At home in the bush – that’s how Bennie Erasmus feels in his FJ Cruiser. The more rugged the better!
Bennie Erasmus’s dream of becoming a professional hunter was shattered very abruptly when he broke his neck at the age of 18, when a friend rolled his 4×4. By then, coming from a competitive 4×4 family, he had already started competing in 4×4 rallies. Becoming a C5/6 quad certainly slowed him down while he learned to adapt to life in a wheelchair, but he never lost his desire to test his skills – and his vehicle – against the environment. After rebuilding his 4×4 vehicle into a pipe car, Bennie went back into competitive Rock Crawling, but he needed a vehicle that was tough enough to tow the pipe car to events and out into the bush to practise.
Bennie lives out of town and travels long distances every day to get to work, with lots of his driving done on dirt roads. He works with his father at DRH Construction, where he is the site manager for various construction projects and his lifestyle demands a 4×4. He first spotted the FJ Cruiser in 2011 and fell for it: being 1.95m tall, he needed a vehicle with plenty of room. The comfort, space and ruggedness were what he was looking for, but the key was how, as a quad, to get in and out of a lofty 4×4! The FJ Cruiser has no B-pillar, with a half-size rear door opening backwards to create a large space for accessing the vehicle. With a little creativity, opening the front door even wider to create an extra-large space, Shoprider were able to provide the solution with the KIVI Electric Tip up plate. This is an electronic transfer platform which is fitted next to the driver’s seat. When needed it folds open to the height of the door sill. He transfers onto the plate and pushes a button to raise him up to the height of the seat, from there allowing an easy transfer across into the driver’s seat. Due to the ground clearance of the Cruiser, even at the lowest position of the plate it takes a strong transfer to get from the wheelchair onto the plate.
The driving comfort of the Cruiser is instantly apparent, with a suspension that flattens out the bumps. But there are a number of other features that make the car ideal for a quad. Bennie fitted the Chairman Industries hand controls, which give him the versatility of using the brake and accelerator together on steep hill starts; the built-in elbow rest on the driver’s door is the perfect height to rest his elbow, thus allowing full use of the hand control with no strain on his shoulders. The superlight power steering, with the Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel, also make a quad’s life easier. There is a flip-down armrest on both the driver and passenger seats, which are a great help forkeeping his balance while driving. The gear shift has no buttons to be pressed; instead it has a step pattern, so Bennie only needs to guide the lever to give him his gear choice. The reverse camera that pops up in the rearview mirror is one of his favourite features – the FJ Cruiser is a big car and he is unable to twist his body around to look behind him when reversing, but he’s no longer afraid of bumping into something behind him that he did not spot.
The Cruiser comes standard with cruise control, which is an essential feature when driving with hand controls. (Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to reach, owing to the position of the hand controls.) It also has all the safety features one would expect in a luxury car: ABS, Vehicle Stability Control, active traction control and airbags. It is currently available in two models, the automatic 4.0 V6 4×4 Standard or the Sport Cruiser. Both on the road and off-road, the Cruiser oozes power and torque with 200 kW at 5600 r/min and 380 Nm at 4400 r/min. Driving with the hand controls, Bennie has to be very careful with this amount of power at his fingertips!
He is not yet able to load his wheelchair into the vehicle himself, although he is working on a hoist design for this, but there is ample space in the boot for his wheelchair to be transported.
Bennie could not speak more highly of the service that he received from Honeydew Toyota. With the price tag of a new vehicle being a little high for him and his heart set on an FJ Cruiser, he decided to buy a used vehicle and he says that the Honeydew staff were awesome.
With Bennie at the wheel, who knows what boundaries will be pushed, what new dreams created, and where he and his FJ Cruiser will find themselves!
Caroline Rule (B.Sc. OT UCT) is an occupational therapist, specialising in driver rehabilitation and wheelchair rugby. email: firstname.lastname@example.org