Isharaza: Some things do not have a price

Thursday October 14 2021

Isharaza says restoration works on his Land Cruiser are still ongoing. PHOTOS | ROLAND NASASIRA

By Roland D. Nasasira

Mwebaza Isharaza has owned the Toyota Land Cruiser HJ47 for close to two years. The designation HJ means it runs on a diesel engine. However, in its series, FJ would mean that the vehicle runs on a petrol engine.

The car initially belonged to Isharaza’s close friend, the late Paul Sherwen who did not only pick it from a junkyard in Kitgum District, northern Uganda in 2005 where it was rotting away, but also carried out its first restoration stages. Sherwen was a commentator in Tour de France, an annual cycling tournament held in France. 

“When Sherwen passed away, his wife Katherine accepted to sell the vehicle to me,” Isharaza says.   

History and restoration of the car

Isharaza recalls Sherwen transporting the unique HJ47 Land Cruiser to a workshop in Kampala by car carrier where it was stripped to chassis stage before the restoration works started. The restoration process, whose cost Isharaza has no idea about, took four years to get to a state where the late Sherwen could drive it.

“The entire car body was damaged and the colour could not be recognised. The rear bed had also rotten away before it was rebuilt with wood,” Isharaza says.  


However, Sherwen did not restore the wooden bed at the rear to the current state. When Isharaza bought the vehicle, the bed, including its storage case, needed to be improved using a stronger mvule wood that was then polished for a shiny look.

“I also changed the braking system. It initially had the drum braking system that was converted to disc braking. Most of the cooling system in the engine had to be redone. The aesthetics at the front had to be changed from glass lights with an inbuilt bulb to light emitting diode (LED) lights. Restoration is still a continuous work in progress and it is something that cuts across all vintage vehicles,”Isharaza explains.

Nothing was restored on the dashboard and the interior, except the seats that were replaced from one long flat seat to two seater single bucket seats. The current seats were got from a different Land Cruiser. The original windscreen and the windows are all still intact. But if you look closely at the car, some of the window rubber moldings need replacement because they have hardened. The wipers were also replaced because the old ones caused damaged on the windscreen.

Without considering restoration cost the late Sherwen incurred, Isharaza says he has spent approximately Shs20m on restoration.  

“The problem with calculating value is that you cannot put money on certain things like passion. You also have to be creative in some of the work you do,” Isharaza notes of the 2400cc diesel engine run machine.  

Service and maintenance

Part of the vintage value of the HJ47 Land Cruiser, like most, if not all other vintage cars, is that Isharaza does not drive it a lot. This mechanically means that the service intervals take a bit of time. 

For instance, he carries out service once in four to five months and drives it once a week especially over the weekend, and quite often when he has utility work such as farm visits to do with it, the reason he fills its fuel tank once every three months.

“The service parts are locally available and still in use. It runs on a simple 2H engine that is not just simple to maintain but is also powerful. It drives like a train and can take you anywhere,” Isharaza says.

To service it, Isharaza spends Shs400,000. This however, depends on if he is changing the fuel filters because he doesn’t have to change them every time he services the car.  

Originally, the vehicle had UWX number plates that were duty free from 1970s which were converted to UPF 173 which were not duty free around mid-1980s.

The furthest Isharaza has driven the car is Jinja and Entebbe. It is soon making its maiden trip to Mbarara and Kabale in western Uganda. Its maximum speed limit is 160km/hour but Isharaza never goes beyond half of this speed.


Isharaza says he has not driven a car as stable as the HJ47 on-road and one that manoeuvers through the mud and gullies like a monster off-road because of its sturdy suspension system and mud terrain tyres with big treads. 

It runs a four speed manual gearbox, with an option turn it into a five speed. However, it is one not built for speed, but rather performance in terms of strength. It is something that Isharaza’s young son, Alvin Isharaza also prides in. Alvin also hopes to possess the car one day in future when his father is no longer able to drive it.

“I don’t know if I love the car as much as my father does but it’s a nice car. It is a strong vehicle with good endurance. Wherever you drive, it will perform so well,” Alvin says.

When pressed on how much Isharaza would pocket should he choose to sell, he reasons that; “Some things don’t have a price. I cannot sell because I have a strong attachment to this vehicle. A lot of it has to do with Sherwen and my son Alvin. There’s a lot of sentimental value.”

The HJ47 Land Cruiser represents a project Isharaza believes cannot end. Every day, he and Alvin get new ideas on what they can do with the vehicle to improve it. In fact, the two look forward to different ways in which they can participate with the vehicle in other causes of vintage history.  

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