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Jono’s Thunder Truck analysed

Jono Climo is fast becoming a legend in his own lifetime in the off-road racing community. Damien O’Carroll interviewed him – and checked out his new Thunder Truck.
Jono Climo is one of those people who has always been a tinkerer. For most people, this generally leads to a life of being handy at fixing most things and, more than likely, an eternally unfinished project car sitting in the shed creating marital difficulties.
But not for Jono. In his case it has led to a career and, ultimately, the fulfillment of a dream as his latest “project” comes to life. Not your average Land Rover restoration or Hilux engine transplant, Jono’s project has been on something of a grander scale, as he has spent the last four years building an incredibly impressive Class 8 Thunder Truck. Like I said, not your average back yard project!
“I grew up on a farm in Kaikohe, so we had three-wheelers and go-karts and all sorts, so that taught me a fair bit about driving different kinds of machines,” says Jono.
“I did a radiator and sheet metal turn in Kaikohe, and I built a little Lotus 7 replica when I was about 16 or 17, so that was quite cool!
“Then I moved down to Whangarei and did an automotive apprenticeship with IC Motors – that’s where I learned the mechanical trade, then I moved to Auckland and worked for Herbert Fabrication, which got me into the race car side of it.
“But I’ve always been tinkering and building go-karts and all sorts. That’s what I enjoy the most.”
Jono soon felt the need to start his own business, so set up shop part-time at him, which quickly grew via word of mouth to the point that he went full-time. He also quickly outgrew the home-based premises and opened a workshop at Silverdale.
After a few years he sold the business and went to work for Greenlane Speedshop and then Motorsport Fabrication, before deciding that there “were some things you gotta do on your own” and opened his own business again.
“We cater for pretty much everything,” he says of his business, Jono’s Race Craft.
“We do all kinds of automotive fabrication, but the 4WD/off-roaders are my passion, and the majority of my work. A big advantage for me is a lot of other fabricators won’t touch 4WDs – they don’t want dirty trucks in their shops – whereas I don’t care!
“The cool thing is you can get so creative with them as well. There are no constraints and there’s so much room to improves the 4WD scene in New Zealand.”
Back in 2007 Jono decided to race his previous truck – a supercharged Generation 1 V8 Surf/Patrol hybrid, which he used as a mud truck/club truck
“It was pretty good back then – it had around 300 horses at the wheels,” he says.
“The Taupo 1000 was our first race in 2007. We did the time trial and were 27th on the grid and the third fastest Thunder Truck out of 70-odd vehicles, which opened our eyes – and opened a few other eyes as well!
“That was pretty good, and we got up to about 20th, I think, on the second lap – and that’s when the brand new clutch died, so that was a bit of a shame. The second day the engine ran a bearing – it was the original motor that had been in the truck for years. We sent the bearing off to be tested and it was just old age. That taught us a few things.
“We did a few other events where we were pretty fast and competitive. At that stage both Raana (Horan) and I were racing our old trucks, and we had some good battles.
“But every time we would get faster, the truck just wouldn’t handle it. We got to the limits of the truck and I just couldn’t push it any faster. So we decided ‘Hey, this is bloody awesome’ so we needed to go one step further and design and build a truck that can handle anything I throw at it – so hopefully this one does!”
And if looks are anything to go by, Jono’s new truck certainly should do the trick. Big and undeniably imposing, Jono’s Hilux looks stunning. Take a closer look though, and things get even more impressive as Jono’s workmanship and attention to detail is simply remarkable.
It is a purposeful beast that brings to mind immediate comparisons to that other remarkable truck in the racing scene – Raana Horan’s “Big Black” Nissan.
“They are very different trucks though,” says Jono.
“Very, very different. On paper ours stacks up really good, but ‘on paper’means nothing. It’s all in the practicality and reliability.
“I run a manual, where most of the others run autos, and it’s my own transfer case. It’s experimental and lots of people are saying it won’t work, so if I go out there and it works, I’m a hero, but if it doesn’t at least I’m giving it a go!”
But he does add quietly “at the same token I’ve got a backup plan – I’ve got a second-generation transfer case which is a strong design, so if we have issues we can fall back on that.
“I’ve been building the truck over four years. Just taking my time, but it’s been a massive undertaking. There’s gonna have to be a HUGE ‘thank you’ for it for my wife, who is the low maintenance part of all of this. She’s just been awesome…
“I’m not trying to be big-headed about it. I’m very proud of it, it’s my pride and joy, and it has been a huge achievement for me to finish such a big project.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. As long as it’s reliable. I’m not gonna say it will be an absolute weapon, but that’s my recipe for what I think will work in New Zealand. Now it’s really just down to me…
“Apart from mechanical gremlins, I don’t think it will be the truck that will let us down. If anything, I don’t want to let the truck down by not driving it to its potential. In saying that, the first drive of it – we did a few passes at an airstrip – the truck felt right straight away.
“It just handles so well. I got out of it shaking my head – I was dumbfounded. It doesn’t do anything stupid. It just feels so very balanced. It is very predictable and very easy to drive.
“To be honest, from the driver’s seat it didn’t seem fast. It actually felt quite boring!”
Except that it almost certainly won’t be. Jono is aiming to compete in a few selected events to get to grips with the truck before the Taupo 1000 in September. That should make the 1000 a date to mark on the calendar – it will be something to see indeed.

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