In its good and bad moments Africa can put 4×4
vehicles severely to the test. Besides its roads
and topography, in its southern parts landmines
still litter large stretches of arable land and
in other regions low-intensity wars are being
fought. Alwyn Viljoen finds that a former bread
van has become Africa’s best 4×4.
South Africans like to boast that they live in 4×4-paradise.
They base their claim on having the widest choice of unspoilt
terrain; the largest selection of four-wheel drive vehicles
and, finally, the strongest and cheapest beer.
To be the best 4×4 in this paradise, a vehicle must
be able to handle deserts, snowy peaks and, when required,
even landmines such as those still lurking in the fertile
areas of Angola and Mozambique. Keeping the peace in parts
of Africa also has its own set of strictures when it comes
to go-anywhere vehicles.
The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho has over the years
provided another stage on which to show off the more technical
challenges of offroad driving in the form of steep dirt
tracks that snake their way through mountains some 2 600
metres above sea level. Lesotho annually hosts the Roof
of Africa 4×4 challenge, but heavy rains in December
2007 sent wheel-sized boulders crashing down steep paths,
which led to fewer than half the entrants finishing the
race. And to date only one vehicle has met all the possible
requirements of mobility: the RG32M “panzerwagen” (armoured
vehicle) built by BAE in Johannesburg.
The RG32M was born on the steep, red dunes of the Kalahari
Desert in Namibia, where sand grains shaped like ball bearings
challenge any chassis. Driving over the Kalahari sand dunes
is often likened to planing a boat: tyres have to be deflated
to about 1 bar and the turbo-diesel under the hood should
send enough power to the wheels to keep the tyres floating
over – as opposed to sinking into – the sand.
Further north in Mozambique’s Tet province, the
threat of landmines adds a certain zest to driving to the
new copper mines in the otherwise dull floodplain.
Military types acknowledge the RG32M to be the best vehicle
with which to conquer such terrain – including the
landmines. And this panzerwagen is British … on
paper, at least. BAE Systems bought the main shareholding
from Alvis Vickers PLC in 2004, which in turn had bought
into the former South African defence supplier’s
proven mine-protection expertise in the mid-90s.
The BAE factory now sells a range of ballistic- repellent
vehicles to various police and defence forces from the
United States to Europe and the Middle East, but the RG32M
is the pick of the bunch.
It provides a £152 000 (about R2.1-million) “entry-level” vehicle
for the lucrative market of peacekeeping forces, whose
members even blog their praise for this six-tonne, landmine-proof
panzerwagen with its straight-six Steyr engine on Unimog
While king of the off-road and a budget buy in military
terms, the RG32M’s price remains a tad expensive
for the private buyer in South Africa, who until now has
had to shake about in ancient Unimogs for go-anywhere 4×4
Enter the Iglhaut-Allrad permanent fourwheel- drive off-road
conversion of the Mercedes- Benz 315 CDI Sprinter panel
van. The Sprinter started life as a bread-delivery van
but, being German, one suspects it was always capable of
putting on lederhosen (leather shorts or trousers) and
scaling Everest during its afternoon off.
In its truly off-road conversion, Iglhaut-Allrad placed
three electronic differential locks into the drive shaft,
changed and strengthened the suspension, and lifted the
ground clearance to 26 centimetres underneath the rear
axle. Final touches include a snorkel exhaust that enables
wading depths of up to 70 centimetres, while rock sliders
underneath the length of the panel van and a bush bar upfront
provide protection against Africa’s bush.
The result is a bread van that will drive anywhere, stepping
with care only near a landmine. Anywhere else, we found
the Sprinter 4×4 to be as unstoppable as the legendary
Unimog truck. What’s more, it has impressed South
Africa’s two leading 4×4 fundis, Sarel van
der Merwe and Francois Rossouw.
Former rally champion Van der Merwe drove the Sprinter
in the Kalahari on the annual Mitsubishi Spirit of Africa
challenge. With 300 Nm delivered from just over idling
speed, the Sprinter always had enough power to crest the
steepest dunes without digging in, and now Van der Merwe
has his heart set on getting himself one.
Rossouw, again, used deep mud to illustrate the Sprinter’s
perfect marriage between Newtons, kilowatts and diff-locks.
While on the first magazine test of the 4×4 Sprinter,
Iglhaut-Allrad’s designers ordered the former bread
van to be driven straight into a mud pit after they had
spent most of the day crawling over rocks.
As the thick, black mud slowly closed over the Sprinter’s “Big
Foot” 315/75R16 wheels, Rossouw decided to use a
tactic better suited to front-wheel drive, high-revving
On paper, centrifugal forces will fling the mud off spinning
tyres, giving the thread fresh grip with each revolution.
Stuck in deep mud, however, the theory translates into
chasing the revs to just over 2 000, popping the clutch
to spin the wheels and then gunning the engine like a drag
racer to keep the revs in the power band.
Most diesel engines linked to 4×4 drivetrains cannot
generate their power at high enough kilowatts to spin the
wheels fast enough, but Rossouw reckoned the Sprinter's
peak power should do the trick …
He raced the engine, popped the clutch and with a cloud
of mud instantly blackening the sides, the Sprinter slowly
inched forward in the deep mud. Keeping the wheels in line
to reduce lateral vectors to a minimum and the revs on
the boil just below 3 600 r/min, Rossouw got the Sprinter
to continue climbing slowly amid twin bow waves of mud.
As soon as the front wheels crested the pit, the Sprinter
felt as if it had hauled itself out of the mud.
No other heavily laden 4×4 bakkie – the South
African pick-up – can emulate this stunt, despite
the region currently offering more 4×4 models than
any other country.
Now, as word of the 4×4 Sprinter’s ability,
space and fuel economy spreads, these manufacturers are
looking at a former bread van to use as a support vehicle
for their 4×4 safaris ... and, as a bonus, the Sprinter
can still deliver the all-important cargo of cold beer
and a few bread rolls to their destinations.
Permanent four-wheeler packs a punch
Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles identified a need in
the southern African market for an all-terrain vehicle
to meet the demands of their customers, the natural fit
as supplier was Iglhaut GmbH The Sprinter 4×4 is
based on a standard Mercedes-Benz Sprinter panel van and/or
chassis cab, which is converted to customer specifications
by Iglhaut-Allrad SA. The basic drivetrain used is the
same as the standard Sprinter’s; however, the front
axle has been converted into a driving axle together with
three diff-locks and the transfer gearbox, which includes
low range (i = 2,5). The vehicle is fitted with tyres ranging
from 265 to 285 to 315 × 16 inch wheels, dependent
on the application and usage of the vehicle. The Sprinter
4×4 has a five-speed manual gearbox with permanent