You undoubtedly know about the Willys Jeep built for the US military, but did you know that Land Rover once built a similar lightweight vehicle for military use? It was called the Land Rover half- ton Lightweight. It was a very Jeep-like little vehicle.
It all started with the Westland Wessex helicopter. The Wessex had been built for the British Royal Navy, and was being used by the Royal Marines. One of the features of the Wessex was that it could carry a 1 134kg load beneath it. Because of this, the Navy wanted a lightweight vehicle that could be slung beneath the copter. Obviously, the weight of the vehicle could not exceed 1 134kg.
The plan was to create a Land Rover that would suit Navy needs, but there was no vehicle in the stable that was anywhere near light enough to work. The most compact Land Rover available at the time (1965) was the Series IIA 88-inch, which had a wheelbase of 2 235mm, but it wasn’t light enough. To solve the problem, engineers stripped the IIA completely and ditched absolutely everything that wasn’t deemed essential. The width of the vehicle was also reduced by 100mm, and its axles were redesigned.
Despite all the changes, though, there was no way that the Series IIA could be made to tip the scales at 1 134kg. Fully assembled, the IIA weighed 1 202kg. However, the Land Rover didn’t need to be fully assembled while dangling beneath a Wessex helicopter, so items like the windscreen, doors, bonnet and spare wheel were removed. These were then collected as a separate package that could be trans-ported independently, and were refitted to the Land Rover once it was on the ground.
The military accepted this proposal, and the first production models were built in November 1968. The Land Rover worked well in this application, and production continued until the mid-1980s. Land Rover replaced the Series IIA with the Series III in 1972, and in total, more than 12 300 Series III Lightweight military vehicles were built. It’s estimated that around 18 000 military vehicles were built in total when you combine Series IIA and Series III production. Most of the Lightweight models boasted a 2.25-litre petrol engine, though Land Rover did start producing diesel versions in 1976.
Eventually Belgium, Holland, Indonesia, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan were supplied with military vehicles. These days, the Lightweight is quite a collector’s item, especially in Britain. Even a battered one that’s barely running can go for £2 000 (R33 600), while an excellent example in great condition can fetch as much as £14 000 (R235 000).
1968 LAND ROVER SERIES IIA LIGHTWEIGHT (AIR PORTABLE)
Produced by Land Rover for military use
Years of production 1968–1972. Series III Lightweight from 1972
Body Modified Land Rover Series IIA
Engine 2.25-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission Four-speed manual
4×4 system Selectable 4WD
Total weight 1 202kg