By John Quilter
All photographs by the Author except for the photograph of the real vehicle.
By Dennis Elzinga (Land Rover Lightweight) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Land Rover enthusiasts may be unaware of a somewhat obscure, at least in the USA, Land Rover known as the Lightweight or AKA, Air Portable. Back in the early 1960s the British Army was using Westland Wessex helicopters often based on commando carriers. Their need was for a 4×4 vehicle that could be carried slung on a pallet underneath these helicopters. The early helicopters weight carrying capacity was rated at 2500 pounds. That was less than the existing Series II 88 inch wheelbase Land Rovers. So the diligent Land Rover engineers set about getting the weight down to tap into this new market niche. This was accomplished by narrowing the body and chassis by 4 inches and fitting narrower axles front and rear. The engine remained the trusty 2.25 litre petrol or diesel four cylinder. The diet consisted of redesigned front fenders which along with the doors, hood, windscreen, tilt hoops and upper sheet metal were removable. What exactly was done with the removable panels when the vehicle was in use is unclear. The best efforts of the LR engineers was able to get the weight down to 2650 pounds, still too heavy but luckily by then the Wessex helicopter rated carrying capacity was increased to accommodate this figure.
Initial production began in November 11, 1968. These were the Series IIA versions with a typical mesh grill. The front fenders and hood were the most notable styling differences. The entire concept put this Air Portable version much closer to the old WWII American Jeep. Width was five feet and the tires were either 6.50 X 16 or 7.50 X 16. The electrical system was 24 volt. Many were sold to NATO and were used in non RHD territories so some were made as LHD and some were even specified with the Land Rover 2.25 diesel, particularly but not exclusively the Dutch ones. In total the military in over 20 countries used these unique Land Rovers.
After about 1,500 to 2,000 were made the standard Series IIA was superseded by the Series III in 1972 and the Lightweight followed suit with some upgrades. Most notable is the use of the trapezoidal shaped plastic grill which also probably saved another pound or two. These units got the new advanced gearbox with synchromesh in second, third and fourth gear and some, particularly those used for radio communications tasks, were fitted with 24 volt electrics with alternators. In around 1980 the engine got two more main bearings bringing it up to modern standards.
As an interesting note, back in about 1965 the British Motor Corporation launched the Austin Mini Moke, a sort of utility version based on the ubiquitous Austin Morris Mini. This vehicle was offered to the UK military, and even to the US Army, as a helicopter portable vehicle. At less than 900 pounds it was well within the air portable weight limits. In fact, carrying two would be quite possible. Unfortunately, this micro sized utility vehicle was only 2 wheel drive and with only 10 inch tires was sorely lacking in ground clearance. Of course at only 900 pounds, four beefy solders could probably boost it out of any mired in the mud situation. Nevertheless, when the military took issue with the lack of four wheel drive, BMC pressed on by designing the Twini, which was a twin engined version, one engine in front and one in the rear thus achieving the 4 X 4 requirement albeit with considerably more complexity. Still, the UK and US Army did not buy it, but for students of British Leyland history one of the prototypes is carefully preserved at the British Motor Heritage Museum at Gaydon in the UK.
Now to accommodate collectors of really miniature Land Rovers in 1:43 scale, two scale model makers have introduced replicas of these Lightweights. For those unfamiliar with 1:43 scale it is, in this writers opinion the gold standard of miniature vehicle collecting largely because of the incredible variety of vehicles replicated in this size. These two Lightweights measure about 3.37 inches in length. Not one, but two separate model makers are now producing these. Best of Show (also known as BoS) a brand name of Model Car World based in Florsheim, Germany (www.BoS-Models.de) make the dark green Series III shown which has a hardtop in cream to match the wheels.
This version appears to be a civilian version as there are no military markings or extra external equipment fitted. Given its “light weight” this item appears to be made in resin, now a common modelling material used by many of the Chinese makers of scale models. As with all the Lightweight Land Rovers the spare tire is on the bonnet held in place with three straps. The grille is the Series III plastic type and the head lamps are mounted outboard on the wings along with the side and indicator lamps.
A glance at the undercarriage shows front and rear axles on half elliptic leaf springs, and two propshafts and an exhaust system with a transverse rear silencer and tail pipe exiting on the left rear. There are seats for three across in the front with the driving position being RHD. The rear could accommodate another four on inward facing seats. This item is sold under the product code BOS43670.
Now moving on to the other version made by Oxford Diecast of the UK (www.oxforddiecast.co.uk) this is in United Nations livery in olive drab color with a lighter green fabric tilt. This is a Series IIa and clearly a military type with a shovel attached to the rear. Again, RHD but with only two individual seats in the front and no apparent seats in the rear. Union Jack decals appear on the bonnet and tail panel plus UNITED NATIONS and their logo on the flanks. The registration plate 5412 FL 91, is part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.
Judging by Oxford Diecast’s prior business practices, over time they make many versions of a given model cleverly using the base casting but with many colors, liveries and differing features. This United Nations one is just one of many that are planned, this one is marketed under their product code Product Code: 43LRL001. The tooling for this model, will be used to produce it with a Canvas back and also a hard back with and without side windows. The version without side windows will have a full rear door but the one with side windows has a tailgate and half door. Oxford have also produced a large number of extra parts – signs, battery boxes, beacons etc to enable them to release the model in a number of different liveries.
The subject of this report is the first model of this type produced by Oxford and is in a UN livery. Check the Oxford Diecast website for future versions later this year and in 2018. Indications are that this will be followed by two hard back models in Military Police and the RAF Red Arrows livery. Images can be found on the internet by model number 43LRL001/2/3 etc.
Building a collection of miniature Land Rovers can be almost as much fun as collecting the 1:1 versions and best of all, they require no registration or insurance and generally don’t need the mud washed off.
Editor: For anyone who is interested in Lightweight Land Rovers and who hasn’t the space for the 1:43 versions Oxford are also producing UN and Military Police versions of this in 1:76 scale these are scheduled for release in the first half of 2017.
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