The UTV is a Marmite subject. Most farmers have one, but actually don’t enjoy owning or driving it.
They tend to be expensive to buy, loud to drive and can struggle with the harsh realities of daily farm toil.
In winter they are cold and – if you scrimp on the option of doors – leave drivers exposed to whatever the skies have to offer.
Try searching for a viable replacement for the UTV and the pickings are slim, unless you go for the even more open-air feel of a quad bike and trailer.
However, the Zuki Ute featured in the 15 December 2017 issue of Farmers Weekly showed a farmer-converted Suzuki Jimny, which attracted lots of interest from FW readers asking where to buy one.
So, when Paul Short, owner of TP4x4, got in touch, we were keen to find out what he was up to.
For him, the catalyst for his creation was being asked by a local fencing contractor to convert a Suzuki Jimny into a fence-post-carrying 4×4, capable of staying afloat in a soggy bog.
Mr Short has been involved in off-road car rallying for more than 30 years, so he knows a thing or two about adapting cars to fit his needs.
He has also designed, built and sold more than 2,500 Land Rover Discovery bumpers and accessories across the world.
Since the first Jimny rolled out of the doors he has received more enquiries, and in October 2017 full production kicked into life.
So far, 15 Jimnys have been converted into two-seat trucks with a UTV-sized rear load bed.
We visited TP4x4 to find out how they transform a small four-wheel drive into a go-anywhere, load-lugging vehicle.
Choose your colour
The early decisions are pretty simple. Buyers will need to choose how much lift they want the vehicle’s suspension to have – either a 2in or 3in raise – and if they require flotation tyres, as this option needs boy-racer-style flared arches on the front.
The other choice early on is what colour the Terramaxx should be. Mr Short is happy to spray the trucks any colour the customer desires, with previous models having a camouflage vinyl wrap and a stealth paint job.
The firm converts both new- and old-model Jimnys running the 1.3-litre VVTI engine, and Mr Short likes to source the cars himself to have control over their condition and what should be avoided, although customer-owned projects are taken on, too.
“When you work with a vehicle, you get to know the good and bad points. The earlier Jimny models, from 1998 to 2005, have a manual lever to engage 4WD and a stronger transfer box,” says Mr Short.
“The newer models have dash-mounted buttons to select 4WD and a cleaner design. Spanish company Santana Motors built the convertibles and the engines were the older single-cam variants, which aren’t as good”.
Stage 1 – Stripped back
Once an order is placed and a vehicle sourced, the team set about chopping the rear end off and removing the two back seats to convert the Jimny into a two-seater and make space for a load bed.
This involves using the original horizontal roof brace and uprights that surround the rear door and remounting them behind the two front seats.
This way the shape of the Jimny is maintained by using original parts, without costly fabrication of new bits.
A strengthened twin-layer steel bulkhead is welded in behind the front seats, with a full-width window that is heated as standard.
Steel is used rather than fibreglass for extra strength, which in turn allows the seat belt and body mounts to be beefed up to MOT standards.
All the glass in then removed, corners smoothed and the cab shell, along with the bonnet and wings, are sent away to a local paint shop for a final sand and spray.
The remaining body is then attached to a two-post car ramp and stripped back to the bare chassis, with axles, exhaust, engine and transfer box being removed.
Stage 2 – Full service
The naked Jimny’s frame is sanded and any repairs carried out before a layer of anti-corrosive coating is applied to protect the metalwork from rust or corrosion.
This also puts a solid barrier in the way for any rocks or debris that may come into contact with it.
The axles are stripped back with new bearings, king pins and seals fitted on all corners, while the brakes are also treated to new pads and discs all round, with any worn or broken parts replaced.
Not all Jimnys left the factory with all-round disc brakes, so TP4x4 offers a conversion kit to have a set of shiny discs. Although the team don’t touch an engine rebuild project, it is given a spruce-up, too.
“The engine has a full service and clean, dropping out all fluids and resiting a few parts, such as centrally mounting the intercooler from its original position under the front light on the diesel models, so our custom-made bumper fits,” says Mr Short.
“The engine bay has a clean-up and a lick of paint, along with a new radiator, battery, a new exhaust front to back and even new wiper blades.”
While the cab is off, the transfer box is removed and given a check over for any engineering gremlins and instead of refitting it on the brittle aluminium mounts, some replica steel ones slot straight into the existing holes.
Along with spray painting, wiring is the only other outsourced job, which is completed by a local auto electrician.
This begins when the chassis is bare and all unwanted wires are removed and the majority are rerouted to better positions.
The old rear lights wiring used to sit on the outside of the chassis, held on by little clips.
Mr Short reroutes these wires through the centre of the chassis to keep them clean and protected from damage.
The rear LED lights and number plate marker are on a pre-made board, which attaches to the Terramaxx with a waterproof plug providing the power.
At this stage, if the customer wants some spotlights on the front or a control switch in the cab for a slug pelleter on the back, the wires are installed to make mounting the equipment later much easier.
Stage 3 – Rebuild
When the cab is bottled back on, the job of screwing it all back together begins and every nut and bolt that was undone is replaced with a new one.
After the engine and gearbox have been fitted, the refurbished axles are bolted on along with a castor arm correction kit to rotate the axle back into its original position (if the Jimny has had a 3in lift) using the same mounting holes.
“For the suspension, we use heavy-duty adjustable Panard rods,” explains Mr Short.
“Pro-comp shocks beef up the suspension, along with some equally hefty Pro-comp black springs, which are overengineered and rated to 400kg capacity.”
Each wheel arch is given the anti-corrosion paint job before the laser-made powder-coated rims and tyres, along with an in-house-built front bumper, complete the running gear rebuild.
Inside the cab, the metal area is treated to some professionally upholstered black soundproofing, similar to a camper van, which not only keeps the occupants warm but also has a classier feel than bare metal or cheap plastic.
Rear load bed
There are many options for the rear load bed and it’s up to the customer to spec it to their needs. As standard is a UTV-style back, with a drop-down rear and cushioning on the locking pins.
Inside, all the beds are covered in anti-corrosion paint to keep them free of dents and scratches.
A tipping unit is available, as is the option to have greedy boards to pack more gear in.
However, Mr Short reckons payloads are about the 400kg mark.
Four lashing points are standard but, as the build takes place in-house, any special mounting points or external hooks can be added.
There’s also the option of an aluminium hood to keep the dog dry.
If pure off-roading is the destination for the Terramaxx, extras fitted in the past include a winch, beefier transfer box and air-locking 4×4.
Farmers will undoubted be slightly put off by the fact they have to fill the tank with petrol from the local garage rather than using a drop of cherry from the tank on the farm.
Mr Short is keen to solve this conundrum and imports diesel Jimnys from France, although the imported cost bumps up the final purchase price and takes it above an equivalent UTV.
There is also the small issue of driving a left-hooker in the UK, which not everyone is comfortable with.
Another option is to build a right-hand-drive diesel Jimny, getting rid of the standard 1.3-litre petrol and fitting a diesel block instead.
Mr Short plans to fasten a 1.5-litre diesel engine from a French manufacturer into one of his next vehicles, and at the time of our visit he was adapting a flywheel and clutch pack to marry the Jimny’s current running gear to the new engine.
If this emerges successfully, it will undoubtedly be the most popular farm-ready version, while there’s also a six-wheel-drive model planned for its maiden outing at the Great Yorkshire Show in July, which is bound to get some interest from passers-by.
Pricing and DVLA
There are four options of Terramaxx, with varying degrees of engineering complexity. Option one starts at about £7,995, which is a basic service, tyres, bumper and pickup conversion.
For a base price of £13,950, option four has all the bells and whistles, with a 3in lift and very little remaining from the original Jimny.
There are also two mid-spec options, but Mr Short is happy to fill whatever requests he gets, within reason.
However, the caveat for both of these prices is how much the original vehicle costs. Any imported vehicle will command a premium, as will a right-hand-drive diesel conversion, or a modern petrol model with low mileage.
As a parting gift, Mr Short offers to register the vehicle modifications with the DVLA, such as alterations from a four- to a two-seater truck and colour changes. This is then logged on the V5 along with agricultural registration, if the customer requires.
He is also in talks with the NFU about recognising the Jimny for its new worth rather than what its previous number plate would indicate.