Damn, this thing kicks like a mule. It’s also a bloody furnace inside, my eyes are stinging from the streaming sweat, I’m covered in a few layers of dust and, I’m having the time of my life. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time – a simple Sunday out with the chaps, take some time off from doing what we love, to do more of what we love – a boys’ day out, so to speak. No hassles, no worries, no need to shave. Office can wait till tomorrow.
Right now the Rage Cyclone ahead of me is kicking up a huge rooster tail of soggy mud on to my windscreen. I can almost sense Sirish laughing away under his helmet as he gets the Cyclone sideways at every corner of our little dirt track. The way he’s pulling away from me and listening to that angry blare from its exhaust, I find it hard to believe a humble three-cylinder engine of Maruti origin is wreaking all that havoc. But then again, the Rage is purpose-built for fun and you won’t believe how much seriousness goes into engineering so much fun. The Cyclone’s space frame chassis is competition bred – the late Colin McRae took one to the Sahara to help develop it for the Paris-Dakar Rally and there’s a RX150 rally cross derivative that has its own class in the British Rally Cross Championship.
The chassis of this Cyclone 70 is imported from the UK but everything else is built in or around Rage Motorsport’s spotless factory at Rajkot, Gujarat. The steering rack, suspension arms and even the custom-built CVT transmission are all fabricated here and the attention to detail is easy to see – the welds are superbly clean, the wiring loom is neat, the brakes have rock guards, the suspension is from Intrax (you can option adjustable suspension, even full motorsport-spec) and there’s even a limited slip differential!
The Thar on the other hand is purpose-built for serious competition. Built to fly over sand dunes at the annual Desert Storm Rally in Rajasthan, what makes this one special are its Fox competition dampers, a full roll-cage, a body largely crafted out of fibre-reinforced plastic and a completely stripped out interior. The engine’s running a motorsport ECU, a free-flow air intake and exhaust and the Thar looks like a mini Baja truck replica. It’s been retired as a desert racer and is now my (almost) daily runabout in Pune which, I will admit, is a big waste of its mud tyres. Not today though.
Today, a generous friend has lent us his Rage buggy and his dirt track. Today us boys are going to be oversteer heroes. The track is largely oval with a red mud surface that turns to red dust as the sun warms it up. It has long corners at each end and paths that cut across and rejoin the track at different places, so we have all kinds of corners at our disposal. It is quite rutted though – it seems our friend who owns the Rage buggy is making proper use of it. Lucky guy.
Me? I’ve been using the rally Thar for everyday things and strapping a four point harness on makes every grocery run fun. Out here though, the snug Sparco racing bucket and the harness makes full sense. They’re the only things keeping me from bashing my head into the ceiling as the Thar bucks and skips its way over bumps. It’s not easy keeping it in a straight line – the competition leaf springs at the rear have no give and the axle is constantly getting kicked out of line. If you watch the video on our Thrill of Driving YouTube channel, you’ll see how much I’m sawing away at the wheel just to drive through the straights linking the bends. You’ll also see me grinning like an idiot and screaming at the top of my voice to be heard over the din of the big lug tyres pelting gravel at the underbody.
996cc, 70bhp engine has to move just 540kg
It’s proper fun though – the straights are long enough to almost redline in third gear (scary, since the wheels are constantly losing touch with the ground), I’m finally getting the physical workout I’m in dire need of and, after months of posing in Pune, I’m getting a true taste of what it must be like to drive this orange beast in anger. I have to keep stopping to drink water because the heat in the cabin is leading to accelerated dehydration – full respect to you Sunny Sidhu for driving this thing in the desert with racing overalls on.
I kind of envy Sirish – the Rage is ballet dancing over the same ruts I’m wrestling the Thar over. The Cyclone’s Intrax shocks have 13 inches of suspension travel and the all-round independent suspension is allowing it to sail over everything without kicking it off the line. The 998cc motor makes just 70bhp but the Cyclone’s 540kg kerb weight gives it a power-to-weight ratio of 130bhp per ton! Compare that to this Thar’s claimed 125bhp and 1650kg kerb weight dividing into a mere 75bhp per ton. It’s why I simply can’t keep up with the Rage. The corner speeds you can carry and the liberties you can take with the Cyclone – that’s what makes the Rage buggy what it is. Neville Poonawala, the man responsible for this tropical storm, says it’s been designed to be easy to drive. I believe him.
Getting sideways in the Cyclone is easy. What you need to do is transfer a bit of weight to the front with a dab of left-foot braking, throw it into a corner and floor the throttle before the apex. Do this and the rear tyres give up, the diff hooks up and you get this beautifully satisfying powerslide. Then you move to stage two – the Scandinavian flick. Dab the brakes, steer in the opposite direction to the turn, back off the throttle and flick it the other way. Play with the throttle to hold a looooong slide. It is immense fun, made all the better (and easier) by the quick steering that makes sustaining slides a breeze.
Getting the Thar sideways is a different ballgame. There’s flex in the ladder frame chassis, there’s no limited slip diff and if there’s a midcorner bump, it bounces over into understeer. To get this Thar sideways, you stick it in second gear, turn-in, balance it out, rev it and pop the clutch mid-corner. It’ll reward you with at least half a turn of opposite lock after which the engine runs out of revs and you automatically straighten out. Attempt the same in third gear and you run the risk of toppling over. The way to drive this Thar fast is to stay on top of it, constantly make steering corrections and, Stay on top of it! Remember to keep the throttle pinned.
I love this Thar – it isn’t the easiest to drive over terrain like this but learning what its limits are and driving around them is what makes it so much fun. I’m sure a softer setting for the dampers would work wonders as well. The Rage is fun for a whole lot of other reasons. From the expression on Sirish’s face, I can see he’s loved every minute of it. It is great because it has obviously thrilled our tame, in-house rally driver and yet, is unintimidating enough for someone like me (read that as someone with mediocre driving skills) to have a blast. It makes you look like a pro.
Speaking of which, us ‘pros’ tire out around mid-day. The sun is blazing overhead, our clothes are ruined and we’re certainly going to get into trouble at home for playing in the mud. It’s been a terrific boys’ day out, we absolutely have to do this again!
Where can I buy one?
The Thar was converted into what it is at Raj Kapoor’s Performance shop in Noida, Delhi. It is road legal (as all rally cars have to be) and my favourite argument with the cops is that it is safer than a normal Thar because of the roll cage and the brakes borrowed from the Scorpio. They usually buy it. If you ask nicely, have around Rs 16 lakh and a donor Thar lying around, Raj will build you one. Call Parvinder Chawla at 08860924952. The Cyclone’s biggest hurdle is that it isn’t road legal. The Indian RTO has no category for this kind of vehicle so to fully enjoy it, you will need to shell out serious money for some farmland in addition to the Rs 14 lakh it costs. Owning one isn’t too difficult though – the filters and oils are standard Maruti items so you can buy them from your local dealer. Short of bending the chassis, there’s little reason to send it back to its maker. Get in touch with Neville at +91-9099963845 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Rage Cyclone||Mahindra Super Thar|
|Engine||In-line, 3-cyl, 998cc||In-line, 4-cyl, 2498cc|
|Power||70bhp @ 6200rpm||125bhp (approx)|
|Torque||89.9Nm @ 3500rpm||280Nm (approx)|
|0-100kmph||Quick enough||14sec (approx)|
|Price||Rs 14 lakh||Rs 16 lakh|
This article was originally published in evo India’s December 2014 issue