Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Amarok – Any good?

I have just completed over 5000 kms in one of these through Namibia. I hit lots of tar, gravel and even some reasonably challenging off-road bits. So it is any good?

There is no point in doing a test on any pick-up without comparing it to the others. For this, I must divide the offerings in two categories: not worth considering and, difficult to choose between them. In the first are all the Nissans, all the Chinese buckets of bolts, the funny looking Indian things and even the Isuzu. Right now, only the Hilux and the brilliant new Ranger fit into the second. So, the question is, in which category does the Amarok fit?

Let’s see. On the open tar, the 2.0L pulls extremely well. Seats didn’t give me backache during three full days in the vehicle, almost without a break. The cab is extremely wide and a nice place to be. The gear lever is very notchy and it took me a while to like it. The instruments and layout are fine. No medals, but nothing wrong either. But I couldn’t play my iPod music because there is no connection or Bluetooth. Bad VW!! Don’t you know that not many people use CDs any more?
Cruise control is faultless and the motor pulls up and down hills at 120 kph, and overtakes are easy. Economy was outstanding.

In town it’s a big car with poor rear visibility. My wife did not enjoy driving it at all. And the worst part of all, the engine produces very low torque at low revs so stalling is a regular occurrence, especially in reverse (reverse gear is a higher ratio than first). It was very annoying and frustrating. I did get used to it, but it took quite some time. I found myself slipping the clutch quite often, which I hate to do.

Rough expedition tracks. The ride is good and the loadbay is huge. The canopy supplied (SA-Canopy Carryboy) was as useful as a chocolate kettle. It let in huge amounts of dust, the catches broke several times and each time we spend a good hour trying to get them to latch properly.

Off-road. The four-wheel drive and low range engagement was quick and painless. Low range is nice and low, and the hill climbs were tackled easily. It has a rear diff-lock, which I avoided using, as I wanted to find out what it could do without it - and it did well. Clearance looks to me to be average. On down hill compression descents the Amarok drove truly brilliantly. The hill-descent-control works extremely well and the speed limit setting is just right.

Conclusion. After getting used to the stalling on pull off, my Namibia experience was only made better by this very enjoyable vehicle. I like the Amarok very much, and it easily fits into category two. Would I prefer a larger engine? Sure, but at what price in economy? So would I choose the Amarok over a Hilux or Ranger? I honestly don’t know. I would have to jump back into those two, to remind myself just how good they are.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Brand new TV show

Hi All

My new TV series is about to go out on DSTV, Ch 265 (Ignition TV) Watch the promo here. I still haven't completed the shoots, having a last one to do with the Arctic Trucks' Hilux, in Knysna. The show's on every weekend from November 17th, 8.30 pm Saturday and Sunday. I hope you enjoy the show. It's some of my best work! Cheers for now, Andrew.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Video Blog and some personal stuff

I'm going to take a bit of a liberty this week and not write my normal blog. Instead I've recorded one while driving from my home near Cape Town to Gauteng. This written blog is of a more personal nature.

It's been a memorable few months, both for good and bad reasons. My wife Gwynn has finally released her first novel, after an exhausting, four-month blog tour. We've had the nastiest winter I can remember here in the Cape and some shooting of the video trailer for Gwynn's book was a real battle against the weather. Then the process was interrupted with me having to rush off to assist my parents when my Dad fell critically ill. I finally completed the shooting and editing of the trailer just before having to rush back to my father's side. He passed away on Tuesday at a little after 7pm. He was one of the greatest people I ever new. His compassion for others, unbridled generosity and wicked sense of humour are irreplaceable. We never had a normal conversation. We always laughed.

The picture shows me and my Dad doing what we both really loved - flying in my plane.

My 4x4 video blog:

Gwynn's book blog:

The book video trailer:

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The dysfunctional family

I recently had a very bad experience with a South African trailer manufacturer and wonder how many others out there are having similar problems.

The nature of trailer design is that most components are standard but there are always items that are customized. And this is where the trouble starts.

In my case I ordered a trailer for a client from Desert Wolf. It was to be their standard Lynx model with some customizations. I was required to place a 50% deposit and then, after telling me that ‘it’s almost complete’, asked to make another payment totaling over 95% of the total bill. I got on an airplane and flew up to Gauteng to see the progress, take pictures and report to client. When I arrived, the trailer consisted of a pile of pre-fabricated stainless sheets. There wasn’t even a chassis.

The project was ordered three months before the client was due to arrive from Thailand and go on his trip. Two weeks before his arrival, I got back on a plane. This time there was at least a chassis, but no wheels, and the body was not much more than a shell. So Desert Wolf had to rush the final phase, leaving no time at all for corrections. There where two serious ones, and neither could be sorted before the client would arrive. So the trailer was shipped to Cape Town where R&D Off-road toiled over a weekend to get things right. But even that wasn’t enough to get it all right and some things had to wait for the client to return from his first trip. Desert Wolf’s local agent did sort out a few minor teething problems, but that was all. I fitted the bill for all the corrective work.

Now here comes the real nub… Desert Wolf claims that there is an outstanding amount owning, which I dispute, and which totals about 2% of the total invoice.
But no matter who is right or wrong in this, because of it, Desert Wolf is refusing to honour the warrantees on their trailer. They like to call theirs, ‘The Desert Wolf Family’. It would seem it’s a highly dysfunctional one.

Warning. When paying for any project, withhold a substantial sum before final delivery. Don’t be foolish and trust the supplier. (Like I did) As with Desert Wolf, the only time when my complaints were responded to with any energy was when there was money involved. Once they had my cash, their service and response to my requests fell on deaf ears and their levels of service were shameful.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Defender replacement - a hoax

Last year the magazines and motoring press were awash with horror stories that Land Rover was about to release the replacement to the Defender in the form of the DC100. It caused such a stir for two reasons: Firstly, it was nothing remotely like the vehicle it was destined to replace, and secondly, it was a hoax.

The DC100 was developed as a concept car and sent out to cause as much of a ruckus as possible. I even fell for it. How can a two door, short-wheelbase vehicle, with low profile tyres and a stylish SUV appeal be a truck? It can’t, can it? Land Rover’s only mistake was, that for while we all thought you were a bunch of ignorant morons, with no clue as to what or who drives your cars. But the truth is far from what the press has to say (That’s a good lesson for life generally).

The furore over the DC100 has been unprecedented, and from it Land Rover learnt two main lessons: Defender owners will hate it. And, lots of people who couldn’t care less what a Defender is, will love it, and would rush out and buy it.

Land Rover, I am told, is taking the Defender replacement very seriously, calling in users from inside and outside the company all over the world to find out what they want. They’ve been testing Land Cruisers, Merc G-Wagens and Nissans, to name a few, to compare and ask to be compared. As someone who has always loved the Defender, I am confident that whatever comes will be a vehicle suitable to replace the Defender and hopefully will keep some of its character. No easy job. But it will be a modern vehicle, that is far, far easier to live with (that part, not very difficult).


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The fight of the three 4x4 titans - Disco, Prado, Pajero

For decades, the three titans of the mid-range, luxury 4x4 off-road wagon market have beed the Land Rover Discovery, Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Prado. There are others in the segment, namely the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Terracan, but they have not been fierce contenders, mainly because they aren’t very good. Some may suggest that vehicles like the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 should also mentioned, but they aren’t off roaders. They are just SUVs with four-wheel drive. There is a huge difference.

At first the Prado lead on-road, while the Discovery lead off-road. Then when the Discovery-2 was launched, it plummeted to the worst off-road, and it stayed worst on it. It’s fall from grace was due solely to some stupid person in the development team deciding to remove the centre diff lock and to force the vehicle to rely solely on its mostly pathetic traction-control for all its grip. The result was a vehicle that had pitifully poor traction off road. At this stage the Prado lead both off road and on it, the Pajero remaining steadfastly the middle runner.

Enter Discovery-3. When it arrived, so did its brand new traction control, which happily, worked. And it worked superbly. And with it, ride height control. It shot straight back to the leader in the off-road stakes, and amazingly, easily matched the Prado on-road. Mitsubishi, it seemed, had lost interest in its Pajero and did almost nothing. It fell to worst off road and worst on it - where it remains today. But the big question now is, how does the Prado stack up against the Discovery-4. It too has traction control, and the VX model has a lockable rear differential. Both vehicles have clever electronics and both are brilliant long-distance cruisers. Is there a winner? Yes I think there is, but it depends what you are looking for.

If you want long distance comfort and a diesel, the Discovery wins hands down. No contest. The Prado diesel is a lame horse by comparison. But the petrol model is a different story. The Toyota still doesn’t perform as well, performance and towing wise as the Discovery, but it’s great. Overall comfort, the VX Prado and the Discovery-4 are a tie. As vehicles to live with, day-by-day, I prefer the Discovery, for a few reasons. It’s very light and airy interior is a much more pleasant place to be, compared to the comparatively dark and gloomy Prado. Ride quality to, and the Disco is a bit better, but not much. On corrugations and a rough track, again, the Disco wins by a nose. But the Discovery’s split tailgate is, for me, a deal clincher. A drop-down tailgate is something that very few vehicles have, because it’s more expensive to make two doors and than one. The Range Rover has it, as does the Land Cruiser-200. But the Pajero, Prado and even the Range Rover Evoque, do not. I have lived with both, and it’s something that makes living with a station-wagon such a huge pleasure.

As an overland vehicle, the Discovery has only two downfalls, which are not shared by the Prado. The wheel size of 19” cannot be reduced to fit more practical tyres and, the ride height automatically drops to its ‘normal’ setting at only 55-kph, low enough to be very annoying at times. Are these two deal breakers? Maybe. As for the electronics; the Prado VX has just as much, so the two tie. However the Prado TX does not. Its suspension is old fashioned springs (not air-springs) and the chassis is the same as the old one, which means a good ride on most surfaces, very good off-road, you can modify it with smaller wheel rims and even give the clearance a bit of a lift. But alas, the D4D engine. It’s just too flat for that vehicle. Sure, you can live with it, but unfortunately for me, I’ve been driving in a diesel Discovery-4 these past few months, and I can confidently say, it’s even better that the V8 petrol version, for many reasons, not just economy.

So there it is. Soon, the Pajero, with its dated styling, even more dated engine and old fashioned ergonomics, is being left so far behind, I wander what will replace it?

As the shooting for my TV series comes to a close, the time to hand the Discovery back looms. Of the Prados, Pajeros, Jeeps, Porsche, Subarus, Land Cruisers, Fortuners, Hiluxes, Mahindras, Patrols, Fords and the rest, I can count on one hand the test vehicles that I’ve been truly disappointed to give back. Discovery-4 is near the top of that short list. What’s at the top? Porsche Cayenne, if you must know.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A roof tent or ground tent? A tough decision:

What’s good about a roof tent:

·      Secure from wild animals, to a point.
·      Secure from scorpions. Insect security varies with quality.
·      Takes a shorter time to erect than a ground tent, perhaps by 20%.
·      Some are awkward to pack up and return to its cover. Some are easier.
·      If the ground is not level, the vehicle can be made level with rocks etc.
·      If you move around a lot, the vehicle rocks to and fro.
·      The mattress and sleeping bags can be left inside as the tent is folded away, saving space in the vehicle. A huge advantage.
·      Some models of rigid (boxed) roof tents can be extremely easy to erect and pack away. Others are not, so insist you practice it in the shop!

What’s NOT good about a roof tent:

·      Must be collapsed and packed away fully before the vehicle can be moved, for a game drive etc.
·      You have to be a bit of a contortionist to get dressed and undressed inside.
·      Heavy. Reduces remaining weight permitted on roof. Lifts the centre of gravity.
·      Even the large ones can only sleep two adults, and even then it’s cramped. Leave the bags in the vehicle.
·      If you are getting on in age, you have to climb on the rack to unpack and repack, which on a slippery ladder in the early morning can be hazardous. Over 50s’ – take this seriously!

What’s good about a ground tent:

·      Tents advertised as 3-man bow tents can easily accommodate three adults and their bags. Others can barely fit two people, so don’t judge a tent by its packaging.
·      Often less effort to pack away, depending on the make.
·      Self-standing which means far more convenient.
·      You can almost stand up.
·      By comparison, far less weight and can be carried anywhere.

What’s NOT good about a ground tent:

·      Less secure from wild animals although they are not a real danger, more a perceived one.
·      Scorpions - keeping the flap zipped up is more important.
·      Tent must be emptied when packed away.
·      If there is no level ground or it’s covered with rocks, too bad! The ground can be very hard and cold.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coincidence? I think not. More on Zimbabwe

Last week a met a man at my flying club who told me he was from Zimbabwe. I had told him that I had recently gone there on a look-and-see trip to find out if it was still as bad as people (including me) thought. I found out that he had lived there, when I did. That was back in 1966, when I was six. We had stayed just six months, living in a thatched cottage not far from what was then called Salisbury. Then he got talking about his primary school - Highlands. The coincidences came one on top the other. He also lived in Highlands. It turned out that not only did he live in the same suburb, he went to the same school and his sister was in my class. Not only that - he lived in the same street - on the same side of the road about ten houses apart. Now why am I telling you this, you may ask?

Because it’s my job to get things right, especially when people’s safety is at stake. This man was a blessing to many a would-be Zimbabwe visitor. He explained that he had travelled from Beit Bridge to Vic Falls, and onto northern Zambia in February this year. (Three months ago) And his story was the polar opposite from my own. It had taken more than US$1000 in bribes to get him through the country. The police would stop them, arrest them without even asking questions, and tell them they had to pay a spot fine or see a magistrate in three days, and while they waited, it would be in a jail cell. The offence was sometimes speeding, when in fact the radar camera was not on display and the actual speed bore no resemblance to that claimed. There were claims that the front reflectors were not the right size and others ridiculous charges. They had also been hijacked in Harare. This I am told (and was warned during my visit) is common practice. In the centre of Harare, gangs will spike a tyre and when you pull over to repair it, you are hijacked and your cameras, wallets and cell phones are taken. The warning is, even if you destroy a tyre – drive on! Even if you wait until the ‘coast is clear’, they wait, hidden and wait until your backs are turned.

So, my conclusions… would I take my family on a motoring holiday through Zimbabwe? I'm not that keen any more.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Zimbabwe is great!

Zimbabwe is, how can I say this without sounding harsh?... a hole. It’s a friendly hole. Even a fairly clean hole. But it seems like a deep dark pit where people live, hoping for the day when someone will come along and relieve the pain.

As a tourist, it was pleasant. Within a few days I had relaxed and felt welcome. The people are friendly, to the point where it’s almost as if they are saying, ‘Hey look… white people. D’you remember them? They were the one’s who brought us work. Wouldn’t it be nice to have them back?’

The lack of white people is staggering. Looking carefully into cars, houses, back yards and streets, I counted a grand total of three; yes three white people who were neither tourists or people working in the tourism industry or scientists or students studying the wildlife. Resident whites are conspicuous by their absence. It’s alarming to say the least. And with them, gone are so many businesses and the life they create.

My travelling companion was Dave Van Graan of Masezane Expeditions, Like me, the purposes of the trip for him were also two-fold. Apart from keeping me company, he wanted to set out a new route for his self-drive tours and also needed to find out if Zimbabwe was a safe bet for his clients. My reasons were to shoot my TV show, and to find out if it is a place I would want to return to.  


We began at Great Zimbabwe near Masvingo, then Matopos, Hwange, Vic Falls, Lake Kariba via Matusadona and Mana Pools. It was mostly tar roads broken by two days of very rough going driving between Vic Falls and Kariba, which required a ‘bush camp’ because the distance and slowness of the road meant it couldn’t be done in a single day.


This was a pleasant surprise. Asking around and it seems as if Harare and Bulawayo are the two hotspots. Do not leave your packed vehicle unattended in these two cities.  (Much like downtown Joburg). Vic Falls isn’t a good spot either, but apart from that it’s relaxed and, we were told, hardly ever and issue.

The Parks

Clean, tidy and efficient, but run-down. I watched the employees, many of whom hardly ever get paid, making great efforts to keep things working; the ablutions clean and the paths swept. They mostly welcome you with bundles of firewood and let you now that if there is anything you need, they will be there. And I didn’t get the feeling that they were just looking for a tip either. It occurred to me that they were trying to make things right again.

Road blocks and police

There are road blocks aplenty, and cops with a speed camera outside of towns. Be very careful how quickly you speed up again after leaving a town. If you get caught, they will likely tell you that you were going to fast to pay an admission-of-guilt fine, and that you’ll have to see a magistrate in a few days time. This provides them a ploy to get some personal payment to let you go. Not unlike our own Joburg Metro Cops. The main difference is, our cops get decent salaries.

Border posts

Avoid the big border posts if at all possible. Beit Bridge is a nightmare even when it’s not busy. We were helped no end by a brilliant article in SA 4x4 Magazine written a few months back. And have all your papers ready. Keep calm, polite and don’t let it be obvious that you’re in a hurry - like all of the Third World, it’s the best way to get border officials to slow down. Be cool to be quick! Avoid going through at night. It makes an unpleasant situation much worse.


I’m frustrated when South Africans look with scornfull eyes at our neighbours. Look at South Africa. Fuel is more expensive, groceries are more expensive, the security situation for the most part is worse than in Zimbabwe! I am happy to announce that Zimbabwe is easy, relaxed and as long as you do a little extra preparation (vehicle paperwork mainly), it’s a great place to take your family.


Mana Pools is truly fantastic with animals keeping us awake most of the night, with lions and hynena around the tents and grumpy buffalo in the campsite. Hwange is a great alternative to Kruger, with far fewer people and almost as much game. While Kariba Town is a bit of a dump, the lake is a truly brilliant venue if you’re on a houseboat.

I'll be back soon.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Is Zimbabwe a safe family destination?

I first came to Africa when I was six years old, fresh from a country village in Southern England. My first taste of Africa was Rhodesia and the Hwange National Park. It's where I first put the name of an African animal together with its picture. That is, I actually saw one. 'Impala'. Then 'Zebra', and so on. And I even clearly remember memorizing my first African word. 'Sinamatella'. It's the name of a camp in Hwange (Then pronounced Wankie) and after 46 years, I'm going back.

I am off later this week for 14 days in Zimbabwe. My mission is to find out for myself if it's ready for visitors again. I will be travelling the western portion, from Beit Bridge to Motopos, Hwange, Victoria Falls, Chizarira, Matusadona, Kariba and Mana Pools. I am travelling with Dave Van Graan of Masezane Expeditions who will be guiding me. And of course I am also shooting for my TV show.

So there will be no new blog until 29th May. Sorry.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

LA Sport, Products-In-Action Show

I'm going to be at the LA Sport, Products-In-Action Show, Pretoria, May 5&6. Look for me. I'll be wandering around with my cameras... Come and say hello. Details:

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

New 4x4 Discussion Forum about to go live

When I launched in 1996, one of the first ideas was to build into the website a discussion forum. And I did. But due partly to a lack of moderation (no time) and complexities with the software I used, after only about six years, I closed the forum part of my website. When began a few weeks later, I ‘gave away’, so to speak, my database of users. But the idea of a forum has never gone away.

Back in 1996, Internet discussion forums were a new thing. But today, they’re old hat. But moderators still have problems keeping out the trash. By trash I mean contributors (If you can call them that) who’s main motive for posting comments seems to be to belittle, criticize or demean another's ideas, the vehicle they drive or their opinions. It seems to give them pleasure. The result, when this spreads out of control, is a forum that users eventually tire of and leave. I believe this is a downfall of many, and it’s particularly bad in 4x4 forums. Strangely, some people can’t handle that another likes another vehicle better. It’s almost like a personal insult, and so they begin trading insults.

Apart from containing some unique topics, a heavy hand will moderate the new forum, which will be launched 1st May 2012.

Our mission statement and warning is clear…

This forum is a place of discussion and learning. It is also a place of friendship.
If you insult or degrade anyone because of what they choose to drive, their race or religion, or use profane language, for any reason whatsoever, you will be banned WITHOUT WARNING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!


For a sneak preview, go to

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Like the idea of exploring the Outback? Beware... Danger lurks!

I am convinced that more new vehicle buyers suffer buyers’ remorse in the 4x4 sector than in any other segment of the motor industry.

If I’m shopping for a pick-up, I first look at how much load it can carry, then how much space and then, how much it costs to run and its resale value. With a sports car it’s all about the Kw, torque, 0-100 and accessories. Only then is it the maintenance plan and size of its rims. A people carrier is about how many seats and how much to run. Only then, is safety and space in the garage considered. No buyer needs any specialist knowledge to make a sound judgment based on these plain and simple things. But with 4x4, it’s far from plain and simple.

With almost all 4x4 buyers the decision is based on two things: How good is it off road? And, is it going to be suitable for use as an everyday car? Because most 4x4s are a compromise one way or the other, without a basic understanding of what makes a 4x4 good or bad, on and off road, the buyer has a problem. And the big problem is, most buyers don’t even know that they have a problem.

Enter the troublemaker question… ‘How good is it off road? So few newbies to the 4x4 scene understand what off-road actually means. This is because they get their info from magazine articles written mostly by equally ignorant writers.  (Specialist 4x4s mags do know the difference but it’s the general lifestyle mags that often don’t) This becomes obvious when I read meaningless platitudes like, ‘It can go everywhere’ or ‘It’s diff lock means that it can get out of the stickiest situation’. While these phrases excite prospective buyers, they also confuse them.

So what does the term ‘off-road’ really mean? To some it means, off a tar road. To others it means off any kind of road – on a track or similar.  And to others it means driving over a place where no vehicle has ever driven before.  And there is no right or wrong answer.

So, if you’re sniffing the breeze of the wild and untamed wilderness, and its tempting to you, then in the next three weeks I will be giving you the ten golden rules of selecting a 4x4. Here are the first three…

Rule 1. Not all 4x4s are created equal.

Few 4x4s are really good at everything. Some are good for almost nothing relating to off-road. Every 4×4 is a compromise in some way: some that are good on road should never leave it, and others good off it, are a test of endurance on it. As a buyer, you will need to compromise just as the designers have done. Decide where your compromises are going to lie as you go about choosing a 4×4.

Rule 2. Know more than the showroom salesperson about 4x4s or you may be taken for an unsatisfactory ride.

It has taken years, but salespersons are at last beginning to learn more about the 4x4s they are selling. But this doesn’t prevent them selling you what you do not want. They will always make an effort to tell you what you want to hear, and rarely what you need to hear. The only way to outwit them is to do some homework and to have made a few fundamental decisions before meeting the sale force. The danger lies in that most of us are easily baffled by bull delivered by an experienced salesperson.

Rule 3. Beware of the phrase, “I don’t want to do anything serious”.
If you hear this in your mind, it’s a danger sign because what does serious really mean? It is vital to be clear on what you expect from your vehicle choice and to know if your choice can do it.

More next time…

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Baboons Pass experience was not only thrilling; it was an eye-opener as well.

Earlier this year I came up with the idea of asking and answering the following question: Can Southern Africa's roughest public road be driven using a standard luxury 4x4? Discovery-4 was my choice.

Baboons is recognized as probably the roughest and most challenging public road in Southern Africa. It is indicated on more than one map as a vehicular track, but it’s more of a donkey trail than a road. Providing its distance is irrelevant as the going is so slow, it is better measured in time. A large section of the trail has been upgraded and we found evidence of a mechanical digger. This, I was told, saved us well over and hour. The improved section could be regarded as a grade-three trail where one averages about five kilometers per hour. When the grade four and five sections happen, they happen with a bang. Drivers are confronted with the inner thought, ‘How the hell am I going to get over that?’ But over you go, one rock climb, switchback, at a time, inch by inch. Speed often drops to half a kilometer per hour.


I was supported by two Defenders, a 110 and a 130. As it happened, at no time did any have to pull me, although the lead vehicle’s winch was used to remove a huge bolder that had fallen in our path. Significantly, both Defenders were equipped with 33-inch tyres deflated to about half-a-bar. By contrast, mine were 19” rims with low profile all-terrains pumped at three-bar. To prove my point, I needed to run standard, approved wheels and tyres, and pumped them this hard to protect them. For grip, the Defenders relied on front and rear diff-locks, while I relied on the Discovery-4’s traction control. My biggest concerns before the trip were that the Disco’s clearance would not be enough, and that while its traction-control is good, it would have to be truly brilliant to keep traction, considering the huge disadvantage I had with my tyres, especially if it rained. And it rained!

The other frustration was the over excitement of my helpers. I would, quite often, get conflicting opinions from those directing me over the rock obstacles. Sometimes I had two people simultaneously shouting directions and at others, differing advice about how I should drive. Shouts of “Go for it!,” or “Give it stick!’ frustrated me a bit. From inside the cab, more often than not my reaction was that because mechanical damage would mean failure, traversing any obstacle at speed was just not an option. As a result, I might have scraped off some of the Disco’s newness, but the undersides and machinery remained unharmed.

New revelations

Before this trip, if I had been asked, what do you prefer, traction-control or diff locks, I would answer without hesitation; diff locks. That’s because for me, until now, no traction control has been able to match the grip of lockers. But not all traction-controls work this well. Perhaps I can illustrate this with an anecdote. One of the final obstacles on Baboons Pass was a turn over a smooth, wet rock, at an angle of probably 30°. From the driver’s seat, I had to get my front wheels into the rock before applying power. Too much speed to early and the wheels would hit the base of the rock with such a knock and bounce, that traction and momentum would be instantly lost. Now, as the front wheels lifted, I applied firm accelerator, But almost nothing happened. That V6 diesel is no slouch, but at this time it barely ticked over. I pushed my right foot as far as it would go, but still nothing… the Discovery creeping ever so slowly up and over. Video footage from the outside later revealed what was happening. The wheels were spinning, ever so slowly. The traction control limited the power seemingly knowing that any more power would result in slip, and probably a slide backwards. I mounted the obstacle with consummate ease, and my crew all clapped, thinking, completely wrongly, that my superior driving skills had done such a good job. This Discovery made me look very good – not something that is very easy to do.

I also learnt some tricks of the Discovery that they didn’t tell me about at the Land Rover Experience training. (Perhaps I should have done the advanced course) Its suspension can lift to provide extraordinary clearance, if you know how to ‘trick it’. I needn’t have worried.


The Discovery-4 is brilliant – for more reasons than I ever gave it credit for. On the open road and in town, it is competent, comfortable a very easy to live with. That’s where 99% of it will be appreciated. But it can, if asked, tackle very difficult off-road terrain - and this is significant - even by inexperienced drivers. With minimal training, it can make a novice look like a seasoned expert.

But don’t let this make you think the Disco breezed over the pass. It was a real challenge for the vehicle and me. But the lasting impression is that this is an astonishing piece of kit, and the minds that thought it up, must have been a very clever bunch. In addition, I have now concluded once and for all, that solid axles are not necessary for really outstanding off-road ability.

I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy a Disco if their prime objective was to find the most difficult terrain and drive it. The Defenders, once having done Baboons ten times, will probably suffer no more than some worn bushes, but the Discovery, not being built to tackle this kind of terrain day after day, would no doubt feel the pains of battle rather sooner.

It will make a great TV episode. Expect it from October on Ignition, DSTV Ch 265. A teaser on Youtube will follow.

Monday, 19 March 2012

I think I’m going to buy a new 4x4 – part-2

About three years ago I wrote an article for Leisure Wheels, mentioning that I had had a near head-on smash and that I didn’t think the compromises in safety with vehicles like the Defender and Land Cruiser 76 were worth it. At the time I considered vehicles like the Pajero and Prado. I was accused of going ‘soft’. I like to think of it as going ‘sensible’. Then I drove the Pajero and realized I might be heading in the wrong direction. Then I drove the Fortuner and thought that IFS front suspension was really very good, and that I needn’t insist on solid axles.

Now again, I have the same dilemma. At the time I chose a Land Cruiser 100 GX. It has much better brakes, ABS and airbags, things that at the time no heavy-duty solid-axled 4x4 were offering. While that has changed to a degree, the handling of all 70-series Land Cruisers and the Defender is diabolical, when compared to say an FJ Cruiser, Discovery, Prado and even Fortuner.

So the big questions remain: is IFS good enough for what I do, considering that while the 4x4 routes I travel are tough, they are not ‘challenge’ tough? And, must it be a station-wagon?

The Discovery expedition up Baboons pass will no doubt answer some questions. Its on-road performance is outstanding. What has surprised me the most, that it’s a bit better on-road than the Land Cruiser 200VX. It’s quieter, smoother, has a nicer interior. Is it as good off-road? Because the LC200 isn’t great in standard form because it can’t take much of a load and it’s too low.

But right now my eyes are avariciously turned toward the FJ.  But it’s too cute to be a serious expedition 4x4 – or is it? I don’t want a Jeep. I don’t want a Ford, or Isuzu. I like the Nissan Patrol, but the diesel is a bit of a dog, and the petrol uses more fuel than a 747. I will wait for the V8 Land Cruisers, as these could add vehicles that right now, are not part of the choice.

So if you don’t hear from me for a while, know that it’s because I’m off answering these questions – and shooting my TV show in the process.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

I think I’m going to buy a new 4x4

It’s my luck that over the past two weeks I’ve driven four 4x4s I’ve never driven before: Nissan Navara, Range Rover Evoque, Toyota Land Cruiser FJ and a Discovery-4.

The Navara was LA Sport’s green ‘HULK’, a highly modified version of a vehicle I regard as extremely boring, with an overly hard ride, bland interior but with nice engines. LA Sport’s version, with its huge clearance, certainly makes it much more interesting, but my drive in it was completely overshadowed by the Land Cruiser FJ. This one was also one of LA Sport’s creations, with replacement shocks and springs, wheel arch flares and an ever-so-nice winch-bar and rear bumper.

These two were taken for a spin on the Atlantis dunes. The FJ sped up the dunes like a frightened rabbit. And then I tried the Discovery. What amazed me was, despite the 19’ rims and low profile tyres, it handled the dunes extremely well. I was a bit taken aback. It’s times like these that my understanding of four-wheel drive can be rattled. Why did it do so well? I witnessed BMW X5’s with the same sized tyres fail completely on the Lamberts Bay dunes. Yes, the sand was softer then, but the Disco did so well, I am left to ask, was it the traction-control system that made it so good, and if not, what? I didn’t hear the TC working, nor did I notice the TC light on the dash come on. So I really have no answer, except to know; low profiles are going to hinder progress off road. That’s logical. But the Disco’s performance still baffles me a bit.

Driving these ‘modern’ vehicles, I think it’s time for something new. I am a little tired of the chugging Toyota 1HZ. I mean the FJ is pure fun! No 1HZ vehicle can ever be that. My Land Cruiser 105 is still in my hands despite trying to sell it for a while now, but what will I replace it with? An FJ? It’s too youthful for me, isn’t it? What about a Hilux? Far too ordinary. Fortuner? Too boring, despite being fantastic. Nissan Pathfinder? Yuk. Pajero? After the last time I drove one, (the owners wanted to string me up), it’s the very last I would ever consider. Besides, it’s old and boring and out-performed by every vehicle in its class. Patrol? Ugly, but it’s a good thought. Mercedes G? I just couldn’t, even if I had the money, bring myself to spend that much on an empty tin box. Jeep? I just can’t see myself in one. Discovery? To pricey for me, but even if it wasn’t, I can’t put on smaller rims and fatter tyres. Then I have to ask, does this really matter? I am yet to be convinced, and this month’s trek over Baboons Pass will do doubt answer some more questions.

So, if you had up to R500K to spend on a 4x4, bearing in mind you want to go on off-road expeditions with it, what would you buy?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Overwhelmed at the Land Rover Festival

During the record attempt to beat England’s puny 384, Craig Dutton and his team obliterated this record by assembling an unconfirmed 1007 Land Rovers! What a great effort and it shows the spirit of LR, that only the most single-minded, uni-brained individual would not be impressed.

But for me, not being a Land Rover owner, meant that I needed a disguise. So I slipped into an Evoque. It’s a lovely car, and I say car, because to call it a vehicle might suggest it could be used for any other purpose than to be comfortable in the city traffic and entertained whether moving or not. But one thing that the Evoque does, in my view, better than any in recent years, is to look good. This is a very beautiful car, and is unusual in that no matter from what angle it’s viewed, it’s gorgeous. Inside is no different. It welcomes you; the seats are sporty but not too much so, and the driving position is a clever mix of sports recline and upright SUV.  I had it for almost a week and at first was stunned by its feel and performance, but that feeling faded a bit. Superb steering feel is unlike any SUV except maybe the Forester, but the mixture of turbo-lag and the auto box meant that I concluded that if I was to buy one, no ways would I consider the diesel. And why the one-piece tail-gate? Split tailgates are far more practical and that’s why Range Rovers have always had them… until now.

But my week’s highlight was the Land Rover festival. I was greeted by warm conversation, invited into the inner-sanctums of Landy clubs, offered beer, wine, boerewors, cokes, lunch, dinner, etc. I was asked to sign tee shirts and flags, given key rings, and was made to feel like a long lost brother. This, despite the last two TV series spanning three years, I have been driving another brand almost to the exclusion of others. True friends, and I thank you for a brilliant weekend.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Is the V8 news as good as it seems?

As much as the sound of a V8 Land Cruiser presses the right buttons for Land Cruiser fans, shouldn’t we look at this logically as well?

The brilliant Toyota 1HZ engine, for its reliability and ….? I can’t think of anything else actually. It’s noisy, not particularly economical, emissions output is poor, underpowered for the job it has to do and is probably the only engine that, when it is shut down, shakes so much it registers on the Richter scale.  But it’s an engine perfect for the Third World. And I guess that’s why we love it. It’s very tough indeed, and with no electronics, it can be fixed by anyone, and if well maintained, lasts a very, very long time without major work.

The V8. It is better in every way, I think, but one. It’s electronically controlled which means: it can only be tuned at an approved workshop, it produces far kinder emissions, it is far, far more powerful and useful for the job it has to do. It is going to turn the otherwise underpowered 70-series Land Cruisers from something special to something truly awesome. But…

The D4D V8 hasn’t had a good run so far. Injector problems with all kinds of diesel are well known, and although they have probably sorted it out, this engine is going to be less reliable, considerably more expensive to service and most work will only be able to be done at an approved workshop. It’s not an engine designed for the Third World, in which we live.

So, when it comes to nuts and bolts, we are going to be paying more to swap reliability for performance.  How much more performance? Lots! How much less reliability? This is the driving question.

Monday, 20 February 2012

HUGE news to Toyota Land Cruiser Fans

The rumours running wild about V8 Land Cruisers are rumours no more! Via my top secret, under-cover spies infiltrating the deepest recesses of Toyota SA's closed doors, reveals that not only is the V8 coming , but two all–new models as well.  The news broke during last week’s Toyota dealer sales conference that accompanying the Land Cruiser pick-up and 76 Wagon V8 diesels, will be a Cruiser double-cab. This startling news was only tempered slightly by the additional news that the Cruiser 200 VX will be joined by a basic spec, GX unit. Don’t get too excited. It will not be like it was with the 100, the GX having the heavy-duty chassis. It will just be a cheaper, simpler, less electronic and therefore more versatile VX. Will the Troopy V8 be coming? Nobody asked, because it’s such a slow seller, I guess, nobody cared. This will all probably happen around October.

It’s all great news – but not for anyone who just bought a Land Cruiser with the 4,2D – like me for example. Next week: Is the V8 all good news? Not necessarily.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What’s more fun? Camping? Or Being in a wild place where camping is the only alternative?

Camping is a real chore. The bed is never as comfortable as the one at home. The food is as good, sometimes better, but it’s a chore to make given the lack of convenience. The chairs aren’t nearly as comfortable as my ones at home. And if it rains, it’s horrible. And I hate sleeping in a ba

So why do I love it so?

For me, it’s where I wake up that makes all the difference. If you invited me to go camping at Vaal Dam or at the Blickiesfonteindorp Oord, then I would make any excuse to get out of it. I would rather clean the dog’s ears. But a trip to the desert, preferably with as few people around as possible, I am happy to undergo near torture for a few evenings and mornings of that.

I had my wheels rotated the other day and the man asked me if my Land Cruiser was just a “mall crawler”. I told him it was, but then he asked why I have nice red shock absorbers. We got talking. I wanted to ask this question of him, but without giving away my motives. He had a very nicely equipped Defender 90 and an Echo trailer. He said proudly, “You wouldn’t believe me, when I tell you. Me and my wife. When we arrive at a campsite, just, and I’m not lying, just 45 minutes, and everything is done and ready. I nearly tripped over the tyre iron. 45 minutes!!!!!.

On a good day, it takes me five. Yes, just five. Because I figure, it’s not about camping, and tents, and poles and stoves. It’s about being in a magic place. I want to spend my time exploring, looking, feeling and living, instead of fighting with sleeping bag pouches that are too small, and which pole fits where.

Am I bonkers? Tell me about you!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Buying a new car is mostly about emotion, not practicality. The G300 Pro..

Proof of this comes in the form of the new Mercedes G300 Professional. Because nobody in their right minds would buy one, unless they were mentally disturbed or OTT passionate about the G.

When it comes to the G, I admit, I am verging on the mentally unstable. I loved both of those I owned and love this one. But consider this. What do you expect from a 4x4 wagon that requires parting with over R770 000? (Over US$100 000)
“Several of them I would hope.”
A sound system?
“Yes, with multiple speakers and Bluetooth phone kit to begin with.”
What about leather?
“No question.“
Electric windows?
“Yes, stupid. What car doesn’t have them?”
What about carpets?
“Is that a serious question?”
Actually, yes. Would you expect carpets and sound insulation?
“Of course.”
Well I have news for you. Tick nothing for the G300 Pro. From this list, all it comes with is a single airbag in the steering wheel. And nothing else.
To wind up the windows you’ll need big biceps. The raised air intake howls like a lost wolf on the prairie, and the twin single rear seats give about as much support as a tightrope in a storm. The interior is lavish with plain painted steel and the centre console and armrest is made from, what looks like, parts of a railway girder bridge – and it doesn’t even open.

So, if I were to consider this G as a new purchase, having removed any emotion that I may have toward it, it wouldn’t even appear on the short list of 4x4s I might consider. But put the emotion back, and it is a compelling choice.

You see, the G is like a Picasso. It’s nothing to look at until you understand it. It’s so ugly, it’s beautiful, a classic in the best sense. Off road, there is no non-modified 4x4 that comes close. On road, most things are better, but when you put it into the category where it fits best (Land Rover Defender and Toyota 76 Wagon), it out-performs both of them by a long, long way.

But then given the price, it had better.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Land Rover Defender replacement - a bit of a joke?

I think that the Land Rover Defender ‘replacement’ is a bit of a joke. Surely the word ‘replacement’ means just that; that the new machine can do what the old one could do? Or does it have some other meaning?

Most of the time when we see a concept vehicle, we get excited about the prospect that the manufacturer may one day actually build it. But in this case, I dread this one. Any friend of the Land Rover has got to be concerned that the icon of their brand is about to become yet another SUV.

All the well-meaning styling in the world isn’t going to change the fact that you need a truck to do a truck’s job. Can you see a DC100 carrying an expedition’s load through Malawi? Or help the Third Para Regiment plot a minefield?
Let’s make it easier… How about a bail of hay to the farmer next door?
Or, even easier… How about sitting in city traffic with a driver who feels almost as if he/she’s on safari – something that very few vehicles have ever managed to do successfully – something at which the Defender is a master?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Is running in a new engine really necessary?

I was asked this question recently... In my opinion, new engines, if they are to last a long time and be economical, must not be run in, in the normal way. The only type of driving that should be avoided in the first 1000kms is a constant speed, I.e., a long run where the engine spins at the same rpm for long periods. In my experience, an engine that works hard from day one is the engine that uses less fuel, lasts longer and uses far less oil. Engines that are molly-coddled when new always use oil and are under-powered and often do not deliver power equal to spec. This is my experience through several used and many new vehicles I have owned.

Typical examples are my three Land Cruisers 4,2D engines. My first two I ran in for the first 3000 kms, avoiding full throttle and even warming them up. Then my current one. From day one it towed a trailer, foot flat, maximum revs and punished. Today this engine uses no oil at all (166 000kms) and produces more power than Toyota spec. It also uses 10% less fuel that the other two, even though the vehicle is heavier. It is quieter and a much nicer to drive than the others. Other than the way it began its life, nothing makes it different from the other two.

Another example is all Lycombing aircraft engines – large block, long stroke petrol motors – have large red labels on the crate: ‘NB. DO NOT RUN THIS ENGINE IN. USE MAXIMUM POWER FOR FIRST 25 HOURS. It’s because if they are run in, the rings never produce a good seal and a microscopic step is created in each cylinder wall at the point where the piston is at its highest position. But when the engine revs higher, the conrods stretch, and the rings pass this ‘lump’. The result is lost compression and all that goes with it.

A last example is racing car engines. They are NEVER run in. Their builders know that it has to be flat out from the first moment they run, otherwise they never perform properly.

If anything running in means the opposite of what is common perception. Work the engine normally from day-one, and it will perform better all its life. I am not suggesting abuse it, but demand full power often, vary the revs and power demands, and get it to operating temperature as fast as possible. And the kiss of death for any new motor, and even an old one, is to warm it up while at idle. 

Your thoughts?

Hello All

I suppose the right thing to do with a new blog (not that I know much about them) is to introduce myself - which is exactly what I am not going to do. Since I recon that almost all visitors will come here via my website ( or from some 4x4-related article somewhere, I figure, there is no point.

But the idea of this new blog may be worth mentioning.

I am going to make a weekly entry about something off-road, 4x4 or overlanmding related subject. And if I really feel like it, other things too. But this is where I get to vent my feelings and practice my hobby; the removal and dismantling of platitudes.
My first blog due in a few days - about myths of running in new engines.