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A quick identification guide to the Land Rover Lightweight

Lightweight Military Half Ton 1968 - 1985

by Miles J. Murphy


A Lightweight prototype was tested in 1965. This vehicle was very similar to production models. It had a unique bonnet and grille arrangement. The layout was much the same as the early Series IIA except the wire mesh grille was not an inverted "T". It was more like the Series III, but the headlights protruded through, somewhat reminiscent of the 1950 80". This grille was in two sections, the upper third was actually part of the bonnet. The split ran through the headlight center line. The military required the vehicle to be re-designed in some areas. These changes raised the weight of the vehicle above the 2,500 pound limit set by the Ministry of Defense. The idea for a vehicle, light enough to be carried by helicopter and fixed wing aircraft came about in the 1950's.

The British Royal marines were using Citroen 2CV pick-ups, flying them ashore from their Commando ships slung beneath Westland "Whirlwind" helicopters.

The standard military ¼ ton Land Rover was too heavy for any helicopter then in service. The ¼ ton (88") and 3/4 ton (109") were also too wide to be stored two abreast in the current, and proposed new generation of transport aircraft. Oddly enough, Series Ones (86" - 88") could be accommodated side by side when some of these aircraft were proposed. When the Series II Land Rover appeared in 1958 it was much wider than its predecessors. Lack of forethought some might say, more a lack of communication would be closer to the truth.

For those interested, the Blackbury "Beverly" (4 radials/fixed U/C and twin fins) and the Shorts "Belfast" (much like a C-130 - but bigger) were the backbone of the R.A.F. - heavy lift Transport Command. The Armstrong Whitworth "Argosy" (known as the "Fly ing Wheelbarrow") and the Hawker Siddeley "Andover" were in the medium lift category. The "Argosy" was the main reason the Lightweight ended up narrower than the standard Land Rover.

Getting Land Rovers to the war zone in a hurry wasn't a problem, but moving them around the battlefield was a major priority.

Lightweight Stripped Down The Lightweights ability to shed large portions of its upper body and doors was the key to making it air-portable. Even so stripped, the "Wessex" has to dispense with a few sundry items to make the lift less of a strain. 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" negated the need to remove body panels.

Lightweight Soft Top The need to strip the Lightweight became obsolete, but the Lightweight remained in production - with all of its easily removed panels until 1985.

The British Ministry of Defense (M.O.D.) placed the first order for 1,000 vehicles on August 31st 1967. Delivered from Solihull began in 1968, but vehicles were put in storage and not released for service until 1969. The first 1,400 built were Series I IA's 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 ¼ ton and 3/4 ton Land Rovers.

Vehicles with this new configuration (plus other cosmetic changes) are usually referred to as "late" IIA's. In all, about 3,000 Series IIA's were built. The Series III Land Rovers were launched in mid 1971, but due to outstanding orders for IIA Lightweights, the Series III version did not appear until 1972. Externally, the only way to distinguish a Late IIA lightweight from a Series III are the windscreen hinge/bracket. Apart from aa 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, but not all). Of course, there were all sorts of changes under the hood but we're not going to get into that here. Series III production is in excess of 14,000. Just about all Lightweights have been withdrawn from military service. Standard military 90's and 110's have rep laced them. There are believed to be at least 50 examples of the lightweight in North America. They include early and Late IIA's and Series III's. Late IIA's and Series III's.

What's in a name? When first conceived, the Lightweight was referred to - in official circles - as the "Rover 1". Its official military designation was "Half Ton". And, obviously, as everyone calls it Lightweight, that's its most common name.

Some refer to it as the "Airportable", but this was a name given to a special version of the 109". Airportable 109" could be stacked 3 high for airporting. I5t also has a special body, not only to accommodate stacking, but making it amphibious. With a p.t.o. driven propeller, pontoons and steering provided by the front wheels the airportable could take to water like a duck.

Lightweights are sometimes called "Cutwings". This is a common name for Australian and New Zealand Series IIA 88's and 109"'s. The front wheel arches are angular rather that the familiar curve (similar to, but not exactly like the Santana Ligero/Militar ). The rest of the antipodian Rover was standard body. Several people call the lightweight the "airdrop". The only problem with the name is, every Land Rover has been dropped as well.

Spanish Lightweight

Spanish Lightweight

Spain was perhaps the second largest manufacturer of Land Rovers. Production commenced with the Series II in 1958. The II was followed by the IIA and III in 88" and 109" form. Metalurgica de Santa Ana - or Santana - developed their own version of the 1 09" in Forward Control (F.C.) form. They also took the British FC 101 a step further calling their civilian version the Santana 2000. The familiar Series III's began to take on a hispanic look all of their own. The Series IIA took the leaf sprung Rover a step further as did the 110 look-a-like (albeit with leaf springs) Series IV.

In the late 1970's Santana launched military versions of their 88 and 109. Named "Militar", 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. The design of the Spanish Militar probably had more to do with making the Land Rover a bit more menacing. A civilian version of the Militar was launched by Santana in 1980. It bears the name "Ligero" which is Spanish for Lightweight.

Iranian Lightweight

Santana played a major role developing the Iranian Land Rover connection. In their factory at Farsi the Iranian company Morattab assembled a full line of 88's and 109's. Major components arrived from Spain as Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kits. By the l ate 1980's, at least 75% of the components going into the completed vehicles were of local origin. Just as Santana became independent from Solihull, so to did the Iranians become from Spain. The Iranian Lightweight, although bearing a strong similarity to the Ligero/Militar was reported to be of 100% local origin (a Chinese copy).

The Australians have a lightweight version of their 6x6 110. Even though its referred to as a lightweight, it has nothing in common with the British, Spanish and Iranian vehicles.

The information printed here is not Gospel, but its damn close... Miles J. Murphy Oct 1994

Next Issue:- Series One 1948 - 1953

Reprinted from the OVLR Newsletter, December, 1994
Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2011. Last modified March 15, 2005.
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