Gardening Leave

Today we plough a different furrow.

A ram, but not as we know it, Jim: carsguide

Gardening and plucky optimism; British affairs if ever there were. From hoping the weather will turn to running a cheaper, underdog of a motor, this sceptred isle revels in such hopes, however forlorn. 

Starting life as the Proton Wira, which is Malay for Hero by the way, the Mitsubishi Lancer-derived platform gave life to an unpretentious pick-up that caused your author to gasp out loud as not one but three examples were viewed in extremely quick succession recently.

In the UK, Australian and Taiwanese markets, it wore the Jumbuck badge, elsewhere known as the Arena. On sale from 2002-07, the Shah Alam-manufactured pick-up had a market pretty much to itself. As other manufacturers’ furrows lay with larger platforms, diesel engines and distinctly un-British characteristics bordering the violent, Proton appeared quite happy to sow a modicum of seed and watch the slow germination.

autoevolution

Resolutely sticking to front-wheel-drive alongside a solitary petrol engine of 1.5 litres, the auspices resembled a Brit heading out umbrella-less under pewter skies. Measuring 4,455mm long, 1,690mm wide and with a height of 1,420mm and wheelbase of 2,600mm, the Jumbuck weighed forty-five kilograms over the tonne and had a maximum payload of 645Kg. Its twelve valve, 86bhp mill revved happily and heartily enough, shrugging off vitriolic smears regarding skins and rice puddings that were hurled its way from those of a loftier persuasion. Unhearing, Proton talked to their plants.

A ladder chassis was perched upon coil springs to the front with a rigid leaf sprung rear. From its Wira perspective, the Jumbuck’s road clearance had grown some 20mm, Proton realising tarmac was the mainstay of such vehicles. Accordingly, some Hethel input flowed from the Wira’s car roots to the pick-up result. Not that the Jumbuck would become an Elise progenitor, but at least with simple underpinnings and a basic set up, it handled, although test drivers found it better when loaded. A manual five-speed gearbox was your only option. Empty-headed acceleration figures and top speeds were never the Jumbuck’s forte; this small truck would start every morning and return 40mpg however driven. 

Image: the author

The Malaysian choice to avoid the extra costs involved with adding four-wheel-drive was astute. Proton offered the Jumbuck as a lifestyle carrier. That style had to be suited to handling bagged compost during the week with maybe a motorcycle or collapsible dinghy for weekend play. Comparative in carrying capacity to small, hi-cube vans sold by its eastern competitors, the Jumbuck’s poise was handsome enough. Admittedly, the weekly supermarket shop would be at risk come the first set of lights as cabin stowage was strictly for driver and passenger only. The load bay measured 1,630mm long and 1,349mm wide. For those wary of their lumbar regions, the load height was just 650mm from the ground. And should your loads be more precious, a Truckman cover was available. 

British versions encompassed four trim levels; GL, GS, GLS and range topping GSX. The base (Gardening Leave?) model was equipped with power steering, central locking and a protective grille for that coupé window. You also had height adjustment for the driver’s seat, steering column and headlights, but winding the windows required manual labour. Seat material was vinyl; conducive to gardening dungarees, adhering once the mercury rises. Wheels were steel and but 14” in diameter.

The GS came replete with fabric seats, along with electric windows and mirror operation and a Clarion radio/CD player. Outside, the wheels were now alloy. For a few shekels more, the GLS added a garnish of side mouldings, wheel arch extensions and a two-tone paint job. Whether liked or not, the head gardener GSX sported 15” alloys, those trellis aping stainless steel sill rails and styling bars. The roof had grown lights, handy for those nocturnal aspidistra tending sessions. Bodysides now sported the tiger decals in silver or black. 

A wholehearted, workmanlike aspect proffered, both inside and out. Trim fell under the enduring category. A Jumbuck stayed dent-free just as nettles lose their summer sting. 

Now, we must turn away from the gardening analogies and unfurl the Jumbuck’s safety characteristics – or lack of them. Keeping costs low meant several features the typical European car buyer would expect were missing, anti-lock brakes and airbags being two such omissions. Seat belt pre-tensioners? ESC? Child seats? The home market neither expected nor reported on such technical matters. When the Australians, an important market for Proton, took up the safety mantle, the results were far from impressive – a solitary star. Not mincing words as would a rotavator, the 2008 ANCAP test found the Jumbuck wanting in all areas. 

In Australia, the name Jumbuck lends itself to a male sheep. This ram may appear a little unkempt but tough, undemanding and enduring. The pick-up may share the name, but little else. Out of a possible 37 marks, the Jumbuck somehow scored 7.39/16 for side impact protection and just 1/16 for frontal impact. Five bonus points were not troubled. A typically forthright Antipodean perspective showing both sides can be viewed here.

Considering the Jumbuck was available and sold reasonably well for over five years before the test can be read many ways. Safety lobbying forced Proton Cars Australia to swiftly remove the vehicle from sale soon afterwards. The only Proton undergoing the European NCAP test was the Impian, faring a hint better than its pick-up stablemate. Foolhardy the gardener thinking safety no longer sells. The mainly Japanese rivals consistently scoring at least 4/5, if not blossoming fully.

Even thrifty Brits bought just 1,700 over the car’s full growth period, the Proton Jumbuck possessing nothing of the cachet of those larger rivals. Yet around 700 remain, a dozen and more years since production ended upon the compost heap. Seeing three almost at once must be worth recording, surely? At the time of writing, Autotrader had none for sale. A comparable 2002 Wira will relieve you of around £600. Other wheeled horticultural delights are available. Such as a wheelbarrow.

Placed now on permanent gardening leave, the Jumbuck is the dandelion of the industry; liked by few, loathed by many, yet somehow managing to stick around.

Data Sources: ancap.co.au/ howmanyleft.co.uk/ and the street a mile from home.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

20 thoughts on “Gardening Leave”

  1. Good morning Andrew, and thanks for reminding us sbout the Jumbuck, a genuinely unique offering in the market in its time.

    A colleague of mine in around 2008 was looking to buy a small pick-up. I was driving a Ford Ranger at the time, but it and competitors like the Toyota Hi-Lux and Mitsubishi L200 were too big and unwieldy for his needs. His choice was limited to the Jumbuck as the first generation VW Caddy, a pick-up based on the Mk1 Golf, was discontinued in 1995 and its replacement, the Škoda Felicia pick-up, was discontinued in 2001.

    The Jumbuck really is a rather pleasant looking thing, like an Australian ‘Ute’ in miniature. I’ll have mine in yellow, basic spec with uncovered steel wheels, please:

    That 41% UK survival rate, twelve years after the Jumbuck was discontinued, is very impressive. That there are none on sale is testament to the fact that they are irreplaceable and owners really want to hang on to them.

  2. Perhaps most Jumbucks have fallen to attrition, given that it’s nearly a decade and a half since import ceased, but I’m told that the Jumbuck was sought-after in the UK as a working vehicle. Mainly agricultural, but plenty other uses where a closed van wouldn’t do and a Ranger or Hi-Lux was too big and expensive. That Mitsubishi heritage shone through, but the Jumbuck had the field to itself as VW and Škoda dropped out.

    Apart from an odd Fiat Doblo derivative, there’s nothing available to take the place of the once-ubiquitous small pick up.

    I guess the small pick-up market’s now considered too small to matter.

    1. No more small pick-ups, and yet still need SUVs in 1001 varieties to fill every conceivable (and inconceivable) micro-niche? How can that make sense?

  3. I wonder how many of these surviving 41% are classified as MOT-exempt ‘agricultural vehicles’ for very limited use on public roads.

  4. Andrew, the Betoota Advocate is a satirical publication. Not that this makes their article on the Jumbuck any less truthful.

  5. Thanks for this, Andrew. Since Ford and Holden ceased building cars
    in Australia, Falcon and Commodore utes have been replaced by obese
    grotesques like the Ford Ranger. A well-designed small ute could
    probably fulfil most ute owners’ practical needs. A couple of yellow
    Jumbucks have been circulating around our town for yonks.

  6. Good afternoon Andrew. Another vehicle I had absolutely no knowledge of so thanks for enlightening me once again.
    I have no need for a small ute or pick up either but, as Daniel notes above, I also question the varieties of SUV that one sees daily in my neck of the woods. They are expensive, large and used mainly for the school run which I am fairly certain was not what the designer’s originally intended. Crazy!

  7. From a quick and unscientific information trawl, it seems that small pick up activity is centred on Latin America and South Africa. In the latter the ‘bakkies’ are mostly mid-sized – Hi-Lux, Ranger etc, but Nissan offer the inexpensive
    front wheel drive NV200, actually a Dacia Logan pick-up, which doesn’t seen to be available anywhere else:

    Some South American countries get the Renault Duster Oroch, made in Brazil, only sold as a crew-cab:

  8. As an aside, Dacia Romania have started to offer a single-row Duster pick-up in their home market. It’s a handsome thing, but sold at a considerable premium to the 5-door suv, as it’s converted by a third-party coachbuilder:

  9. The big pick-up players in Latin America are Fiat and VW.

    Fiat offer the long-established and recently comprehensively updated – as Tipo 281 – Strada, in one and two row versions. The new model has been well received – it’s regularly Brazil’s best selling vehicle.

    There’s also the bigger Toro crew-cab with a 3.0 metre wheelbase, based on the Small Wide platform.

  10. VW do Brasil offer the Saveiro, on the PQ24 platform. One or two rows of seats, but no four door option:

  11. I love a good pick-up truck, no matter what size. The Jumbuck looks like a great car for its intended purpose. I reckon there are no LHD versions. I think the only time I saw one was in Thailand.

  12. Hi everyone. Many thanks for the supporting comments.

    Mookers, I did suspect as such but thought it appropriate to give the readers the option of reading such a Frank report. Europe could benefit with just a tenth of such honesty.

    Robertas, I think you’ve found another article there with your “brief” research. The Fiat looks the best to these eyes. The Dacia looks too “training shoe” to me, to high at the back, trying a bit too hard.

    Suzuki only sell the Jimny now here in the U.K. as a commercial vehicle and can’t seem to build them fast enough so is there a market for these tiny workhorses? Clearly not…

    1. Non-road agricultural users can opt for the simplicity (compared to new road vehicles, not necessarily the Jumbuck) of RTVs from Kubota, John Deere or similar; tarmac users of little to no public road use can choose from a variety of small electrical vehicles from the likes of Bradshaw or Goupil; local authorities tend to use pickups based on medium to large RWD van chassis-cabs. Even the entry-spec versions of the Ranger and its competitors seem comparatively rare – I’d say that I see V6 Amaroks or X-classes more often.

      Builders who actually need a pick-up had the Toyota Dyna and Nissan Cabstar, both discontinued: the current forward-control options seem to be the Fuso Canter and Isuzu Grafter. Smaller than the likes of Transit, probably more useful and cheaper than the Ranger and its like.

  13. As it happens, I saw a Skoda Felicia pickup just this week – not a yellow Fun version either, just a plain white one. Remaining Caddys seem often subject to the VW ‘scene’ modifications.

    Petrolblog’s article in April reckoned about 1200 remaining UK Jumbucks – are 500 registered as not used on road? If 1200 of 1700 really survive, that is quite good going. The 500 non-road ones may be in poor condition, as presumably used around farms or industrial sites, perhaps being better value at the time than something like a Kubota.

    There may be none on Autotrader, but Ebay yields three (£2795 – £3450) and Facebook Marketplace has eight, at £1800-£3500. Other than the ultra-rare Satria Neo GTI, possibly the Proton that holds its value best. Which is perhaps a reflection of how rare this sort of vehicle is?

  14. The Wira reminds me of the old farming favourite the Subaru 284 pick-up known as the Subaru Brat to many but depending on market may be known as Brumby, MV, Targa and Shifter.

    Although you are right in saying the Toyota Hilux and similar larger double cab 4WD pick-ups are too big for many, they are available in a more appealing 2WD single cab utility configuration. They appear much smaller parked next to their 4WD brethren with lower suspension and normal wheels. Almost to the point where many people don’t realise they are the same vehicle.

    I would post a pic but it’s beyond my abilities.

    1. Hi Christian. Please allow me:

      The Hi-Lux above is a 1990s model, which is very neat and not too large. However, successive generations of the Hi-Lux and its competitors have become ever bigger and more bloated, presumably because that’s what the manufacturers think (most of) the market wants, big and butch. My 2002 Ford Ranger double-cab 4×4 was big enough, is dwarfed by the current model.

      That said, you’re right, it is still the case that the 2wd single-cab variant is rather less intimidating than the 4wd double-cab, as the photo below of the current model shows:

    2. Thank you Daniel.

      Yes it seems these models have grown to ridiculously large dimensions.

      We took a recent test drive of the new Ford Ranger Limited and had to concede it was much too big for our driveway and parking at the supermarket.

      This doesn’t however appear to deter many owners of course. My own brother went ahead with a purchase of a new Nissan Navara double cab automatic. It’s hard to believe in the US these are the junior pick-ups.

  15. Mitsubishi missed out on not producing 4WD capable pickups / utes of the 1991-2003 Lancer, the success of the Evos and popularity of hot utes in Australia would likely receive attention yet can see the more mundane versions being more numerous.

    Btw is outside of their exterior styling, how related were the 1983 and 1987 models to the 1991 and 1995 models based on their curiously similar dimensions?

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