Our bakkie project concludes this month, and the last off-road modification to the BT-50 is a proper suspension system. Of course.
Every month over the past year we’ve added something new to our long-term test vehicle, a brand new Mazda BT-50 3.2 4x4 SLE bakkie (double cab, automatic) to ultimately transform it into a hardcore off-road vehicle. We started with a set of BF Goodrich T/A tyres and followed with a steel rear bumper, bullbar, winch, bash plate, running boards, aluminium canopy and spotlights. But the time has come to return the bakkie to the manufacturer, and as a swan song, this month we focus our attention on the suspension.
The BT-50’s original suspension system, however well it might have been designed by Mazda’s lab coats, was ultimately not able to handle the weight of all the off-road gear we added. Things like the canopy and especially the steel bumper in front and at the back made the bakkie a lot heavier and the suspension suffered under the weight of these additions. It was visible to the naked eye, with especially the front that sagged heavily.
Mic van Zyl of Ironman 4x4 gave the bakkie one look and had the answer for us… the new Add-a-Leaf system. When you go off-roading with such a heavily loaded vehicle the ground clearance is usually a problem and it becomes necessary to lift it. But it’s about more than that. The suspension must still ensure a safe and comfortable ride, regardless of whether you use it to drive to work or whether you’re travelling with your entire family and all your camping gear to the bundus.
Mic says the Add-aLeaf suspension is a good compromise regarding ride quality… and it’s also a more cost-effective way to lift your bakkie. >
Basically it’s a system that gives your existing leaf springs a noteworthy boost. Not only does it support the additional weight but it also prevents the springs from getting worn. It also improves handling and ensures a more comfortable ride. And it increases the vehicle’s ground clearance.
To the shop
Johann “Tyres”Viljoen and his skilled team at 1st Alignment Centre in Stikland, Cape Town, did the modification. The Ironman 4x4 Add-a-Leaf system consists of two tapered leaf springs with anti-friction inserts and new centre bolts. Johann and his team added the new leaf springs to the BT50’s existing ones and fastened it with new bolts. Together with the new leaf springs, 1st Alignment Centre also replaced the front coil springs and front and rear shock absorbers with new ones and balanced the wheels again. We waited a day, but we’re happy to report there is a marked improvement in ride quality.
WE HAVE LIFT-OFF. The BT-50 rides noticeably higher now than it did in its standard guise.
HIGH AND DRY. As you’d expect, changing a vehicle’s suspension is no easy feat. It took an entire day to do the modifications but it was worth the wait.