dirty work JOHN ROOTH

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - JOHN ROOTH

SO THERE we were, me and Gor­don Shaw. Be­tween us we’ve done a bucket load of hard four-wheel driv­ing in Aus­tralia; Gor­don in his heav­ily mod­i­fied 20-year-old Op­po­site Lock De­fender and me in Milo. Maybe that’s why we kept pick­ing the Kia Sorento, nei­ther of us could be­lieve how com­fort­able the bloody thing was!

Fully ad­justable leather seats and air­con­di­tion­ing that tamed the worst Africa could throw at it. The thing also had a bucket of zip hap­pen­ing some­where un­der the bon­net, too. Thanks to the Front Run­ner fit-out we had a water tank be­hind the seat, an En­gel in the back and a roof top­per on the rack.

Not that ei­ther of us both­ered with the top­per, we’d both opted for Front Run­ner’s quick chuck-down tents and a night spent closer to the ground. First time we heard a lion roar­ing I think we both won­dered if that’d been the right de­ci­sion.

A quick recap. We were in Africa to test the lo­cally made Front Run­ner ve­hi­cle ac­ces­sories. Gor­don, who’s had more ex­pe­ri­ence with Front Run­ner gear than any­one in Aus­tralia, is a to­tal 4WD nut. He’s squeezed some in­cred­i­ble trips from his old De­fender, prov­ing that good prepa­ra­tion is the key to re­ally get­ting to out-of-the-way places. But then he’ll ad­mit to lov­ing his wife Lo­raine’s lit­tle Suzuki Jimny, too – at least since he’s barred it out with OL gear.

Front Run­ner had de­cided to equip a bunch of soft road­ers to prove that good, lightweight af­ter­mar­ket clob­ber can make even a soft roader a use­ful weapon off-road. Then they’d picked a 10-day route through the semi-arid Kala­hari Desert, tak­ing in Botswana and parts of Namibia. This is sa­van­nah coun­try, not dis­sim­i­lar to parts of our Pil­liga scrub and the run-up coun­try be­fore the Simp­son. Cer­tainly there were plenty of sandy tracks and cor­ru­ga­tions to deal with.

Ve­hi­cle-wise we had the Kia Sorento, a Jimny – mak­ing Gor­don feel right at home – a shorty Pajero, as well as a winched and tyred-up Jeep to act as re­cov­ery ve­hi­cle. If you’d have asked me be­fore we left which ve­hi­cle I’d pre­fer, I’d have said the Pajero or Jeep for sure. How­ever, as it hap­pened,

things didn’t turn out that way at all.

The Pajero had the worst case of dash rat­tle I’ve ever seen. It only had to see some cor­ru­ga­tions to start shak­ing as if it was go­ing to drop the lot in your lap any sec­ond. Vi­bra­tion and the lack of dust seal­ing made the Mit­subishi pretty sad. It was com­pe­tent enough, but in stock off-the-floor con­di­tion it re­ally wasn’t pleas­ant to drive. No doubt some de­cent sus­pen­sion and bet­ter tyres would have made a dif­fer­ence here, but you could say that about any ve­hi­cle.

What did make it work was the Front Run­ner rack. Be­ing all-alu­minium and su­per strong with tai­lor-made fit­tings for the Max­trax, an axe, water tanks and a shovel, it also wound up car­ry­ing a fair bit of our load. Some of that load was clothes and food, and thanks to trip leader Jaco Nell, a lot more of it might have been drinks.

Jaco is a self-con­fessed Suzuki nut, and we had to prise him out of the Jimny most days be­cause, to be hon­est, the lit­tle Zook was ab­so­lute fun to drive. Even loaded to the gills – it’s amaz­ing how much clob­ber you can carry on a good rack – it ploughed through the sand drifts and was so nim­ble that even in stock-stan­dard con­di­tion it was su­per com­pe­tent. Maybe those Suzuki nuts are on to some­thing.

The Jeep? Well, with sus­pen­sion, tyres and a winch, the only prob­lem with the Jeep in this pack was it wasn’t overly chal­leng­ing. Any­way, the one ve­hi­cle Gor­don or I didn’t have much to do with was the new Sorento.

On the sur­faced roads out to the desert it was def­i­nitely the fastest and most com­fort­able. Know­ing the Kala­hari was in drought con­di­tions I liked the idea of the big water tank be­hind the seat – al­though, Gor­don did hap­pen to men­tion that most of the grog was tucked back there, too.

So while we took turns driv­ing ev­ery­thing, Gor­don and I kept grav­i­tat­ing back to the Kia partly be­cause we fig­ured it’d be the first ve­hi­cle to chuck in the towel. Some fair-dinkum Aussie-style test­ing in some­one else’s car in an­other coun­try. We joked about leav­ing a burnt-out wreck buried in a sand hill some­where as we jet­ted back home.

As it turned out the first time the Kia got bogged we weren’t even driv­ing it. One of the guys stopped to take a photo on a slight rise of soft sand and that was that, in­stantly bogged to the belly pan. The Jeep made quick work of spin­ning around and reel­ing out its winch, but af­ter look­ing at the only ‘re­cov­ery point’ up front of the Kia, both Gor­don and I scotched that be­fore it did a lap in anger. A cou­ple of Max­trax – Front Run­ner’s mount for our Aussie de­signed Maxxies is a beauty – and with plenty of oomph and a bit of a push the Kia climbed that hill, but not with­out some se­ri­ous jag­ging to the card­board-like un­der­body wheel pan­els. A few sand hills later and we’d col­lected the en­tire lot in the back of the lit­tle wagon. Not that they were worth sav­ing, but at least the Kia guys could see we cared.

Us­ing plenty of pace was the an­swer for soft sand in the Sor­rento, but that meant the oc­ca­sional plough­ing of the front grille, too. Af­ter one belt Gor­don lifted the bon­net, in­spected the dam­age and then put it down slowly say­ing in his soft Scot­tish drawl “oh dear...” It didn’t stop, but that ra­di­a­tor was run­ning aw­fully close to the fan.

Then the scis­sor jack col­lapsed try­ing to get one of the two ply tyres off for a plug­ging af­ter it got sliced on a rock. Yes, we were run­ning about 16psi. It’s amaz­ing how quick you can sort some­thing out, though, when there’s big cat foot­prints close by.

All said and done the Kia was re­ally out of its depth, but I’m pretty sure an owner wouldn’t even bother go­ing where we went. What was proven was that even a soft roader – per­haps with bet­ter tyres and a smidgen of lift – can make for some awe­some tour­ing if it’s run­ning the right sort of ac­ces­sories.

Okay, next month we’ll be back ham­mer­ing away at Milo Two. Talk about chalk and cheese.

The Kia copped a flat on sharp stones and it’s about now I’m re­al­is­ing the stan­dard jack is about to col­lapse. Two ply tyres and a soft jack, sheesh... A typ­i­cal camp in the Kala­hari. The Jeep was the re­cov­ery 4x4 on the trip be­cause Front Run­ner was out to prove how its fit-out of soft road­ers can make them use­ful off-road tour­ers.

Like our man said, ‘You don’t go any­where with­out Maxxies over here, not when walk­ing out can mean get­ting eaten!’

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