PROJECT NAVARA: The final countdown

Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst

January, 2009. The Leisure Wheels Nissan Navara 2.5 dCi 4×4 is involved in a bumper-bashing incident in the Hartbeespoort area. Ai tog!

February, 2009. Damage seems superficial, but quotations for the repair of this damage range from R37 000 to just over R50 000. The idea is born: instead of replacing the bumper and other damaged parts, why not fit an aftermarket bullbar and custom headlights? It seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a project vehicle, something we’d always talked about, but never came round to actually doing.

March, 2009. After some research our idea of a bullbar and custom headlights evolves into something significantly bigger: why not build the ultimate 4×4 Navara? There are a lot of custom Toyotas, Fords, Isuzus and other bakkies out there. But not Navaras. We share our idea with Nissan South Africa, the owners of the Navara.

April, 2009. We meet with Nissan representatives, and discuss the possibilities.

May, 2009: We meet with Lionel Lewis from LA Sport 4×4 Megastores to find out if we are completely out of our minds, or if there is any feasibility in a project such as this. Lionel has built countless “specials” over the years, and this is the kind of thing that gets him all excited. He says that it is not only possible, but adds that he has done lots of research on the specific look we have in mind (an Arctic truck is the closest thing), and always wanted to build one.

“Bring it on. We’re in,” he says.

June, 2009: We discuss more options with Nissan South Africa. There are a lot of technicalities and administrative red tape to deal with.

July, 2009: We receive the go-ahead from Nissan South Africa. Project Navara is officially underway.

By chance we receive a phone call from an ATS representative. They inform us that Mickey Thompson (MT) tyres will in future be sold through local distributor ATS. They want to know if we have any long-term vehicles that need a set of MT tyres. We say: “well, we have a plan with a Nissan Navara. What are the biggest Mickey Thompsons you’ve got?”

August, 2009. The Nissan Navara is delivered to LA Sport’s Pretoria-North branch. The Navara gets a set of the latest and greatest TJM XGS shock-absorbers and springs, special bushes and a 60mm body lift. A TJM Airtec snorkel is fitted, while Lionel Lewis and his band of technicians experiment with different bullbars to find the one best suited for the Navara’s new look.

September, 2009. The massive 38-inch tyres arrive at LA Sport after being imported from the US. Now Lionel and crew have their work cut out to make those tyres work for the Navara. Several options are considered, including widening the Navara’s standard 17-inch wheels. In the end, Lionel commissions specialised adapter plates for 16×12 Mickey Thompson rims to fit the Navara’s hubs.

October, 2009. With the big Mickey Thompson wheels in place, the Navara is delivered to S&J Panelbeaters in Pretoria-North. This is Lionel’s preferred body shop, and S&J’s Quinton Fourie has, over the years, built many special project vehicles for LA Sport. This includes LA Sport’s Monster truck.

November, 2009. Custom Navara parts from Autostyle Motorsport are delivered to S&J Panelbeaters. Meanwhile the body shop team, under Lionel’s direction, is taking to the Navara, constructing custom wheel arches, widening the bullbar, and adding fibreglass finishes where necessary. We meet with Lionel to discuss final colour options, the location of the massive spare-wheel, and other customising matters.

December, 2009. At the time of writing the final finishes are about to be completed on the Navara’s new body panels. It will be stripped, and painted in RAL003 – a military green. The panels will be completed in a specialised matte finish, to compliment the Navara’s off-roading character. After the painting process is done, the vehicle will be returned to LA Sport, for the fitment of accessories such as the winch, and custom spotlights. Also on the menu is the powder-coating of the chromed Mickey Thompson wheels.

January, 2010. The plans for the next phase in the Navara’s transformation look like this: engine tuning, a special high-performance air filter, and the addition of a free-flow exhaust; a Ferodo DS Performance brake upgrade; and the interior, which will include full custom leather, and a sound and in-car entertainment upgrade.

Indeed, now we are in the home straight with Project Navara. And soon there will be some really, really exciting news regarding the bakkie in the offing too. Watch out for the March issue of the magazine to read all about it. In the April issue we will also discuss engine modifications that made our Navara even MORE awesome!

Reader input
“Since the standard Navara brakes couldn’t stop the vehicle properly in the first place, how about some upgraded brakes?” – Don, via

(We wouldn’t go as far as to say that the standard Navara’s brakes can’t stop the vehicle, because they can certainly do that. But the standard brakes just don’t seem to stop the big Navara as effortlessly or with the same confidence as do those of some of its competitors. Since we are adding a considerable amount of weight to the Navara, we will be adding a Ferodo DS Performance brake kit. This should ensure more than adequate braking power. We’ll keep you posted on the results. – LW team)

Navara shopping basket (to date):
* 5x Mickey Thompson MTZ 5269 38-inch tyres (R4 930 each) R24 650
* 5x Mickey Thompson 16×12 rims (R2 680 each) R13 400
* 1x TJM Airtec Snorkel R4 750
* 1x TJM bullbar (custom unit) R10 995
* 1x LA Sport 60mm body lift R6 499
* 1x TJM suspension upgrade R15 300
* 1x LA Sport custom-made sump and engine guard R2 499
* 4x LA Sport custom-made PCD adaptor plates for wheels (R2 750 each) R11 000
* 1x Autostyle Motorsport Navara Angel Eye headlights R2 495
* 1x Autostyle Motorsport Navara LED taillights R1 995
* S&J Panelbeaters, various custom body panels, and paint R48 000

Total (to date) R141 583*

*Excludes some labour and fitment, which will be calculated once the project is completed)

Mickey Thompson: Keith Bateman, Tel. 011 670 8400; [email protected],
TJM: Louis van Niekerk, Tel. 012 335-5598, [email protected],
LA Sport (Gezina, Pretoria): Tinus Breitenbach, Tel. 012 329-4515, [email protected],
Autostyle Motorsport: Junaid Essop, Tel. 011 837-3506,
S&J Panelbeaters: Quinton Fourie, Tel. 012 546 1500
Tuffstuff Insurance: 0861 4444 00