Monster Mash

Originally Published: January 2012 Words: Graham Scott Pictures: Steve Taylor

Matt Chinnick took a diverse set of dead body parts and turned it into something that lived. Cue thunder, lightning and crashing organ chords, as a sort-of Suzuki emerges blinking from the crypt.

Matt Chinnick seems a reasonable, sunny sort of chap. But he has a darker side. He likes to take bodies and innards apart and put them back together in ways the Almighty clearly hadn’t thought of.

But let’s not get melodramatic. His creation is nothing more than a lump of metal and stuff, right?

So, Matt, when did you buy this vehicle? ‘The Suzuki was not bought. It was built, and it was built entirely by me!’ Oh dear. Anyone else hear the mad professor about to throw the switch on his creation? We’d better tread carefully.

So, it’s an Igor. As anyone who has read a Terry Pratchett novel will be aware, Igors are made up from various body sources, including ancestors, giving the phrase ‘hand-me-down’ a whole new meaning. If this was a human being (can’t think where that thought came from), only a bit of skin and some bone would be left from the original body. Why do Suzukis seem to get interfered with like this so much?

To continue the analogy, things like heart (engine), lungs (intakes), arms and legs (suspension) and even some internal organs (fuel tank) have all been surgically removed and replaced with donor parts. One of the only original bits, the nervous system (wiring loom) has been chopped and modded so about 80% of it is new.

It should be just a collection of parts, really, lurching from one disaster to another. Yet curiously it is also more than the sum of its parts, and that’s largely down to Matt Chinnick’s employer, who is Matt Chinnick.

Matt is the owner of MAC Welding and fabricates and welds everything from steel buildings to sets of railings. But he also has a sideline customising 4x4s, making whatever parts are required. It’s probably that side of the business that worked on this rig, as we can’t see a nice line of railings with ivy design anywhere in the final build.

Not to labour the point, but it’s hard to see much of the original vehicle at all in there. One assumes that he bought a basket case and then built it up from there. Not a bit of it.

‘My first 4x4 was a Suzuki SJ410 Santana’, Matt explains, ‘and that only ended up with basic mods before it got towed into a tree. That bent and snapped the chassis. So the second 4x4 had to be the same as I didn’t get a chance to play with the first one enough. So I found a lovely standard silver SJ410 Santana which was previously owned by only one person from new.’

That explanation contains two mildly jaw-dropping comments. Firstly, exactly how hard do you have to be towing a vehicle before it actually bends and snaps the chassis on impact? And secondly, he took a beautifully stock and well looked after vehicle, which someone would really like to get hold of in that condition, and took it completely apart. More Frankenfurter than Frankenstein.

However, there we are, one pristine, one-owner SJ, wave it goodbye. The chassis, you’ll be surprised to hear, is actually that same SJ chassis. Only of course it’s been modified, largely to make what is definitely an improvement – the switch from leaf to coil suspension.

All the old mounts had to be cut off, then the new radius arm mounts and spring perches were welded on, with the axles’ positions moved further to the front and back. This allowed Toyota Land Cruiser 80 axles to go on, and you know they’re going to be one of the strongest bits of the rig.

One consequence was that the Suzuki steering box now wouldn’t fit, so that too was replaced with a Land Cruiser 80 unit. But don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a simple transformation into a Land Cruiser.

There certainly wouldn’t have been room under the bonnet for a 4.2-litre straight-six for example, but Matt wasn’t satisfied with the stock SJ four-pot either. It wasn’t so much the horsepower that was the issue, it was the torque, or lack of it. So he turned to a knackered old Peugeot 405 and filched the 1.9-litre turbo-diesel. A popular choice, and Matt reports that it was a simple fit.

Except the inlet and exhaust manifolds had to be changed. And then the intercooler on the top didn’t suit Matt, as it turns out he hates bonnet bulges. He tried to make this all sound quite sensible: ‘So the inlet was modified so that a front-mount intercooler could be used. My only problem was that my intercooler was too tall. This wasn’t actually a problem – I cut it in half.

‘And the radiator was the only one I could find to fit in the gap, so that’s from a BMW E36 318i. As for power output – I haven’t a clue. The turbo and fuelling have been turned up a lot, so there’s lots of boost and lots of black smoke!’ Cue roll of thunder and peal of lightning…

Behind the emitter of black smoke, the gearbox is from an LDV Pilot van – not as bizarre as it sounds, since that also runs the Peugeot engine and so is a straight fit. The transfer box is a Rock Lobster, which effectively lowers the low gears and raises the high gears, hopefully balancing out some of the mathematical butchery achieved by running it on 35-inch tyres.

The props display some pretty agile thinking, it must be said. They’re both custom lengths, to account for the Toyota axles, and are Toyota one end and Suzuki the other. We’ll let Matt tell you about the shaft from the gearbox to the transfer case: ‘It’s custom-made and very small yet very clever! It’s half a Suzuki axle prop and half a Suzuki gearbox prop welded together with all the right flanges on. And it’s only 148mm long!’ You can practically hear the manic laughter rising over the organ’s crashing chords.

The suspension displays the same level of slightly unusual thinking, a level that leaves you feeling slightly mystified and uneasy. At the front, it seems sensible enough at first as he has fitted standard Land Cruiser springs. But then he fitted Vauxhall Carlton shocks, for some reason. At the back, he didn’t do the same again, oh no, he put on Hi-Lux springs teamed with Vauxhall Omega shocks. Just nod and walk slowly backwards, don’t turn and don’t run.

Instead let’s talk about the cage. Does it keep people out or does it keep people in? It starts with a brace of rock sliders bolted to the chassis. These had two bits of box welded to them so that the cage could run between the inner and outer skins and start halfway up the body. Both front and back sections are mounted to both bumpers, so that it’s very strong and could easily withstand a rollover, let alone a mob with pitchforks.

The body wrapped round it is recognisably Suzuki; it was originally a soft top but is now a crew-cab. There’s not much else, instead the inner arches are largely gone to make room for the bigger tyres and increased articulation.

The front grille is of course gone, along with the panelling, to make way for both the custom winch bumper (matched by one at the rear) and also the BMW E30 headlights, which Matt calls ‘interesting’. Well, they are, as they have an orange ring of LEDs around them which are the indicators.

These are joined at the rear by Vitara lights mounted out of the way in the tailgate, and there are also some home-made spots. Home-made? Yes, as Matt explains, ‘from a simple piece of tube with 12W downlighters, giving both wide and narrow beam to light up the track best.’ Fiendishly simple and clever.

Unusually, Matt has simply fitted two cheap Chinese winches fore and aft. And he’s very happy with them: ‘Even though these are cheap, neither has ever let me down, and they’ve surpassed my expectations.’ Fair enough. The wiring powering the winches, lights and so on has caused Matt a ‘massive headache’, but he’s finally sorted it, although the lightning conductor, to be winched up on stormy nights, has complicated things.

That just leaves the interior, and that’s a surprisingly straightforward place to sit. The front seats are from a Honda Prelude, and Matt reckons there are about 14 relays jammed in there to make everything work. But he doesn’t want to talk about all that, he wants to talk about the parcel shelf he built. ‘I made it to go in the rear of the cab’, he explains proudly, ‘so it can house the speakers, and it’s a clever way to keep my socks dry when driving through deep water.’

Matt clearly likes it in there, all cosy and toasty, protected by his cage from the nasty world outside and capable of crossing all sorts of countryside whether or not there’s a mob behind him. Not such a mad professor after all, then, and definitely more Rocky than Rocky Horror.


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