On the outskirts of Pretoria lies SVI Engineering, a company that specialises in turning normal cars into vehicles that can withstand bullets.
They also assist military forces around the globe, and have even supplied vehicles to high-profile celebrities filming movies in South Africa.
Thanks to SVI, hundreds of lives have been saved in some of the most harrowing situations you could imagine – and this figure climbs weekly.
Whether you’re looking for a safer Ford Ranger, a bullet proof Mercedes-Benz S-class, or a bespoke one-of-one military vehicle – they will do it for you.
The company was formed in 2004 with the goal of becoming a one-stop engineering firm for all your armoured needs.
They have very capable employees who will be able to explain to you what a kevlar sheet is – and they can build armour that will fit almost any car.
They also design everything themselves, and most civilian products even retain their factory warranties – with special permission from the relevant brand.
The product list for SVI stretches far and wide.
On one side, they have an armoured rental fleet for anyone who might need it.
This extends to custom orders to turn everyday vehicles into armoured variants, and they will soon offer training on how to drive and shoot out of a moving vehicle.
Bespoke military vehicles, armoured security vehicles, armoured guard houses, and an armoured train that runs through Mozambique also falls under their portfolio.
Since opening their doors 17 years ago, they have produced over 2,500 products.
Getting to this number was no easy feat, however.
For this, they needed to establish partner offices and preferred suppliers outside of South Africa.
The heavy glass panes and most of the metal are imported from several different countries.
Other areas of the world – where military forces are much more prevalent – then receives the final products.
To gain a better understanding of what SVI has to offer, the company kindly let TopAuto visit them for a day.
Shortly after arriving at SVI, we were escorted into their personal shooting range.
At the bottom stood panes of glass that had received hammerings from pistols and assault rifles, but that was only apparent on the one side.
In order to pass the usage test, a pane of glass must be able to withstand three hits from a certain gun, whose shots located within 120mm of each other.
We stood behind a protective cover, and the instructor pulled the trigger.
Three shots and millions of microscopic glass shards later, the one side of the window was completely tattered while the other side looked as if just came out of the box.
Shooting the windows is not an everyday practice though, as one sheet can easily cost tens of thousands of rands.
Across from the shooting range stood three buildings, with no less than eight vehicles in each that were all undergoing their armour treatments.
Next to this was a storm simulator, where SVI tests the waterproofing of their vehicles.
The first building was reserved for the B4 armour level, with these vehicles able to withstand bullet impacts from most handguns up to a .44 Magnum.
This is achieved through the fitment of 21mm thick, multi-layered glass for all the windows and the installation of kevlar sheets that costs upwards of R30,000 per square metre.
The entire process adds around 280kg of weight to a normal, double-cab bakkie.
Up next was the B6 armour level.
Vehicles with this specification can withstand situations where AK47 assault rifles are used on them.
They receive 38mm glass and steel plates in favour of kevlar sheets – adding around 650kg to a bakkie.
The weight gain is compensated for by the installation of aftermarket shocks that make the vehicle higher, while having minimum impact on the ride.
One more section awaited, where vehicles for military and security uses are assembled.
Here stood a tank-like vehicle built on a Land Cruiser chassis, and several other bakkies undergoing their armour fitment.
The waiting time for these vehicles range anywhere from 2-12 weeks.
Seeing the process to build them makes this completely understandable, though.
What SVI does is remove everything from the cabin except for the physical drivetrain components sticking out from the floor.
The B6 level consists of a metal tub they weld to the vehicle that reinforces the passenger cell, which ultimately makes the vehicle bulletproof.
Driving the Ranger
Moving outside, there stood a seemingly standard Toyota Fortuner and Ford Ranger.
A bit further stood a Land Cruiser that had witnessed some battle scars, and it was back to replace its bullet ridden windows and doors with new ones before resuming its duty.
I was given the key to both the Fortuner and Ranger, and was told there was a 4×4 test track just down the road.
Needless to say, I was behind the wheel at the test track no less than five minutes later.
The first thing that struck me when getting in, however, was the sheer weight of the doors – especially on the B6 version.
The next thing that struck me was – nothing.
Both vehicles looked completely standard, with nothing but a small SVI logo on the window telling you that it can survive more than most.
Ambient lighting, infotainment, air-conditioning, safety systems – everything worked, and everything is manufacturer-approved.
We took a drive to the 4×4 course, and the abilities of the B4 Ranger remained just as impressive as they would’ve been if it was stock.
Big mounds, large dips, and rocky roads were handled without breaking a sweat, and the speedometer easily reached 120km/h and above with no strain from the 2.0-litre, turbo engine.
The Fortuner, with its heavier B6 specification, was also taken to the road – and it performed exceptionally well.
In fact, after driving it, I was reluctant to get back into my car and head back to the office.
You can hear a pin drop in its cabin, even when going above 100km/h, and the improved suspension makes the ride feel much more confident than in the standard variant.
Landmines can’t touch me
Back at the facility, only one ride was left – the bespoke, one-of-one, SVI MAX 9.
This vehicle is produced for military use.
The bottom of the hull was designed with an angular floor to dissipate blasts, while the seats inside are purposefully lifted off the floor to protect occupants from landmines.
This vehicle was developed by SVI founder Jaco de Kock – the same person who created the Marauder, the vehicle that was featured on Top Gear.
Everything was bolted and shaped around the angular hull, while a 6.7-litre Cummins turbo-diesel engine drives it using 285kW of power and 970Nm of torque.
Getting into this vehicle was a challenge, but after I managed this my tour guide opened the gate to the test track, and flipped several switches to make the MAX 9 roar to life.
We took a couple of laps around the dirt track, and this 7.5-tonne behemoth somehow had lighter steering than the Fortuner and Ranger combined.
It is incredibly nimble for its size, it can reach 115km/h, it can wade through waters deeper than a metre, and it can drive through walls.
It is made to fit everything from six fully-kitted soldiers and tonnes of cargo, to fully automated 50-calibre weapons that lock on to their targets.
The team at SVI have thought of literally everything when it comes to keeping their customers safe.