Well-known 4×4 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.
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 game-viewing 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 heavy-duty) 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.
Northern Offroad does not sell game-viewing vehicles. Instead, it converts clients’ vehicles on request. The company also resprays, revamps and reupholsters existing game-viewers.
Contact: www.northernoffroad.co.za; Tel: 011 791 1611;
email: [email protected]
Text: GG van Rooyen Photos: Supplied