Somewhere, about midway up the highest mountain peak in the Western Cape, there’s a fairly new Land Rover Discovery waiting forlornly in the chilly, air for its owner to come and rescue it. Ag shame, I hear all you smug Toyota converts sigh in mock sympathy. Chortle chortle. This was not, however a mechanical issue. Let me explain.
Last weekend a group of intrepid outdoors folk went up Matroosberg in the Hex River Mountains near Ceres. Some of us hiked up to the ski hut and some took their 4x4s up the very steep, perilously rocky and fairly challenging 4×4 trail on the Matroosberg Reserve. Jake, in his Landy Disco was one of them. When us foot sloggers met up with the 4×4 party somewhere near the top of the mountain a few hours later we found Jake with a puncture – which is hardly surprising given the tortuous terrain. What was surprising – mind-boggling even – is that Jake’s Disco was fitted with low-profile tyres. Low profile tyres – you know those tread-free, air-free, sidewall-free slicks of rubber you see on soft-top Mercs and Beemers careering along highways. And puncture was perhaps a kind term for what had happened to the sidewall of Jake’s tyre. Needless to say it was irreparable – and R4 000 to replace.
The spare was duly fitted and the weekend progressed with some beer but no further problems. I did voice aloud my concern that we were now atop the mountain and Jake still had to negotiate the descent without a spare wheel. “What happens if he gets another puncture?” I remarked to the gathering in general.
“Well, then, I guess he’ll be hiking up Matroosberg on Monday morning with two spare wheels in his backpack,” quipped Mike unsympathetically.
Well, low and behold, come Sunday afternoon, when the hikers reached the bottom of the mountain there were two Land Rovers waiting for us, not the expected three. They were both carrying extra passengers, including Jake.
There are no low-profile tyres to be had in Ceres late on a Sunday afternoon, so back to Cape Town is was for Jake who had now written off R8000 worth of tyres and counting because the Disco still had more than half the 4×4 trail to negotiate. He also had to take the day off work on Monday and prevail upon a friend to drive him back to Matroosberg and up the trail to his vehicle.
When I related the sad tale to a motoring journal friend of mine, he said quite philosophically, “Ah yes, but that model’s not designed to go off-road.” A Land-Rover, not designed to go off-road. I was gobsmacked. Land Rover, that icon of African overlanding, the poster boy for rugged-vehicular adventure, not designed to go off-road! It’s like Ryan Sandes in pointe shoes or Richard Levi going out to bat with a badminton racket. Even the Queen jaunts round Sandringham Estate in a Landy. I bet there are a few rusty wrecks of Defenders past turning in their dusty Kenyan, Tanzanian and Sudanese graves at the mere thought. Something is surely rotten in the state of vehicle manufacture (or is the psyche of buyers) when they are building Land Rovers that can’t go beyond the tar. And it’s not just a case of changing the wheels because the vehicle’s entire computer system is calibrated for low-profile tyres. Now mind you don’t bump the pavement dear when you collect the kids from school. Because our half-million-rand plus, low-range, reinforced body, state of the art 4×4 isn’t designed to take knocks like that.
I have a Toyota Fortuner. It’s fitted with big, ugly knobbly Cooper mud tyres with enough air in them to inflate a rubber duck. It reversed half-way over an Audi TT in the school parking lot before I noticed the other day. It sings a merry tune along every highway, but we travelled for 20 000 kilometres through Southern Africa a few years back and didn’t get one puncture – not even in Namibia. Horses for courses as they say.
So the moral of the story is, if your SUV is actually an FUV (fashion utility vehicle) don’t take it OTT (off the tar). It could be a little damaging to your profile as a 4×4 aficionado.