The Lightweight Land Rover as its now commonly known was conceived in the earlier 1960’s at a time when the military had limited lift and size capabilities from support aircraft. Primarily the Wessex helicopter and the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft.
Although other attempts at ‘airportable’ vehicles had been tested, none could withstand the harsh environments and requirements set by the British Military. In the early 1960’s the War Department issued a General Statement of Requirement for a ‘lightweight airportable’ version of the standard 88″ Land Rover.
The general requirements were for a vehicle to be:
- No wider than 5 foot (1520mm), this was to allow two to be side by side in the Argosy
- A maximum unladen weight of 2500lb (1135kg) for the 12v GS and 3100lb (1406kg) for the 24v FFR
- Carry a payload of 1000lb (453kg) including the driver
- Be capable of towing a trailer weighing 1120lb (508kg)
- Have a range of 300 miles
- Have lifting points front and rear
- Be largely constructed using standard Land Rover components:
Engine, Gearbox, Steering , Suspension and Axels although these were later changed to accommodate the narrower width.
This was to comply with the MOD’s service and spares arrangements.
The first prototype vehicle was built-in 1965, although most of the mechanical elements were required to be the same, Land Rover was able to shed some 500lb (226kg). The prototypes were all built on modified standard 88 inch chassis. The axels were replaced to reduce the width and a lighter non heavy-duty leaf spring was fitted to also cut down on weight. Standard commercial wheels were also used rather than the standard military split rims, again this was all done in an effort to save as much weight as possible.
The standard body was completely redesigned, not only was this to save weight but also money. By using flat panels welded and riveted together no large tooling was need, with the exception of the bonnet. This unique design meant that most panels could be quickly removed to shed the necessary weight when required. The bulkhead was narrower and the upper section could again be removed. Other items that were designed to be removed were the bonnet, bumpers, doors, spare wheel, tub side panels, tailgate, windscreen and hood. It was deemed these items were not needed and could follow on and be refitted at a later date in the field.
In all around 8 prototypes were made in all forms, GS, FFR left and right hand drive. Although the first two prototypes did not have standard chassis numbers they were issued serials 20 BT 90 and 20 BT 91. In August 1967 the first order was placed for the production vehicles, not much had changed for the production model other than the front grill and a narrower bumper.
These under contract WV7477 for a total of 92 vehicles to go to the Marines, however a larger order was also placed under contract WV7478 for 1000 vehicles for the Army at a cost of £910 each (that’s about £14,550 in today’s money).
The first deliveries were made to the Vehicle Depot Hilton in December 1968, most of the first vehicles were issued to the Marines in Singapore and Plymouth. From there on vehicles were then sent to other units in the Army.
By the time the Truck 1/2 Ton 4×4 Cargo Rover 1 or Lightweight had made it into general service the Argosy had been replaced by the C130 Hercules and it was then possible to carry an unstripped vehicle. There was a time when Land Rover intended to replace the standard short wheel-base with the lightweight, however due to extra costs and the fact that aircraft could now carry a standard vehicle this never happened.
This article was written by Rob Wilson.