Born Again

Originally Published: June 2006 Words: Alan Kidd Pictures: NCF

NCF is already famed for its SJ-based Blitz kit car. And now the company has repeated the trick for Suzuki’s other classic 4x4, the Vitara – allowing enthusiasts to rescue terminally rusty examples of a much loved off-road giant-killer.

NCF Motors, the company behind the Blitz and Traka off-road kit-cars, has extended its portfolio to encompass a third product range. Called the Outbak, this is based on the original short-wheelbase Suzuki Vitara, examples of which are now available to buy as donor cars for just a few hundred pounds.

While the Vitara was never conceived to be as serious an off-roader as the Samurai or Range Rover on which the Blitz and Traka are based, the Out-bak is not intended to be a soft option. It could be configured for a better on-road ride than its stablemates, but with many modifications designed for the Vitara also suitable for use on NCF’s kit, most owners will be thinking about its potential as a profoundly capable toy.

The Outbak follows NCF’s tried and trusted design principles, as seen in its previous products, of putting a lightweight body on the donor vehicle’s frame with the minimum of ancillary alterations. This, along with a full roll cage made from MSA-approved 48mm BS1387 steel tubing, mounts straight to the Vitara chassis, leaving the engine, gearbox, steering, suspension, fuel tank, bulkhead, pedal box and dashboard undisturbed – meaning that compared to most other kit cars, the amount of work involved in completing it is miniscule. NCF says it’s even possible to complete the job without removing the donor car’s floor and seats, though most owners will want to replace the latter with something better suited to extreme off-road use.

So, what does go? Basically, the bits that are prone to rusting out, though the Vitara is largely proving to be less troublesome on this score than the Samurai.

Having unbolted the scrap bodywork, the entire front end of the vehicle is replaced with a one-piece unit featuring a bonnet and inner wings made from galvanised steel. This is mounted on the front crossmember so as to pivot forward when open, providing unrivalled access to the engine bay.

As you’d expect of a design intended to enhance the vehicle’s off-road capability, the Outbak body has minimal overhangs for the best possible approach and departure angles. The extra space it provides allows the use of 33x12.50R15 tyres, though these aren’t included and you might want to pay some attention to gearing issues if going up to such a large fitment, not least because the standard Vitara front diff is less than celebrated for its robustness in extreme off-road use.

With its steel body removed and replaced with much smaller, lighter panels, however, the Outbak will put a lot less stress through its drivetrain than a standard Vitara. This light weight should also allow a more agile performance off-road, especially as it will create a lifting effect when used in conjunction with standard-rate springs.

With less weight to compress the suspension, however, the ideal way to lift an Outbak is likely to involve using a proprietary kit in conjunction with lower spring ratings and the longest-travel shocks available. NCF describes the vehicle as a four-seater (only true if your donor car is a model other than the 1993 Sport), but the way to really minimise weight for dedicated off-road use would be to remove the rear bench – freeing up useful space for recovery gear in the process.

For added practicality – and to enhance what NCF describes as the vehicle’s ‘macho good looks’ – you can also buy door frames and a soft-top as optional extras. Together, these add around 35% to the overall price, so you’d really need to want them, and for on-road use there’s also the cost of tax, insurance and MOT compliance to consider – all very relevant issues when the vast majority of buyers will have another vehicle as their everyday car.

By retaining the original chassis, axles and drivetrain, however, the vehicle remains a Vitara in the eyes of the law, meaning no SVA testing is necessary. This removes one of the major headaches usually involved in building kit cars or heavily modifying vehicles, though this has to be balanced against the need to get your own lights and windscreen for the vehicle.

The primary attraction of the Outbak, as is the case with all NCF’s vehicles, is the simplicity with which the average owner, using a bare minimum of tools, can create one out of the remnants of a rotten Vitara. Indeed, knocking down the donor vehicle may well be the hardest part of the job, as there will be plenty of rusted-up bolts to free off.

The kit comes with a full assembly manual, which is also available separately for potential buyers who want to know what they’re letting themselves in for. But few are likely to be put off: NCF’s styling may not be to everyone’s taste, but the manner in which the Outbak allows a perfectly good Vitara to be rescued from the scrapyard and turned into an A1 fun buggy has got to be applauded.

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