Cool cus­toms

Well-known 4x4 equip­ment spe­cial­ist North­ern Of­froad has been mak­ing game-view­ing ve­hi­cles for 21 years. It’s con­verted its fair share of Cruiser bakkies and Land Rover De­fend­ers, but lately some other in­ter­est­ing ve­hi­cles have been grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text: GG van Rooyen Pho­tos: Sup­plied

Some very fancy gameview­ers

What does a game-view­ing ve­hi­cle look like? Chances are, you’re pic­tur­ing a green or khaki-coloured Cruiser bakkie that’s been con­verted to carry around a dozen peo­ple. There’s a can­vas roof, some can­vas seats, and prob­a­bly a lit­tle lad­der to help peo­ple clam­ber on board. Or per­haps your mind is con­jur­ing up im­ages of a rugged Land Rover De­fender that’s been sim­i­larly con­verted. The fact of the mat­ter is, Cruiser bakkies and De­fend­ers are the quin­tes­sen­tial game-view­ing ve­hi­cles, they dom­i­nate the scene. But why?

“Game-view­ing ve­hi­cles live a very tough life,” says North­ern Of­froad di­rec­tor Alan Young. “So, it makes sense to base them on ro­bust mod­els that can deal with harsh African con­di­tions and spend all their time driv­ing off-road. Cruiser

bakkies re­main in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar es­pe­cially, and a lot of the con­ver­sions that we do are still based on them.”

North­ern Of­froad has been con­vert­ing 4×4s into gameview­ing ve­hi­cles for more than 20 years, so when it comes to build­ing re­li­able game-view­ers, the com­pany un­doubt­edly knows what it’s do­ing. Th­ese days, though, it’s find­ing that the nature of the busi­ness is changing a bit.

“As men­tioned, tra­di­tional game-view­ers are still in de­mand, but some peo­ple are also grav­i­tat­ing to­wards some un­ex­pected mod­els,” says Alan. “For in­stance, we’ve built a game-viewer based on an old Hilux dou­ble cab bakkie, and even a Suzuki SJ.”

Three mod­els in par­tic­u­lar are be­com­ing pop­u­lar: the Nis­san Pa­trol, 100-Se­ries Cruiser and 76-Se­ries Cruiser sta­tion wagon.

“The 76-Se­ries is a great game viewer. It can ac­com­mo­date only eight peo­ple, but it makes for a very com­fort­able and ef­fi­cient game-view­ing ve­hi­cle. Once a 76 Cruiser has been con­verted, it looks and per­forms well,” says Alan.

The Pa­trol and 100-Se­ries Cruiser, mean­while, are pop­u­lar be­cause they of­fer value for money. “You can pick them up fairly cheaply, and once they’ve been con­verted, they are su­perb game-view­ers. They are com­fort­able and re­fined. You’d strug­gle to get the same ex­pe­ri­ence from a rugged Cruiser bakkie or De­fender. They’re easy to get into and of­fer a smooth ride,” says Alan.

THE CON­VER­SION PROCESS

What does it take to con­vert a ve­hi­cle into a game-viewer? “If you want a ve­hi­cle that of­fers a pleas­ant game-view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, you need to pay at­ten­tion to the de­tails. You have to con­sider is­sues like seat an­gles and legroom. You don’t want pas­sen­gers to feel cramped, and you want seats that are com­fort­able. You also ob­vi­ously want to in­crease vis­i­bil­ity for all oc­cu­pants, which means re­mov­ing the roof and re­plac­ing it with a can­vas top,” says Alan.

This seems as sim­ple as chop­ping off the roof, and in­deed, getting rid of a ve­hi­cle’s pil­lars and roof isn’t hard, but it does ne­ces­si­tate strength­en­ing and re­in­force­ment. North­ern Of­froad welds gus­sets where needed, and also ap­plies resin to cer­tain cav­i­ties to add strength.

An­other tricky but nec­es­sary process, es­pe­cially when it comes to up­mar­ket ve­hi­cles like Nis­san Pa­trols and Land Cruiser SUVs, is the strip­ping of a 4×4.

“It’s a time-con­sum­ing process,” says Alan. “We need to strip ev­ery­thing in or­der to do the con­ver­sion. We need to add rub­beris­ing, for in­stance, since the ve­hi­cle will be open to the el­e­ments, and we also take out all elec­tron­ics that won’t be needed in a game-viewer. The less elec­tron­ics you have in a ve­hi­cle, the less you have that can go wrong. How­ever, we do keep cer­tain things. Some clients, for ex­am­ple, want to re­tain the air con­di­tion­ing.”

Once a ve­hi­cle has been stripped and strength­ened, North­ern Of­froad starts ad­ding all those game-view­ing ne­ces­si­ties. The can­vas top, men­tioned ear­lier, is fit­ted, and high-qual­ity seats are also in­stalled. The stan­dard wind­screen is re­placed with a signature fold­ing (and heavy­duty) one. Other off-road ex­tras can be fit­ted: a winch, spot­lights or hi-lift jack could be use­ful.

“Some ve­hi­cles that are brought to us al­ready have ex­tras on them, and the clients of­ten de­cide to just keep them fit­ted to the ve­hi­cle,” says Alan.

WHAT’S THE PRICE?

It’s tough to put an ac­cu­rate price on a game-view­ing con­ver­sion, since it re­ally de­pends on the ve­hi­cle used. Pur­chase a brand-new Land Cruiser and things can quickly be­come pricey. Opt for an older Pa­trol or 100-Se­ries Cruiser, how­ever, and you can get a de­cent game-viewer for a fair price. You can ex­pect the con­ver­sion it­self to cost around R100 000–R120 000.

Main: North­ern Of­froad in Rand­burg pro­duces im­pres­sive game-view­ing ve­hi­cles from older SUVs like the Nis­san Pa­trol and Toy­ota Land Cruiser 100-Se­ries. Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: Some in­ter­est­ing ex­tras are added to the ve­hi­cles to make them proper gameview­ers. The orig­i­nal roof is re­moved and re­placed with a can­vas top. A 100-Se­ries Cruiser makes for an im­pres­sive game-view­ing ve­hi­cle. The 76 Cruiser sta­tion wagon is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity as a game-viewer.

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