BBC Autos

Other Side of the Road

Tomcar: Australia’s four-wheeled Swiss Army knife

About the author

A BBC correspondent based in Sydney, Phil has sniffed out stories in every corner of Australia and beyond, into the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, to the car-clogged heart of Jakarta and the usually tranquil streets of Samoa (which suffered brief chaos when drivers were ordered to switch from the right hand side of the road to the left). He drives a family-friendly Mazda.

Borne from battle, the first Australian-made Tomcar all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is making inroads among civilians.

The Tomcar traces its roots nearly a half-century back to the Six Day War on the Sinai Peninsula, but its second coming, pictured here, was developed amid the dusty cattle yards and bleak slopes of southern Australia, in the state of Victoria. Despite its rough ‘n’ tumble pedigree, the versatile ATV is nevertheless built to be tamed even by non-ATV enthusiasts.

“They are smooth and very forgiving,” said co-founder David Brim, a London-born entrepreneur based in Melbourne. “You can drive them over the most extreme terrain and not feel a bump.”

Manufacturing of the Tomcar began earlier this year, and at 2m long and about 1.5m tall, the no-frills ATV has the look of a dune buggy with a fully welded safety steel cage and heavy-duty four-wheel adjustable independent suspension. Meanwhile, a NASA-grade aluminium skid plate helps it slide over rough surfaces. With a ground clearance of about 38cm – comparable to that of the original Humvee military transport vehicle – the Tomcar finds its centre of gravity just below the top of the wheels.

The original Tomcar was created by a resourceful soldier, who devised the concept during the Six Day War between Arab and Israeli fighters in 1967.

“The original inventor in the Israeli army and his commando unit were flown to the end of the Sinai Peninsula on a special mission, and six Willys jeeps were parachuted from the aeroplane and they all broke on impact,” Brim explained. “This guy managed to cobble together a few working jeeps [out of the salvageable Willys parts], and they completed their mission and got back to their field base.”

Brim has spent the last six years honing the design specifically for the Australian market. He counts clients from the army, the agriculture sector, the mining industry and emergency services.  As many as 5,000 vehicles will be produced in the next few years, he estimates.

Priced from A$24,950 ($23,100), the Tomcar, which is powered by either a 1-litre gasoline or a 1.4-litre diesel engine, is hardly inexpensive, but Brim says the calibre of components and materials set it apart from ATVs selling for a fraction of its cost. It is available in three models: the TM2 two-seater entry-level vehicle; the two-seater TM5, which has a slightly longer wheel base and an aluminium utility tray on the back; and the TM4, which accommodates four people. Componentry is shared across the range.

The cars are built in Melbourne by MtM, an automotive firm specialising in niche clients such as Brim’s start-up.

Tomcar managing director Mark Alber says the machine is defined as much by what it has as by what it lacks. Customers should look elsewhere for the latest electronic gadgetry; the Tomcar is a purpose-built tool, and it meets that purpose exceedingly well.

“No frills? That’s an understatement.” he says. “But the fact is that it’s just a workhorse. And when you want to take it out and have a bit of a play, you can do that as well.”