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Old 22nd November 2012, 11:52   #1
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Default Hardtop MM550 : A family friendly offroader joins Team-BHP

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It was sometime around 2009 that my wife decided not to attend anymore OTRs in our CJ340. There were couple of reasons. The first, effect of dust, heat and wind on her hair & skin tone. After travelling 1000kms in just two days in the Jeep (Munnar OTR event), she needed a long spa therapy. The second, inability to take our two kids on OTRs. After our younger kid was diagnosed with autism, she didnít want to leave the kid behind while attending OTRs. Some might remember that we brought the kid to Munnar along with my parents in a second vehicle. That is not something one can do often, so I needed a better solution.

Thus began my long quest for a family friendly offroader. I think I can safely take credit for coining the term family friendly offroader on Team-BHP, although that term came under attack early on by hardcore Jeepers. But that idea of luxury hating Jeeper has changed over years. Now we have Jeeps (Thar) that come with factory fitted AC. Multiple vendors are offering aftermarket hardtop for Jeeps.

After Thar CDRe came out, I came close to buying it many times. But every time I stopped short because it didnít address my biggest needs, AC and hardtop. I had mentioned it way back in 2009 in the Thar wishlist: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/4x4-ve...ml#post1523169 (MM540-4WD wish list - what you really want in your MM540-4WD?)

Then the wait for aftermarket hardtop began, while my family circumstances were changing very fast. My family had to move to Bangalore for my sonís therapy, and I started travelling between Manipal and Bangalore every two weeks to balance my work and family life. The expenses skyrocketed and I no more had the luxury to consider a Thar DI, left alone CDRe. And I continued to eat dust and fight the elements in the CJ340 year after year.

By mid 2011, I started considering MM550 as my next vehicle, anything else was outside the budget. But my wife put a condition that I should sell the CJ340 before purchasing the MM550. That put a big damper on the swap process, what if I sell the CJ340 quickly and then can't get a MM550 for a long time? I didnít want to be stuck without a Jeep during the 2011 monsoon.

Meanwhile, I saw a hardtop MM550 on sale. It was quite an unique vehicle, with aluminium hardtop, toyota engine/GB, and lot more goodies. It belonged to a TBHP friend (4x4addict aka Tini Korah) and at a very decent price. Then the weight and complexity of the mods made me back off from that. But Tini wanted to help me out, so he had one more suggestion. He was getting a Roplas Hardtop MM550 restored at his cousin Vivek Kuriakosse (BHPian Papaboost). But he was in two minds about it since he was considering a brand new Thar DI. So he told me that I can have the option of buying that MM550 if he goes with Thar DI. He sent me a photograph, after one look at the white hardtop, my wife rejected it. And that was that. Later Tini went ahead and bought the Thar DI and I didnít check on the MM550 any further.

So another year passed by without any change in status. Around that time, Sreeraj Unnithan tries to sell his excellent MM550 for a very low price and I can only watch it in silence. When there were no takers, a stunned Sreeraj takes it back from the market. That puts further damper on my spirit. I mean what kind of sale price can I expect for my CJ340, if a well kept MM550 doesnít sell at that low price.

However, there was one change in my CJ340. It had become so reliable, I didnít have a single problem or even a niggle in 2012. For example, I started the CJ340 this week after 3 months. It started at first crank.

Anyway, back to the main story. In August we had a small OTR at Kodachadri. And my wifeís cousin was my passenger on the first day. On the second day, he quietly shifted to my offroad teammate Sachinís MM550 and enjoyed the rest of the OTR and return trip in AC luxury. Meanwhile I was subjected to rain, dust, rain, dust and did I mention rain? At the end the trip, Sachin gave me a sensible advice. Buy the MM550 first, shift the tyres, alloys and winch from the CJ340, and then put the CJ340 on sale in peace. So the hunt for MM550 re-started in earnest. Preferably, I wanted to buy from Jeepers I know, rather than strangers. Lot can be wrong when it comes to Jeeps. Since the Jeep prices have shot up, every beat-up Jeep gets a skin level makeover and is put on sale for crazy prices. This time I wanted to be very careful.

My first call was to Sreeraj, to see whether he will reconsider selling MM550. He didnít, but he promised to keep an eye out. True to his word, he called me couple weeks later saying there is a MM550 on sale with our common friend Vivek Kuriakosse. So I call up Vivek and got a photograph emailed to me. Then it dawned on me that it is the same MM550 that was suggested to me last year. After the completion of build somewhere in March, it was sitting idle without a buyer. But the hardtop was now black, so I made a visit to Vivekís workshop next week with full family.

This is what we saw:

Hardtop MM550 : A family friendly offroader joins Team-BHP-i7mgmmz6xl.jpg

Hardtop MM550 : A family friendly offroader joins Team-BHP-ijw8r3frxl.jpg

It was a very cleanly done up MM550, and the black hardtop had changed itís character. Knowing Vivekís attention to detail in his restorations, I knew the quality was not just skin deep. The XD3P engine sounded very smooth to my not-so-expert ears. All doors were lockable. The only thing I hated was the 5-speed BA-10 gearbox with linkage, that felt extremely unpredictable. So I took a lot of photographs, spoke for hours about other options. Vivek showed me various Army NGCS MM550 under restoration at different stages. Those wide track OKBJ axles, oil cooled engines, NGCS chassis, etc., had me drooling, but I quickly came back to reality. Those variants were quite outside my current budget.

After coming home I uploaded the pics to the hosting site and asked Sachin to go over them. After careful perusal and long discussion, he gave a grudging approval. And we both agreed that the BA-10 gotta go. So I informed Vivek that If I can get this Jeep with KMT90, I will buy it. Since BA-10 is a 5-speed gearbox, it shouldnít be too difficult to find a swap. And it wasnít, Vivek found a barter in 30 minutes. BHPian prabhuav (Vijayananda Prabhu) gladly took the BA-10 off my hand and gave me a KMT90. Then there was a long list of additional things I wanted, and Vivek happily obliged.

Some major items I wanted:

1) This MM550 had drum brakes, but disc brakes were high on my list. Fortunately, the Jeep did have brake booster and hanging pedals. Converting from that to disc brakes was a matter of changing to new knuckles, rotors, calipers & brake pads. That we found out after one call to Arka.
2) Seat belts.
3) 12V power outlet.
4) Swastik Fabs brand front bumper with mounted with for my Ramsey winch.
5) Swastik Fabs brand rear bumper with swing away tyre carrier and hi-lift jack mount.
6) FC renewal and paperwork.
7) The current tyres were really bad, so I needed serviceable tyres that can take me to Manipal safely.

About 70 days later, I was able to take delivery of the Jeep. It could have been faster, but I did a US visit in between and my constant travel between Manipal & Bangalore messed with the schedule.

The last item in the list was a big problem. It is almost impossible to get decent used tyre that fits a Jeep. So I had to look at other options. My Grand Vitara had 16 inch tyres (Michelin LTX AT2 235/70R16) that had completed 40,000 kms, and still had about 5000 kms of life left in them. So I bought new tyres for the GV, and gave the Michelins to Vivek for mounting on the steel rims. I also bought 5 brand new tyre tubes to go with it. After Yetiís tragedy, there was no point in taking risks with the tyres.

Last edited by Samurai : 7th December 2012 at 01:07.
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Old 7th December 2012, 01:04   #2
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Thus I became the owner of a hardtop MM550. It happened purely within Team-BHP family. It was originally restored for 4x4addict by papaboost. Then sreerajunithan got me to reconsider it. Then prabhuav supplied the KMT90 gearbox, swastikviji supplied the bumpers, and Arka advised on disc brake upgrade.

The 20kms drive back from South Bangalore (Hulimavu) to North Bangalore (Kalyan nagar) was quite effortless. The steering was lighter than CJ340, turning radius was better, and Taxi/auto drivers displayed their usual reverence towards the Jeep and kept their distance.

After parking in the dark corner that is my parking slot, I took a photograph to post on the forum. Later that night when I leisurely inspected the photograph, I discovered that there was no number plate anywhere. After installing the bumper, the number plate was never put back. And I had driven right across Bangalore without a number plate and no cop had bothered to question me. Only in the Jeep.

Mahindra CJ340 joins Team-BHP family-pb191405.jpg

A week later, I decided to get the licence sticker installed on the Jeep. As I turned the key, I noticed that the heater light didn’t turn on. That means something wrong in the heater circuit. This being an IDI engine, the chamber has to be heated using glow plugs for cold start. Still I managed to start it somehow, went to a nearby autoshop and got the stickers done. I didn’t want to live with this problem. After checking with Vinay Thomas and Suresh Stephan, I immediately left to visit Raju the Jeep mechanic at Ramamurthy Nagar. His auto electrician was away, so he couldn't diagnose the problem. Then he sent me to a battery shop nearby, whose competent electrician finally figured out the problem. The oil level checking tube was tied to the injector pipe to secure it. Thanks to that, the oil level checking tube was touching the glow plug terminal, thereby creating a short in the circuit. Once he separated them, the heater circuit started working again. The electrician was surprised that the heater timer survived this short circuit.

Next Sunday was the trip back to Manipal, and I didn’t have a single tool in the Jeep. Not even a wheel spanner and jack. So I decided to buy a wheel spanner at least, and take the jack from the i10. While removing the jack from the i10, I realised that I hadn’t changed the OE wheel spanner on the i10 despite upgrading to alloys. That means I have been running around in i10 for nearly two years without a working wheel spanner. Gotta take care of that once I go back.

Thus I started my 400kms drive from Bangalore to Manipal armed only with wheel spanner and jack. I didn’t even bother with radiator water or other bunch of tools. Such was the confidence I had with this well prepared Jeep.

I encountered only two niggles with this Jeep during the entire drive. The speedo/odo meter died after 200kms. But that was not an issue since I could see the speed on the Garmin GPS device. The second niggle was the slight body wobble/vibration starting around 70kmph (GPS) and it gets worse at higher speed. So I kept the speed between 65-70kmph most of the way, and touched 75-78kmph (GPS) occasionally. The speedometer when did work had massive error, it showed 70 when gps was at 60 and showed 83 when gps showed 70. So I didn’t mind much when it stopped working. The body wobble, could it be because wheels were not balanced after mounting the tyres? Anyway, that is a problem for my mechanic to solve.

The engine easily climbs to 70kmph and beyond with very little protest from the engine. The pickup is very good. It is quieter than the XDP engine. I can actually think about installing some basic ICE. The ride comfort is pretty good, even on the dreaded Shiradi ghats. Despite the bad roads, I managed to cover the 400kms in 9 hours 40 minutes, including one hour worth of breaks. That is only an hour slower than GV, not bad. I was tired and exhausted by the end of the trip, thanks to the heat and dust. It still doesn’t have AC, that is the next thing that needs to be addressed. I got a FE of 13kmpl over 400kms despite the bad roads.

A nearby garage mechanic came to my office with couple of jacks to swap the tyres and diff guards, that cost me 350 bucks in labour. The documents have been submitted to the RTO, and it will take about a month to get the new smartcard RC.

Yesterday Sachin came to checkout the Jeep. He was thrilled to hear the clean engine sound, and the build quality. He could only find very minor issues that could be easily fixed. This time he gave a very wholehearted approval.

Now for some photographs:
Attached Thumbnails
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Last edited by Samurai : 7th December 2012 at 08:36. Reason: messed up the drive time
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Old 7th December 2012, 04:56   #3
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Let me be the first one to congratulate. I love your jeep. I am very interested in a Roplas top and to know how well it fares.
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Old 7th December 2012, 08:16   #4
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Your Jeep Looks great. Congrats.
OT
I have a Roplas Hard Top to give away. Check this thread
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/shifti...ml#post2983371 (The Giveaway Thread: Post up anything you want to give away FREE to a fellow BHPian)

Regards
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Old 7th December 2012, 08:57   #5
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Dear Sharath - CONGRATULATIONS! .

You have come closest to what I wanted my Thar to look like externally. The black Roplas top looks wonderful. I wish you all the very best of off-roading with this wonderful vehicle. All credit goes to the dedication of people who have helped you to make this passionate vehicle.

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
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Old 7th December 2012, 09:31   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Samurai View Post
Thus I became the owner of a hardtop MM550
Congrats on the buy Samurai! Nothing beats the practicality of a HT. Specially when you have to travel long distances with the rear packed with goodies!

May you have a long a fruitful relationship.

Yours is one of the best looking hard top designs from Roplas.. really .. Again, the only disadvantage (other than looks ) of the Roplas top is that, its hard to maintain it rattle free. Going forward, please do comment on how to maintain it rattle free. IMO, it would be a good idea to remove the HT completely, and reinstall it with new good quality (TVS) bolts, and while at it, damp the entire hard top and put new beadings etc.. Its really good to have a rattle free Jeep cabin.

Quote:
The second niggle was the slight body wobble/vibration starting around 70kmph (GPS) and it gets worse at higher speed.
prolly its the king pin wobble? If so, an easy, but must do fix.

- How are the swasthik bumpers? Are they heavy?

EDIT: Re: Hard Top. I think it'd be a good idea to paint the HT in matt? What do you think?
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Old 7th December 2012, 10:54   #7
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Congrats Sharath. I wish you had maintained the BA10. Maybe we could have tried to source the direct shift BA10 from 1st gen Scorpio without the linkages. The 5th cog makes a huge difference when travelling long distances. For AC in bangalore, I think your best bet is Tobias, I have seen some installations on Thar and he does a great job.
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Old 7th December 2012, 11:12   #8
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Oh boy, that is one great looking jeep. Don't know what it is, but there is that charisma about a jeep that always demands a second look.

Many congratulations.

Drive safe
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Old 7th December 2012, 11:33   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chanderjeet View Post
Let me be the first one to congratulate.
Thanks. If I am to nitpick, the first one to congratulate me was Rajesh Narayanan who dropped me to the workshop in his Prado for taking delivery.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerrycan View Post
I have a Roplas Hard Top to give away. Check this thread
Wow, you've got a big heart.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DHABHAR.BEHRAM View Post
Dear Sharath - CONGRATULATIONS! .

You have come closest to what I wanted my Thar to look like externally. The black Roplas top looks wonderful. I wish you all the very best of off-roading with this wonderful vehicle. All credit goes to the dedication of people who have helped you to make this passionate vehicle.
Thanks Behram. Glad to know this is the look you wanted for the Thar. Yes, that is one major difference between last time and this time. This time I knew what I wanted and knew who are the right people to help me. It takes a village to raise a good Jeep. [Apologies to Hillary Clinton]

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushs View Post
Yours is one of the best looking hard top designs from Roplas.. really ..
Wow, I didn't know there were different designs in Roplas.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushs View Post
Again, the only disadvantage (other than looks ) of the Roplas top is that, its hard to maintain it rattle free. Going forward, please do comment on how to maintain it rattle free.
Right now it is rattle free. Once I start offroading and flex the chassis, it might change. I think the biggest cause for rattle is spare tyre mount. That is why I moved it out onto to a swing away carrier.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushs View Post
IMO, it would be a good idea to remove the HT completely, and reinstall it with new good quality (TVS) bolts, and while at it, damp the entire hard top and put new beadings etc.. Its really good to have a rattle free Jeep cabin.
I suspect Vivek has already done a lot during the restoration to ensure it is rattle free. I'll wait until the problem starts.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushs View Post
prolly its the king pin wobble? If so, an easy, but must do fix.
No, you are thinking death wobble, this ain't it. I have experienced death wobble, that is a harsh and scary experience. This is very gentle wobble, happens only at higher speeds. Now that I have installed the balanced alloy wheels, I need to drive at 70kmph again to check it out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushs View Post
- How are the swasthik bumpers? Are they heavy?
They look great, don't know about weight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushs View Post
EDIT: Re: Hard Top. I think it'd be a good idea to paint the HT in matt? What do you think?
Hey, why are you after my HT, I am not doing anything to it for now. I believe in "If it ain't broken, don't fix it!".

Quote:
Originally Posted by 4x4addict View Post
Congrats Sharath. I wish you had maintained the BA10. Maybe we could have tried to source the direct shift BA10 from 1st gen Scorpio without the linkages. The 5th cog makes a huge difference when travelling long distances.
Tini, I had lingering doubts about the swap until the long drive, not anymore. The Jeep effortlessly hits 80kmph (gps) with power leftover. And I don't want to exceed 80kmph in a Jeep without ABS and airbags. I am not a fast driver, I rarely cross 100kmph even in my GV. So I am content with KMT90.


Quote:
Originally Posted by 4x4addict View Post
For AC in bangalore, I think your best bet is Tobias, I have seen some installations on Thar and he does a great job.
I am already in Manipal, so the AC will be local job now. The search is already on for the used parts in good condition.
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Old 7th December 2012, 12:23   #10
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Congratulations Samurai, finally you got your FFORV Am sure with your project management skills this will turn out to be another superb piece of offroad vehicle like your CJ.

Regarding AC from my experience i would share you few things: 1) Select the right compressor, by default AC mechs love to go for over size stuff for "super" cooling. This will result in engine overheating, loss of power etc. Instead my suggestion do the best in heat insulation on firewall, floor and roof trim, the cabin area etc using a plastic partition after you put a front facing seat, so that excess area is cut off. Then select one of the modern comp unit which is efficient. 2) Use new parts for compressor, tubes and coils. This will give you atleast a decade of trouble free service.

Last edited by Jaggu : 7th December 2012 at 12:36.
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Old 7th December 2012, 13:03   #11
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Congratulations Sharath. Thats one nice jeep.
I took a TD of the Thar too(thanks Sudev), and I discovered, even with AC and hard top its not my cup of tea. Off center steering, barely any dashboard, the uncomfortable seats..... list goes on.
but I guess Jeepers look at it from a different angle.
BTW, whats the 4th gear ratio on your jeep? Is it 1.00
If so, you can fit in slightly larger tires, and then you have overdrive on 4th(sort off).

About the wobble, if its from unbalanced wheels, the steering dances, if your body is dancing, it means that the jumping rod bush(I do not know the equivalent in jeep speak) is cut. Its a very simple change.

I suggest, at next service, change all the rubber bushes. This jeep was parked for so long, and rubber usually gives away first. A bush change is not too expensive, and gives a new character to the suspension.

BTW, are the engine mounts new, they could also be source of wobble(but it would be felt during idle too, not just at speed).

BTW, what kind of front hub locking mechanism does your jeep have. Do you have to get down and unlock, or have you gone for the auto locking ones (Scorpio/safari/Thar). The auto locking ones cost 12-15000/pair, and are not long lasting.

Last but not the least, put synthetic oil in your gearbox. You would not need to worry about changing gearbox oil for next 100,000kms atleast, and on cold mornings you would not have to struggle with the gears initially.
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Old 7th December 2012, 13:29   #12
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Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
but I guess Jeepers look at it from a different angle.
BTW, whats the 4th gear ratio on your jeep? Is it 1.00
If so, you can fit in slightly larger tires, and then you have overdrive on 4th(sort off).
The 4th gear is indeed 1:1, but I suspect I already have a tyre slightly bigger than OE. It is big budget item, can't think about it right now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
About the wobble, if its from unbalanced wheels, the steering dances, if your body is dancing, it means that the jumping rod bush(I do not know the equivalent in jeep speak) is cut. Its a very simple change.
Since it happens only at higher speed, jury is still out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
BTW, what kind of front hub locking mechanism does your jeep have. Do you have to get down and unlock, or have you gone for the auto locking ones (Scorpio/safari/Thar). The auto locking ones cost 12-15000/pair, and are not long lasting.
I don't have freewheeling hubs right now, just a flange. I might go for FWH in few months. The tendency of nuts falling off from the Lambda FWH is a concern though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
Last but not the least, put synthetic oil in your gearbox. You would not need to worry about changing gearbox oil for next 100,000kms atleast, and on cold mornings you would not have to struggle with the gears initially.
KMT90 is a very different beast. Don't know whether synthetic oil makes any different. Right now the GB is very smooth though.
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Old 7th December 2012, 13:45   #13
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Yet to fit FWHs? And how is life without CFL?

Since you have a BPillar now, let me suggest you a unique thing never seen on a jeep. Get the safari type dual AC (behind/above your shoulder), just in case you plan to travel with people in the rear seats (planning for foward facing?). Also get a B-Pillar rollup velcro-lock curtain just in case you want to only njoy the front blower will be a one off ride!!

Try the ironman shocks in case you want to avoid the CFL cost (only on rear both), they make a difference on a 540

snorkel, locker?...

Edit - The BA10 had a adaptor to connect to the T19 Tcase? Do you have it or gave it away?

Last edited by svsantosh : 7th December 2012 at 13:56.
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Old 7th December 2012, 13:50   #14
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I don't have freewheeling hubs right now, just a flange. I might go for FWH in few months. The tendency of nuts falling off from the Lambda FWH is a concern though.
A Warn hub pair costs 100-160$ in US. Why not find out the right size. Clearance sales happen often.
Quote:
KMT90 is a very different beast. Don't know whether synthetic oil makes any different. Right now the GB is very smooth though.
Synthetic oils usually help in all gearboxes, even old ones. + the benefit of no oil change "literally forever".
I have used synthetic once in the Indica(again an old gearbox, 2002 vehicle), and the difference was immediately apparent.

Last edited by tsk1979 : 7th December 2012 at 13:51.
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Old 7th December 2012, 14:37   #15
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A Warn hub pair costs 100-160$ in US. Why not find out the right size. Clearance sales happen often.
Its not the hub that's the issue, its the installation. One needs to use new spring and flat washers along with thread lock for bolts, everytime you remove/refit.
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