Monster on the move
Remembering the Jonga that could flatten mountains and tread unfriendly terrain
Jawan’s favourite In the early days of Indian rallying, the Jonga was a powerful competitor driven by the Army and Air Force teams
The Jonga takes its name from the acronym of Jabalpur Ordnance and Guncarriage Assembly. In 1996, 100 vehicles powered by four-litre diesel engines were sold in the civilian market. The DNA of the Jonga can be traced back to the jeep, another favourite of the army. The jeep was born from the U.S. army’s requirements for a lightweight vehicle that could easily carry men and equipment through all types of terrain. The U.S. army extended an open invitation to manufacturers to put together a prototype vehicle that could accomplish this.
Three companies responded – Bantam, Willys and Ford. Freelance designer Karl Probst was hired by Bantam to help design the prototype. The Bantam vehicle was the only one to meet the deadline and came closest to the specifications. The army tested the car to destruction. Willys and Ford were given access to the car and its engineering drawings and they came out with prototypes based on the Bantam model. As Bantam did not have the production capacity to meet the army’s requirements, the contract was awarded to Willys. Willys too could not keep up with the army’s demands and eventually Ford was given the contract.
Thus, while Bantam was responsible for the first jeep, the company never got to enjoy the vehicle’s stupendous success. The 1977 Jonga owes its genes to this little piece of history.
This Jonga is actually a Nissan. It was the Patrol 60 or P60 model introduced in 1960. This Nissan Patrol was inducted into the Indian Army in 1963-64, and built by the Vehicle Factory Jabalpur (VFJ) under an exclusive license from Nissan for the Indian Army. Production of the vehicle stopped in 1999.
The vehicle is powered by a six-cylinder 3956cc in-line petrol engine developing 110bhp at 3200rpm. That is not lot of power for a 4-litre engine. Maximum torque 26.9kgm at 1200rpm. That too from a petrol engine! The Jonga had a three-speed gearbox with two-speed shift-on-the-fly 4wd transfer case. Put all these facts together and you can get a good idea about the raison d’etre of this vehicle – flatten mountains and go where no vehicle has gone before.
But before we proceed to demolish mountains, a little drive on more normal roads is called for. I fire up the ignition and the six pistons loudly clatter to life. Well, this is not a stealth vehicle that can sneak up on the enemy but rather scare the living daylights out of them as it loudly charges with guns blazing. You need the strength of a jawan to drive it. The clutch doubles up as a muscle-building exercise machine. The efficiency of the brake depends more on the strength in your leg than hydraulics. The gear throw is long. And the steering takes me in the general direction that I want to go rather than the specific place I want to be. There is not much traffic on the smooth broad highway so I press down on the accelerator. At 80kph the Jonga is howling, wailing and shuddering down the road and scaring the traffic. This is not a vehicle you want on your Mumbai-Pune trip, or even for your daily trip to the office. Then what is this vehicle for?
The question is answered definitively 30 minutes later. We are in the middle of nowhere. A goat herd looks incredulously wondering where this vehicle has come from. Beyond the Jonga’s bonnet all I can see is the blue sky as the four-litre engine hauls the vehicle up the steep hill, spitting out boulders and stones from under its thick tyres. If this is what the Jonga can clamber over without even engaging four-wheel drive, I wonder what the low-ratio can do. I wish that it was raining, and the track was all slush and the gradient even steeper. I want to drive it up to Siachen. I want to take it to the Rainforest Challenge. This is just too wimpy for the retired army workhorse.
In the early days of Indian rallying, the Jonga was a powerful competitor driven by the Army and Air Force teams. Apart from the mandatory roll-cage, the Jonga hardly needed any modifications to compete in this demanding sport.
The Jonga was designed for one and one thing only — driving on roughest of terrains. Nearly fifty years later there are only a handful of vehicles that can match its brute capability where the road ends.
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