Rusty Rhinos


1985 Suzuki SJ 410

Engine Capacity: 970cc
Top speed 68MPH. Suggested top speed after 22 years of service: 55MPH

The Rusty Rhino before any modifications

We heard a little about these chirpy off roaders before buying one. Uncomfortable ride, prone to toppling over, overheating, rusting and only the very basic of creature comforts. What better vehicle to choose to drive 8500 miles in! We bought the SJ before we even got a place on the rally for a measly sum of £300. I wouldn't say it was in a bad state, but it certainly had its fair share of rust. Of course it failed the MOT on rust. Lots of it; and not so surprisingly quickly gained the name of the "Rusty Rhino"

I would agree with an online review that says on open roads the SJ is as "relaxing as drinking boiling hot vinegar". However, take it off road and it really shines through - it is a very capable, rugged machine. After much testing (or rather, excuses to go and play in the mud) we decided that a few modifications had to be made. First were a set of chunky tyres which helped in the mud and sand. The other issue was that the air intake was badly positioned so very restrictive. We also wanted to raise it so that it didn't suck in as much dust. So came the home made snorkel made out of a surplus bull bar and a plant pot.

The Rusty Rhino with fitted snorkel

We added an extra radiator fan (found at the side of a road), which proved to be superb. Added a set of fog lights which proved to be more useful than the standard headlights ever were to us. Raised the body by a few inches to give us more ground clearance. Great idea in theory, not so good in practice as we think it is to blame for our leaf suspension snapping. To up the comfort stakes, we added a vanity mirror to the sun visor which proved to be interesting as it was from a wing mirror so always seemed like you were far away. We ignored the fact that we did not have a passenger wing mirror - it added somewhat to the hilarity of driving this car. Most people who saw the Rusty Rhino didn't fancy its chances on getting us all the way to Ulaan Bataar - but we were optimistic about our preparations and were ready to go.

On route

After being very close to toppling over, we decided that having the Jerry cans mounted on the roof was not a good idea. We got wet whenever it rained, but apart from that we had no problems at all with the car...until Kazakhstan - car wrecker country. Pot holes which you can park your car in and ruts that make your bones hurt, all took its toll on our suspension. In total, we had 6 leaf snaps at the front. We had 2 spares - one being a leaf designed for the rear - to drive in a straight line the steering wheel had to be held at 90 degrees and steering was...well.... vague. Which left one leaf to be fabricated by a Kazakh garage and the rest as complete bodges from ourselves - including the use of a block of wood, U clamps, random bits of leaf springs from a scrap yard and several hours of sawing. The exhaust fell off which was easily fixed, but when it snapped in half we had no choice but to put up with the loud noise it created. Saying that, the off roading was superb and there wasn't much that would stop us, particularly before we lost our 4WD ability. With cracks in the doorframes and roof, lights falling inwards as the rust gave way, and very strange looking suspension, the Rusty Rhino looked a bit sorry for itself by the time it arrived in Ulaan Bataar.

Car arriving in Ulaan Bataar