What do you do with a surplus factory test vehicle that's standard in every respect - except that it's left-hand drive and can't be legally registered for the road in South Africa?
You drive it off the road, that's what.
To be specific, the vehicle was a Ford Ranger 3.2 Double Cab 4x4 and off-road, in this case, meant the Ford Dealer 400, Round 7 of the SA Cross Country championship, held recently near Thaba Nchu in the Free State and acknowledged as one of toughest races on the calendar.
The left-hook Ranger was prepared for the race by veteran off-road racer Henri Zermatten with a bolt-in roll cage which was then welded in place, along with the necessary safety belt and seat mountings, racing seats, intercom, as well as an off-road navigation system comprising a GPS and rally odometers.
Under the skin it got a safety wiring harness with obligatory external kill switch, rock sliders, sump and differential guards, off-the-shelf aftermarket Old Man Emu shock absorbers and a set of all-terrain racing tyres.
Mechanically speaking, it remained identical to the ones on the floor at your local Ford dealer.
MUSICAL (RACING) CHAIRS
Then Zermatten, who hadn't driven in anger for five years due to work commitments, moved across to the navigator's seat for the first time in his racing career, while Car magazine's Sudhir Matai - who had never raced off-road at all! - took over behind the wheel for a 350km cross-country baptism of fire on a route notorious for rocky, mountainous and totally unforgiving terrain, where 18 of this year's 60 starters fell by the wayside.
But among the finishers was the Matai/Zermatten Ranger, after no less than 7 hours and 20 min of racing, claiming 3rd position in Class E.
An exhausted but elated Matai said: "I can't believe a standard one-tonner can take such a beating! Cross-country racing is by far the toughest I've experienced - the sheer punishment on car and driver is unparalleled."
Matai was impressed at the level of interest shown in the Ranger; the rest of the racing fraternity were astonished that a standard bakkie had been entered in the first place, never mind finished.
Zermatten commented with a grin: "We had a fantastic time, and even used the air-con for most of the race.
"On this route there is simply no room for error, so we took it easy on the prologue and the first 182km, but we were able to push much harder next time around and made up about 12 seconds a kilometre on the shortened 122km second loop."
Zermatten believes that there is great potential for a genuine standard production vehicle class in local cross country racing, as cost spiral out of control in the established categories.