Date:20 November 2013
Paramount’s Marauder armoured personnel carrier shrugs off bullets and explosives. More to the point, for the little boy inside Anthony Doman, it also flattens obstacles, sneers at vertiginous drop-offs and pulls over for no one.
Q: Where do you park a Paramount Marauder?
A: Wherever you damn well like.
Paramount’s medium armoured personnel carrier is big, no doubt about that. From the driver’s seat, it’s not easy to locate the vehicle’s extreme edges, and impossible to see what’s behind it. If a car happens to be in your path, well… that’s the way the hatchback crumbles. The Marauder is capable of climbing up and over obstacles and crushing them under wheel (as Richard Hammond demonstrated memorably for BBC Top Gear). Its less militaristic public appearances included a role in the sci-fi movie District 9.
To find out what the fuss was about, we spent a day bouncing around in one of these locally built monsters at the Gerotek proving grounds west of Pretoria.
Half a dozen years after its introduction, the Marauder – one of five armoured vehicles from SA-based Paramount and arguably the bread and butter model – is a steady seller. It’s based on the Hummer concept, and although not regarded as a frontline offensive machine, it can be fitted with, er, defensive measures. These include a turret-mounted remote controlled missile launcher.
It fulfills its main mandate quite handily with a STANAG (NATO) rating of 3; in base form it is capable of withstanding 7,62-calibre fire and an 8 kg blast of TNT.
Could it withstand the driving technique of Popular Mechanics’ automotive writer, though? Even in unskilled hands (mine) the Marauder feels pretty invincible. In skilled hands, its abilities leave few jaws undropped. I started off in the passenger seat on a rambling, rocky route that I’d have preferred to tackle using climbing boots and crampons. “This is where the military do their advanced driver training,” said my driver/guide. “You don’t say,” I muttered, trying to hold on while the view out alternated between rock and sky. From the inside, it felt like I was in a washing machine on the “violent wash” cycle. From the outside, it looked rather like a rhinoceros lumbering its way up and down some impossible obstacles. Good idea, those air-powered diff locks front, center and rear.
Next, we headed for the gradients: steadily steepening parallel slopes. The Marauder complies with a specification that says it has to be able to climb and descend a 60 per cent slope (that’s 31 degrees). Try walking up it. You can’t.
Well, we didn’t have time to mess around, so we decided that tackling the slope next door – 70 per cent, or 35 degrees – was a much better idea. From the top, it’s like you’re about to head off down a roller coaster.
The harness cuts into your shoulders as gravity pulls you down. Gravity is not so successful with the Marauder, which chugs its way down without drama, then turns around and lurches nonchalantly back up. Thoroughly bored after a few laps for the camera, we decided to try something different, and reversed up for a change.
The “rally” track is often used to tweak comfort settings, with instrumented vehicles being thrashed around its sinuous 7 km length. I wouldn’t exactly call my stint on the track a thrashing. But let me tell you, when a 13-ton 4×4 with a relatively stubby wheelbase, high center of gravity and newton metres to burn starts understeering in the approximate direction of your photographer colleague, a mild sweat breaks out. For the record, I will state that Sean Woods’s spectacular mud shower was purely accidental. The man from Paramount will back me up on this, though he could at least try to look serious at the same time.
Still, driving is as easy, in principle, as driving a normal sedan car. Even easier, if you consider that the brawny Cummins turbodiesel drives all four wheels via a 6-speed Allison transmission.
A tug and wrist-flip to release the parking brake – uhnnnn, pssssshhhhhh – and you’re good to go. A man-sized shove on the right pedal – grrraahmmm graaaahhhruuuuuummm – and you’re off. Expertly, you flick the gear lever down through its detents to provide engine braking, and back up to maintain a decent pace. Then, with scenery scarily whipping by, you steal a quick glance at the speedometer to note a disappointingly pedestrian 40 km/h. Which, in the circumstances, is probably wise. With a roofline way above ground level, huge rubber doughnuts and that distinctive bomb-beating V profile from dead ahead, the Marauder has an unavoidably high center of gravity with a consequently roly-poly ride.
Back on the road at a heady 60 km/h, it feels like nothing can – or should – hold you back. I can’t begin to imagine what a Marauder must feel like at its limit of about 120 km/h.
Visibility out is surprisingly good, considering that you’re looking through glass that is 92 mm thick. Sadly, the noise levels would render a sound system superfluous.
But there are some creature comforts. The air-conditioning system employs two gigantic heat exchangers, one behind each of the two front seats, easily capable of chilling the average suburban home.
Given some of the operating conditions – 50-plus degrees and 95 per cent humidity is not unusual – that’s not a convenience feature, but an essential. The two-crew and eight fully equipped soldier passengers are cocooned in a double skinned spaced armour hull that can be further beefed up, to order, to withstand rocket propelled grenades.
Seats and footrests are anti-blast designs. The front footrests are slotted V-shaped channels, raised a few centimetres above the floorpan. That provides sufficient clearance to avoid the inevitable consequence of an explosion from underneath: rapid upward deformation of the floor, sending a shockwave through the ankle joints, up the leg and into the spinal column – result, paralysis.
To achieve a similar shock avoidance effect, the eight rear seats, four to a side facing towards the vehicle center, each suspend tubular metal bars on webbing – rather like swings – for resting boots. The rear occupants also have individual head restraints that cup their heads. Four-point harnesses are standard-fit all round.
There was a time when celebrities fancied the Hummer as personal transport, but the Marauder is considerably more extravagant (assuming you could even lay your hands on one: being a military-oriented machine, and therefore a controlled item, the Marauder can be sold only through official channels to sovereign governments).
And it has, quite frankly, horrific fuel economy (40 litres/100 km or, if you like, 2½ kilometres per litre). Still, it was with a pang of regret that I clambered down from the driver’s seat. We had a plane to catch, and the potential of rush-hour traffic on Gauteng’s clogged freeways to contend with. The man from Paramount had a broad grin on his face.
“Oh, rush hour won’t be a problem,” he said. “I’ll be driving the Marauder back to the office.”
Roles: APC, fire support, command, ambulance
Body: standard or stretched
Driveline: 4×4; option
Engine: turbodiesel 6-cylinder, up to 221 kW/1 100 N.m)
Armour: up to STANA G 4569 level 3; option up to 4 mine protection
Under hull: up to 10 kg TNT
Under wheel: 14 kg TNT
Payload: up to 4 500 kg
Departure: approach angles 46/38 degrees
Ground clearance: 400 mm
Wading depth: 900 mm (unmodified)
Weight: up to 18 000 kg
Maximum speed: 120 km/h
Turning circle: 18 metres
Options: day/night vision devices, extra sensors, extra fuel and water tanks
Catch the monstrous Marauder in action…