(Note: This page was written quite some time ago and many things may be out of date)
Offroad driving in Malta
We have various types of terrain, hard solid rock (very rough and sharp),
loose boulders on rock, mud (in winter only), loose clay slopes etc.
some new legislation has been enacted a year or so ago which practically prohibits
all off-road activity in Malta. Actually if you interpret the law to the letter,
there are more places you can go with an ordinary car than with an offroad vehicle!
The most common off road vehicles here are Land Rovers of all ages and a mix of Suzukis,
Japanese Pickups, ARO (Romanian stuff). There are also various vehicles
from Korea and India such as Mahindra, Bajaj(!), Tata (not Tatra), Ssangyong
and Maruti, though their appearance off the road is quite rare. Toyota Land Cruisers are very rare
off the road but common enough on it (the independent front suspension
type). American vehicles are really rare - only know of one Chevy and a couple of Cherokees and Jeeps
but not a single Humvee.
There are also quite a few ex-WWII Willys jeeps on the road. The government
and the armed forces own a few ex-Gulf War 'jeeps' (independent suspension - Ford I think).
There are two offroad clubs. The AWDC (Malta) is affiliated with the UK AWDC.
The other club is the 4xFun club. The AWDC is more biased towards extensively
modified vehicles and sponsored competitions while the 4xfun caters more for
green-laning and competitions which do not require modified vehicles, though
there is a lot of overlap between the two clubs.
Here in Malta, as I mentoned, the most popular offroad vehicles are Land Rovers.
I had been thinking about getting one for ages but despite them being
excellent vehicles I decided to go a bit further for what several would agree
is the ultimate offroader - the Unimog made by Mercedes-Benz. I bought one
second hand without licence plates and it took me ages to sort things out and get
a licence for it. After getting the licence I only used it for a short while
before starting a major overhaul which I completed last December soaking up quite a
bit of cash in the process. There is still some work to be done, such as proper
tuning of the engine, repainting the bodywork and so on but at least its now on the
road. Unfortunately there is also a bad oil leak from the rear end of the engine,
shouldnt be serious but I'll have to remove the engine to fix it.
The Unimog is rather
larger than the average 4x4 being more like a small truck. It weighs about 3
tons. Here are some pictures of it:
The main advantages of the Unimog over common 4x4s are:
huge ground clearance due to portal axles (ie the drive shafts are offset
a few inches above the hubs)
differential locks on both the front and rear axle which can be
engaged/disengaed on the move. 2wd/4wd can also be selected on the move
through the same lever
fully syncromesh gearbox down to the lowest gear which means that unlike
most four wheel drives there is no separate tranfer lever and no need to stop
to change between low-range and hi-range.
extreme wheel travel due to coil springs all round and flexible chassis
with pivoted superstructure. The axle assemblies are pivoted only at the
centre of the vehicle by a huge ball joint type coupling and located laterally
by panhard rods. The picture says it all.
low center of gravity despite the high ground clearance due to thoughtful design of
the chassis/engine/gearbox layout.
very robust underchassis since the propshafts are fully enclosed in rigid transmission tubes.
Thus the only load the propshafts will ever take is the torsion due to the
transmitted torque unlike almost every other 4x4 whose shafts and universal
joints must also resist impact with the ground and high obstacles. Also, there
are no delicate supension linkages or low lying transfer box to get broken.