Why small Argo Avenger is in a class of its own

An Argo Avenger only does about 20mph. And only then if you are lucky. You couldn’t roll it over if you had a crane. Photo/
An Argo Avenger only does about 20mph. And only then if you are lucky. You couldn’t roll it over if you had a crane. Photo/ 

Not that long ago, some racing drivers were asked to take part in an experiment to see what effect drinking would have on their lap times.

The results were never published since they showed that after five pints the chaps were much faster. And after eight, they were sensational.

It’s not hard to see why. Alcohol gives us confidence to be witty at dinner parties, confidence to chat up girls and confidence to take Stowe corner at Silverstone flat in fourth, while laughing.

The people who compiled the report could have explained this.

But since it was being done for television and since the average viewer is reckoned by most television executives to be unable to grapple with anything more complex than “Halfwit is in the kitchen”, they simply ditched the whole thing.


Certainly, in a soundbite world, there wouldn’t have been the time to explain that while alcohol gives you the confidence to take risks you wouldn’t normally take, it also slows down your reactions should something go wrong. That’s why it’s so lethal when combined with driving.

Think about it. If you can’t organise your mouth to be able to say “Peter Piper picked a red lorry on the seashore”, what possible chance do you have of being able to control a tonne of speeding metal?

I am not suggesting for a moment that the government cuts the drink-drive limit. That would be barbaric and stupid.

Which is why it probably will. I merely offer it up as an observation. And a bit of an excuse for what comes next.

Yesterday, and I have no idea how this happened, I became extremely drunk.

I started with a cheeky beer at midday and ended up on a beach, eight hours later, asking out loud if my lawyer had ever tried lesbianism. That drunk. So drunk in fact that as the sun started to go down, I decided that I could drive. So I did. Into the sea.

Before you all write to the Daily Mail, again, suggesting that I be sacked, again, I should explain that I wasn’t on a road, no pedestrians were present to run over, and that the vehicle I was driving was an Argo — widely known as an Argocat.

I’ve written about this amazing little vehicle before, but only in passing. Today, I am giving it the main picture. The whole caboodle. The full test.

First made in Canada 42 years ago, the Argocat is currently available with either six or eight-wheel drive.

It skid-steers like a tank, which means that when you turn the handlebars, the wheels on one side are braked, allowing the vehicle to “skid” round in its own length.

Many engines have been available over the years. Today you get an air-cooled unit from Briggs & Stratton.

The motor in mine is a 26-horsepower liquid-cooled affair from Kohler. And I do mean mine. As in, I own it.

I first experienced an Argocat about five years ago and was astonished at what it would climb.

So astonished that I rang the British importer and bought one to use for litter-clearing duties at my holiday cottage on the Isle of Man.

Make progress

Over the years, it has never been anything other than astonishing.

We talk glibly about the off-road abilities of a Land Rover.

But no Defender could hope to make progress over seaweed-strewn boulders that often are twice as tall as it is. The Argocat can.

Nor would a Land Rover be much use if your lobster pot was stuck under a rock.

In an Argocat you simply drive into the sea, and using the tyres as crude propellers, waddle over to the rope and pull the pot free.

Then drive back to the beach, climb over the boulders, and go home via the samphire beds to get some accompanying veg.

Yes, there are drawbacks. First of all, it costs more than a Fiat 500 Abarth, which is a lot when you consider it has no windows, carpets, cruise control, sat nav or air-conditioning. All you get is a bilge pump and a cigarette lighter.

And then there’s the complexity. If you lift up the floor, which can be achieved only with minor cuts and a splash of light bruising, it is like peering into a Victorian bicycle factory.

Because each of the eight wheels is driven by a chain that takes its drive from the wheel in front, there are more chains in there than you’d find in a fight between two rival gangs of Hell’s Angels. All of which, if you go in the sea a lot, are corroded all to hell.

Happily, because it’s based on the Isle of Man where there are many motorcycling enthusiasts, it’s not hard to find a man who can keep these chains working.

But if you live in, say, the rest of the world, where motorcycling is reserved for a handful of lunatics, servicing would be a nightmare.

The only good thing is that the Argocat is one of those prehistoric mechanical beasts that can mend itself.

One day it is making a terrible graunching noise in gentle left turns.

The next it’s fine. Modern, electronically controlled vehicles don’t do this. They go wrong and they stay wrong until a man with a laptop comes round and charges you £8m a minute to get them going again.

Fortunately, yesterday, when I was very drunk and filled with a sudden need to drive very far out to sea, all was well with my Argocat.

So brrrrm went the engine and splash went the tyres. And we were off.

It’s funny but when you actually own something, you are never prepared to test it to the limits because, of course, you will be without a car while it’s being mended.

But when you are paralytic, all those worries just seem to melt away, which is why I was halfway to Belfast before I decided that what I’d like most of all was some more wine.

So I killed the engine, poured myself a glass and just sort of bobbed about admiring the view with that stupid smile people have when their arteries are full of chablis.

I have no idea what happened to the time but a lot of it must have passed, because the next thing I knew, the water had all gone somewhere else and I was on a rock, about five miles from the beach.

That’s five miles of sea bed. Five miles of seaweed and boulders. Five miles of terrain so inhospitable you wouldn’t even attempt to cross it on foot.

I had some more wine while thinking what to do and calculated that by the time the tide came in again, it’d be dark.

And the wind was picking up. And at sea, an Argocat has a top speed of one, which is not much use if you’re trying to headbutt a strong northeasterly and a nine-knot tide.

What happens is that after about a month, you end up reversing into Brazil.

One wheel

I therefore concluded, after some more wine, that I would have to drive over the sea bed.

I wish you could have seen the scale of the challenge.

Because the fact that the Argocat made it without even so much as a moment of wheelspin would leave you as dumbfounded as it did me.

The thing is that so long as one wheel has grip, you have drive.

And with eight squidgy balloon tyres tentacling out there for a foothold, there’s a good chance one of them will meet with some success.

All you have to do is use the bike-style twist grip to keep the tyres fed with a dribble of power.

I look often at farmers and rock stars who have quad bikes for tootling about on their estates and I’m a bit confused.

Because they must know that eventually they will end up in hospital with a fractured skull.

With an Argocat, there’s no danger of that. It only does about 20mph. And only then if you are lucky. You couldn’t roll it over if you had a crane.

Sure, a quad bike is very good at cross-country travel. In the same way that a horse is a fine way of getting across a desert. It’s just not as good as a camel.