Okay, so there’s nothing unique about a Toyota Hilux bakkie. The latest version has been around since 2005, and an all-new Hilux is expected to arrive here only in 2012.
So it’s a very familiar shape that hardly needs description.
However, this particular Hilux does feature some unique styling traits. At the front it is all traditional Hilux. The familiar headlights and grille take centre stage, but this Hilux also comes with a frame around the cab structure, which aids rigidity. There are two ventilation ducts on the roof.
The Hilux obviously rides higher than a standard Hilux, and besides the trick suspension (more on this later), this Toyota is fitted with 235/85 R16 BFGoodrich tyres.
The bonnet and doors are made of fibreglass to cut down on weight.
The rear side panels are moulded fiberglass items, and there is no floor, or base. In place of a traditional “bak” there are two spare wheels, a 10-litre water container, a 180-litre fuel tank, LED dust and brake lights, LED indicators, an exhaust system that really looks the business, a two-way radio aerial – and a whole lot of suspension.
The rear taillights are not actual lights at all. Instead, they are stickers that look like taillights. The function of the rear lights is replaced by the LED items.
But essentially this Hilux is fully roadworthy, as some parts of the route it has to negotiate as an off-road racer are based on public roads.
This Toyota Hilux competes in the production class of the national Absa off-road championship. It was built according to class D specifications, so the 4×4 Megaworld team is allowed to change the rear suspension set-up and also make some other selected upgrades – but essentially the V6 engine has to remain virtually stock-standard. However, modifications to the air-intake and engine management system are allowed.
In the national championship this class D bakkie is surprisingly closely matched to the premier Super Production class, especially when compared to the bottom-end of the SP field.
Features and equipment
With a price tag of nearly R1-million for a single cab bakkie, one could expect it to sport a raft of luxury features and safety equipment. Like a gold-plated gear lever, 17-forward gears, 61 airbags, enough horsepower and torque to tow a derailed Shosholoza Meyl train out of a ditch – and the ability to carry at least 6414 tons on its bak.
But this is no ordinary bakkie, of course, even though it is fully road-legal. This Hilux’s sole aim is to go as fast as possible in the roughest of off-road terrain. And it has to be reliable enough to handle the toughest conditions, too.
Everything about this Hilux is designed and built according to the requirements listed above.
There are no airbags, no air-con, no electric windows, and no sound system. Comfort is not a priority in this bakkie.
It doesn’t even have a proper bak. But you do get two spare wheels instead of one, a 10-litre water container, power steering – and a lot of stickers, stuck onto fibreglass panels.
However, the Hilux deserves three stars for the quality of the build. The attention to detail is spectacular, the workmanship outstanding.
The Hilux’s single cab cabin is a bare business. The roll cage makes getting in and out a right pain and an exercise in contortionism.
There are no carpets or material cladding on the floor or roof, just metal. And there are two non-adjustable racing bucket seats. These look really, well, racy? and one size fits all.
The seat belts are a mission. Instead of the normal plug-in belts as found in normal bakkies, this Toyota comes with a five-point belt harness system – as required for racing in the national championship.
So five individual straps all latch into a central locking mechanism, with the strap between one’s legs being acutely positioned. In fact, in an emergency stop, that little strap has the potential to turn a male baritone voice into a high-pitched soprano.
There are quite a few switches in the non-standard, carbon fibre centre console – the ignition switch among them.
Another interesting addition to the centre console that you won’t find in any standard Hilux is a computer connection point – to connect a laptop and download data.
There is a large box in front of the passenger, with psychedelic LCD displays. This is the odometre. The navigator use this to gauge how many kilometres the bakkie has driven after leaving a specific departure point.
He then has to use the provided “road instructions” to determine where the bakkie is at any given time, and advise the driver accordingly. You know, the “200 metres! 90 right!” story.
There is also a GPS system, but it’s not like the voice-command “Turn left” or “Make a U-Turn on the highway” type that the rest of us use in our cars. This one gives position and direction, and is loaded with specific waypoints that one has to follow.
There are other upgrades in the cabin.
This bakkie is equipped with a passenger-operated windscreen wiper system. When you drive through water, the passenger simply presses the button with his foot, and the wipers wipe!
There’s also a two-way radio system that allows the Hilux crew to communicate with their service team, and with “spotters” that keep the team updated on the progress of other competitors, and the race standings.
Another plus point is a state-of-the-art Motec engine management system that is linked to a very handy LCD panel directly in front of the driver – in the space where the Hilux’s standard instrument panel used to be.
They call it Sport Dash Logger, or SDL3, and it costs a cool R138 000.
This system not only provides read-outs such as actual speed and revs, but also virtually all engine and electronic functions. These include fuel and oil pressure, battery voltage, oil and water temperatures, lap times, corner speeds and maximum speeds – to name but a few. It also logs all engine and electronic data. The only thing it doesn’t do is make coffee.
Safety features include a fire extinguisher and all the metal tubing in the cabin – there is no ABS, or even a brake booster for the brake system.
Forget about the fact that this Hilux has no carpets, no electric windows, no air-conditioning. Forget that it doesn’t have a real “bak”, and that it is easier getting into the last row of seats in a seven-seater Toyota Avanza than into the front seats of this bakkie. Forget it all.
Because when this Hilux bakkie’s engine bursts into life, it is an event in itself. Breathing through a high-performance Hennie van der Linde free flow exhaust system, the V6 engine sounds like it means business. Wall Street business, not Cheap Joe’s café around the corner business.
Engage the feather-light clutch, hook first gear on the manual gearbox, disengage the clutch along with a healthy dose of throttle – and a new epoch of motoring harmony commences.
Swapping gears is as easy as it is in a Toyota Tazz. But the power is on another level. It’s relentless and consuming. And there’s around 180 kW of it.
Interestingly enough the V6 engine, which is mostly stock-standard, doesn’t like high engine revolutions. This is partly because of a 30mm air restrictor that limits the air intake into the engine. So the ideal shifting point is 4200r/min.
Most of the extra power is generated through a clever air-intake system (with a 10-litre air capacity) that feeds the restricted engine with the maximum amount of air. The expensive Motec engine management system, said to be the Rolls Royce of management systems, also plays its part in upping the power.
This engine is all about low-down grunt – and it delivers it in thick and fast bursts. And the sound of this machine! Even though it doesn’t rev to 8000r/min, the sound fills the barren cabin – there’s virtually no sound proofing – so comprehensively that it feels as if you are swimming in that beautiful sound. It’s just exquisite.
And who cares if this
engine uses 50 litres of petrol per 100km if it sounds this good? That consumption figure also explains the 180-litre fuel tank!
Getting the Hilux to stop requires a fair amount of legwork. There is no brake booster, so one has to stand on the brake pedal to get the disc brake set-up to bite. (There are Hilux discs at the front and Prado discs at the rear.) But when the non-ABS system does bite, it comes to the party in surprisingly spectacular fashion.
Don’t expect a comfy ride in this Hilux. This bakkie is all about hurtling along at breakneck speeds on a gravel road or two-spoor track, or traversing an extremely rocky patch that would kill a standard Hilux, inside five metres.
To achieve this, the bakkie’s suspension needs to be rather special. And it is.
The basic front suspension set-up remains standard, but the front shocks have been upgraded with top-of-the-range Donerre items – retailing at a whopping R49 000 each. The front suspension also includes hydraulic bump stops and kinetic straps to limit travel (which is pegged at 250mm).
But the real upgrade can be found at the back. Here the standard leaf springs have made way for two coil-over Proflex shocks per wheel, retailing at R15 000 per shock. The net result is a whole lot more damping and wheel travel (300mm), that allows the 4×4 Megaworld Hilux to keep its wheels on the ground in most off-road conditions. And wheels on the ground means traction can be maintained, increasing the speed and momentum.
Driving the Hilux on a gravel track demonstrates what a big difference the upgraded suspension has made. On gravel, a standard Hilux bakkie’s tail tends to wander a bit when one pushes it hard in the corners. Or, if one enters a slippery corner too fast, the nose will just keep on pushing wide (understeer).
Not this Hilux. Turn-in, even on slippery gravel, is immediate and accurate. Point it, and it responds. The tail is much less prone to oversteer, and if it does slide, it is a progressive and predictable process, and easy to correct by keeping the power tap open and counter steering into the slide.
At higher speeds, on a straight but bumpy gravel road, the standard Hilux’s tail tends to do a nervous jiggle. This racing version is as solid as a rock in similar conditions — amazingly so. It inspires heaps of confidence.
Traction is also highly impressive. This is courtesy of a limited slip centre differential (from a Fortuner), and limited slip differentials for both the front and rear axles. Although the bakkie has a low-range transfer case, it is hardly needed, no matter the obstacle.
Powering out of a slippery corner one can sense the diffs sorting the business out. Combined with the BF tyres, the Hilux just grips – and goes where you point it.
The class D Toyota Hilux is faster from 0-100km/h than a standard Hilux V6. Depending on the gear ratios fitted, this Hilux reaches a top speed of around 170km/h. So a stock standard Hilux V6 will probably outrun it on a tar road, with a higher top end.
But it’s the racing bakkie’s ability to fly on a gravel track that is so, so impressive. A standard Hilux simply can’t match it. The sheer driving pleasure of this machine on a rough gravel track, the intoxicating sound effects from the burly V6 engine, and the extremely capable handling and stopping power all add up to one amazing driving experience.
Deon Venter, managing director of 4×4 Megaworld, used to be an off-road motorcycling fanatic. But 10 years ago he swapped his bike for a four-wheeler – a Toyota Land Cruiser. He competed with the Cruiser for about two years, but says the bakkie was just too outdated to pose any real threat to the top championship contenders.
Deon took a break from racing, but the 4×4 Megaworld racing team continued. Then fate took a hand in 2009, when one of the regular 4×4 Megaworld class E drivers was injured in a crash. Deon strapped himself into the vacant driver’s seat, and in 2010 he became the class D champion, along with navigator Ian Palmer. He was back into the thick of things – hook, line and sinker.
For the 2011 season the bakkie was further upgraded by ex-Toyota Motorsport technician Mark Jordaan, with a few more horses generated through clever air-intake solutions.
This year Venter and Palmer are expected to be the team to beat in class D of the Absa off-road championship.
Testing times – the off-roaders
This is the first edition of an interesting new “off-road test” series in the magazine. Over the next few months we will be putting some other mega-machines through their off-road paces. Please note that the point-scoring system in this test is aimed at the specific machine, such as a championship-winning Toyota Hilux racing bakkie – so it can’t be compared to our traditional road test scores.