WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
From fighting ISIS in the middle of the desert to climbing steep Himalayan passes, this just might be the coolest 4X4 you’re too scared to own…
For images and the full Unsealed 4X4 experience, read this in our online magazine.
Resisting change could almost be an Australian pastime. We’ll fight tooth and nail against anything we deem as unproven… that is, of course, until it proves itself. Then we’re all about it. It’s the reason so many minor brands struggle to actually make a dent in the Australian 4WD market, with even some larger brands left scratching their heads wondering why we haven’t flocked to their latest cup-holding latté-machine in record numbers.
In a country where brand loyalty can sell absolute rubbish vehicles in droves, you may be surprised to know there’s a 4X4 on the lot right under your nose for a bargain basement price – with legitimate battle experience in some of the most inhospitable terrain known to man.
For those in the know, none of this will be a surprise. For the others, let us introduce the Mahindra Pik-Up. It’s bolted together in India by a 71yo company worth almost 12 billion AUD. They manufacture everything from light aircraft and bicycles through to semi-trailers and mine-protected troop carriers for the Indian military.
Sound like serious business?
Ray, the bloke who owns this well-travelled Pik-Up, thought so too.
“My mates call me Crazy Ray,” he tells us with a laugh. “Because I normally do things different. I’d read all about Mahindra and did about six months’ worth of research. They gave me a loaner to check out for a weekend and I loved the simplicity. $30,000 on the road, not a lot of electronics, and a manual that says don’t corner too hard or you may roll it. The way 4X4s should be.”
Now Ray’s owned the dual-cab Pik-Up for right around five years, and despite owning it that long it’s only got 70,000km on the clock. The reason is he loved it so much he went and bought a second one just for running around town – while leaving this one for extended trips away. That means in just five years this one has racked up 70,000km of serious Australian 4X4 touring.
It’s been punted up the Oodnadatta track twice, across the Simpson Desert, out through Finke, the Flinders Ranges, the Connie Sue and Anne Beadell Highways; even one extended trip from Ray’s home in Victoria up to Alice Springs and then out to Port Hedland via Well 33 and the Tanami Track.
To say this Mahindra has earned the title of a serious 4X4 is an understatement of epic proportions. “Once you get off the road and let the tyres down a bit they’re shit hot,” Ray adds.
By now you’re probably wondering what sort of specs were able to sway Ray towards a basically untested 4X4 new to the market and bolted together in India. Despite the cheap price (close to half the price of a comparable Thai-built ute) it’s got all the usual gear you’d expect like air-con, power windows and cruise control. Under the bonnet there’s a 2.2L 4-cylinder common rail turbo-diesel punching out 88kW and 280Nm. The engine comes stock with big-name gear like a Bosch injection system and Borg Warner turbo. It’s backed by a five-speed manual cog-swapper with a Borg Warner transfer case behind that, and an Eaton mechanical diff-lock in the rear axle.
“They’re real comfortable too,” says Ray. “Everyone hangs shit on me but you sit up nice and high with plenty of head room. Your legs hang down too, not out in front like some utes, so it’s like you’re sitting in an arm chair. I wouldn’t go towing a big caravan with it, but it tows my camper around no problems.”
So what does it take to make a vehicle originally designed to ferry Indian troops through hostile environments into an Australian tourer? Surprisingly very little. With the exception of a set of heavy-duty leaf springs in the rear the suspension remains factory faithful, although with a twist. With a bit of input from an engineer Ray removed the rear axle and all its associated mounts and proceeded to weld the whole arrangement back in – 8in closer to the tail lights. The modification has earnt him not only an improved departure angle but considerably helped with the loads he’s able to tow comfortably, and improved the ride somewhat. It’s proof a little bush ingenuity can go a long way. You won’t find anything fancy in the wheel and tyre department either. The standard Mahindra alloys are all still in place but they’re now wrapped in very conservative 245/75R16 Maxxis Bravo ATs.
Up front the steel bullbar plays host to the time-proven Warn 9,000lb winch and a set of Halogen Nite Stalker driving lights with an aerial feeding the Uniden UHF inside. Up top there’s another dose of bush ingenuity with a roof rack (off a Ford Courier) modified to now fit the Mahindra… of course Ray originally modified it to fit the Courier after removing it from a Nissan Patrol, so who knows what it’ll be bolted to next? The rack houses a 100W solar panel permanently feeding power through the REDARC dual-battery system; although Ray also carries a portable 250W solar panel he’s able to set up in the sun when the Mahindra’s parked up under shade.
Throughout the Mahindra Ray’s strategically snuck in a few poly tanks. Tucked underneath there’s an 80L diesel tank bumping total capacity up to 190L of fuel (for an impressive range of over 1,700km between drinks). There’s also two separate hidden 50L water tanks – one tucked into the 50mm wide cavity between the cab and canopy under the rear window, and the second slotted into the roof of the canopy itself.
The canopy is another custom creation of Ray’s. She’s fully weather and dust sealed with lift-up doors all round providing easy access, and an electrical system throughout.
On the passenger side there’s a 70L dual-zone Companion fridge with two separate compartments functioning as fridge or freezer; with an Engel tucked in the driver’s side for extended trips. The rear hatch lifts up with a separate frame to hold the twin spare tyres, before a stainless steel bench drops down to serve as a camp kitchen.
If the whole setup seems simple it’s because it is, and that’s just the way Crazy Ray likes it. The back seats get ripped out, a couple of swags are thrown in and it’s good to go without a moment’s notice. It’s humbling to see that in a modern world full of multi-zone climate control and Wi-Fi controlled inflatable swags you’re still able to keep things simple. A rugged and reliable 4X4 that can go the distance and a simple camping setup are all you really need to get out there and see Australia.
Words by Dan Everett