My 4WD Story: from Grand Vitara to Hilux to….?
Reader Andrew Riles tells us how he got into 4WD, what vehicles he has run, and why.
MY FIRST 4WD was a 2000 model Suzuki Grand Vitara, LWB V6 auto and it taught me a lot over three years.
When I bought it, I had just moved to Sydney and was looking for a vehicle that would serve both as a daily driver in city traffic, and a reasonable weekend off roader. I knew very little about Suzukis at the time, but in hindsight, it was one of my better vehicle purchases.
The first few 4WD trips with the vehicle were just off Windsor Rd near Riverstone, a place known as Wayne’s World for some reason. There were plenty of muddy tracks, as well as what appeared to be man made mogul sections.
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Being a novice 4WDer at the time, I wasn’t aware of the benefits of careful line selection and wheel placement, so drove straight on at most things. Having well worn highway terrains also didn’t help. After that I decided some upgrades were in order, and before long I had the vehicle kitted out with a set of standard diameter Bridgestone D694 AT tyres, a 35mm Tough Dog lift in the rear and a set of rock sliders custom made by my uncle.
By this stage I had joined the BBM 4WD club. My first trip was to the forestry behind the Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow. At first I felt like a fish out of water, as the other guys all had more capable rigs and were far more used to the terrain. Thankfully most tracks had an easier option that I could tackle, and the guys were there to lend a hand when I needed it. All in all, it was a fun, though a times a bit scary, day, and I learnt a lot about myself, and what my vehicle could and couldn’t do offroad.
One memorable trip was when we tackled Daniels Pt Rd in the Watagans. Most of the track was quite a challenge, requiring careful line selection.
This was also the trip where I felt I was starting to become a more capable driver than the Grand was a 4WD. One rock shelf I grounded the chassis as the front wheels dropped off it, causing the car to pivot suddenly from the centre and almost rollover forwards. I took my foot off the brake hoping the front end would out-accelerate the back, which thankfully it did. The car came down shiny side up, but hit hard enough to unseat the bead on one of the rear tyres. After regaining my composure and reinflating the tyre, we were on our way again.
The car was starting to show a few battle scars by this stage, so I decided a more capable 4WD was in order. I purchased an LN106 HiLux, but kept the GV. Pushing both vehicles hard offroad soon meant that I had broken both of them, though I was able to get the GV going as the damage was relatively minor.
I moved back to Orange at the start of 2011 with the HiLux on a trailer, and nursing a few niggles on the Zook. The final nail in the coffin was a trip I did soon after, which resulted in a blown front diff, overdrive no longer working, and a decent dent in the fuel tank. I purchased an older Nissan Pulsar from my brother as a cheap run around, and sold the Grand Vitara to fund the repairs on the HiLux, a decision I have regretted since.
I’d love to buy another one at some point, though I’d do a few things differently next time round. Lifting the front end as well as the rear would be first, and the low hanging front bumper would be replaced by a bullbar for a much improved approach angle. I’d also upsize from the standard, and unusually sized, 235/60R16 (27in) tyres to more common 29in tyre, say a 235/70R16. The bodykit proved to be a pain, so I’d remove it, and fit a set of cheap aftermarket flares to cover the tyres, and mould some sheet metal around the door sills. The rock sliders would be redesigned to run the full length of the door sill, then I’d fit up some decent underbody protection.
As a daily driver in the city, the compact size and auto made it an easy car to drive, and the V6 meant I was never short on power. One of the few shortcomings of the vehicle from the factory was the soft rear suspension, which would bottom out with a decent load on board. This was resolved with the suspension upgrade, though I’ve heard other owners have reported an improvement by simply fitting better shock absorbers.
Looking back, my little Zook was definitely the right car for me at the time. I learnt a lot about 4WDing from that vehicle as it challenged me as a driver to push it to its limits, and I regularly surprised myself and others as to where I could take it. It was a lot of fun, and very rewarding. Even so, the vehicle proved to be fairly reliable, with most of the problems I had with it being a result of neglect or misuse/abuse. I had a lot of good times with that vehicle, and well and truly got my money’s worth out of it.