Dream build: My Mahindra MM540 jeep with a Bolero engine & gearbox

The list of modifications included a DI Turbo engine from the Bolero and an NGT 520 Gearbox.

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Hello All,

My love for Jeeps started way back in 2006 when I started reading different Jeep threads during my Schooling days. The chance to own one came up in 2015. I used to keep searching for Jeeps in all the Used car portals. It was a regular habit for me to keep searching during all my free time. One fine day, when I was watching a movie in City Centre, Chennai I ended up opening a used car portal as the movie was boring and to my surprise an Ad popped up which stated 1983 MM540 for Sale/ Exchange with FZ bike. The price quoted was INR 65,000 and the location was mentioned as Kerala but the registration was TN. With no further delay, I immediately walked out of the theatre and called the contact number mentioned in the Ad. He said the vehicle was in good running condition and that the vehicle is situated in Marthandam, Tamilnadu-Kerala border. Within the next 60mins I was at home, had a short discussion with Dad and booked the ticket for Night bus from Chennai to Marthandam. I was not able to do anything the whole day as the much awaited time was almost near. With so much excitement and a sleepless night during the whole travel I reached Marthandam, got freshened up and immediately rushed to meet the Seller. He was a College professor and said that he had three jeeps in his Garage. The one that he wanted to sell was parked little afar. We took a walk and in a little distance I could see a beautiful grey MM540DP standing in pristine condition. I couldn’t take my eyes of it, I was just admiring the Jeep going round and round. He gave me the key to test drive and the vehicle started in a single crank. It was my first time in driving a Jeep and I absolutely loved driving the vehicle in small streets of Marthandam. After the test drive and verification of documents, the deal was closed immediately at INR 53,000.

I could still not believe that the Jeep was mine. With so much excitement and happiness I started the Jeep and moved towards Nagercoil where I had booked a hotel. Immediately on reaching the highway, I could feel the play of the mechanical steering and my tedious search for the gear slots. It was like I was running out of control and while braking the jeep, it would automatically pull towards left. After 10-15kms of slow cautious driving I was getting used to the dynamics of Jeep and I was getting adapted to it. After I reached the hotel, I sent some pics of the Jeep to Dad and he too was way excited once he saw the pics. He immediately decided to leave for Nagercoil to accompany me on the drive from Nagercoil to Chennai. He reached Nagercoil the next morning and we started from the hotel in the afternoon after doing the preliminary checks in Jeep.

After driving some where around 40kms we both started realizing that the drive is not going to be easy as the steering wobbling post 50Km/hr was very high and the radiator started heating up if speed touched 60Km/hr. We had to maintain slow speed and despite maintaining slow speed we had to stop every half an hour to cool the engine down. What we thought to be a 15hr travel became a two day travel.

On reaching Chennai, we planned on doing the following work:

But, as I got used to the Jeep I started using it only with the radiator work done and within 4 months I had got shortlisted for my masters in a different city and I had to leave. The Jeep was parked at home and with a Fortuner, Lancer and 1996 W124 E220 being at home already the idle maintenance was a big issue. We had to dispose the Lancer and Jeep without any other option as I could also not make it home frequently for using it. It was such a huge disappointment but one thing I told myself was I will build a Jeep someday very soon like I wanted this one to be.

After my MBA, got placed into the over dimension cargo transportation sector and my job involves a lot of travel. Hence, I picked up a second hand diesel Ritz and used it for 163000km post which the Ritz was traded for a new Tata Tiago XZ Diesel in 2019 which has clocked 106000km now. I spend most of my time in car and I have wanted them to be comfortable, stable at three digit speed in highways and at the same time fuel efficient. But over the years, the love for Jeep has just grown higher and there came a point in April 2022 where my mind started thinking about buying a Jeep again. Now the confusion was to go for a Used Thar Crde or MM540. After lot of thinking and being a person who loves to build cars myself, I decided to go for MM540.

There was a close friend (Doctor) of mine who had done up a MM540 very well in all aesthetic means but could not use the vehicle as he was occupied in his profession and the DP engine was not in his fascination. I stayed at their home in Angamally during a business trip and on seeing the Jeep I could get the same old feeling that I got back in 2015.

After returning back to Bangalore (Current work location), I called him to ask if he was wishing to sell it and without a second thought he said Yes. The vehicle was a 1996 MM540DP 2WD with amazing body, alloy wheels, offroad tyres, bolero dampers, hard top, leather interiors and AC. Powerplant was a Peugeot DP engine mated to a KMT 90 Gearbox. The price quoted was INR 1,80,000 and the FC had to be done. I loved the vehicle and decided to buy it. After a fortnights time, When I went to my Wife’s hometown which is near Coimbatore I decided to go and pick the Jeep. Since the Jeep was standing idle for almost 5months, it needed some minor repairs. Throttle body, Fuel pump, Diesel filter and Oil service was done and the same night I started towards Coimbatore. The vehicle was pretty good but I could feel the torque being high and power being low. 55km/hr was the comfortable speed and temperature went above 90 when AC was turned on. The rear end was little bouncy and Power steering felt so good when compared to the memories of my previous 540. I had to drive slow and reached Coimbatore early in the morning.

Few pics of Jeep while picking up:

Next day inspected the jeep completely and found that the rear axle was bent and that was the reason for rear being bouncy. Used the Jeep for two days and I couldn’t resist making the necessary mods. The list of mods I had in mind are as follows:

After spending a whole day meeting a lot of vendors in Mettupalayam in the company of my Father in law who is also very passionate into Jeeps and cars (Owns a immaculate 2007 Tucson 4×4, Hope this would sum up about his maniac), Got to know about a dealer who handles all Mahindra Engine and Spares from a relative and immediately after getting the contact I rushed to the outlet of Mr Hakeem, an amazing spot for all jeep lovers. There were so many engine options ranging from DP, DI, XD3P, Di Turbo, DI CR, CRDE and Gearbox options like KMT 90, NGT 520 older version and BS6 version, BA10 transfer case. Apart from these any part you could name from any commercial or military jeep was available with Mr Hakeem. The parts he had are sourced from Military auction, finance auction and insurance salvage vehicles.

I was clear that I did not want lot of electricals in the Jeep and hence eliminated Di CR and decided to go with DI Turbo as it’s a reliable and comparatively simpler engine. There were close to 8 Di Turbo engine available and we shortlisted two by the looks and by checking the oil quality in oil check stick. Before going ahead with starting the engine, We asked the best jeep mechanic in the region Mr Abu to join us in choosing the engine and he gladly joined us. We asked them to ignite the two engines and the first engine that we chose got started in first crank and it was so smooth. Without a second thought, The engine was chosen. The subject engine was from a 2016 Mahindra Pickup that had clocked close to 80k and had been salvaged from finance auction. Next was the gearbox, There were 6 NGT 520 old model Gearbox and 2 BS6 NGT 520 in stock but on enquiry I got to understand that when NGT 520 BS6 was mated to older gen engines the gearbox tends to get heated and eventually leading to failure. This input was from two Ooty based Maxi pickup owners who had replaced their older gearbox to BS6 NGT 520. With all these inputs, I decided to go for the old gen NGT 520 (5+1 Gearbox). Apart from all the Gearbox stock available, there were few vehicles standing outside and there was a accidental passenger bolero with frontal damage. I went near the vehicle to have a look and on inspection found that the gearbox was so immaculate and pristine. I asked our mechanic Abu bhai to check the gearbox and he verified and confirmed that the gearbox was very good. This was apparently a single owner low mileage vehicle so gearbox sorted. And then we went ahead with choosing the front axle, rear axle, brake assembly, radiator, pedal set, exhaust manifold, piping and hand brake of Bolero Pickup. The whole set costed us INR 97000 and Mr Hakeem was kind enough to offer that we can pay only INR 10,000 as advance and that remaining can be paid after test drive of vehicle post replacement. We paid the advance, picked the parts and transferred to Abu bhai’s garage. This was on June 10, 2022. The labor charges for Abu bhai was fixed as INR 13,500.

Pic of Engine below:

Apart from these, We had to buy and give the Engine mount, gear box mount, brake Liners, pads, cables, oils and filters from M&M which was about 12 grand. The timeline was given as one week but I knew that it will take not less than 15 days and was expecting the Jeep by July 1. From there on, My Garage weekends started, Every Friday night I used to leave from Bangalore post work reach the garage in Mettupalayam Saturday morning and spend the whole two days at Garage with Abu bhai and leave back to Bangalore Sunday night. This was a huge cost to be factored in the build. And as mentioned in many jeep threads of Team-bhp once you start working on a Jeep it just keeps growing and I was trying to get it to perfection which made things much more worse.

On July 1, We were no were near even half the completion but one major relief was engine sat in perfectly and gearbox mounting had to be repeated as the gear lever was hitting the ac vent (Isuzu type) in third and fifth gear.

Also, in the old engine the ac compressor was mounted on the right but now it had to be shifted to left due to space constraint and making a strong mount for this took a lot of attempts and time. This and changing the line for Benz power steering led to a considerable delay. It was also decided to maintain the four core radiator existing in the Jeep as this was more efficient for the Di turbo engine and hence it was overhauled and re-installed. On July 22, Friday as usual I Started from Bangalore and this time with a decision to take leave on the weekdays for getting the work done. We had a lot of small time consuming works to do like one leaf addition to all leaf spring as the engine weight was higher, exhaust assembly which was again a complication as pipe bends/ length and mounts were different in Bolero and MM540. On July 23, Abu bhai gave me the first test drive with just the exhaust manifold (meaning a loud jeep) as soon as I reached his garage and man the Jeep was so worth the wait. He had done an amazing job, the fit and finish was so good while driving. Engine had absolutely no rattling, gear box was smooth, speed was picking up like anything and brakes were like driving a car. Such a satisfying feeling it was. After I finished driving the Jeep on tarmac Abu bhai was somehow still not convinced and wanted to show his confidence on the work he has done. He asked me to sit in the passenger seat and took me to an off-road trail which was full of rocks and it was so good to watch the Jeep gliding over the rocky terrain in third gear with so much ease and without any additional noise or damage. This gave the much needed confidence about the build and the next two days was all about fine tuning and getting the last bits done like the exhaust mounts and handbrake lever.

Pics taken during the final work:

Finally on July 25, 7PM we were changing the Engine oil, Gearbox oil, Differential oil, Air filter, Fuel filter and a Hella fog lamp installation post which the Jeep was all set and ready. It was like such a big mission accomplished.

I had taken my Tiago along with me as I did not think that I will be able to take delivery of the jeep. Then somehow managed to arrange an acting driver with the help of Mr Hakeem and I followed the Jeep till Coimbatore home in Tiago. With so much happiness seeing the jeep parked at home, I couldn’t resist going out and while I was taking the key to leave for a quick spin my wife too joined and driving the Jeep with the new engine was so amazing a feeling that cannot be explained. It was just like driving a Bolero so smooth and buttery. Never the less, the road presence was so good. Finally, the satisfaction of getting the Jeep built the way I wanted.

I have heard/ read a lot of people saying Highway cruise and Jeep are two different genres but the first long drive from Coimbatore to Madurai and thereon to Bangalore was as good as a car. Madurai to Bangalore stretch of 450km I was able to cover in 7 hours with average speed around 90 and the Jeep returns FE of around 14 without AC. Ac work is not complete yet as the new ac duct tube is under fabrication as the compressor position is changed. Thanks to so many Team bhp threads which have taught me so much on the Jeep even before I bought one and the very dream of building one had started from reading the threads on forum. It’s true that our toys grow bigger as we grow.

Picture of Jeep in an off-road event after delivery:

I have realized in the recent past that there is never an end to a Jeep build and the works that I have done from July 25 till date and the works that I have planned to do further shall be written as a separate post

Read BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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