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Development Of One Tonne Land Rovers

Development Of One Tonne Land Rovers

In 1962 the Land-Rover company first unveiled its forward control model. This vehicle was developed to meet demands for increased payload capacity and off-road load carrying performance. Rather than design an entirely new machine, Land-Rover modified the existing long wheelbase chassis to have a sub frame mounted above the chassis rails to carry the truck like body. Some body components were shared with the normal control model, but the vehicle had a very different appearance to the conventional Land-Rover.


Technologically, the vehicle used the same engines as the other models, but had a much lower ratio transfer box. Early IIa models had rover axles, but later ones went over to ENV axles. The tyres were 900x16 size and the wheels had an increased offset to fit.

At around the same time, Land-Rover was developing a number of vehicles for both military and civilian specialist applications. Some military models had gained extended spring hangers and reinforced chassis frame, using similar components to the forward control. The earliest example of this was the APGP amphibious Land-Rover 109.


Likewise, Land-Rover was developing modifications such as lift platforms on the back of 109s, fire engines, ambulances and a wide spectrum of other modifications. The problem was that the chassis and suspension of the conventional long wheelbase was stretched to the limit by the time these modifications had been carried out, and the conventional four cylinder engines were often underpowered by the time the specialist bodywork had been fitted. Of course, the forward control could fulfil some of these roles, but was often too big for some applications.

In time, the IIa forward control was found wanting in performance, it was underpowered and was found to be unstable in some circumstances, so a much improved version, the IIb was produced. This had a wider track, a rear axle mounted under the springs, and a host of other minor improvements. The biggest was the use of the six cylinder 2.6 litre petrol engine in this model.

The One Ton 109 first appeared in 1968, a short while after the IIb. It was fitted with a number of modifications from the standard specification 109”, notably similar running gear to the IIb. The idea with the one ton was that it could be built using over 75% existing land rover parts, only the chassis frame itself, and a few other minor parts being unique to the vehicle. The chassis features heavy-duty springs on extended hangers, as well as reinforcement throughout the frame. Axles were a narrower version of the ENVs from the IIb, which were also an optional rear axle on the “normal” 109”. The One Ton was fitted only with the 2.6 petrol, although a small batch of 2.25 petrols was built in 1970-71. It is thought that these vehicles are still in Atomic Research use.

The uprated suspension and more powerful engine allowed the One Ton to carry greater loads than the normal 109, and its lower gearing and greater floatation allowed for an off road performance much improved from a standard 109. The vehicle could carry all kinds of loads and specialist bodywork with ease. Although intended to carry specialist bodywork, the most common body style appears to be that of a breakdown truck, and many of the survivors are, or at least were, breakdown trucks at some point, fitted with a Harvey frost crane or similar.

Another big user was the electricity companies, who seemed to have bought One Ton models due to their improved off-road ability. These vehicles were often used for tasks such as setting up pylons and moving equipment off-road.


Although the One Ton chassis appears to be a modification of the forward control frame, it should be noted that there are distinct similarities with the type of chassis used on a number of military Land-Rovers such as the “Pink Panther”, the Marshall ambulances and the ¾ ton “Combat” chassis. As these vehicles has chassis numbers within the normal 109 utility sequences, it is not possible to identify which type of chassis appeared where, but certainly it is possible that the One Ton chassis was refined in design using the military chassis as test beds. This is backed up by the photographs of what may be the first one ton built, or certainly one of the first. A 109 registered YXC230F is seen in period photographs and documents, including the original sales brochure.

It is finished in a light greyish green, and has one particular unusual feature – the front spring hangers, rather than being the large sized military ones as fitted to production One Tons, instead resemble the normal hanger fitted to normal civilian pattern 109s. This vehicle may be a mule just designed to test the concept, or even just to provide a vehicle for photographs. The first One Ton was built in September 1968 and finished in deep bronze green, so it is unlikely to be the vehicle in the publicity shots. It is also interesting that the chassis was built as a composite to be either right or left hand drive, and had both holes for the steering relay, rather than just one as would be seen on other models. Presumably Land-Rover rationalised it in this way in anticipation of low order numbers.

The One Ton 109 was also fitted with a distinct steering box, which sat in the normal position, but was of a lower ratio. This was presumably to compensate for the drag caused by the 900x16 tyres. The steering was also fitted with an hydraulic damper, to reduce feedback. To compensate for the big tyres and deeper springs, the lower arm from the steering relay is longer than standard.

The suspension was unique for the rear axle, although still under slung, but the front was fitted with diesel 109 springs so as to cope with the expected payload. This gave the machine a rather hard ride, but the size of the tyres also makes the vehicle rather bouncy, certainly the ride is improved by having a load in the back!

A number of these vehicles were fitted with winches, and Land-Rover made appropriate power take offs to suit the One Ton gearbox.

In total, 170 IIa One Tons were built between September 1968, and September 1971. There was however a gap between the first one, and the second which was built in April 1969. As such it is very unlikely that many were built with the headlamps in the grille, and quite possibly only the initial vehicle had this lighting arrangement. Of this, only a handful is known to exist still, and almost nothing is known about the export or CKD models.

The series III likewise had a somewhat limited production run, totalling 308 home market examples. The series III had chassis prefix 266, and number one is still in existence, along with perhaps a dozen or so others. Many of these have been fitted with diesel engines and probably have standard ratio gearboxes in, although this in many ways detracts from the point of owning a One Ton.

Recent research indicates at least two One Tons formerly used by East Midlands Electricity are still on the road, although no information is currently known as to the condition of these vehicles.

It would be fallacy to say that a One Ton is an excellent road vehicle, or even a Land-Rover that can be realistically used day to day. The low gearing and lack of facility to fit an overdrive means they are something of a chore to drive, and fuel consumption is typical for a 1960s commercial vehicle.


Today they can only be considered either as restoration projects for show use, or else as a vehicle to do a specific task. Certainly my own experience with my One Ton at shows has seen a great deal of interest, even if only produced by the “Macho” appearance of the vehicle. The One Ton certainly does have a great deal of presence, if only caused by the huge tyres which are perhaps better proportioned than 750x16s on a long wheelbase. The visual effect is perhaps similar to putting 750s on an 88.

The handful of vehicles left are not all known about in any detail, but certainly more than one has been dieselised and had station wagon bodies fitted etc. There are tales of some being fitted with venerable rover 3.5 litre V8, but for such a rare machine, preservation should really take precedence over “modification for usability”. A great number of people have stated they would love a vehicle that looks like a One Ton but goes faster etc, thus requiring an exchange of gearbox.


The problem with doing this is that the tyres are really too large for the standard transfer box, meaning pulling off in first can be difficult, or travelling when heavily laden. Furthermore one has to consider if the suspension and brakes can cope with such speeds.

The One Ton, although rare, should not be treated as a specialist vehicle from a mechanical point of view, the mechanicals are simply reinforced or slightly modified versions of normal components. The engine is the same as the 2.6 petrol used in countless rover cars and Land-Rovers. The gearbox is basically the same as standard but with different ratios in the transfer box. Indeed, the only obstacle to regular use and maintenance is the lack of axle and differential parts, as well as unique propshafts.

The gearboxes are pretty bomb proof, as are the axles, so they should not need much doing anyway. The 2.6 petrol can be a fickle engine and needs a great deal of care to set up and keep it running properly. Thrown conrods are not especially rare, but they will usually write off the engine.

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