You Make Your Own Luck

Originally Published: July 2013 Words: Paul Looe Pictures: Harry Hamm

Jonty Beales reckons he’s had the luck of the devil while building his Shogun. There’s a lot of reasons for that – the main one being that when he made such a left-field choice for the  only 4x4 he’s ever prepped, he was boldly going where few have dared to venture.

There’s a type of off-roader who tries one vehicle after another in a never-ending search for all-terrain perfection. There’s another who settles on one particular make and never strays, even as his projects get more and more extreme.

And then there’s Jonty Beales. After a lifetime spent risking life and limb (and licence) on two wheels, he already had two adult kids and a well established garage business by the time he discovered off-roading. But, he says, he didn’t want to just follow the crowd and build himself a Land Rover.

‘I used to do enduro bikes,’ he reminisces, ‘then I got a road bike and did it up to look like a works racer. But me and my mates, it wasn’t a road, it was a racetrack. It was dangerous.’

Those words are said with a shudder, not a swagger. He still owns his bike, and takes the cover off to look at it once in a while, but he’s moved on now. On, and up. In every sense of the word.

‘We had a long-wheelbase Pajero for work,’ he says. I liked its comfort, its equipment – and it was far better engineered.’ Than what? Guess.

Now, some of us would just have started abusing that work truck and ended up regretting it, but despite never having done any off-roading before Jonty was way too wise for that. Besides, he had the suss to know that what he wanted was a short-wheelbase, and being a man who likes his engines to have some get-up-and-go he decided on the full-house 3.5 V6.

Another smart choice was that it had to be a UK-model Shogun, not a Pajero. They’re both the same thing, more or less, but one difference is that the Shogun had a rear diff-lock as standard. A major box ticked from the word go.

This is the point in the story where you hear the word ‘eBay’ for the first time. That’s where Jonty found the truck you’re looking at here, a tidy range-topper with wood, leather, cruise, climate and three-way adjustable dampers – and won it for a mere £526. ‘I felt a bit guilty!’ he says now, and quite right too. Not that we’re jealous or anything.

That was about two and a half years ago. Since then, he’s been slowly and steadily building the vehicle up, visiting eBay almost daily and scoring a steady supply of bargain parts as a result.

If you thought the truck itself was a bargain, for example, check out the full exhaust system he picked up for 99p. Seen next to that, the Jaos bull bar, sump guard and spotlight combo he turned up at a breaker’s yard looks positively expensive at £70. A spare Oz Racing alloy came along for the price of a round of drinks, too, and then he came by a pair of headrests with fully functioning TV screens in them for… nothing. ‘Some of the stuff I’ve got,’ he admits, ‘I’ve been so lucky. It just keeps happening!’

Well, there are all sorts of clichéd phrases about luck, and most of them ring true. The one about fortune favouring the brave, for example: a 1994 Shogun is a bold choice of vehicle to use this way, and of course that means there’s very little competition when the right bits come up.

And what about making your own luck? Here’s something to consider, even if it’s a little off-topic. ‘I’m always cleaning, checking, greasing, keeping it in good nick. Then people ask me why it is that my car never breaks!’ He doesn’t actually say ‘well, duh…’ after this, but it’s definitely implied.

Fact is, the Shogun is a proper busman’s holiday for Jonty. He owns a garage, earning a living from servicing, repairs and MOTs, but at the end of the day he puts his Shogun on the ramps and his job becomes his hobby. ‘I’ve done everything on it. Whatever you ask me about it, what spanner size goes where, anything, I can tell you. So if anything does go wrong with it, I’ve only got myself to blame!’

Not that that happens very often. He’s perfectly happy to try stuff off-road, and with the amount of mods on the vehicle so he should be, but he’s not interested in taking stupid risks just for the sake of it. Been there, done that, you might say, and it’s why the bike we mentioned lives under a tarp now.

‘I don’t mind doing extreme stuff,’ he says. ‘But I won’t go out the way you see some people doing to deliberately wreck the car. If it happens, if I’m having fun and I break something, so be it, I’ll repair it. But I do try not to.’

You often hear people saying they bought a new, cheap off-roader because the first one they prepped so lovingly ended up being ‘too nice to trash.’ Well, that’s exactly the way Jonty’s is, but rather than putting him off using it in anger that’s just the way he wanted it to be. It’s the first off-roader he’s had, and as far as he’s concerned it can be the last. And besides, as well as getting the armour, suspension and so on the way he wanted it, he’s done the same with the truck’s image. Not something a lot of off-roaders can say, but with its Ralliart sticker kit, mudflaps and roof spoiler, not to mention a set of white Oz Racing motorsport alloys, it’s a very effective homage to the glory days when Mitsubishi won one Dakar Rally after another.

Not that it’s look is a pure pose. By making it look flash, if you want to call it that, he’s created a truck that’s more likely to surprise people. Kind of an off-road sleeper, you might say.

‘I like it to look nice,’ Jonty agrees. ‘It’s deceiving in some ways. People look at it and think it’s just a Tonka toy, and that I’m never going to get it muddy. But when we get into the sticky stuff and I’ll get through it and they’ll not… I get a right buzz from that!

‘And it’s not just a rough old off-roader. You can go to the shops in it. And in the winter, you turn on the heaters – and they work!’ Once again, whatever could that be a reference to?

Not that he does go the shops in it very often, as he’s got another car for getting about in. And anyway, the Shogun is far more fun doing what he got it for, which is being his hobby – whether that’s at Tong, his playday site of choice, or in the workshop. ‘Each time I go to Tong, there’s almost always some modification I’ve just done to it. The most recent has been Nissan Patrol rear springs, which give it more height, and raised lower mounts I fabricated for the back shocks that let the axle drop down further on full articulation.

‘But pretty much everything has come from eBay. Even all the branded stuff. If you look at it, you’d assume that I’ve gone to Jaos and LFD with a big shopping list and spend loads of money, but it’s all stuff I’ve bought when it’s come up and the price has been right. I don’t let myself get in to bidding wars – I decide how much I’m willing to pay, bid that straight off then sit back and wait to see if I win it. If someone wants to pay more than me, I think good luck to them, they can have it.’

That’s the wisdom of someone who’s learned a bit by experience, and it brings us right back to the one about making your own luck. Jonty’s approach to building his Shogun has been a mixture of planning and opportunism, and he says he’s forever looking at other vehicles in search of inspiration for what to do next. But whatever else he does, he’s not about to start getting stupid in a bid to wring the last 1% of off-road ability out of a truck that does just fine for him.

Many’s a time people have told us how the next truck they build, now that one’s going to be really trick. So, we asked Jonty, what are his plans for the future? ‘Keep looking on eBay.’ This is one Shogun that’s just going to keep getting better and better…


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