We all know them by sight, and many have driven them if you were in the military during the 70’s to the late 80’s. The Land Rover Lightweight, not so light on the weighbridge, many times confused because of the other name it’s known by; the Land Rover half ton, the given military term, this is not the vehicle’s weight, it refers to the payload of the truck.
The Land Rover Half Ton, or Lightweight was born from the need to airdrop vehicles into key areas for personnel. Progress in the 1960’s saw advancement in air transport as the Argosy planes that could carry two pallets abreast, and the Westland Wessex helicopter had the capability to carry a 1140kg (2500lb) vehicle slung underneath, this meant designing an all terrain, all equipped motor light enough to be carried.
The current Series 2A 88” army vehicles were too heavy so Land Rover stripped it down removing everything non-essential and resizing items like the chassis width by 4inches to ensure it fitted on a NATO pallet, the running gear was the same as the 2A 88” with the axles shortened to fit. The spare tire and panels were flattened and redesigned to be removable including the windscreen; the tilt (roof) and upper body doors and supports so everything could be speedily refitted on location, the Series IIA Lightweight had a ½ ton payload and weighed 1,202kg (2650lb), overweight and heavier then the Series 2A 88” but with all the panels removed it could be carried by the Westland Wessex helicopter, the MoD took delivery of the first days production of fifteen in November 1968. Ironically within the three years from prototype to being built, the advancements in aero technology meant the lightweight vehicle could be carried complete without the need to strip down panels.
The Lightweight was a successful vehicle for all three branches of the military with over two thousand being produced. Due to this success in 1973 the Series III was launched and along with it the Lightweight SIII to replace the original, it had a slight facelift with headlights moved from either side of the grill, out to the wings to meet new lighting regulations. The gearbox was updated, an alternator replaced the dynamo, ignition was moved to the steering column and the indicator switch now incorporated the horn and headlight flash. Now available for over seas buyers, more then 20 countries brought and supplied their armed forces, with the 2 ¼ petrol as standard, they could be easily adapted to diesel engines, a requirement of the Dutch Military, fitted for radios with 24 volts or kitted with machine or anti aircraft guns, the British Forces used Left Hand Drive (LHD) models themselves for supporting NATO.
Some Lightweight’s were adapted for specified military use, Ambulances were produced by the addition of a canvas box that protruded from the rear to accommodate two stretchers, Anti-Tanks versions evolved fitted with armoury, blast shields and ammo storage, the army made Vehicle Protection Kits to protect against rocks and blast bombs, and the Royal Marines adapted some for deep wading to ‘drive’, from the ships to land. They proved themselves to be a very capable lightweight vehicle and a heavyweight when it came to workloads.
Land Rover achieved high success and demand soon peaked their ability to supply, so they struck a deal with the Spanish government in 1970 giving them a license to build the Series II (Ligero) and the lightweight (88 Militar) under the Santana badge; in 1974 they were licensed to build the Series III and Lightweight, this enabled the Land Rover to be shipped to Central and South America, the Middle East, Iran, Morocco and Egypt, all areas at that time being restricted for export from the UK. The canny Spanish also sold Complete Knocked-Down kits (CKD’s) so the vehicles could be assembled at the final destination.
1984 production of the Series Land Rover ceased with more then eighteen thousand lightweights built in total; they were then to be replaced by the 90’s and 110’s.
Many of the these vehicles have now been lost to history and rust but they are still around, some waiting for a decent rebuild and some lovingly restored, but it’s worth noting, they are getting less and prices are slowly increasing. You can expect to pay around £1,500 for a project that will keep you very busy, or 5 to 9k for a varying states of nice condition. Some dealers have been asking between 9 to 12k for very good examples.
Last year one LHD with 1500 miles on the clock, originally from the Sultan of Oman’s Army fetched over £21,000 on fleabay!! Not bad for an elderly military Land Rover.
So if you want a project to earn you some credits with the Mrs and for the bank account, get yourself a lightweight.