THE Japanese may love golf, Scotland and all things tartan but when it comes to returning the admiration and esteem it would be hard to beat the Tanzanians. Their appreciation of the Japanese is evidenced by the fact that 95 percent of their cars come from the Land of the Rising Sun and by the fact that they all love the road that runs from Mosquito Town, past Lake Manyara, to the entrance to the Ngorongoro conservation area. The 75kms stretch is universally referred to as the Japanese Road – because it was paid for through donations from the many Japanese companies based in Tanzania and a loan from the Japanese Government. It is one of the few decent roads in the country. Even a slight deviation turns into a pot-hole dodgem event which the vehicle will inevitably lose – hence the overwhelming popularity of the 4×4 and the Toyota Land Cruiser in particular. The model put to the test on an African safari recently was certainly not a new or even an almost new version. It was at least nine years old but it was tough, safe and reliable which is really all that is needed.
Like most big off-roaders which stalk the animals with relentless determination, this vehicle had undergone a few modifications – a safari snorkel dust-reducing vent, bull bars, sealed up driver’s side passenger doors and raised roof for better viewing are fairly standard but, as this vehicle had originally seen service as an ambulance, it required a bigger refit than most. The stretcher and oxygen tanks had been replaced by conventional seats; the back access by a single side door and the Red Cross by an all-over black matt finish. It was certainly not the prettiest kid on the block but it was perfect for the job in hand, namely transporting tourists across a variety of terrains.
Powered by a 4.5litre diesel engine, it had a nine-speed switchable transmission – five high, four low. Between us we worked out that it averaged about 18mpg – a figure which improved considerably on the Japanese Road – but it was unlikely to run out of fuel thanks to a 90litre tank at the front and a similar capacity tank at the rear. It also had two spare tyres, a tow bar and a high lift jack as well as high frequency communications equipment to keep in touch with other guides and officials.
The driver, Isdory Shauri – known as Issy – had toyed with the idea of switching to a Land Rover with a more powerful turbocharged engine but he reckons they are less reliable under extreme safari conditions. For him it came down to the coil spring suspension of the Land Rover versus the more comfortable leaf spring of the Toyota.
It had sufficient seats for seven but, given its primary purpose, five occupants are preferable to allow everyone a 360 degree clear view as well as room for cool boxes and rubbish bags – rule number two when travelling in wildlife reserves is take all rubbish away with you (rule number one is only step out of your vehicle if you are keen to join the food chain). If you are taking in multiple locations, the rear storage area is roomy enough for most travel bags but leave space for the much-needed water supply.
Across rough terrain the Land Cruiser was no better or worse than you’d expect; on the few smoother surfaces it bowled along at a decent speed and, despite the heat and hundreds of miles travelled, never gave any of us a moment’s concern although Issy, who also runs an agricultural machinery repair shop, revealed later that he had fixed a water pump with a splinter of wood and some resin – very low tech but no less effective and, as he pointed out, it stopped us ‘becoming caputy’ which was just as well. Even a minor bump or breakdown in a safari reserve nets a £200 fine to the vehicle’s owner – which is about two months wages for the average Tanzanian worker.
It is unlikely that anyone outside Africa would be able to pick up a similar version of this Land Cruiser. There are, however, plenty of robust and inexpensive versions on the used car forecourts as well as the latest showroom models which in the UK come in at around £30,000 plus and much less in the US and Australian markets.
Model: Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD
Royal Sin Green Jubilee
Engine: 4.5litre diesel
Transmission: manual with high/low ratio