update PROJECT SCORPIO GETS THE TREATMENT
Project Scorpio, our R350 000 overland-ready budget 4×4, is proving quite an attraction. Initially, we didn’t really focus on the spacious cabin, but in the past month or so we’ve done just that – and come up with some robust yet cost effective ideas
AK Leather, based in Pretoria West, specialises in leather upholstery upgrades for cars. Judging by the long line of brand new 4x4s, bakkies and sports cars parked outside their factory, they are very good at it, with some dealers making the trip from Johannesburg to have their cars transformed.
Back in 2009, AK Leather upgraded Project Navara, our ever-popular 38-inch Nissan Navara bakkie, replacing the standard upholstery with leather, fancy green stitching (to match the paint finish), and even the Leisure Wheels logo embroidered onto the seats.
The result was classy and upmarket – and it looks as good today as it did in 2009.
Fast forward to 2011, and Project Scorpio. In keeping with the Scorpio’s original upgrade criteria of “as cheaply but as good and durable as possible”, we contacted AK Leather’s Johan Cloete. But instead of talking cow hide, we had something more budget-friendly and robust in mind.
We explained to Johan that the Mahindra’s standard interior trim was not bad, but it wasn’t great, either. Besides its distinctive Oriental look and feel, we didn’t believe it would age well in a tough overlanding environment.
So Johan did some research to see what alternatives he could come up with. A few days later the phone rang. It was Johan, and he had a plan.
“I’ve checked out the interior of a Scorpio, and I reckon I’ve found the best material for the job that’s also the right colour,” he said.
A week or two later we were at the AK Leather factory. The grey, tough-looking material he’d chosen is called Ripstop. The 100% polyester cloth is impregnated with a resin – and ripping this material is virtually impossible.
“I’ve used it on a few industrial applications, like the bench seats of bakkies that work the mines. They are exposed to lots of elements, including natural ones. These seats are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear, and this material is the only thing that lasts,” explained Johan.
The fabric is used mainly in the manufacturing of tents, awnings, blinds, canopies, camping accessories and seat covers. It was designed for durability, and to combat exposure to outdoor elements such as water, sand and mud. Cleaning it is as easy as taking a wet cloth and soap, and wiping it down. It seemed ideal for the Scorpio!
But seat covers are so, well, old-fashioned. We told Johan about our bold plan for the Mahindra: instead of making seat covers that pull over the standard seats, we suggested that he remove the Scorpio’s seat trim altogether, and replace it with the grey Ripstop fabric.
“Sounds like a grand plan. Let’s do it!”
Now it’s done and the Ripstop material even boasts an embroidered Leisure Wheels logo on the front seats. Johan also added the material to the door panels. With the interior’s grey hue, the result is robust, hardy, off-roady, and much more purposeful-looking than before.
Although we haven’t driven long distances yet, the new material does seem to breathe better than the original material on hot days. Driving the Mahindra on such days, even with the air-conditioning pumping at full speed, resulted in perspiration forming on the parts of one’s body in contact with the seats, like the lower back and legs. This doesn’t happen with the new material, which is great.
We’ve also chucked out the standard Mahindra carpets in favour of reasonably priced aftermarket units, purchased at the local Game store. The original carpets were, quite frankly, tough on the eye and not much good. The new grey rubber mats – yep, they’re colour-coded too – offer a more robust and off-road friendly alternative.
Right, so these upgrades have probably added a heap of money to the deal? No, they haven’t. The complete Ripstop seat conversion costs R5 900 for a double cab bakkie like a Mahindra Scorpio or a Toyota Hilux. This includes the door panels.
And the generic rubber mat set retails for R250.
Overall, the Scorpio’s interior has been comprehensively “overlandised”. It’s a big improvement, both from an aesthetic and practical point of view.
More information: AK Leather, Tel. 012-372-1663.