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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

This Vintage Land Rover was Built to Fly



The Land Rover story is a bit of an interesting tale. What was once just a sketch drawn on a Welsh beach in 1947 has grown to become one of the world’s most recognizable off-road vehicles. Scratch that, one of the most recognizable vehicles of any type. 
Over six decades in production, the Land Rover Series utes have been loved equally by both farmer and trendy urbanite…while some have answered a higher calling. The call of duty. This ’79 Land Rover “Lightweight” is one such vehicle.

These durable 4x4s were designed for the British Army and Royal Marines, and engineered to be light enough for Britain’s Westland Wessex helicopter to ferry them around battlefields. Fast forward 36 years and this model has understandably been retired from duty. Now it’s patrolling eBay, and these “Lightweights” have a neat story to tell.


With a need to get these Land Rovers airborne, a group of Rover engineers got together in the mid-‘60s to set about making the Series IIA 1/4-ton vehicles more portable. The Wessex chopper could only lift in the area of 2,500 pounds extra. As such, everything unnecessary was ditched, the vehicle body and axles were slimmed by around four inches, and all major panels were simplified, lightened, and made detachable.

The end result was the “Lightweight” or “Air-Portable” Series IIA Land Rover, which was slim enough to be loaded two abreast inside the contemporary British transport planes, and with the bodywork removed, light enough to be underslung by the Wessex. Oddly enough, these “Lightweights” weighed a tad bit more than the standard trucks. As helicopter technology improved and the later Westland Commando copter was utilized, the bodywork strip-down became unnecessary.


Production began in 1968 at Land Rover’s historic Solihull facility, and the most common models that rolled off the line were “General Service” and “Fitted Ford Radio” (FFR) vehicles, the later of which came with 24-volt electronics. Nearly all British Lightweights carried the 2.25-liter four-cylinder gas engine, along with essentially the same running gear as a civilian-spec model.

 Four-speed manual? Check. Low- and high-range gearbox? Got it.
In 1972, Land Rover kickstarted production of the visibly similar Series III Lightweights, and the brand kept production going of these airborne models until 1985.

From the dash plate on this Lightweight, it would appear this one is an FFR Landie, which comes dressed with the hood-mounted tire, a bevy of mountaineering gear, and “Mountain Rescue” lettering front-and-rear. While those bits may not be original, they do make for a nicely presented livery.