I have owned a couple of Grand Vitara's now. Previously I owned a 2.7 litre V6 Five-seater XL-7. It was my first foray into 4x4-land having previously been an exclusive member of the Blue Oval Club. The local Suzuki Dealership had a good offer on it, so I bought it on impulse and decided to give 4x4'ing a try. The XL-7 was great because it had such a huge boot (ideal for LPG conversion) but it was a bit "agricultural". The steering was quite heavy and the clutch especially so - it made driving round town somewhat tiring. So after about 9 months I decided to sell that and my Focus and buy a "normal" Grand Vitara, but with an Auto Box.
I tried the new Grand Vitara that had just come out, but it didn't feel that special and the interior was quite dull. I'd also heard bad things about the engines, particularly the Renault-sourced 1.9DDiS. The pre-facelift model seemed more fun so I kept looking on Autotrader, but Automatics were few and far between. I finally came across a very smart looking XE-C (which I subsequently found was pronounced "exec") which came with an aluminium Suzuki 2.5 litre V6 and an Auto Box and much improved steering and handling compared to the XL-7. As an ex-Suzuki GB Car, it had all the toys and only had 16,000 miles for a car that was over 2 Years old. The slightly smaller engine plus the Auto Box meant it did the same MPG as the 2.7 litre with the manual Gear Box. So I bought it.
For the past year, I had been happily driving about and really enjoying it. The V6 is smooth and quiet and the exhaust gives a pleasant "burble" as you drive along. The trips to the pumps were a little frequent however, as I was averaging 26 MPG (and up to 31 MPG on a long run) but it was still costing a fair bit. The recent spike in petrol prices meant I sometimes couldn't fill it up with the "pre-authorised" amount on Pay-at-Pump garages!
I was aware of a local LPGA-authorised installer (details below) and although he specialised in Jaguars, the reports from the Jaguar Owner's Club (through a neighbour) was that he was well-known and well-respected. He was variously described as "possibly the most honest person in the motor trade", which seemed good enough to me. So I took a trip over.
My initial impressions of Neal Mugglestone were very positive. His workshop was clean, tidy and well organised. Everything had its place. Since I'm that sort of person, I took an immediate like to him. He explained the conversion process and showed me a Daimler Sovereign V12 that he was working on at the time. Although he hadn't converted a V6 Vitara before, he had converted the 2 litre 4-Cylinder version and said it was pretty straightforward as there was plenty of room in the engine bay. He was able to supply a replacement fuel tank to go in between the ladder-frame chassis, which meant I wouldn't have to have the gas tank in the back - it would go where the current petrol tank was. He also recommended that the filler was fitted to the towbar rather than in the bumper to make a neater job of things. Neal was clearly very knowledgeable and was happy to spend time with me talking over the process. He suggested I think it over. I did a few sums that evening and it was clear I would get a return on my investment in just under 20 months, so joined the THREE MONTH waiting list. Although not great, it at least meant he must be good if he had that much work on.
A week before the conversion date, Neal phoned to check everything was still fine and to confirm the arrangements. He also asked me to drop by to double check the fitting of the new fuel tank. It seems the current model Vitara has a different floor pan which precludes the fitting of the petrol tank under the floor, so wanted to be 100% sure everything would be fine. As I really didn't want a gas tank in the back, I was happy to pop over for him to check.
The installation date arrived and I duly dropped off the car at 8:30am on the Monday morning. The replacement fuel tank had arrived earlier that morning and all the other parts were in stock. So I left Neal to get on with the conversion. At lunctime on Wednesday I got a call to say that the conversion was finished and I could pick up the car when I was ready.
When I arrived, the car was parked outside and looked the same as it did when I left it. I'm not sure what I was expecting to be different, but it struck me how "normal" the car looked. Neal was already working hard on the next car. He came out and showed me his handiwork. The filler was positioned neatly on the towbar and the Fuel Status light was fitted into a blank next to the ventilation controls. Under the bonnet I was struck how neatly everything had been installed - even to the neat spacing of the cable ties which were all facing the same way. He started up the car, which by that time was cold, and we listened as the car burbled away on petrol. Then there was a 'click' as the gas system took over and without missing a beat, the engine was running on gas. The engine was noticeably quieter on gas and you could just hear the faint chatter of the gas injectors. With the bonnet closed, you could just hear the normal engine noise. There was nothing to say that the engine was running any differently.
Neal then showed me the refuelling process, which all seemed pretty straight forward, making sure that the gas tank was brimming before I left. He advised me to drain the tank a couple of times to get a feel for the range I would get on a full tank and that was it.
Since the conversion, the car has operated faultlessly. I'm still running through a few tanks before I work out the average mileage. The car is noticeably quieter and in normal driving there is no obvious loss in power (it's a relatively light vehicle for the engine so it was never short of power in the first place). If you really boot it (i.e. make it kick down to 1st off a roundabout) it is marginally slower (and I mean marginally) but to be honest I hardly every drive like that anyway, not on the narrow country roads I have round here! But if I do need to get onto a roundabout that quickly, I can always go back to petrol (as well as engage Sport on the Auto and select 4 Wheel drive!).
For those that are interested, I have uploaded some "Before & After" Pictures here
2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara X-EC
2.5 litre V6
BRC Multipoint Injection
CLS Dual Fuel Ltd
LPG Conversion by:
K Mugglestone & Co, Anton's Gowt, BOSTON, PE22 7BG
Proud to have a "Gas Guzzler"