CLASSIC DRIVE: Land Rover Series III "Lightweight"

classic land rover lightweight

It is undoubtedly one of the rarest Land Rovers you will see on the road. We take a look at two of Jacques Smit’s special 4x4s and take them out to his “graveyard”.  

Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms

One of the Land Rovers that immediately drew my attention during a visit to Jacques Smit’s collection, is his yellow 1996 Camel Trophy Discovery 300 Tdi. Who can forget the era when these cars were transported to and then driven in some of the most remote places on earth. 

Camel Trophy

Just imagine the stories this car can tell! “A friend of mine phoned me and said that he would run into marital problems if he bought another Land Rover, but he knew I would appreciate this Landy," explains Jacques. "One of the previous owner’s requirements was that the car should go to a good home. You don’t often get the opportunity to purchase 4x4s like these, so I took it. This car was Team UK’s car and when I joined the Camel Trophy Club in the UK they admitted to not knowing its current whereabouts.”

Camel Trophy

"Nekkies" (Jacques' nickname) decided not to restore this Discovery as it had such a storied history. “I cleaned the car when I received it, but I don’t want to restore it. All its marks are part of the car’s patina and its history. Mechanically we went through the car, cambelts and fluids were replaced, but cosmetically we left it untouched – it is really part of the car’s character.”

Camel Trophy

Nekkies is kind enough to allow me behind the wheel of the rare Land Rover Series III “Lightweight”, manufactured between 1973 and 1983. It has a very interesting history, which we’ll get to in a moment. Nekkies gets behind the wheel of the Camel Trophy car and we head to his Land Rover “graveyard” to poke around at some of the cars, while also taking a closer look at these two special Land Rovers. 

The Series III “Lightweight”

Based on a Defender, this is the vehicle that Angolan military leader Jonas Savimbi used during his guerrilla war. It is fascinating to hear the stories about this Defender and also how many collectors, from across the globe, have shown interest in this Land Rover. 

Land Rover Lightweight

These lightweight military vehicles were specially designed for the British Army so they could be helicoptered into a war zone. Following the release of the Westland Wessex helicopter in 1958, the army was finally able to transport a vehicle by air... the only catch being that the vehicle needed to be lighter than 1 135 kg. Of course, a standard Land Rover Series II was too heavy, so the engineers went back to the drawing board. 

Land Rover Lightweight

The first vehicle they stripped down was the Series IIA (88-inch). Apart from removing several panels and any equipment deemed unnecessary for military use, the Series II was made narrower by 100 mm. This meant everything down to the half shafts had to be cut and lighter panels fitted in certain places. Crucially, this new model had to fit on a standard NATO pallet, perfect for air travel. It is claimed the Lightweight saw service with the armed forces of more than 20 countries. 

Land Rover Lightweight

“I purchased it in 2005. My brother’s friend mentioned they had this interesting Land Rover on their farm. Knowing I was a Landy fanatic, my brother called me. I went to have a look and bought it on the spot.” Following his purchase, Nekkies investigated its history. It entered South Africa in 1986 from Angola. Back then, thankfully, one could still import left-hand-drive cars to South Africa. Nekkies’ research revealed it had been used by none other than the leader of UNITA in Angola, Jonas Savimbi. 

Land Rover Lightweight

"Although it now looks relatively 'civilianised', when it was used during the war it was fitted with an M40 106 mm recoilless rifle. This 210 kg anti-tank gun was placed in the middle of the vehicle, protruding over the bonnet between the split windscreen. There was also ample seating for troops on both sides of the loading bay. Today there is only a pseudo rifle in place.

Behind the wheel

I close the small driver’s door and twist the key on the left-hand side of the steering column. The engine turns immediately and idles sweetly. The long gear lever is positioned far off to right and, although there is plenty of play in neutral, first gear is a short push up, with second down and third further to the right and up; a standard H-pattern shift with a pleasingly mechanical action slotting into each gear. 

Land Rover Lightweight

The alfresco feel of the Lightweight is fantastic. Although, you can’t help but think what the occupants of this vehicle must have seen and experienced over the years. Today, it’s such a special vehicle and stands out among the rest of the cars on the road. It’s by no means fast but keeping up with town traffic is easy. You can comfortably rest your left arm on the door-sill in true Landy tradition. As expected, the ride quality is bumpy. Keep in mind these vehicles were hardly used on tarred roads but rather jungles and deserts, areas where off-road ability was far more critical than comfort. Ironically, the Lightweight has one of the heaviest engine lids I’ve ever come across but it feels sturdy enough to withstand a standard rifle bullet. 

Land Rover Lightweight

Driving on the road with no seatbelts or driver aids and having an almost uninterrupted 360-degree view is something most commuters will never get to enjoy. I could sense this Land Rover Lightweight beseeching me to do an extensive 4x4 trip; it wasn’t happy pottering about on tar.

Land Rover classic camel trophy

Seeing these two undoubtedly very special Land Rovers together is quite unique, and thankfully they will be maintained by a true enthusiast for many years to come. 

Land Rover Series III “Lightweight”
Engine: 2,25-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Power: 50 kW at 4 250 r/min
Torque: 157 Nm at 2 500 r/min
Maximum speed: 100 km/h
Weight: ± 1 200 kg
Wheelbase: 2 235 mm (88 inches)
Fuel tank: 73 litres
Manufactured: 1973-1983

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