History of the SIII 4×2 Land Rover

From the very beginning, Land Rovers were designed to be an off-road vehicle. All-wheel drive was an essential part of the concept – even though drive to the front axle could be disengaged for road use – and it’s arguable that a Land Rover wouldn’t be a Land Rover without drive to all four wheels.

Why then, did Solihull build a number of vehicles with rear-wheel drive only? And, above all, why were these 4×2 versions built for military customers – the very users who were most likely to need the vehicle’s full 4×4 capability? Two military authorities are known to have taken 4×2 Land Rovers, although there may have been others as well. These two known cases were separated by a decade and a half, the earlier purchaser being the Britisch Army (through its purchasing agency, the Ministry of Supply) and the later one the Belgian Army (through former Land Rover’s Belgian importers, Beherman Demoen). The British order spanned the end of Series I and the start of Series II production, while the Belgian order was for Series III models. In all cases, the vehicles were short-wheelbase types with petrol engines.

Belgium’s Series III 4x2s Land Rover

The only known Series III 4×2 Land Rovers are the batch of 1600 delivered to the Belgian military between 1974 and 1976. They came about through the initiative of Beherman-Demoen, former Land Rover’s Belgian importer. It was during 1972 that the Belgian military invited tenders to meet a requirement for a light-duty runabout. The vehicle was to be used for such things as post distribution and for transport within military bases.

Three manufacturers responded initially, two of them being Renault (who proposed the Rodeo, based on their long-established R4) and DAF (who offered a special version of the military 66 which was then being built for the Dutch). Beherman-Demoen were keen to bid for this contract, using a version of the Land Rover. Their argument was that it would give them a foot in the door for the time when the Belgian military finally decided to replace its long-serving Minerva Land Rovers. It was also clear that a Land Rover based vehicle would be far stronger than the lightweight machines offered by other manufacturers.

So discussions with Land Rover centered on achieving a price which would be competitive with these cheaper vehicles. But there was an important secondary issue on the agenda. Nowhere in the specification for the military contract was there any mention of four-wheel drive. In fact, a 4×4 drive-train appears to have been seen as totally unnecessary. So Beherman-Demoen also discussed with Solihull (and its British Leyland owners) the possibility of supplying a 4×2 version of the current production petrol 88′ Land Rover. A basic design formula already existed, having been perfected for the Series I and Series II vehicles supplied to the British Army in the 1950’s. So it was a relatively simple matter to update the specification to build a Series III version, and Beherman-Demoen secured the contract for Land Rover.

All the vehicles were to be soft-tops with 24-volt electrical equipment, and all were classified as Half-Tonne types. They had the standard 4.7:1 final drive ratio, and the transfer gearbox was present only to give a single-speed (1.15:1) reduction on the main gearbox output and to house the speedometer drive.

Deliveries began in late 1974 and continued into 1976, although actual production probably ran for about 12 months from November 1974. The full range of chassis numbers is not known, but the Despatch Records at the Heritage Motor Center make clear that the vehicles did not have a block of consecutive chassis numbers but were scattered about in the 904-prefix series. Serial numbers probably began around 904-079xx and ended shortly before 904-18500.

Memories suggest that the 4×2 Land Rovers were eagerly seized upon by the Belgian soldiers, who liked them much better then the elderly Minervas which were still in service and tended to use them whenever they could find an excuse. This soon presented a problem. Although the 4×2’s were Land Rovers, their go-anywhere ability was severely limited by their two-wheel-drive configuration.

So Solihull and the Belgians came up with the idea of incorporating a Salisbury Power-Lock limited-slip differential in the rear axle. It is not clear when this modification was introduced, but workshop literature suggest it may not have been until 1984 – by which time all the 4×2 Series III’s had been in service for some time.The limited-slip differential improved the all-terrain mobility of the 4×2’s, but it led in turn to another set of problems. The driveshafts now proved the weakest link, and among certain elements in the Belgian Army, breaking driveshafts quickly became a sport.

Nevertheless, the Belgian Army did get its money’s worth out of these vehicles. Although in later years many were stripped for their usable spares and then scrapped, the last ones remained in service until the late 1990’s. The final examples were recently sold off through the military establishment at Retie in Belgium – and, as you might expect, many have now been converted to standard 4×4 specification by their subsequent owners.

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