SA’s home-grown 4×4
In the eighties, off-road racing legend Cliff Barker had a dream: to build a local 4×4 and off-road vehicle that could compete with the best the world had to offer. In the end, only 300 SVM 3000 V6 4x4s were built for the consumer market. This is the story of SVM, and of unit number 297/300.
Vehicle manufacturers usually have a detailed ‘history’ section on their websites. Alternatively, there’s always Google and Wikipedia to source info about a specific model. But that was not the case with this 4×4…
Special Vehicle Manufacturers (SVM) was started in 1987 by off-road racer Cliff Barker. He wanted to build something local – a South African off-road legend that its owners could be proud of. Interestingly, Barker also designed it to be easily adaptable as a mining vehicle. But we’ll focus on the ‘civilian’ usage.
Jeep enthusiasts might have noticed that it looks an awful lot like a Wrangler. That’s because it’s meant to. Barker and his friends liked the Wrangler so much, they modelled their design around it.
According to Barker, they wanted the SVM to be “wider and more modern,” but it still ended up looking a lot like the iconic Jeep.
To get copyright laws, the SVM’s grille features nine slots… authentic Jeep products have seven.
The chassis was designed and built locally by SVM, while a fair amount of the other components were locally sourced. The finished product turned out to be around 80% proudly South African. It had a locally sourced four-wheel drive system, local axles and a five-speed T5 Warner gearbox.
A differential lock was standard at the rear, while a front locker was an optional extra on the early models. A few models down the line, the front locker was fitted as standard. The SVM really was a full-size version of a Lego model – various pieces from different places, all fitted together in one cool package.
The engine selected was Ford’s famous Essex three-litre V6. The fuel-injected version of this never-say-die mill produced 110kW and bucket loads of low-down torque – perfect for a 4×4 application.
The result was a proudly South African 4×4 with a raspy exhaust note and epic off-road ability. Since it was basically a Lego set on wheels, it was fairly easy to modify and most of the 300 private customers have gone the modification route.
Hans Strydom, owner of unit 297 is even more passionate about SVM than its creator, and his unit is as close to standard as you’ll find.
Strydom uses the SVM as his daily car. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to bother about traffic and taxis and so on – he owns a lodge near Middelburg and does a lot of off-roading and fence inspecting on the premises.
This year, he entered the Bridgestone 4×4 Club Challenge for the first time in the SVM – and Strydom was in third place overall with three knockout rounds remaining. Not too shabby for a 30-year old 4×4!
The best news with regards to the SVM is cost. There are quite a few available for sale on the web, but one has to keep an eye on some of the (heavily) modified examples. A few SVMs don’t have the original chassis anymore, while there’s one that runs a Chevy V8 engine and a Toyota four-speed gearbox.
An original example, like the one in these photos, will retail for somewhere in the region of R65 000, but they are extremely hard to come by, mostly due to the fact that those who have them, don’t want to sell them.
That’s Cliff Barker’s SVM – a true ‘local is lekker’ motoring legend.
Engine Petrol V6
Power 110kW @ 5 700r/min
Torque 232Nm @ 3 250r/min
Fuel system Fuel injection
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Weight (tare) 1 240kg
Drive system Part-time four-wheel-drive with high and low range
Traction aids Differential locks for front and rear axles
Suspension Leaf springs
0-100km/h Oh yes, it can!
Top speed Depends on how brave you are
Text: Gerhard Horn