The Sodwana Bay parking lot is always interesting. As I drive in, I pass a Suzuki Jimny (standard), another Jimny (modded, with big tyres), a couple of standard double cabs, a Fortuner or two, a replica Jeep CJ-something, and a Land Cruiser bakkie, fairly unmolested. And I’m driving my own Subaru Outback, probably the most understated (and underrated), and least macho all-wheel-drive vehicle available. (Let’s be honest – it’s a station wagon.)
Then I park next to something quite special, and very definitely, incredibly, indelibly and obviously modified. The first hint is the rear axle – it seems that there are four wheels back there. The second hint is that, when I get out of my car, I feel like I’m in an episode of ‘Honey I Shrunk the Car’ – my Outback is dwarfed by the leviathan I find myself next to. Then there are the stickers, the badges and the extra bits bolted on here and there, which all add up to one of the most intimidating 4x4s (is it still a 4×4, if it actually has six wheels?) that I’ve seen on the road: Lionel Lewis’s Dually Land Cruiser double cab.
“I did this just to show that I could,” says Lionel. The statement might be a simple one – it’s nothing more than mobile marketing, after all – but the statement that the vehicle makes is nothing of the sort. Later, I’ll see Dodge Rams by US Trucks of Richard’s Bay, a Unimog, and countless Cruisers and Discoveries, but nothing comes close to the presence of the Dually.
As we edge along the road in Sodwana’s traffic, there is not a single person who doesn’t take a second look at the beast. Most stand slack-jawed in amazement. Many point. A few laugh, incredulous.
Since neither Lionel nor I are fishing, we look elsewhere for entertainment. Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest fresh-water lake, lies not far from Sodwana, the two linked by a trail of sand roads that Lionel knows well as he has been coming here for decades – he’s a keen diver. We head out there so that I can experience the Cruiser.
As we’re barrelling along a sand track on the way, I mention how planted the Cruiser feels. With that, Lionel starts hauling on the steering wheel, swerving back and forth across the road. I have visions of a six-wheel skid, 17-turn roll and an expensive explosion in the dunes. But the Cruiser stays stuck to the road.
“Not bad, hey?” And that is one hell of an understatement.
When you modify a vehicle, there’s always a chance that you’re going to compromise it in some way. The original suspension geometry is, after all, carefully and precisely engineered. The powertrain, too, is optimally configured. And, if you do anything too extreme (or if you do something badly), the ride comfort, the steering or the power delivery can be adversely affected. The results can be tragic.
The team at LA Sport obviously knows what it’s doing, because the vehicle is composed and surprisingly comfortable, as well as quiet on the road. Not too quiet, though, as Lionel fitted a De Graf performance exhaust that makes the most of the V8 turbodiesel’s gruff notes. It’s all a great achievement, because there wasn’t even much time to fine-tune the vehicle – it was completed only the day before Lionel and his crew set off from Pretoria for Sodwana; which shows that things are worth doing right the first time.
The dual rear axle is the most obvious place to start. It was entirely custom-built, from the extended wheel arches to the wheel adaptors, and even to the custommade rims. Then a full set of four Cooper STT Pro 315/75R16 wheels were fitted, all to the rear axle.
Take a look at the Cruiser from behind, and you get the most obvious effect of the build. But, take a few steps to the side and look at the vehicle in profile, and you suddenly realise that it’s not only wider, but actually significantly longer, too. To make his beast of a Dually more practical (and more impressive to look at, I guess), Lionel extended the chassis and the load box. This meant improved carrying-capacity for overlanding. It also meant that a custom-made Bushtec aluminium canopy was needed, to make the most of the new space. And, because these things tend to snowball, it meant that two full-sized roof racks could be fitted, one on the canopy and one on the cab. Then came the LAS Pro 270° side awning, which folds out elegantly like a bird’s wing. (I was lucky enough to watch it being erected in gale-force winds. It survived, against the odds!)
Because this Dually Cruiser was essentially constructed as a goanywhere billboard, it has been fitted with all sorts of LAS accessories and upgrades, not all of which are as obvious as the wheels. There’s the standard LAS Cruiser front bull bar and front tow hitch (in case you need to launch a boat, you know,) with a 12 500-pound winch. Then there’s a whole complement of 50-watt LED spotlights (which are such a useful upgrade) and an LED light bar for good measure. Side steps came next, as well as a standard LAS rear bumper, with a twin wheel carrier.
Hidden behind the new wheel arches is an eight-stage adjustable Pro Fender suspension kit − one of the reasons behind the excellent road comfort and handling that I’d experienced earlier.
Even the interior has been tarted up a bit, with improved soundprooffng, a much more powerful sound system, a fridge, rubber mats, and canvas seat covers, all of which have practical applications.
Lionel is obviously proud of how the Cruiser has turned out, as he may well be. It’s spectacular. But he’s a man who appreciates the finer details, and so seems equally proud of the snorkel that was fitted – it’s the first one-piece snorkel commercially available for a 70 Series Land Cruiser, and we all know the benefits of a well-made one-piece snorkel.
On our return from Sibaya, after we’ve enjoyed a cold drink on its beautiful white banks, I learn where the Dually Cruiser has been compromised. There are patches along the track where the bush has been allowed to encroach – and a Cruiser with two extra wheels on the back axle isn’t the narrowest or most nimble beast. But, keep to where there’s space to play in and lots of sand to play on, and the LA Sport Dually Cruiser is as unstoppable as it is unmissable.