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Land Rover Lightweight: 1968 to 1985

The idea for a vehicle light enough to be carried by helicopter and fixed wing aircraft came about in the 1950's. Then the Royal Marines were trialling Citroen 2CV pick-ups, flying them ashore from their Commando ships slung beneath Westland "Whirlwind" helicopters. The standard military 1/4 ton Land-Rover was too heavy for any helicopter then in service. The 1/4 ton (88 inch) and 3/4 ton (109 inch) were also too wide to be stored two abreast in the current, and proposed new generation of transport aircraft.

Oddly enough, Series Ones (80 inch and 86 inch) could be accommodated side by side at the time some of these aircraft were proposed. When the Series II Land Rover appeared in 1958 it was much wider than its predecessors. Therefore a prototype was drawn up around 1965 to meet a specific requirement for an air-portable vehicle for the British Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defence stipulated that the new vehicle had to be narrow enough to fit two-abreast into the Argosy transport aircraft then in service, and weigh in at about 1,134 kg (2,500lbs) unladen weight to be carried under the "Wessex", which was by this time their workhorse helicopter.

The prototype vehicle was initially based on the general service version of the 88 inch Series IIa. The long wheel base (109 inch) was also considered due to its improved load area, but there was no way that it could be made light enough. To get the Land-Rover to meet the weight target the 1/4 ton payload vehicle was completely stripped, then rebuilt with only the items deemed essential to make the vehicle mobile being added. Therefore items such as doors, windscreen, some body panels, spare wheel, bonnet and the rear seats were not needed. The vehicle finally ended up as a chassis equipped with very a simple angular body with a narrow bulkhead and axles to fit in the Argosy. The body's look being determined by the need to cover the wheels and house the side lights/indicators with the head lights being placed in the grille leaving a very stark looking vehicle. With all of the body panels etc. fitted, the Lightweight was actually heavier than a standard Series II 88 inch due to all of the extra brackets and fasteners required to make panels demountable.

So moving the Land-Rovers to the war zone in the Argosy aircraft wasn't a problem, but moving them around the battlefield was still a problem. The Lightweights ability to shed large portions of its upper body and doors was the key to making it air-portable, but even stripped down, the "Wessex" helicopter still had to dispense with a few sundry items to make the lift less of a strain. However, within a couple of years of the Lightweights introduction, more powerful engines in the "Wessex", and the introduction of the Westland "Commando" and Boeing CH-47 "Chinook" stopped the need to remove body panels, but the Lightweight remained in production - with all of its easily removable panels until 1985.

Having been shown in prototype form in 1966, The British Ministry of Defence (M.O.D.) placed the first order for 1,000 vehicles on August 31st 1967. Deliveries from Solihull began in 1968, but vehicles were put in storage and not released for service until 1969. Very little changed from the prototype, a new style front grille was added which was similar to the SII general service vehicle. A narrower bumper was designed and the vehicle was uprated to 1/2 ton payload. It was available from day one as either a General Service model with a 12-volt electrical system or as a 24-volt FFR (fitted for radio), fully suppressed version. All of the first batch shared the running gear with the civilian SIIa, all had petrol engines and were delivered to all three wings of the British Armed Forces with the vast majority going to the army. They were officially referred to as the "Land-Rover Series IIa Truck, Utility, 1/2 ton, 4x4" or simply as the "Rover 1". The first 1,400 built were Series IIa units with headlights mounted on the radiator panel with an inverted "T" wire mesh grille. New lighting regulations in many countries where the Lightweight was expected to see service resulted in the relocation of the lights to redesigned wings. This change also occurred on civilian and standard military 1/4 ton and 3/4 ton Land-Rovers. Vehicles with this new configuration are usually referred to as "late" IIa's. In all, 2,989 series IIa Lightweight vehicles were built.

Land-Rover didn't start to build the Series III lightweight until 1972, when it had cleared its outstanding SII orders for the MoD. It was at this point Rover began to offer the Lightweight to overseas buyers, and in time orders were received from Belgium, Brunei, Guyana, Holland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jamaica, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan. Externally, the only way to distinguish a Late IIa lightweight from a Series III are the windscreen hinge/bracket. Apart from a full synchromesh gearbox, the relocation of the ignition key to the steering column, that was it. The next changes occurred in the late 1970's and early 1980's. They were, extra rear lights, larger sidelight and indicator lenses and the deletion of bumper overriders on some versions.

Most Lightweights had the 2.25 litre petrol engine, however the British Armed Forces did take some with diesels for specialist uses. All Lightweights supplied to the Netherlands were diesel powered. Bodies were generally soft top but hard top versions could be ordered. 12,334 Series III Lightweights were built up to 1980.

Records after that year are patchy but it is reckoned that about 18,000 Lightweights were built up until production stopped somewhere between 1983 & 1985. The Lightweight was replaced by the Land Rover 90, however some still soldier on in specialist roles and many still serve at weekends with the Territorial Army.

Land Rover sIIa Lightweight
Series IIa Lightweight.

Land Rover sIII Lightweight

Series III lightweight

Land Rover sIII Lightweight

Series III Lightweight.

Hardtop SIII lightweight

Series III Lightweight - Gaydon 2008

Land Rover sIII Lightweight
Valentino Ghi's Series III Lightweight.

Series II Lightweight
Production: 1968-1972
Overall Length: 144.25 inches (3664mm)
Overall Width: 60 inches (1524mm)
Wheelbase: 88 inches (2235mm)
Track: 51.5 inches (1308mm)
Engine:  Rover 2.25 Petrol
Transmission: 9.5 inch hydraulic clutch,  4-speed main gearbox, 2-speed transfer box,  selectable with standard rear wheel drive or 4WD.
Suspension: Live axles with semi-eliptic leaf springs and hydraulic telescopic dampers.
Steering: Recirculating ball. worm-and-nut.
Braking: Drums all around, mechanical parking brake on the transmission output shaft.

Series III Lightweight
Production: 1972-1985
Overall Length: 144.25 inches (3664mm)
Overall Width: 60 inches (1524mm)
Wheelbase: 88 inches (2235mm)
Track: 51.5 inches (1308mm)
Engine: Rover 2.25 Petrol (standard fitment) , Rover 2.25 Diesel
Transmission: 9.5 inch Hydraulic clutch,  4-speed main gearbox, 2-speed transfer box,  selectable with standard rear wheel drive or 4WD.
Suspension: Live axles with semi-eliptic leaf springs and hydraulic telescopic dampers.
Steering: Recirculating ball. worm-and-nut.
Braking: Drums all around, mechanical parking brake on the transmission output shaft.

Several special application Lightweights were produced.

Emergency ambulance.

This version was designed as an emergency forward area ambulance. It was capable of carrying two stretcher cases by the addition of a canvas "box" protruding from the rear, in a very similar fashion to the earlier Minerva ambulances.

Anti-tank vehicle.

This was a special conversion by Marshall of Cambridge Ltd to meet a requirement from the Sudan government. They came standard with a 106mm recoilless light anti-tank gun M40A1 and mount M79, Seats for the crew, storage for ammo, blast shields to protect the bonnet when firing forwards, split windscreen, a pick and a shovel. Some versions were built minus a bonnet mounted spare wheel to improve visibility. Apparently some saw action in the Gulf war. A similar specification is now offered on the Defender 90.

Lightweight gun carrier

Royal Marine deep wading Lightweight.

Some Lightweights were specially prepared for deep wading between landing craft and the beach by the Royal Marines own workshops (as were some 109"s, 110s etc.). To protect against salt water special anti-corrosion treatment was added as well as adaptations to the engine fan, air intake, fuel tank, gearbox, transfer box, battery, and most importantly the electrical systems. The vehicles had a very reduced life span due to the harsh environment they had to work in.

However, very few truly amphibious versions were ever produced. Instead, Royal Marine drivers learned how to waterproof standard military Land Rovers for amphibious landings. This was (and still is) done at the Amphibious Trials and Training Unit Royal Marines, at Instow in Devon. The process involved fitting special seals, bladders, etc. to key components, and the course culminated in the drivers putting their skills to the test for real, either in the wading tank at Instow, or off the deck of a landing craft.

Correctly prepared, the vehicles could wade deeper than the drivers, who had to hold their breath underwater while a (standing) colleague gave them steering directions by nudging them on the shoulders. Not all vehicles were successfully waterproofed, which is why all were fitted in advance of the test with a tow chain ready shackled to the chassis, to allow the Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (a waterproofed Centurion Tank variant) to pull them to safety. The current in-service Royal Marines Land Rovers have been specified to make this process easier, which is why they are pre-fitted with ‘snorkel’ air intakes, and other features.

Bog Frog or Bogtrotter Lightweight

These modified lightweights were used in the boggy terrain of the Falkland Islands. Any information on these is very welcome.

Bog Frog or Bogtrotter LightweightBog Frog or Bogtrotter lightweight

VPK Lightweight.

Some Lightweights stationed in Northern Ireland received the VPK (vehicle protection kit) of appliqué armour to protect against blast bombs, rocks etc. This was done by the Army in its own workshops.

VPK LightweightVPK Lightweight

Cuthbertson Lightweight.

This version of the Cuthbertson tracked design was used by an RAF bomb disposal team based at RAF Orfordness, in the 1980's.

Cuthbertson Lightweight
Cuthbertson Lightweight.

The "Big Lightweight" or "Middleweight" 3/4 ton.

Also known as the 110" Bonneted Control Land Rover, the 3/4 ton was a private venture by Land Rover to produce a 'lightweight' type vehicle designed for pulling power-driven trailers and the British Army's 105mm gun. It was similar in style to the 1/2 ton and used some components from it. It was powered by the Rover P5 3.0 litre 6 cylinder petrol engine, producing 110bhp. The vehicle was fitted with one-ton spec. Dunlop Track grip 9.00x16 tyres. The wheelbase was 110", with a second transfer box to drive the trailer/gun axle, allowing 2,4,or 6 wheel drive.  The vehicle only reached prototype stage in 1965 with just 3 being produced, when the project ceased. However it was not long until this role was revisited with the one tonne 101 forward control which went into full production. Two of these 3/4 ton prototypes are thought to still exist, and one of these is in the Dunsfold Collection.

Big Lightweight

Land Rover 3/4 ton 'Big Lightweight' Land Rover 3/4 ton 'Big Lightweight'
3/4 ton 'Big Lightweight'.

Spanish Lightweight - Ligero Militar / Militar / Ligero.

Metalurgica de Santa Ana - or Santana - had been manufacturing Land Rover Series vehicles since 1958. They had developed their vehicles slightly differently to UK Land Rovers, eventually to become merely similar. The series III evolved not to 110, but to series IV (with parabolic leaf springs). Their latest Land Rover style machine, the PS-10 'Anibal', still uses parabolic spring suspension. In 1970 Santana launched military versions of their 88 and 109. Named 'Ligero Militar' (88 inch) and 'Militar' (109 inch), these Rovers followed the same concept as the British Lightweight. As helicopters in Spanish service were capable weight lifters, there was no great need to make the bodywork demountable. With no transport aircraft capable of carrying Militars two abreast there was no great need to make the 88's and 109's narrower. Therefore the Militar was basically just a rebodied series vehicle. The Militar was produced for Spain, Morocco and Egypt. A civilian version, called Ligero, was launched by Santana in 1980.

Santana Land Rover Militar

Santana Militar Ligero

Santana Land Rover Militar
Santana Militar.

Santana 88 inch CSR 106

Santana militar 88 inch - 106mm gun carrrier

Santana Land Rover Ligero Santana Land Rover LigeroSantana Ligero
Santana Ligero.

Portuguese Lightweight

A lightweight style Land Rover was tested by the Portuguese Armed Forces.

Land Rover Portugese Lightweight Prototype
Portuguese Lightweight Prototype. Pic.- The Dunsfold Collection.

Website Link: Lightweight Land-Rover Club

If you can help with more information about any of the lightweight types mentioned here, please do so. New pictures also welcome.

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