From the other side
Not all 4x4s are created equal. Some will last 500 000km without issues, others don’t. Some used 4x4s do well on the used car market, others don’t. We look at five 4x4s that were not created entirely equal, and come with some unique, well, intricacies…
1. Lada Niva (from Russia, with love)
The Lada hails from Russia, and it was on sale here from 1996. At the time, pricing started at R68 000 for the base model, and optional extras included an Audioline radio/tape and two speakers (R667), striping (R399) and carpets (R827). Russian company VAZ began developing the ‘Renault 5 on a Land Rover chassis’ 4×4 concept in 1971, and the Niva design was largely based on the Fiat 124. This included the interior and engine.
The coil-sprung Lada had an independent front suspension and a five-link system at the back. The four-wheel-drive system had three differentials (front, centre and back) and a transfer case through which you could select high or low range (with the centre diff open or locked). The Niva’s 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine delivered 59kW and 127Nm of torque. Those in the know say the Lada is an awesome and highly capable little 4×4… when it runs. Reliability was a virtue that eluded the Niva. There are still some Ladas running around SA today, and quite a few for sale.
2. 2001 Chevrolet Trailblazer
About 16 years ago, General Motors (GM) started selling the Chevrolet Trailblazer in South Africa. That old model was imported from the USA, and like any good American car, the emphasis was more on comfort and convenience than off-road ability or good on-road dynamics.
So you had GommaGomma lounge-style front leather seats that were heated (quite a novelty in 2001). Also in typical Yank style, the power steering was over-assisted, and you could literally turn the large steering wheel with your pinky. Powered by a thirsty 4.3-litre V6 petrol engine (142kW and 338Nm), the automatic version had an old-school four-speed shifter that was rather rough around the edges.
It was a pukka 4×4 though, and it had a 4WD system called Insta-Trac. You could select between 2Hi, 4Hi, 4Lo and Auto 4WD. Yes, it could 4×4, but not very well.
Instead of driving the Trailblazer, one tended to waft down the road, with copious amounts of body lean in the corners. The US-sourced Blazer was not on sale in SA for very long. At the time, you could have a Mitsubishi Pajero 3 500 V6 SWB or a Toyota Prado 3.0DT for about the same price, so it never really stood a chance. Thankfully, the latest generation Trailblazer is a completely different kettle of SUV.
3. Lamborghini LM002
It started as a high-speed recon military vehicle concept for a Middle Eastern sheik. But when the sheik said ‘no thanks’ to the 309kW V12 pick-up, Lamborghini added a leather interior, wooden dash and plenty of plush, and offered it to Joe Soap. It was soon nicknamed ‘Rambo-Lambo’ and it came with all the bells and whistles, including a high-end sound system mounted in a roof console and a 290-litre fuel tank.
Lamborghini also offered the option of its 7.2-litre V12 engine, as used for Class 1 offshore powerboat racing. If you want to go overboard, you may as well go all the way, right? The LM002 was ugly as sin, weighed as much as an elephant, could reach just 190km/h and only about 300 were eventually sold. However, if you want a perfect one today, it will set you back around R3-million. The LM002 is a bit of an anomaly. It was essentially flawed as a commercial venture, but it was (and is) an extravagant and amazing exercise in the world of opulent, over-the-top bakkie.
4. Hummer H3
American company AM General created the M998 Humvee light armoured military vehicle in 1992 for the US Army. With a demand for a civilian version of such a large, imposing behemoth of a 4×4, the H1 civilian version was released in 1999. It was massive, boasted amazing 4×4 credentials, and celebrity customers lined up to buy one. In partnership with General Motors, AM General developed the H2, a Hummer focused more on boulevard driving than war zones. Still, the smaller H2 was a pricey prospect, limiting its reach in the 4×4 market.
By 2005, the partnership came up with the H3, which was aimed at Average Joes. It sported the look of the big Hummers, but it was based on the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon pick-up underpinnings. The H3 was powered by a five-cylinder petrol engine that was underpowered and as thirsty as a 40-ton truck. Sure, the Adventure derivatives were capable off the beaten track, but the rest of the package was quite flawed. The H3 was sold here but never made any major impact. A V8 petrol model (with an old-school four-speed auto) improved matters slightly on the engine front, but it wasn’t enough to save the day. The H3 was discontinued in 2010.
5. Jeep Cherokee XJ (from China, not with love)
The XJ was in production between 1984 and 2000. The XJ certainly wasn’t the worst 4×4 you could buy; hundreds of thousands of them were sold across the world, and many still run today. The XJ was made mainly in the USA, but there were manufacturing facilities in Egypt, Argentina, Venezuela and China. And models from the Chinese factory were (and still are) notoriously shabby and prone to reliability problems.
So, if you are in the market for an XJ, just make sure about the country of manufacture. A few Chinese examples did find their way here, and if you buy one, you may be in for a few surprises. And plenty of tears.