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Budget Beater!

Text: Danie Botha. Photography: Jannie Herbst. This article is taken from the December 2011 issue of Leisure Wheels Magazine.

Leisure Wheels and LA Sport 4WD Megastores’ Project Scorpio is finally a done deal, with all the modifications and alterations completed. And the good news is this: for less than R350 000 you can now buy a brand-new 4×4 double cab to overland between Cape Town and Timbuktu. And it’s fully kitted for overlanding, too!

Project Scorpio doing what is was conceived to do - overlanding on a dirt road, in a completely self-sufficient and capable manner. At R350 000, out the box, it offers pretty good value for money too!You could say that Bill Gates, one of the richest men on earth, made a few inspired career moves in his time. Today he probably doesn’t bother checking his bank balance before buying a new Bugatti Veyron.

But for most of us it’s a balancing act.

The bond, school fees, travel costs, fuel consumption, groceries, and so on. Today average Joe and Jane Public need to keep a more wary eye than ever on that bank balance and expenditure.

And this is exactly where Project Scorpio fits into the picture – it’s an overland vehicle, tailor-made for the times we live in. It’s the budget overlander that can bring the experience to more people, for less money.

Everything about this Mahindra Scorpio was added or designed with a dwindling budget in mind. For instance, the LAS Pro tent – that would normally be mounted on the roof-rack – is mounted on special Front Runner brackets on the “bak”. This was done to improve open-road fuel economy and driving performance. A roof-rack tent adds a lot of aerodynamic drag to a vehicle, increasing fuel consumption and reducing performance, especially at speeds of around 120km/h.

It’s one thing being able to afford an overland vehicle. Paying the fuel bill is another. With this Mahindra, the fuel bill will be more than for a standard Scorpio – but not so much that you’d need a bank loan to afford the extra juice.

A special long-range fuel tank has been added to ensure a range of about 1000km.

During long journeys, one can then fill up at bigger and more reputable stations instead of having to rely on the six-month old diesel supply at Pedro’s Discount Fuel Warehouse in Pampoenfontein.

The roomy interior offers a comfortable long-distance environment. So, with that budget in mind, we decided to leave it as it is – for now.

The cabin is actually loaded with goodies that you probably wouldn’t expect in a double cab retailing for R250 000. Cruise control, a fancy sound system (that Mahindra calls a swanky 2 Din Audio system) that can play MP3s, CDs, SD cards and USB devices, electric windows and side mirrors, air-conditioning, power steering and two SRS airbags. ABS brakes are also standard.

Interestingly, the driving experience in this Mahindra reminds one quite a bit of a Land Rover Defender. As in the Defender, one sits quite high in the Scorpio, and the front seats are close to the doors. This means the clean air between the front seats is substantial, but the amount of space between the seats and the doors is almost non-existent – just like it is in a Defender.

The fact that size matters becomes clear when one compares numbers with other bakkies.

Project Scorpio - MahindraLength-wise the Scorpio is shorter than VW’s Amarok and Toyota’s Hilux, but longer than an Isuzu KB. It is higher than the Amarok, Hilux and the Isuzu, yet the other three bakkies are all wider than the Indian double cab. So the Scorpio has a tall and narrow stance, compared to its mainstream rivals.

But is it any good off-road?

In standard trim the Mahindra Scorpio rides on 245/75 R16 tyres of Oriental origin, and it has a claimed 210mm of ground clearance. It also has a low-range transfer case (a shift-on-the-fly system) featuring settings between 2H, and 4WD High and 4WD Low, and activated via a rotary dial in the centre console.

Additionally, it gets a standard mechanical locking differential (MLD) from the world-renowned Eaton Corporation for the rear axle. This system – that’s on stand-by as soon as low-range is selected – provides full axle lock automatically when needed without any manual intervention (like pressing a button).

The standard suspension comprises an independent front system with torsion bars, and leaf springs for the back. Wheel travel is not the Scorpio’s biggest asset, but on the upside the Pik Up is rated to carry a ton on its “bak”. That’s more than most other double cabs.

Add the smooth and surprisingly refined two-litre diesel engine, with 270 Nm of torque available at 1800r/min, and you start off with a reasonable 4×4 as base. Not the ultimate, but certainly reasonably capable.

So the request to LA Sport’s Louis van Niekerk was not to try to build the ultimate 4×4 but rather to improve the standard unit’s capabilities in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Let’s start at the front. Here the plastic front bumper was immediately removed – and the LA Sport crew were presented with their first challenge.

The front bumper is held in place mainly by a flimsy looking bracket. This would never be able to hold a winch bar, made from solid steel. So LA Sport’s Corrie Nortjie made a much beefier bracket that is attached to the chassis.

Since there are no off-the-shelf 4×4 accessories for the Mahindra in the TJM catalogue, Corrie next set about designing and building new front and rear bumpers.

Meanwhile, Louis had ordered a set of Merrit Racing 15-inch rims for the Scorpio. These are the only units that fit the Mahindra’s hubs, out the box. As a bonus, they look just grand too. The rims were fitted with bigger BF Goodrich mud terrains, adding a few centimetres of ground clearance to the deal.

After looking at the suspension options, Louis and Corrie decided to keep it simple. There are off-the-shelf suspension parts for the Scorpio, but these units are apparently not specifically off-road oriented. So they just added two shackles for either side of the rear suspension.

This gives an extra 25mm of clearance at the back — not a lot when you’re talking off-road driving, but they lift the Scorpio’s tail just enough to ensure it looks the real deal, and not the “ag shame” one.

The standard side-steps were retained. These units look reasonable and are practical, too. Unlike side-steps on some other, way more expensive 4x4s and SUVs, these steps do not inhibit the Scorpio’s off-road ability in the least.

With the new front winch bar fitted (with winch and engine protection plate), and the snazzy new rear bar, the 40-litre auxiliary fuel tank, the Airtec snorkel and the Merrit Racing wheels and beefy BFGs, the Mahindra was ready for its first off-road run.

Even in standard trim the Scorpio is no featherweight – it weighs in at 2030kg. With the accessories fitted, this goes up by another 250kg or so.

In effect, then, the 88 kW four-cylinder mill – it’s Euro III compliant, by the way – has a big task in lugging around 2,3-ton over boulders, through ditches and up and down steep slopes.

Demonstrating that more cubic inches is not always better, the Mahindra’s 2,2-litre mill performs remarkably well on a tough 4×4 track.

The engine’s 270 Nm of torque certainly won’t cause an earth tremor, but it is available from 1600r/min, all the way to 2700r/min. And unlike previous generation Mahindra oilburners, this engine doesn’t mind higher revs.

Rear wheel articulation is not great. However, with the fancy Eaton locker doing its automatic thing in low-range, the Scorpio hardly battles to maintain forward momentum. Engine braking and traction are more than efficient. But perhaps the best thing about this Mahindra when it goes off-road is the way it makes you feel. You feel in command.

This may sound silly, but in many modern 4x4s the occupants are mostly isolated from the experience, and from the actual act of driving. The Mahindra is old school. Thanks to the high seating position and close proximity to the door, the driver can see the vehicle’s front corners, and the front wheel too, if needs be. It just feels more, well, 4×4 than most modern 4x4s.

Besides the Eaton locker, it doesn’t have any fancy 4×4 tricks. It’s up to the driver to point it, modulate the throttle, select the correct gear and find the best traction for the BFGs.

This Mahindra Scorpio can test its pilot, and we like that. Computer-aided traction and stability systems are really nice, but sometimes… well, sometimes its fun to go back to basics.

So, is this the ultimate or what!

Is Project Scorpio the ultimate double cab 4×4 overland bakkie? No, probably not. There are other bakkies that are more powerful, more luxurious, more comfortable, more refined and more socially acceptable.

And, driving on the highway at 120km/h, there’s no denying that this ain’t no Amarok, Hilux, Ranger or whatever when it comes to comfort and power. But we find the old-school charm that this Scorpio exudes strangely addictive. And the accessories and modifications just add to the charm, in our book. Then there’s the price factor – Project Scorpio’s reason for being.

Let’s use Toyota’s top selling Hilux as an example: The stock standard Hilux 3.0D4-D D/C Raider 4×4 sells for R412 500.

That’s R70 000 more than the asking price for the fully kitted Mahindra you see on these pages. Okay, so the Hilux comes standard with a five-year/90 000km service plan, and the Mahindra doesn’t. But R70 000 is still R70 000.

Sure, Bill Gates wouldn’t give a hoot about R70K – but Joe and Jane Public will.


Project Scorpio is done and dusted, though we are looking at minor interior upgrades for the future. So what do you think? Have we gone overboard, or should we have done more? Let us know what you feel. Send an e-mail to danie@leisurewheels.com.

More Information:

Phone LA Sport 4WD Megastores’ Louis van Niekerk at 012 751 0877


Or contact your nearest LA Sport branch.

Find out more at www.lasport.co.za.me

  1. Front Runner bakkie-slide: This top-quality system enables one to get easy access to the fridge and container boxes, stored in the bak. A simple but effective latch keeps the slide in its place. When needed, one simply slides it all out.  LAS PRO Cool 50-litre fridge: This SA-designed and manufactured unit is backed by a three-year guarantee. It runs off either 220V or 12V. The PRO Cool fridge is mounted on the Front Runner bakkie-slide, and the combination works a charm.
  2. Front Runner tent brackets: We opted to fit the LAS PRO tent on the Scorpio’s bak, to cut down on fuel consumption. Special aluminium brackets from Front Runner keep the tent in place. There are six of them, and they seem strong enough to hold up Jimmy Abbott.
  3. LAS PRO 1,4m tent:The LAS PRO tent lives in the bak, and folds open to the side, with an aluminium ladder providing easy access. Another advantage of this arrangement is that it’s not that high a climb to get in and out of the tent – especially good news after a long night around the campfire with a box of frosties for company!
  4. TJM Airtec snorkel: Since there are no TJM parts available from the shelf, LA Sport’s intrepid crew had to do some research for this one. They eventually found that the older-generation Mitsubishi Pajero’s Airtec snorkel was a near perfect match. With the engine’s air supply drawn from the Scorpio’s (already high) roof level, this Mahindra is not scared of water.
  5. BF Goodrich mud terrain tyres: Although we looked at a few different brands of off-road tyre, we decided to stick with BFG mud terrains. No, these beefy 31×10.5 R15 tyres are not the cheapest on the market. However, they offer reasonable value and come with a track record. Merit Racing rims (excluding powder coat): These wheels, imported from Taiwan, fit the Mahindra’s hubs perfectly. So no spacers or this or that are necessary. We’ve added a, well, Leisure Wheels touch – they are powder-coated, just like ail the other wheels on our project vehicles.
  6. The custom LAS PRO bar was designed specifically for the Mahindra Scorpio, and is fitted with a mid-range TJM OX 95001b winch
  7. A pair of top-quality Cibie 6-inch spotlights with clear covers: The bar not only vastly improves the Scorpio’s approach angle, but it’s also solid and strong.
  8. LAS Custom wheel flares: These rubber wheel flares are unique – it’s the first time LA Sport has used this design And it’s one of those “why didn’t think of that!” kind of solutions. The Scorpio, with its very flat body panels, just didn’t look right with the bigger wheels and chunky BFGs. The custom rubber strips rectify this problem.
  9. Custom toneau cover: This cover was specially made for the Scorpio, and fits around the brackets. It also keeps prying eyes from checking out your cool LAS PRO Cool fridge. We still have to find out how dust-proof it is. Rear suspension lift (R695): Two shackles are added to the rear suspension for an extra 25mm of clearance. However, this wasn’t done with 4×4 driving in mind – it just lifts the Scorpio’s rear end. The standard vehicle’s tail looks as though it’s sagging, even though it isn’t really. The 25mm lift fixes this visual problem.
  10. LAS PRO 40-litre fuel tank: The Mahindra Scorpio Pik Up is fitted with an 80-litre fuel tank as standard. This is on par with other double cab bakkies. However, for its overlanding role, LA Sport added a 40-litre auxiliary tank. This ensures a range of about 1000km.
  11. LAS PRO rear bar: The custom-made metal unit replaces the flimsy-looking original part. With a removable tow bar, power connections and a really sturdy look and feel, this bar looks the off-road business.
  12. LAS PRO dual battery system: This system regulates the fridge’s power supply, with a second battery placed next to the fridge.
  13. Front Runner Windcheetah roof-rack: The LA Sport crew had to do some experimenting when fitting a roof-rack to the Mahindra. Working with Front Runner, a few sizes and options were mixed and matched, and now the company actually offers this roof-rack for the Scorpio in its catalogue! It’s a 2,2m Windcheetah Slimline rack, and the aluminium rack not only adds packing space, but also enhances the Mahindra’s off-road image. We dig it!

The Merrit Racing wheels features a custom powder-coating job. We reckon that, together with the unique rubber wheel flares and beefy BFGoodrich mud terrains – and all the other kit too – this Scorpio looks as good and as “overland” as a Scorpio can. Do you think we’ve done too little? Too much? Let us know.

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