Text and photography: Danie Botha
Damn! The air-conditioning doesn’t work. Nor does the handbrake. The brakes are as vague as a press release from a government department. The ABS system is disconnected. The vehicle is less agile than a big motorhome. Between 60 and 70km/h the steering wheel wobbles and shakes. Badly. Even the radio is on the blink: the presenter talks in a strange language. Viking, apparently. We are driving a “44”. Or an Arctic Trucks Toyota Hilux 3.0D-4D 4×4 with 44-inch wheels. An amazing machine designed for the most extreme Arctic conditions. When the temperature gauge indicates minus 20 degrees Celcius, air-conditioning is rather pointless. The handbrake mechanism will freeze solid in such conditions, leaving the 44 stranded. The massive and brand-new Dick Cipek 44-inch tyres are obviously not designed for highway or tar use. The massive nylon tyres and special wheels are designed to tackle extreme snow and Arctic conditions – hence the tramlining and the wobbly steering wheel on tar. The radio presenter? Well, there isn’t much we can do about that – he is speaking Icelandic, the modern rendition of the ancient Vikings. And he is speaking it because we are driving the 44 in Iceland. It’s a convoy of AT vehicles? two 44-inch Toyota Prados, and six Hilux bakkies. There are two 44s, three 38s, and one 35. We are here to visit Eyjafjallaj?kull – the infamous volcano that erupted as recently as May this year, causing European air traffic to be grounded, courtesy of ash clouds that drifted over the continent. And to drive the Arctic Trucks bakkies on a glacier. Through snow and ice, dodging crevasses. Our adventure had started the previous day. After arriving in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, we had met up with Emil Grimsson at the Arctic Trucks headquarters. There Emil, chairman of the company’s board, had shown us the ins and outs of his business — the business of turning oh-so-reliable-but-a-little-bit-boring Hilux bakkies into oh-so-amazing ones. Emil explained that although the company also built Nissan Patrol, Navara and Pathfinder vehicles, as well as Hyundai’s Terracan, which seems quite popular in Iceland, Arctic Trucks’ focus has, and always will be, on Toyota. Toyota Hilux, Toyota Prado and Toyota Tacoma. 35, 37, 38 and 44-inch ones. The modifications require some drastic steps, depending on the size of the wheels. But even the smallest 35-incher requires some body work to be cut away, and custom fender flares to replace the standard ones. Turning a Hilux 3.0D-4D double cab 4×4 into a 35-inch super 4×4 takes two technicians only a few days. But, turning a Hilux 3.0D-4D double cab 4×4 into a 44-inch monster takes two technicians about two months. So it’s a delicate, intricate and complicated process. But it’s a process that has become second nature to Arctic’s team of skilled and enthusiastic technicians. And, considering all the work that goes into a 44, it’s an expensive one. The big 44-incher will set you back more than R1-million. The basic 38 will be around R1-million. But these prices all depend on the customer’s specific requirements, said Emil. But the sky is about the limit, he added. It just depends on the size of your cheque book. Then Emil played his trump card: “When we build a new Toyota Arctic truck, the vehicle’s standard warranty remains 100% intact. So as long as the owner sticks to the prescribed servicing intervals, he will be fully covered.” Emil smiled when he said that. And rightly so. Warranties equal peace of mind, and peace of mind sells cars. We soon hit the road out of Reykjavik, in the fleet of AT vehicles. More than 200km was on the menu for the first day. Our first stop was at the gloomily named Drowning Pool. And gloomy it was too, up until the 19th century. Women who were judged (by men) to be unfaithful or practising witchcraft were drowned in these stunningly beautiful and clear rock pools. Hands and arms were tied down, rocks added, and in they went. Pretty grim. It was hard to imagine such atrocities taking place in such a stunning place. The convoy of eight vehicles headed inland, through the Thingvellir national park. This World Heritage site, renowned for its stark tectonic and volcanic environment, is clearly a place which Mother Earth intended not for man or beast. It’s an unfriendly yet amazingly beautiful place. Later the rocky terrain turned into volcanic sand desert. It was spectacular. Recent lava flows — like in a few hundred years ago – were framed by glacier backdrops. Like in a movie, really.