'Desert Ute' ~ A pickup for the Sahara
in association with the Matt Savage Ute Institute (MSUI)

Stage Two

Off in a week and just picked up my all terrain canoe trolley from Matt's.

While I was away Matt fitted a second battery (left) and a what I consider a foolproof 'split charge' system which avoids diodes, schmiodes and gnashed teeth with two dead bats and fries.

With the chunky red dashboard key in (right), both bats are connected and get charged off the alternator while the car is running. Come night time or a lay over, put chunky to bed in the ash tray and the second leisure bat can be run down with ancillaries run off a dedicated four-way cig connector.

There is also a switch for the Kenlowe fan left of the red key. The thermostat broke off before it even got used so it's been eliminated but I prefer to turn the fan on manually anyway as I always have an eye on the temp needle.

A q/d shovel has been tucked onto the side for easy deployment during boggings and for going to the bog. And on the back across the tailgate with easy-to-use screw down handles (not shown) are the ally sand plates last used during my Mercedes 190 experiment a couple of years back,

These will be matched by a pair of red Soltracks (below) which I've bought for all of us from France for €70 a pair. (Fyi, 2009: still the same price from the manufacturers but often sold for double at 4WD places in Europe). I've cut the corners off my pair to tuck them all the better under cleared wheels, a la Grand Erg plates. Light and harmless, they feel pretty tough, but a few days of 2 tons mashing down on them may make them whimper. I'll be interested to see how they stand up to it. All these trips of mine include trying out new things and ideas for my own interest as well as the next edition of the book. The Soltracks will also make handy under mats, wind breaks, ping pong bats and windscreen shades to keep the cab cool over lunch.

Tarps are always tricky to keep tied down until you get a degree in rope management so I've come up with a neater idea, an old fishing net bought off ebay to simply stretch over the tarp and hook down onto the sides. Haven't tried it yet but there's always lashings of lashing rope it if fails - and who knows, it may have some sort of use in the desert an a communal sand hammock.

I was going to take two 200-litre drums plus a jerry for measuring it out, but checking the insides of one drum today revealed some rust and water. Who knows how it got in but I can't be bothered to trace a leak if there is one so I've dumped it and decided to use one drum and a few more jerries.

As it was I was thinking that two part-filled and unbaffled drums will surge undesirably, 300 kilos of diesel mounted high slopping left and right could push the car over the brink on an off-camber dune slope. My last-minute reasoning is that one full drum won't slosh the way two part filled would have done.

This already narrow ute has turned out higher than necessary, a combination of desirable 750 x 16 wheels and the not so necessary 2-inch lift you get whether you like it or not with with heavy duty OMEs. Too late to do much about that now but it gives me more space in the back which does not hurt.

For the big stage across the Empty Quarter my car ought to easily get by on 350 litres - (2100km @ 6kpl) which is a near-full drum, 5 jerries and the fuel tank. I nailed some blocks of wood to a a table top to to help keep the drum in place for the duration with the help of a chunky lorry tie down.

Apart from the glove box the cab has no useful pockets or storage to speak off. I'll chop some bits out of my tarp net and pin it to the back of the seat for storage as well as clip a crate down with the passenger seat belt for handier access on the move. It's going to be tricky logging the entire route for posterity. Normally a pax jots down the waypoint number and notes so to get round this I've bought myself a dictaphone for use on the move which will need transcribing each evening.

And that is about it, baring the usual last minute drama. Come back in a few days if you want to see a pic of the Desert Ute loaded up and ready for lift off.

Overall I'm confident in the young Taro's untested set up. Its a nice light car to drive, young enough not to be shagged out and I'm sure the ease of access will have its rewards in the desert. With a bit of carpet tiling on the load bed and my mattress over the top, It should be pretty quiet. If it tips over at least it's easy to unload and light enough to pull back up without doing much more damage.

My biggest concern is the lack of power, not helped by the over-sized tyres. It's been a few years now but whatever I drive I think I still have not got over my HJ61's bark-stripping grunt. The toughest section of the Empty Quarter will be getting through the Ouarane Sand Sea east of Guelb where all the cars will be maxed out on payload. A grunty 60 will manage OK but the limp 2.4 Tojo engine will not have to poke to gain momentum to get up over the dunes. It will be like being in a Series III all over again - claw it's way along, one bogging at a time! This picture of the Saviem expedition in the Aïr comes to mind...


Oh well, que sera sera. If crossing the EQ was easy someone else would have done it by now. Pop back around Xmas to see how it went.




More on the SEQ expedition here


The last I saw of the Taro at Ikhalil contrabanders compound in north Mali.
As far as I know it's still there, though probably even less intact and maybe full of bullet holes

© Chris Scott, 1998-2013