now, while taste will always be somewhat subjective, engineering and build quality is far more objective and there’s no doubt that the vehicles we are reporting about this month score highly with the latter. Maybe some of the models will upset the traditionalists, especially Land Rover fans, but to be honest, I quite enjoy doing that! Kahn Design’s long-nose Land Rover Huntsman on this month’s front cover looks just terrific to us, but maybe not to some members of the Series I Club!
We are also very pleased this month to be able to reveal the latest concept vehicles produced by Jeep, intriguingly produced by a group called the Jeep Underground. Although something that has been done before, this is actually the first time in the last few years that Jeep has released such a collection – an indication of its growing confidence, thanks to an impressive new collection of production vehicles. And for vehicles that have been called ‘concepts’, they are pretty close to being production realities, or at least special builds. Obviously the Renegade, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models that we report on could be produced, as they are all based on standard vehicles with Mopar accessories, but even the more outrageous models all drive and work as they should. Even if you are not a great fan of military 4x4s, you have to say that the Wrangler Staff Car would put a smile on your face, although not perhaps a replica US Marine helmet on your head while driving it. The Search and Rescue Wrangler would make a lot of sense, and while the window-less Chief SUV is completely barmy, you must admit that it made you smile! Imagine cruising on a sunny day with the Beach Boys ‘Surf’s Up’ on the radio (younger readers need to check out iTunes, although for proper audio excellence it has to be the vinyl original).
Given the boyish good looks and youthful sparkle of the photograph on this page, it may surprise some to realise that I have been around the block a few times; quite a few trips while travelling in a Modified vehicle, as it happens. A lot of these Modifieds have actually been of the performance, or motorsport, persuasion, starting with the humble Mini. I still have a small paperback book called Tuning The Mini, written by a guy called Clive Trickey. It was actually the third edition, published in 1972 and the first time it had been produced was way back in 1966. I always felt that the guy should go into business running a garage called Trickey Modifications, but I’m not sure that ever happened. He was, however, one of the first to recognise the less than perfect quality of the casting of the cylinder head for the, then relatively new, A-Series engine in the Mini. Attacking the head with grinding bits and emery paper he improved the whole thing, significantly improved the power output and got us enthusiasts to use words like ‘porting’ and ‘gas flow’ as if we were real engineers. Like thousands of young would-be racers, I bought a set of grinding bits, borrowed my dad’s electric drill and attacked the lump of British steel on my ‘bog standard’ Mini’s engine, making everything look nice and shiny. Bolted back on the engine, and on my first test run through the lanes in Norfolk, I was convinced that the power output of the wheezy knackered old unit had been greatly improved. Of course, the Mini went even quicker when I later spray-painted it lime green (a standard Renault colour if I remember) with a matching matt black roof. Lowering the seat, adding a throttle pedal extension. There were no limits to my modification abilities…
Last month we enjoyed our drive in one of the original modern SUVs, the Suzuki Vitara; in our view, one of the most significant SUVs ever produced, a model that started a whole new genre of ‘lifestyle’ 4x4s. Intriguing, therefore, this month we have been able to drive in the UK what is quite possibly an equally significant, but this time brand new, SUV – the Jeep Renegade. This fresh new small 4x4 could, in this writer’s view, become the most significant SUV of the decade. At a time when we are regularly bemoaning the fact that SUV manufacturers are watering down the off-road abilities of their latest models, Jeep is taking a different tack. Yes, you can get a Renegade that just has the simple on-demand four-wheel drive system – indeed, you can even get two-wheel drive models – but you can also get a full-fat Trail Rated version with the highly efficient Terrain-Selec system, which even includes a Rock crawl mode, coupled to a superb nine speed automatic. For once, having the basic option does not dilute the brand, thanks to the Trailhawk option available for those who still value a decent 4x4 system. Of course, there are no transfer levers to struggle with, but there is Low Range. Yes it is electronically selectable, and thanks to the very clever automatic gearbox, hill descents and hill start assists perhaps need less actual driving ability and rather more techniques honed by computer gamers and the tablet generation, but this is 2015 after all. That we enjoyed our beach drive over the rocks and through the soft sand on a superb private beach in Scotland, was enough. In fact, it was more than enough, it was terrific! Check out page 24 for more.