Ariel Nomad vs Mission Motorsport

TG's little Nomad takes on some proper off-roaders. See how it fared here

A phone call from James Cameron who runs Mission Motorsport. “We’re having a day out for some of the blokes on the off-road course at Dalton Barracks. D’you fancy bringing your toy buggy along?”

Leaving aside the jobe - since it came from a chap that willingly drives about in a battered V8 Defender 90 pick-up - did I ever. The chance to hurtle about off-road in the Nomad is one I never knowingly pass up, and getting it together with a bunch of other daft off-roaders in the company of a gang of ex-military types on an ex-air force base (RAF Abingdon) chalked that up as a good day out in my book.

A bit about Mission Motorsport, in case you’re not aware. It’s a forces charity that specialises in the recovery and rehab of injured ex-serviceman, mainly by getting them involved in motorsport, but also by introducing them to engineering, mechanics and so on. It does outstanding work, runs big events such as Race of Remembrance, training courses and helps find industry placements. But at the grass roots it’s about helping guys and girls who have suffered life-changing injuries.

Words: Ollie Marriage

The day at Abingdon was about getting some of them together to drive cars with hand controls (the white V8 Tomcat for example), have rides in others (such as the Nomad), and maybe learn some new skills. But more than that, days like this enable them to talk to each other. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about what these people must have been through, but psychologically being able to chat to someone who’s in a similar situation, or has come through the other side, must be so important.

And many have come through and into successful automotive careers. A couple of the blokes now work for JLR and brought along the original Range Rover, others are at companies as diverse as Polaris and Bentley. They’re people that others can look up to and see that the program has worked for. It gives them hope.

During the day, I’ll join in on a conversation with people discussing the relative merits of artificial legs, but mostly the talk is about cars. Because that’s what bonds them all together. And the Nomad has them all intrigued. There’s surprise at how short the rear wishbones are, amusement at just how soft the springs are when you bounce the nose up and down and curiosity at how it might handle the off-road stuff.

This is the sort of terrain the Nomad was born for

RAF Abingdon has two off-road areas, one akin to a rally stage, the other the sort of severe axle-graunching terrain that camo-trousered winch-enthusiasts love. We decide to start on the rally stage – it’ll suit the Nomad better and people are keen for rides in it. Especially the two chaps who now work for Polaris…

Clearly (well, not clearly as it turns out), there used to be some sort of stage through the long grass, but now I’m beating a path through swaying grass almost as tall as the Nomad’s aerial. I could well be in the African bush for all I can see – especially when a baying roar signals that the V8 Tomcat known as Fenton (“because it just wants to **** off across the fields”), is about to sally forth.

Anyway, the Nomad is in fine form and as we hoon around in our eclectic selection, the grass is dispersed and a line emerges. It’s terrific, a few sweepers you can set up for early, allowing the weight to transition around, a couple of tight hairpins that present an excuse to yank the hydraulic handbrake (quite simply the best thing in the world, ever), and even a jump, which the Nomad lands with the sort of supple control which makes you question if you took off at all.

This is the sort of terrain the Nomad was born for. And it’s terrific: light, limber and loose, spraying earth around, dampers pumping away with ridiculous energy, the whole car so nimble and playful.

For an hour or so we bash and barrel about, the Nomad easily the fastest thing out there, a flash of main beam coaxing the Bowler Defender into moving over and the Peltor headset I’ve wired in proving its worth many times over. But gradually we’re chomping down into the surface. Under the grass is not gravel, but what looks like grade A potato-growing soil. It’s loose and rich and earthy, so after every ride we have to shake this compost out of our hair, ears and collars. It’s getting rougher and I’m going faster: two facts that are not necessarily compatible with a good outcome.

The issue comes when I have Stumpy in the passenger seat. Naturally he’s missing a leg. And all of a sudden I’m missing all drive. In every gear. Hmm. I manage to coast out on to the airfield’s perimeter road.

At which point Mission Motorsport lives up to its philosophy. In the time it’s taken me to wonder what to do next and what might have gone wrong, the military has sprung into action. Before I know it the car has been towed back to the Mission Motorsport truck, jacked up, the nearside rear wheel is off, then the brake caliper, they’ve detached the suspension arm, pulled the driveshaft out… and discovered that it’s not just loose in its housing, but snapped. Arse.

The cause: it looks like the driveshaft retention clip had pulled out when the tyre got a kick of side load from a rut, and then with the splines not snugly butted up into the housing, a twist of torque was enough to snap the shaft.

I phone Ariel, who tell me that given the mileage (over 12,000) and use (if you’ve seen Field Trip, you’ll appreciate it’s had a bloody hard life) they’re surprised something hadn’t gone pop earlier. Rather unbelievably, they attempt to get a replacement Nomad up there before dark.

In the meantime we tow the Nomad into position for the header shot and I stand around glumly while everyone demonstrates what their Land Rovers can do in the really rough stuff. Reckon the Nomad would have had ‘em. It’s unstoppable. Well, almost.

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