Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst
Extreme, adjective: exceeding the bounds of moderation; being of a high or of the highest degree or intensity; exceeding what is usual or reasonable.
Project Nissan Navara exceeds the bounds of any moderation, it exceeds what is usual or reasonable, and it is of the highest degree and intensity.
It is utterly and unashamedly? Extreme.
Photographs don’t do it justice.
It is massive. Massive in size, massive in looks, and staggeringly massive in presence.
Sure, beauty is the eye of the beholder, but the “beholder” that doesn’t find this Navara even mildly gratifying may be in serious need of a visit to the optometrist.
If 4x4s were woman, this Navara would be Angelina Jolie, Heidi Klum, Elizabeth Hurley, Sigourney Weaver and Castor Semenya rolled into one. Pretty, but with a tough, no-nonsense edge.
Yup, the exterior is finished.
Those custom wheel arches, the unique colour scheme (in a striking matt finish), those humungous Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ 38-inch wheels, the powder-coated Mickey Thompson rims, the TJM suspension, the custom and powder-coated TJM side-steps, the custom bullbar with LA PRO winch, the special Angle Eye headlights, the spotlights, the TJM Airtec snorkel, the colour-coded Alpha Sports cover? it’s all done.
The result is truly spectacular.
People stop and stare, wave, take photographs, give the thumbs up, strike up a conversation when the vehicle is stationary, enquire what it is and where they can buy one. Honestly, after many combined decades in the business of driving new and often exotic cars, we have never come across such reactions from our fellow man and woman.
Nissan Navara owners can’t believe what they see when this machine appears next to them on the road. Some of them pretend not to take any notice, of course, but steal a peak at every opportunity. Ditto with some Toyota Fortuner drivers.
In short, Project Navara stops the traffic. Dead.
Hit the road, Navara
Okay, so we’ve covered the looks and the impact it has on the road. But what is this machine like to drive?
Quite amazingly, it drives very much like the standard Navara 2.5 dCi 4×4 it used to be. Sure, the specialised TJM 4×4 suspension makes for a harder, bouncier ride. Sure, those big 38-inchers let themselves be heard with a rather annoying rumbling-cum-whine, depending on the road surface. Sure, one sits very high off the ground. And sure, getting those big wheels to start rotating off the line requires a firmer press on the gas pedal and careful modulation of the clutch pedal, to compensate for the engine’s slight turbo lag at low engine-speeds.
Other than that, the still-standard 2,5-litre turbodiesel engine does a very good job at providing enough thrust to keep the big machine humming along just dandily. The big test was to be open road cruising, at speeds of around 120 km/h.
It passed this test with flying colours too.
With the six-speed manual gearbox in top gear, and the engine turning over a whisker under 2000 r/min (where the 403 Nm of maximum torque lives), it managed to successfully scale hill after hill, albeit with (again) a firmer press on the go-faster pedal.
Slightly unnerving in the beginning was the sheer width and girth of the machine, especially on the narrow, roadwork-infested highways around Johannesburg and Pretoria. Its track is more than 30cm wider than standard, so one has adjust one’s driving style accordingly.
And off-road, on African Outdoor Group’s medium-grade 4×4 track?
The only thing that would have stopped this Nissan on AOG’s track was its sheer size. Other than that, with low-range engaged, it clambered and crawled over everything we threw in its path. The massive Mickey Thompson MTZ tyres, famous for their performance in mud, performed exceedingly well in the mud. There was no need for the rear differential-lock either.
But would we take this machine on a more serious 4×4 threat, such as Baboon’s Pass, with all those nasty, big rocks waiting in ambush? With the current gear ratios, probably not.
The bigger wheels have taken a small edge off the Navara’s low-speed crawling ability, and on an extreme test such as Baboon’s the Navara’s clutch will take a pounding. With different gear ratios? bring it on.
However, we’re not planning on changing gear ratios. Project Navara was never intended as a Baboon’s Pass-conquering machine. Instead it was an exercise to see how far a standard Navara could be stretched, to produce a unique and eye-catching 4×4 vehicle. It’s a show stopper.
It is also a Proudly South African project. Several bystanders have asked the question: it must have been a heck of a thing importing this beast from the States?
It ain’t from the States. It’s from Pretoria.
And it aptly demonstrates that South Africa have the expertise, know-how and skills to create a vehicle as stunning as this Navara.
We’re not quite finished either. The engine will now receive the treatment, along with the brakes and the interior.
Firstly the engine: we’re not going to go overboard with radical modifications to the already powerful four-cylinder engine. Instead a Dastek engine management chip, a K&N performance air filter and a performance exhaust system will be added. The standard exhaust system is just too refined, and we need the Navara to sound the way it looks.
In the braking department upgraded Ferodo discs and pads will be fitted to beef up the Nissan’s stopping power. And on the interior front? well, that will be a surprise for next month.
See it, believe it
Last month we wrote about some good news regarding the Project Nissan Navara. Well, here it is: until the end of 2010 the Nissan will be on display at a host of national outdoor, lifestyle and vehicle shows, as well as at various shopping centres and LA Sport branches. This will be your chance to see it in the flesh, and kick some expensive Mickey Thompson rubber.
We will soon publish a detailed list of all the shows Project Navara will visit. For starters though, the bakkie will be on display at the Greenstone Pick ‘n Pay in Edenvale, Johannesburg, from 17 to 24 February. From there it heads to Pretoria North, where it will be on display at the Kolonnade shopping centre from 24 February to 1 March.
LA Sport Megastores, Lionel Lewis: 012 329-4515; [email protected] ; www.lasport.co.za
LA Sport’s Lionel Lewis was instrumental in the creation of Project Navara. We went to him with what we thought was a pipedream, and he turned that dream into the vehicle you see on these pages. LA Sport’s technicians worked tirelessly on this project, and with creative force Lionel charging right along the result was always going to be spectacular. LA Sport and the always enthusiastic Lionel Lewis is your first stop if you are dreaming about a project vehicle like this. If Lionel can’t make it happen, it probably can’t happen at all.