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Tuesday, 04 March 2014 11:18
April 2014 Issue of 4x4 Magazine
This month’s Oddball feature on the Maruti Gypsy got me reminiscing. A lifetime ago, well it was 1987, I was reporting on the Himalayan Rally in northern India. The main aim of my visit was to report on the exploits of two British female rally drivers competing in a near standard Unipart-sponsored Land Rover 90 (more than a quarter of a century before the recently announced Defender Challenge rally series, please note). At the time, foreigners – like me – were not actually allowed to drive hire cars in India, so we had to have a local driver. Not unsurprisingly, however, this did not go down well with us journos.
The solution involved in us leaving the poor soul with a fistful of Rupees in a hotel somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas (I often wonder if he’s still there, awaiting our return). This meant that myself, plus a British photographer, and another two journalists - one British and one Belgian - could drive the ‘Press’ Maruti Gypsy alone. Our Belgian compatriot had arrived in India with his belongings in a large brown 1930s style suitcase and insisted on carrying it with him at all times. Given that the snapper, the late and great, Hugh Bishop was something of a big lad and that he came complete with a lot of photo gear, things were cosy in the Gypsy.
As you can read on page 92, the Maruti was a Suzuki SJ (then badly) built under licence in India, and we had a particularly grimly constructed and wheezing machine, which flat out, preferably downhill, could manage a top speed of 50kph. Sometimes.
It’s better to be 70 years young than 40 years old. How appropriate, this month, is that quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Not someone I knew much about, but he seems to have been a leading light in the Supreme Court in the USA in the early part of the 20th Century. He retired at 90 days and 309 days old – which I reckon you can ‘round up’ to be 91 years young.
Why mention him? Well, I reckon old Wendell would have got on well with our contributor Les Carvall. Having finished a successful business career, Les sat back, relaxed but found that the tartan slippers weren’t best suited for his itchy feet. But instead of going fishing or sitting in his shed drinking tea, Les decided to drive around the world in a Suzuki Jimny. Now that’s quite a simple sentence to write, but it’s not an easy thing to do. The physical achievement of all that driving is one thing, the organisation of getting not one, but two Jimnys around the globe through some of the remotest parts of Asia is the bit that really impresses us. You can read the full story this month and if it doesn’t inspire you to actually do that trip you’ve always promised yourself… well then you are certainly getting old.
You need a certain maturity to compete on a rally raid event, and the Dakar in particular. For us mortals, a high-speed off-road event that covers some 5600 miles is pretty unimaginable, especially given the conditions. It’s an iconic event, ‘the Dakar’, and this year it was totally dominated by the Mini All4 Racing machines, with seven finishing in the top ten. Now that’s not a problem if they were battling it out, but sadly three stages from the end, the monstrous ‘team orders’ came into play and the top three Minis trundled across the finish line without breaking into a sweat. Don’t know about you, but that seems to devalue everyone’s efforts when that happens. Didn’t impress the organisers of this year’s event either it seems. What you cannot deny, however, is how impressive the domination of the Mini All4 Racing rally raid cars have been for the last three years.
Well, here we are in 2014. If it’s not too late, hopefully you will allow me to wish all readers and supporting advertisers a very happy New Year. Sitting in my office a few weeks before Christmas, such a comment seems ridiculously premature, but for that we can thank extraordinary printer publishing schedules. When I started as a journalist, we had manual typewriters. I thought myself jack-the-lad when I purchased a smart, slimline Olivetti portable version that allowed me to write my sports copy at an event. Typed pages, complete with Tipp-Ex corrections, were then sent to the printers. Rolls of film were developed (black and white, of course) so that galley proofs and pictures could be – manually - cut and pasted onto large design boards. Pasted with Cow Gum, which today would probably be classified as a Class B drug, such was its pungent aroma. Magazine production took forever.
Today, of course, it is all-instant; photos taken on smartphones are sent wirelessly to websites, to be live to the world in something called a nanosecond. Not so magazine printing, it seems. I am writing this long before Christmas, yet when you pick the magazine from the newsagent’s shelf, it will be some days after Twelfth Night, turkey dinners and unwanted socks will be long forgotten. Christmas will be over, and if we believe what is being clarion called from the Daily Stupid tabloids, we’ll probably be under several feet of snow.
Perhaps it’s a little like the expression ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’, but this issue has been a refreshing return to down to earth four-wheel drives. Now, there’s nothing wrong with all the shiny, brand new polished metal and exclusive leather interiors of those mega-expensive luxury 4x4s we reported on in our 4x4 Of The Year issue last month, but for most of us, they will always remain just a dream machine. I must admit that I’d be tempted with a Range Rover Sport if those lottery numbers were to come in - very tempted to be honest – but I also know that I’ll survive without one. To be honest, getting the new Hankook winter tyres fitted to our long term test Grand Vitara gave me nearly as much pleasure this month.
It’s a great competent little 4x4, and given the panic scare stories appearing on the front pages of some newspapers - the north wind will blow and we are due to have snow - a winter tyre is a must. Since I hate the cold winter weather it would be a lie to say I can’t wait, but at least I’m prepared. It was interesting to hear two different stories from the Suzuki and Toyota dealers I visited this month; Jemca Toyota in Croydon are selling winter tyres, Suzuki in Bromley are not. What will it take to convince people? Maybe if a summer tyre shod 4x4 slides into the back of the Grand Vitara this winter when I manage to stop so much quicker, I’ll get one convert. Knowing your braking distances are so much shorter in a winter tyre shod 4x4 does lead to you keep a good look in that rear view mirror.
Welcome to the 4x4 Of The Year issue. In many ways, this is the most important issue we produce, where we get as many of the latest 4x4 models to one venue and decide which one deserves our respected and coveted award. We’ve been doing this massive group test for a long time, some of us don’t even want to think how long, and this year was as good as ever with some highly significant models on test for the first time. When they were all parked up, we added the value and found that we now had a box of car keys (or key fobs) for vehicles with a total value of over £1.3million! Quite apart from blinking a little at the responsibility, and the fear that at some point we would surely mislay a set of keys, it was interesting not just to wonder at the total cost, but the variety. The enthusiasm for new 4x4s is indeed a broad church.
This year we had a number of new SUVs, together with a couple of brand new mini 4x4s and a couple of highly significant models at the very other end of the food chain. And that was despite the fact that we had no Toyota Land Cruiser this year, no BMW X5, and no popular Nissan X-Trail, all because brand new versions are on their way over the coming months but had not been released in time for our test. The world of the 4x4 is booming it would seem. Indeed we had hoped to have a new Chinese SUV for this year’s test, but it seems that will be next year, as will the new Jeep Cherokee… and probably half a dozen new offerings from Jaguar Land Rover!