The real Oriental express! by Gerhard Horn & Danie Botha
Photographs: Deon van der Walt
In China’s crowded cities, cars are considered mere appliances. Big luxury cars such as Audi’s A8s are powered by tiny engines simply because there is just no space to go fast. So we decided to do our bit for international relations and help the Chinese set a new speed record. This is the story of an ordinary JMC Landwind that did something extraordinary…
“If you are not first, you’re last,” said the character Ricky Bobby in the film Talladega Nights. And that phrase kind of stuck after we first drove the JMC Landwind 2.0T.
We knew it was a JMC, and we knew there lived a four-cylinder, two-litre engine under the bonnet. But other than that, it was just another compact, front-wheel driven SUV that looked reasonably okay but probably drove like a bad political joke.
And then we drove it out of the Leisure Wheels offices, and on to the main road. There was a gap, a smallish one… and we floored it, anticipating some hooting and probably some finger language from irate fellow motorists, no doubt annoyed at being held up by a little orange SUV with a peculiar name on the tailgate.
Nothing happened – until the rev counter reached the 2 500r/min mark, that is.
What happened next defied everything we ever knew, or thought we knew, of Chinese vehicles.
There was this sound… like a 10-metre King Cobra who’s upset about missing lunch. A hissing, spitting business. And torque steer as the front wheels lit up. There was also speed. Oh boy, was there speed!
The rev counter needle darted towards the red line like an inmate who’s just seen a hole in the prison fence. First gear, second gear, third gear… holy Chinese vehicles, this SUV was fast!
A proper check of the numbers was clearly required: 140kW of power and 250Nm of torque, courtesy of an old-school turbocharged engine from the Mitsubishi parts bin.
This was the real deal: A performance-oriented Chinese SUV. With a claimed top speed of ‘more than 185km/h’.
Which led us to, well, the next obvious juncture: a speed record. Surely there must be some Chinese land speed records? Like the fastest two-litre BMW 7-Series? Or the fastest Mercedes CLK clone? Or something?
But even after tapping into the Chinese network of Chinese information, there was no reference to any speed record for a Chinese vehicle. Like, nothing.
And this, we thought, was just not right. It needed fixing.
So we made a plan – and started arranging a record-setting run (because there was no record) at Upington International Airport.
And we decided that 200km/h would be our target. That’s 56 metres per second…
Going Lotus on the Landwind
We had to keep the car as standard as possible for our record run to (sort of) conform to standard speed record-breaking procedures.
However, we were a little creative in the weight-saving department. In a Colin Chapman-esque move of brilliance, we removed the front passenger seat and rear bench. The driver’s seat was replaced with a high-end racing bucket (also made in China, by the way) all of which resulted in a weight loss of around 80kg.
For safety reasons, we also chose to fit Bridgestone high-performance tyres – the fancy ones you’ll usually find on a top performance vehicle.
The Landwind’s standard tyres are rated for a top speed of 210km/h, and since we weren’t sure what speed we’d achieve, we opted for the performance rubber, which is rated for 270km/h.
These minor modifications made a huge, huge impact on the driving experience. The Landwind is a pretty decent car with all its seats in place, but the weight loss definitely added a whole new dimension to the performance.
We consistently managed the 0–100km/h blast in around seven seconds. Not, like, super hot-hatch fast, but enough to have a stupid grin permanently plastered on our faces.
But it was the sum of the lightweight Landwind that was so impressive. The combination of the reduced weight, the body hugging bucket, and lack of the sound dampening afforded by the seats resulted in an intoxicatingly, raw driving experience.
With no padding between your bum and the bucket, you can feel every little ripple in the road – which is good and bad.
For the first 100km you wonder why all cars are not made this way.
After 200km you wonder who the heck invented bucket seats.
And after 300km you lose all feeling in your legs.
Oh, and the fuel tank would be empty too after about 300km – fuel economy is not the JMC’s biggest asset. Expect around 12.8 litres/100km on the open road, even when driving relatively conservatively.
Then there’s the opera in the engine bay and the grip from the lower-profile Bridgestone tyres. The four-cylinder engine makes a raspy sound, but it’s the turbocharger that really gets you. The sound it makes when it starts boosting is a heck of a thing. They should have called it the Gale Force, because Landwind simply doesn’t do it justice.
Arriving in Upington, the orange crossover with a bucket seat and a lot of hissing and spitting caused a bit of a stir.
The friendly owner of the local car wash certainly had no idea what a JMC or a Landwind was. He gave it one look and started asking questions in his best Upington: “What kind of a car are a Landwind?” he asked.
“It’s a new Chinese car we’re testing,” we answered.
This seemed to satisfy his curiosity and so we moved over to the obligatory paperwork to have the car washed. The logbook required a name, vehicle make, registration number and phone number.
I filled in my name and the make of the car, but I told him that I needed to quickly run outside to check the number plate.
“Don’t worry ‘bout that boetie,” he said. “I don’t think there are another Landwind in Upington.”
Upington International Airport – space shuttle friendly!
We chose this venue for three reasons. Firstly, at 5km long, it’s one of the longest runways in SA. It’s so long in fact, that apparently NASA’s space shuttle could land there.
Second, there are only three commercial flights that land here per day, so we’d have the runway to ourselves for two hours. The third reason has nothing to do with speed, however. The fact is, Upington is a lekker place with friendly locals, tasty food and even cooler hotels. It does get a bit hot though… like 50 degrees Celsius on occasion!
The record run
It’s 5am on a Tuesday morning, and we’re checking tyre pressures at a filling station in Upington.
We add fuel, because if there is one thing this JMC Landwind is not, it’s a fuel fairy. It likes 95 octane a lot. So we add about 30 litres – hopefully enough for the runs but not too much to weigh it down.
At the airport we’re a few minutes early and have to wait for the airport’s emergency team to arrive. We scurry about, adding duct tape to the headlights to seal the gaps, and sorting out the GPS equipment.
The team arrives and we head off with them, making our way to runway 17/35.
“Right, so when we get permission from the tower to go and I floor it, stick with me,” says the driver of the big fire truck. Mind you, if Airwolf was a fire truck, it would look like this one.
We arrive at the famous runway 17/35 – all 4 900m of it, and a ‘road’ that has hosted several SA speed record attempts.
“Right, so the runway is yours – go for it,” says the man in the cool fire truck.
Months of planning come down to this then. So on goes the helmet, on goes the GPS equipment, and we strap into the OMP bucket.
Wooooosh-tjirp, wooooosh-tjirp, woooooosh-tjirp goes the Landwind on the first run. But it’s a taster to check the runway, the conditions, and the feel of the JMC with its 6% smaller tyres.
The speedometer is completely incorrect, thanks to the different sized tyres… the needle easily swings to 200km/h, but the GPS says it’s really closer to 180km/h.
Meanwhile, the outside temperature is rising, and we need cooler air for the turbo to put its best foot forward.
So we go for it, taking as long a run-up as we can. Five clicks seems like a long way, but when you’re travelling at nearly 200km/h, it’s not very long at all.
Second, third, fourth, fifth… sixth gear. The speed climbs easily to 190km/h, but after that mark every extra km/h is a little battle won.
Slowly, the GPS maximum speed climbs… 192, 195, 196, 197… and maxes out at 198km/h before we have to climb on the brakes, the runway done.
We tried a few more times, even removing the last bit of weight from the cabin (the spare wheel and tools). But that was it… it would not exceed 198km/h, or break through the 200km/h barrier.
Blimey. So near and yet so far.
But never mind: as far as we know, at 198km/h we’ve just set the unofficial official ‘world’ land speed record for a Chinese vehicle.
Hooray for that – we’re first!
JMC Landwind 5 2.0T specifications
Engine: Four-cylinder turbo, petrol
Capacity: 1 997cc
Power: 140kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque: 250Nm @ 2 800r/min
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Driven wheels: Front only
Electronic driving aids: None
Price: R269 880
HP payment per month: R5 675
Good: Loads of fun, and very keenly priced. Practical too.
Not so good: Lag below 2 500r/min and not very economical
Man + wheels = speed
Man has been chasing the barrier of speed since cars were invented. Here are some highlights of the last 120 years:
* The first speed record was set in 1896. The Jeantaud was a French car created by Charles Jeantaud, and it reached a mind boggling (for the time) top speed of 63,15km/h.
* In 1927, the 1000HP Supreme Sunbeam broke the 8km record after reaching 331.2km/h.
* In 1929, Sir Malcolm Campbell attempted to break the world land speed record at Verneukpan in the Northern Cape. He was unsuccessful in achieving his main goal, but he did smash the 5km and 8km records.
* In 1948, a man wearing almost no clothes broke the world speed record for motorcycles. Rolland Free, a former US Air Force technician, realised the importance of aerodynamics to achieve higher speeds. So, wearing just a pair of swimming trunks, and lying flat on a Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle (with the seat removed), Free achieved a maximum speed of just over 240km/h. They made them very brave back in 1948!
* In 1964, Donald Campbell, son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, set a new world record at 648,7km/h. At the time, Campbell was quite disappointed by his record… the 3000kW CN7 was designed to do 800km/h.
* In 1997, former fighter pilot Andy Green set the current speed record in the Thrust SCC – reaching 1 223.6km/h, effectively breaking the sound barrier in the process. The Thrust SCC was powered by a jet engine.
* Andy Green, or now Sir Andy Green, is currently the driving force behind the Bloodhound SCC record attempt – which is set to take the world speed record to almost 1 700km/h. The record run is set to take place at Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape, possibly this year.
Our partners in speed
* Protea Hotel, Upington: If you are looking for a place to stay in Upington, the Protea Hotel is a great option. The hotel features modern rooms with en-suite bathrooms, mini fridges, free Wi-Fi and satellite television. There’s an outdoor pool (with its own bar) too, which helps a lot when the temperature hits the 40%C mark in Upington.
The rooms do have air-conditioning.
* ATS Motorsport: If you are in need of FIA-approved motorsport accessories such as racing bucket seats and harnesses, racing steering wheels and just about anything else you can think of when it comes to racing, ATS Motorsport is the candy store for you. ATS supplied us with the OMP racing bucket seat – the same brand that is used by top drivers in the World Rally Championship.
More information: www.ats-motorsport.co.za, Tel. 011-670-8400.
* Bridgestone: The JMC’s stock highway terrain tyres are rated for a maximum speed of 210km/h, which proved more than adequate for the job (with the 198km/h actual speed). However, we opted to fit high performance Bridgestone road tyres, which reduced the circumference of the wheels by 6%. The Potenzas have a maximum speed rating of 270km/h – so plenty of safety margin.
More information: www.bridgestone.co.za