Proving you don’t need a fleet of Land Rovers to enjoy adventure driving, this month we have a Suzuki Jimny on an old smugglers’ route through the Pyrenees. Small car with a big heart, ideal for the rough tracks of Andorra
Words and photography: Scott Brady
Smuggling weapons from France into Spain was a risky proposition during the late 1700s. The Napoleonic wars had thrown the region into turmoil as France and Spain struggled for power, the Pyrenees serving as a limited buffer to the rapid advancement of troops. Although Andorra was officially neutral in the war, its borders proved an efficient means of transporting illegal goods between the two warring countries. This led to a creation of a network of roads and tracks suitable to those most rugged of travelers, also supporting small villages and enclaves throughout the valleys and mountains that comprise this contiguous range.
While my intention was not to smuggle weapons, I did have the goal of crossing the Pyrenees by these ancient tracks, following as many dirt roads as possible starting at the border with France and Andorra and continuing south and then east to Barcelona. Instead of a horse or cart, I would be using the ever reliable and faithful Suzuki Jimny. What the little machine lacks in horsepower and payload, it more than makes up for in charm and durability. Even though I live some of the year in the United States, most of my time is spent exploring the remote and raw places of the world where each new dirt track or village provides a new perspective on the cultures and geology of our planet. These travels have encouraged me to travel light and simple, and for this trip (which would ultimately take me all the way to Mongolia), I bought a Jimny in the UK and went through the process of obtaining the V5 and completing a series of modifications and services with Outback Imports of France.
The Jimny was shipped from the dealership in Shropshire to Valance where Patrice and his team at Outback Imports fitted the truck with an Old Man Emu suspension, Rasta 4×4 skid plates, Supervision LED lights and huge (ok, 215/75 R16) Bridgestone tyres. Everything else was left standard and my additional kit amounted to a backpack, a compressor and tyre repair kit, a small set of tools and two 20-litre fuel cans. Everything fitted easily in the Jimny and I could still see out of the back window. With everything checked out and a few stickers applied (you do know they make you faster), I left Valence and completed a quick 4×4 test in the hills west of Boree. The Jimny fared well, though it showed its limitation in low range. The 2.0:1 ratio is simply insufficient with the available engine torque. A 2.5:1 ratio would be better and a 3.0:1 would probably be ideal.
With the initial testing complete, I headed further west and into the foothills of the Pyrenees where I camped at the base of the walled and gated 13th Century abbey in Alet-Les-Bains. Traveling in France often feels like moving about a living museum, each turn in the road revealing a new mystery, a new gem from the past. This theme continued as I climbed further into the foothills, testing the hardy but somewhat anemic 1.3-litre petrol engine of the Jimny. The best solution to the limited power was to keep the revs up and the engine at the height of its limited power band. Nearing the border with Andorra at almost 3,000m, the Jimny seemed to be making about three horsepower (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration), forcing me to travel in first gear. This actually proved a blessing as I was so distracted by the natural beauty of the place that any faster speed would have only caused me to drift from the road.