latest Sahara Overland project vehicle is nothing
less than a Mazda
B2500 Rap Cab pickup. No, I've
never seen one either until I looked, but they
may be better known as Ford Rangers,
built by Mazda for Ford in Thailand – the
second biggest pickup market in the world after
you-know-where. Ford partly owns
Apart from describing a constricted
space where one can get down, 'Rap
Cab' is Mazda's
naff name for Ford Ranger's Super Cab, Nissan Navara's
King Cab and a Hilux Extra Cab - or as I call
them: a cab-and-a-half. ('RAP' actually stands for Rear Access Panel).
Double cabs are more common in
but all I needed was
the extended cab to securely store more gear than
a single cab and tip th seat back, plus a longer bed than a double to
transport and tow 3 + 3 bikes on a bike tour as well as a job in Morocco.
I was interested in ‘commercial’ models
with manual features but with air-con. The trendy,
over-accessorised lifestyle models
like the Navara and L200s weren’t
even looked at (Nissan engines are time bombs,
4x4 Magazine produced a handy booklet of 40 reprinted
pickup road tests which helped with comparative
specs, but it's not exactly a thrilling read; all
these vehicles are boringly similar.
a nice-looking 2.5 Isuzu
D-Max Rodeo, only 30,000m,
2003, canopy on the back for £7000.
but was it was a 118hp Thai direct import
which much web-trawling revealed that it lacked
at the very least an intercooler, under sealing
and the CD of official, 130hp UK models. And I
was not keen on the electronic
button for 4WD engagement.
Normally I'd play it safe and chose
a Toyota but post-2003 2.5 D-4D Hiluxs are
over-priced for a lame 103hp, and there
were no Extra Cabs in the UK before the introduction
of the 3-litre 2006 model. I had a spin
in the nearest-to-me double cab 2.5 D-4D anyway.
A couple of years old, chock-solid with mud underneath,
a ply-lined load bed falling apart and oil filler
cap missing. Stilleto-clad dealer babe
wanted 12,000 quid! I felt sorry for her. Of course
I wanted an extra cab Hilux and looking
I found plenty in Germany from
around €11000 for 2003 onwards. But although
LHD would be preferable, going there and the whole re-rego
thing would add another £grand. And common
rail is still a bit of a gamble with dodgy desert
fuel. There are enough possible problems out there.
Then, hamdulilai! parking
at Tescos one day I spotted a Ford
Ranger Super Cab. I was obsessed with cab-and-a-halfs
by this time but I’d
dismissed Rangers as being a ‘Ford’.
I took off my blinkers and did some research: 108hp - the
last of the pre-CRDs up to 2006 with lever
actuated transfer on a switchable front diff
engagement button. A very nifty forward-opening rear ‘half
doors’ (great for loading),
intercooled, front torsion bars, 15”s. All
in all, nothing too radical and rated as
unfashionably functional – suits me
Then I cottoned-on to the even
less fashionable but identical Mazda
or Mazda, it didn’t
bother me by now as I had it licked as long as
it had air, low miles and a canopy. Eventually
I settled on a 2003 Mazda in Wilts with 50,000m
on FSH for £6500. Off it went to Matt’s
Barn in Matlock.
Being only late 2003 with 50,000 miles and newish
tyres it didn't require any drastic mods - just
the usual desert stuff which included:
I came back from a desert
trip and there it was,
all done and smelling of day-old paint. As always
Matt and his unidentified associates had done a
brilliant job and making the right decisions
all for a couple of grand with
parts. It's nice to be able to leave a vehicle
with him knowing he'll stick to the script and
do the right thing.
looks better than I thought it would with the new
said. “Why wouldn’t it?” I asked
(this was my third NATO Sand car). “Well
it looked fine before”. It seems that painting
over a perfectly good (if wanky) factory paint
job had caused him a Dark Night of the Spraygun,
but who over 8 years old wants to drive around
with fake silver mud splash and ‘Rap Cab,
4-Work, FreeStyle!, Live Life to the Maxx ’ stickers
on their car?
Car's got noticeably more torque after chipping,
as you'd expect - probably as much as my old 130-horse
HJ61 but without the trans-mashing grrrunt or the
6-cyl smoothness. For a 2. 5 it will do
Since then I towed 6 bikes to Algeria and
back, no problems apart from a 'misfire' at a steady
60 when I got back on the highway. Assumed it was
crap in the fuel line or choked airbox but Matt
thought it may be a sticky EGR valve which can be
disconnected and blocked off. It's a common problem with EGRs and it rarely happens now. I'll get
round to blocking off the EGR for 2010 though it seems
to have gone away.
On a fast run it gets
quite hot in the small cab with the bigger intercooler,
or maybe it always did; the cubby box and cup holder
areas get very warm. Means you need a/c when you
don't really want it but will be handy in winter.
I know Defenders with bigger l-cs get very hot;
I guess it's the price of more power. The water temp
needle never moves above normal no matter what you
Plenty more power with the same
economy - usually 25mpg or 8 kpl, can manage 30 and best ever was 34 down to France with a tail wind that was blowing trucks off the road. One day in Algeria
I had it down to a 15mpg towing fast against the
wind! Good thing it's only 11p a litre out there.
In April and May 2008 I spent a month in Morocco researching Morocco Overland which as expected broke some of the OE sub-leaves
on the back. The good thing is the airbags kept
the car high and level so I didn't even notice until
a broken leaf worked loose and banged on the rim. So airbags are like
a backup suspension - write that down. I fixed one side in Ouarzazate
then noticed the other side was broken too but
left it and got some OME
suspension back in the UK. It's pretty bumpy when empty but a guy suggested I make sure the air bags are fully purged when deflating. That rattle on some low gear hard
power clutch changes is still there sometimes.
It can't be the release bearing and it survived Morocco
and another year so whatever it is, it's not important
and the gearbox is the same as ever.
So after 20,000 miles and two desert trips it still runs as well
as when I bought it. No noises whines or leaks. Just what you'd expect really, if not more from this little-known marque - you'd assume a Ford Ranger is as good.