Do Not Adjust Your Set

Originally Published: July 2016 Words: Dan Fenn Pictures: Dan Fenn

You probably didn’t think a modified Volkswagen Touareg would ever appear in the pages of Total Off Road. And to be fair, neither did we. But being proved wrong has rarely been so fascinating…

This is not normal. Volkswagen Touaregs have appeared many times before in these pages – but never, ever looking anything like this.

The Touareg is a much more capable vehicle than most people tend to assume. In the hands of VW’s global PR machine, it’s towed a Boeing 747 and set world records for endurance driving and four-wheeled mountaineering. In our hands, it’s been buried axle-deep at Holymoorside and coaxed through a three-mile tidal ford on the French coast.

And in the hands of Prospeed? It’s been turned into the thing you see here.

Prospeed is a motorsport-bred outfit from Yorkshire which started out in rallying and has moved more and more into the 4x4 side of the bespoke engineering business. Working from its own purpose-built facility a few miles south of York itself, it offers a variety of off-the-shelf products for Land Rovers – and also has the capacity to do more or less anything to a vehicle, so long as it’s a) interesting, and b) to a high standard.

This Touareg is a very fine example of that. It’s not a demonstrator (the company has a couple of those, and they both have green ovals on them) but a customer’s own off-road workhorse, however if it demonstrates anything at all it’s what the ability to write a large cheque can get you.

The story began with the aerodynamic low-line roof racks Prospeed makes for the Discovery 3 and 4. These do tidy business, which is no surprise at all when you look at one, but in this case they acted as no more than a calling card for the company.

One day, the phone rang. A chap from another part of the country had seen Prospeed’s Disco rack and wanted to know if they could make one for his 2003 Touareg.

The answer to a question like that is bound to include some reference to money, but that didn’t seem to concern the vehicle’s owner. In fact, it seemed to egg him on. Encouraged by finding a company whose answer was yes, he came up with a further challenge: as well as the rack, he wanted them to fit the truck with everything else they could make for it.

That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration – there’s no roll cage to be found here, for example. But having dropped off his truck, when he returned a couple of months later it had been adorned with front and rear skid plates, sump, diff and wishbone guards, fuel tank protection, rock sliders, a bull bar and hidden front winch mount and a rear bumper and ladder. Oh yes, and a roof rack.

Not a bad little collection of mods, that. But there was more. Deep in the guts of the drivetrain, Prospeed supported the rear prop on a centre bearing taken from a V8-engined Toyota pick-up. This was mounted in a housing the company designed and manufactured itself using a 100% CAD-made model whose accuracy was proven when it slotted in first time.

And why was a new centre bearing necessary? Well, if a Touareg’s going to break anywhere it’s likely to be there. And on a vehicle with such a high degree of off-road prep, it was bound to be given a tougher time than standard – especially as the other big change Prospeed made was to remap the vehicle’s engine.

If you know your Touaregs, you’ll recognise that this could mean a number of things. It could mean getting a little more life out of a small but honest 2.5 or 3.0-litre diesel. It could mean getting all revvy and ridiculous with a 3.2 V6 or 4.2 V8 petrol unit. Or it could mean doing something cheerfully bonkers with the 5.0-litre V10 TDI that sat on top of the first-generation Touareg range throughout its illustrious history.

Given that this Touareg is owned by a man who obviously loves his toys and isn’t scared to spend money on them, it won’t surprise you to learn that it’s powered by the big one. The number plate might have given it away too, obviously.

Anyway, Prospeed got down to work and wrote a new map for the engine’s brain. It hasn’t been on a rolling road since then, but the company quotes a confident estimate of 1000Nm. That’s 737lbf.ft in old money, or around 30-35% more than standard.

As for power, that was already on the right side of 300bhp when the Touareg was new. Rather than tossing figures around, though, Prospeed prefers to quote a real-world example of what it can do.

Enter stage left another customer, who showed up in an Audi RS6. That’s the one with the V10 engine from the Lamborghini Gallardo, and with 572bhp and a 4.5-second 0-60 time it’s not slow. Its owner appears to have succumbed to a ‘mine’s faster than yours’ moment – and having found somewhere suitable, the two vehicles lined up alongside each other waiting for the off.

Once the speeds reached a level that would be illegal on a public road, sure enough the RS6’s greater outright power and better aerodynamics won the day. But the big, heavy, diesel-engined Touareg stayed with it all the way to 70mph. Nice.

How does this translate into off-road ability? Well, since writing the map on the V10 engine, Prospeed has started using the next generation of tuning software. And the company says that as well as liberating more power and torque, this should allow it to modify the traction control – which, if you’ve ever tried to drive a Touareg on mud or wet grass, you’ll know can be a gigantic pain in the neck or anywhere else you care to mention.

As normal, when a wheel starts to spin the traction control starts applying the brakes. In most situations like wet roads or gravel tracks, this works just fine. But when when there are locked diffs in the mix, so braking one wheel brakes at least one other too? And what when all four tyres are spinning at the same time?

Obviously, spinning through is a well used technique off-road – if you don’t have the traction to do it on tiptoe, pulsing the throttle or even just keeping it floored can be the only way to maintain your momentum.  

The problem is that this is not a vehicle built for mud-terrain tyres. So spinning all four wheels is a technique you find yourself using a lot. Problem is, when it detects that that’s happening, the traction control thinks you’re barrelling headfirst into a mighty one – and shuts off the gas. All well and good when it’s protecting a driver from himself, but it still does this in low box – where rather than saving your bacon, it’s far more likely simply to get you mired.

We know this because we experienced it, time after time, on the aforementioned sortie in Holymoorside (where the axle-deep burial was preceded by several screams of frustration as the revs died while we were trying to scale innocuous looking hills). And we stood watching it happen again while taking the pictures you see here – Prospeed’s man behind the wheel, who’s a tremendously experienced rally driver, found it stepping in time after time to stop it going sideways. Which is fine, unless you want it to go sideways – or keep spinning its way slowly forward until your tyres find something to bite on.

The answer? Fit grippier tyres, obviously. Not that the choices are exactly overwhelming.

As you see it here, the Touareg was riding on its standard height-adjustable air suspension and running 265/60R18 Cooper Discoverer A/T3s on 10-spoke Audi alloys. That’s a relatively mild all-terrain pattern, and on the admittedly very wet verges of the River Ouse they were very obviously struggling for grip.

You can get a mud-terrain in this size, if you look hard enough. But if money were no object (and on this build, there’s every sign that it wasn’t) we’d be looking to replace the air suspension with a traditional spring and shock combo keeping it at or near its maximum height – because you just need to go an inch or two taller in the rubber department and there’s a wide range of top-quality mud-terrain patterns waiting to be fitted.

That’s assuming a smaller rim size isn’t suitable because of the diameter of the brake discs, of course. And if you’re thinking in terms of keeping the air suspension at its maximum setting the whole time, well, software could no doubt be plugged in that would do it – though the effect on its longevity could only be guessed at and, more to the point, using the sort of performance this engine allows when you’re sat up high with no give whatsoever in your springs will only ever be a recipe for disaster. The Touareg’s ride quality on max height suspension is pretty dire, too.

We’ve always loved the Touareg at TOR. To us, this is an example that’s taken its enormous potential and moved it on further than ever. For the sort of stuff we like to do with our trucks, there’s another step still to go – but we do recognise that as a huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ kind of a truck, which is also a thoroughly superb daily driver and a handy thing to have sitting around should your town be overtaken by fire, flood, brimstone or a zombie apocalypse, it’s absolutely spot-on.

Most of all, the guy who owns this truck could have chosen to be riding round in a brand new Range Rover or whatever. Instead, he chose this. And whatever kind of view you have on the off-road life, you’ve got to say fair play to him.

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