I recently spotted for the first time a Land Rover Series III “Lightweight” in Nuremberg, Germany, and now I’m stuck in a deep rabbit hole learning about this incredible machine. So I’m bringing you down with me.
These amazing off-roaders were called “lightweights” because the whole idea was for Land Rover to modify its existing 88-inch wheelbase Series IIA into something significantly lighter that could be transported by the military by helicopter while also significantly smaller so that it could fit into an airplane or on a pallet.
The helicopter meant to lift the Land Rover, according to a number of websites devoted to Land Rover history including the Military Lightweight Club, was the Westland Wessex, which had a payload rating of only 2,500 pounds. And the airplane meant to fit two Land Rover Lightweights side-by-side was the Argosy.
According to the aforementioned website devoted to these lightweights, Land Rover took the Series IIA and stripped it down to its bare essentials:
Therefore items such as doors, windscreen, some body panels, spare wheel, hood and the rear seats were not needed. The vehicle finally ended up as a chassis equipped with very a simple angular body with a narrow bulkhead (fire wall) and axles to fit in the Argosy. The body’s aesthetic being determined by the need to cover the wheels and house the side lights/indicators with the head lights being placed in the grill Leaving a very stark looking vehicle.
Apparently the new more angular hood, as well as the spare tire, bumper and other body parts were designed to be quickly removed so they could be dropped in as a “separate package” once the Lightweight had been airlifted to its destination.
Production began in 1968, and through the years it was offered as either a “General Service” 12-volt model or as a “Fitted For Radio” 24-volt model. About 3,000 were built in total according to Military Lightweight Club.
But that wasn’t the end for the Lightweight, as the Series III-based version shown above (with headlights in the fenders and synchronizers in all forward gears!) came out around 1972, and was apparently offered around the globe:
... in time orders were received from Belgium, Brunei, Guyana, Holland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jamaica, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan.
Some Series III Lightweights came with hard tops, some with soft tops, most had 2.25-liter gasoline engines and some came with diesels. In total, Military Lightweight Club says somewhere around 18,000 Lightweight models made it into production between about 1968 and sometime around 1985. And boy am I glad for that, because look at how cool these things are:
Anyway, I hadn’t seen any mention of the Lightweight on Jalopnik, so there, that’s been fixed. Gosh I’d kill to be able to off-road one of these fascinating machines.