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Off-Road Anachronism, the Mahindra ROXOR

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The Mahindra ROXOR is a Decidedly Old-Fashioned Approach to Four-Wheeling, Born from Willys CJ DNA

Photos by Rob Curtis, Mark Han, Kenda Lenseigne, and Patrick McCarthy

Visit a few classic car shows, and you’ll soon come across at least one crotchety old-timer who won’t hesitate to show his disdain for new vehicles. “Back in my day,” he’ll proclaim, “they built cars to a different standard — real steel, not like the Tupperware junk they churn out these days.” While you may be tempted to write this off as the rose-tinted vision of someone living in the past, his view may not be entirely inaccurate.

The cars and trucks of yesteryear could be considered primitive by today’s standards. They were designed without using modeling software and computational fluid dynamics simulations. Parts were machined by hand with less-precise tolerances, and assembled by hand as well. Mechanical systems were simpler with fewer moving parts and minimal electronics. Features we take for granted today, such as air conditioning, a radio, and even seatbelts, were optional if they were available at all.

These vehicles represented a different mindset about transportation. They were built to last because they had to. Your grandparents or great-grandparents rarely traded in their car for the latest model. More often than not, it was their only vehicle and they ran it until it would run no more. As a result, its parts were made to be repaired, rebuilt, or replaced by the owner, instead of only by dealer technicians with specialized tools. This was especially true during World War II, since the escalating war effort led to a scarcity of raw materials in the commercial market.

From Willys to Mahindra

The lineage of the Mahindra ROXOR goes back to the end of WWII. The Indian company was founded in October of 1945 by two enterprising brothers, J.C. and K.C. Mahindra. Beginning as a steel importer, Mahindra quickly transitioned into the growing automotive industry. After noticing the simple and durable Willys-Overland four-wheel-drive vehicles in use by the American military — commonly known by the nickname jeep before that name became its own brand — the Mahindra brothers saw a business opportunity. They acquired a license to produce the Willys CJ series in India, beginning with parts kits they imported and assembled.

This turned out to be a wise decision, since the license enabled Mahindra to produce its own vehicles based on the CJ architecture. Meanwhile, the Willys-Overland company fell on hard times, becoming Kaiser-Jeep, which was sold to AMC, then to Chrysler, which eventually merged with Fiat. The Jeep brand we know today followed this divergent path, but Mahindra has continued to manufacture Willys-style vehicles for more than 70 years, growing into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate as a result of this first successful automotive venture.

The most direct modern descendant of this Willys license is known as the Mahindra THAR, a compact SUV that’s sold in India as a street-legal vehicle. Ironically, what began as Mahindra importing American-made parts kits and assembling them in India has now turned into just the opposite. In spring 2018, the company began producing parts kits loosely based on the THAR, which are exported to the United States and assembled in Michigan by Mahindra Automotive North America (MANA). The product of this venture was dubbed the Mahindra ROXOR.

Meet the ROXOR

Every ROXOR begins with a steel ladder frame, which is boxed for increased strength — an upgrade over the C-channel frame found on early Willys CJs. Suspension is equally simple, with leaf springs and shocks mounted to full-floating front and rear axles. Hydraulic-assisted front disc brakes and rear drum brakes bring the small vehicle to halt. Hydraulic power steering improves maneuverability of the 16-inch steel wheels and Goodyear all-terrain tires.

Mahindra’s M2DiCR direct-injection turbo-diesel engine was selected to power the ROXOR. This 2.5L four-cylinder motor produces 62 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, and has proven its durability in other Mahindra vehicles including the THAR. It’s mated to a five-speed manual transmission and two-speed transfer case; an optional six-speed automatic transmission is also available for 2019 models. Mahindra says the 12-gallon fuel tank should provide a maximum range of approximately 350 miles.

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