Tropicalisation; the process by which you make something suitable for use in the tropics. I first came upon the word written on an old National radio. “It tells you if the circuitry is protected against our warmer, more humid and dustier conditions,” explained my dad. Still a kid, I stumbled on something similar again while putting together a 1:48 model of a Supermarine Spitfire. Known as a ‘tropical air filter’, it prevents the 27-litre, supercharged Rolls-Royce Merlin engine from ingesting too much dust.
Tropicalisation is also something that happens in the car industry. Mercedes’ W203 C-Class was well prepared for the ‘tropics’, and our roads, when launched here in 1999. The process-oriented Germans even had a term for it. Known as a ‘rough road package’, it generally consisted of a raised suspension, underbody protection, a larger radiator, a higher-capacity fan and an additional fuel filter. Tropicalisation, in fact, became so widespread in India, asking about mods carried out became a standard Autocar India question.
So it was then that I went up to a bunch of Porsche engineers in Dubai, and asked if they had a rough road package. I’d just spent the day behind the wheel of a 911 in Mumbai, crawling over speed breakers and slowing down for potholes, and wanted to punch someone in the face. Pat came the reply: “No. We make sportscars; for that you need to be low to the ground.”
Not to be deterred, I put the same question to Porsche’s chief engineer, the mercurial Wolfgang Dürheimer, in 2009. His answer was similar, but even more curt. “What if the setup were similar to a rally car, like a Paris- Dakar 959,” I pressed on, having had some time to think about it, “supple but stiff, with lots of grip? It would make the cars more drivable in places like China and India; growth markets, where roads are bad.” That got his attention.
“A car you can drive on a gravel stage... Hmmm, we have discussed that,” he said later when the crowd thinned. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but a Boxster with a rally suspension would be great on our roads, a sort of modern-day Lancia Stratos. And can you imagine maximum attack, and not having to worry about potholes. But then came nose lifters on supercars, and then the roads in China improved.
Recently, however, a 911 with a raised suspension has been caught testing on the Nurburgring. And Porsche has taken the covers off a 911 prototype with rally-spec suspension it made in 2012. So maybe we can finally have some quick cars we can drive flat out, regardless of the road beneath. Wouldn’t a Polo GTI or Ford RS with a similar setup be great? Toyota actually has a rally replica called a GR Yaris with 257hp and an adjustable four-wheel-drive system. All it needs now is a raised, gravel-spec suspension. All parties interested if Toyota were to import it, please raise your hands.