Weight Watcher

Originally Published: May 2016 Words: Harry Hamm Pictures: Paul Looe

When Richard Dykes started modifying his Suzuki Jimny, he found that everything he did made it heavier. So he decided to try and reverse that trend – and since putting it on a diet, he’s never looked back.

One of the great things about Suzuki Jimnys is that they’re light. They’re small, nimble and fleet of foot, and without the size and weight of most other off-road vehicles to bog them down they don’t ask difficult questions of their own drivetrains.

But then you come along and modify them. Even on a Range Rover or Land Cruiser, a full-house set of off-road armour can add a significant amount of weight. On a Jimny, by the time you’ve added two steel bumpers, a cage, some bash guards and a winch, in terms of pure lardiness you might as well have just gone and got yourself a 90.

Suddenly, you need a bigger engine. Its torque is too much for a Jimny’s axles, so you get a pair from a Discovery or Patrol. On goes a hulking great set of swamp-dog ronnies made from wagon carcasses, and now you might as well have got yourself a tank.

Richard Dykes had set off down that route with his Jimny when he had a moment of clarity. ‘I was brought up on 4x4s,’ he says, ‘as my dad had an old Series IIA Land Rover as his daily driver which he gave me my first drive in.’ Not surprisingly, he’d had a few different trucks before, about ten years ago, stumping up for a one-owner Jimny with 11,000 miles on the clock.

‘I bought it to get me to places for my other hobby of white water kayaking,’ he continues. ‘But as time passed, I started to change things.’ And that’s where the story begins.

‘I did the usual laning trips over the years, and a few playdays as well as Big Jimny meets. It's been a progressive thing over the years – bolting bits on and adding weight with all the heavy-duty bumpers and other stuff I bought, just like everyone else who first gets into off-roading.

‘But I then started having a go and making my own mods – and I removed most of the stuff I had bolted on. It had started to get too heavy for a Jimny – that’s when I decided to do the exact opposite to what I’d been doing. And I still can't help looking for things to remove now!’

When Richard talks about making his own stuff, he’s honest about what that actually means. ‘My dad’s an apprentice-trained welder, so he’s helped me with the welding. I just get to cut bits up!’ And design them in the first place, of course, which many would say is the fun part.

As a consequence, what we now have is a Jimny with an exposed winch mount and simple tubular front bumper. Surrounding it all is a cage – but instead of the rear body, it’s now a trayback with a simple chequer-plate skin.

That saved a lot of weight, and more was shed through measures like ditching the steel winch cable for rope and replacing the seats with carbon fibre buckets. He also took back the suspension from where it had gone, to give it more of a ‘just enough’ spec. In his own words, ’I’m sure at one point I was that high with springs and spacers, I could only see the tops of other traffic! I'm finally happy with the suspension set-up, as it now crawls without feeling unstable.’

Losing weight meant a think was required on the suspension front, predictably enough. Richard had fitted +4” springs from KAP, and they’re still in place at the front, but with so much less bulk at the back the Jimny could no longer compress them properly. You have to suspect that there was a bit of good fortune in this discovery, but as it turned out the standard springs from the front of the truck worked perfectly to give it the right level of lift at the back. They’re supple enough, too, with this level of weight going through them, though a set of home-made dislocation cones is in place for when the terrain allows the 30” rear shocks to show what they can do.

KAP was responsible for the trailing links on the back axle, too. And it will be for the fronts as well, just as soon as Richard gets round to installing the set he’s got waiting. They’ll replace a pair he fabricated himself, something he also did with both panhard rods.

We mentioned the back axle there, and it’s notable because it’s not the original. It came from a Jimny dated before the arrival of ABS, and Richard stripped the system off the front axle to match. He also removed the entire airbag system – not in a bid to create the world’s most dangerous car, but to pare back weight in any area he considered unnecessary.

Besides, if something is complex there’s a pretty strong chance that Richard will want it gone. ‘I like things to be simple,’ he confirms, ‘which mean less to go wrong. ‘ So next I will probably fit a Lock Right locker in the rear – it ticks that box, even though I've already got on-board air.

Other future plans include joining the select group of off-roaders who’ve used Jimnys for long-range adventure travel. ‘I quite fancy fitting a roof tent and doing some overlanding,’ he confirms. ‘I’ve looked at making up a rear box with its own lights that could be bolted to the back, a bit like the bike racks you can get, and removed depending on what I was doing. I’d made it up so I can carry extra fuel and provisions in it’

That would be worth seeing. As it is, this is one tidy Jimny, and it proves that you don’t need to create a monster in order to get ahead off-road. In fact, even now Richard thinks there are elements of overkill about it. ‘The only thing that I probably wouldn’t fit again would be the internal locker,’ he says. ‘They work exactly as they should, but I have only ever used them just to see if they work. I might think twice about the winch, too, as it more of a nice thing to have than one that’s really needed. Either that or I'm not trying hard enough!’

At the opposite end of the scale, the mods he rates most highly among the ones he’s done are the inevitable Rock Lobster gearbox and, interestingly, the application of a 1.6-litre petrol engine from a Suzuki Liana to add some get-up-and-go.

Between them, these turn a set of 235/85R16 Cooper Discoverer STTs which do the job just fine. Richard’s previous 4x4s include a Hi-Lux with ‘the lift and big wheels’, but these days he’s past needing to make that kind of statement. ‘Bigger isn't always better,’ he insists. ‘I’m happy with things now. After enough laning and playdays, you start to see what works and what doesn’t.’

Salutary words, then, for anyone embarking on a project and determined to build the sort of off-roader no-one in the world has ever seen before. Richard wasn’t quite trying to go to those lengths when he bought this Jimny, but having turned his back on one build strategy halfway through he’s much happier with the second.

If nothing else, you can be sure he wouldn’t do the same if he was starting again from scratch tomorrow. But that’s just experience talking. ‘It’s been a learning curve,’ Richard admits. ‘But that's been half the fun. And now, I know my motor inside out.’

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