New vehicle, new adventures.
If you’ve been following my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/4wdswagman/) you’ve probably seen pictures of a light brown, almost pink coloured ex-army Land Rover being repaired and kitted out in the backyard.
Sadly, the time has come to retire the old Shorty Forty Toyota Landcruiser, and the next best alternative was an ex-army Land Rover. Some may consider these kinds of vehicles primitive since they have soft canopies, no turbo, sliding non-power windows, and no aircon (OMG!!!), but in my opinion their capabilities and well-thought-out configuration more than makes up for a lack of luxuries. The seats are really comfy so that has to count for something… doesn’t it? Besides, the old Forty Shorty Landcruiser was more basic than these vehicles, so the Landy is a comfort upgrade for me.
In this post, I’ll describe some of the general characteristics of these ex-army Land Rovers from a new-user’s perspective.
From about 1987 to about 1993, these special 110 Land Rover 4x4s were supplied to the Australian army. The vehicles were supplied in knock down kit form from Land Rover in the UK, which is normal for military sales. The vehicles were completely stripped, chassis and bodies highly modified to Australian Army specifications on the Jaguar Rover Australia production line. Modifications included the engine and gearbox, electricals, body, chassis (lengthened, strengthened and hot gal dipped) and more. By the time a given vehicle was accepted into service with the Australian Defence Force, fully 50% of its components were Australian made, meaning that the ex-Australian Army 110 Land Rovers are a truly Aussie 4WD.
Until 2020 when the last of the Australian Army 110s are replaced by G-Wagons, the Landys are available from monthly auctions in several capital cities auctions via Grays Online. If you purchase one from the NSW auctions they are supplied complete with a NSW blue slip (a type of roadworthy certificate) and you can immediately take the paperwork down to their local motor registry, pay for your compulsory third party insurance and vehicle registration. Bolt your new numberplate to your Landy and drive it home. They aren’t provided with roadworthy certificates in other states and will require a full inspection for registration. As a consequence the NSW ones are usually more costly, but if you get a good one, these things are a bargain.
In-service, the engines were changed after around 36,000km and the speedo zeroed, so you’ll often see them with less than 30,000km on the clock. Sure, they were probably driven like they were stolen, but a series of upgrades and mechanical renewal programs over the life of the vehicle’s service means that you’re getting a 30-odd year old vehicle, but it’s mechanically only 5-10 years old, and very well maintained. It’s little wonder that serious four wheel driving enthusiasts in Europe, the UK and North America are buying up these vehicles en mass. They are so much more capable than the civilian Land Rover 110 Defender which used to be the only choice. Once the last one is sold off the Grays auction lot some time in 2020, that’ll be it.
My ex-Army Land Rover 110 is a 1989 manufactured “Truck, Utility, Lightweight, FFR, Winch, MC2”. A lot of folks call these ex-Aussie army Land Rover 110s “Perenties”, but mine doesn’t have anything about any Perentie on the data plate, so I’ll stick with calling it a “110”. I understand that the batch manufactured in the early 1990s had “Perentie” on the data plates, so they are the true Perenties, despite being identical to the older batches like mine. The term “perentie” comes from the name of the original 1980s procurement effort to replace the old-timey Series III Land Rover tactical vehicles then in service. This effort was code named “Project Perentie”.
My particular model is an FFR, which stands for “Fitted For Radio”. What this means is that when in service, the vehicle had a separate 24 volt power system run by an alternator which charged a bank of four batteries for radio use.
It’s a little different to a basic General Service (GS) army 110 Land Rover such as the one Les Hiddins used in the first couple of seasons of the classic Bush Tucker Man TV series., but despite the radio modifications on the FFR, they are the same base vehicle.
The FFR models have a canvas canopy which is double-layered with completely opaque material to ensure the rear of the vehicle can be completely blacked out, even when observed with night vision equipment. There’s even a so-called “fume curtain” which can be rolled down and secured in order to completely isolate the rear of the vehicle from the cabin. For general use, this special canopy is a lot quieter than a standard one, but it lacks windows, so visibility is an issue when driving in inclement conditions with the canopy all buttoned up.
The FFR models have a series of four bolt-on antenna mounting brackets fitted to the vehicle, two on each side. These are, as you could imagine, perfect for fitting various aerials for comms equipment such as a UFH CB or an HF radio, but the astute FFR owner will also come up with other uses such as bases for a high lift jack mount, tie-off points for a hootchie or tarp for your swag or even as attachment points for a folding or roll-up slat camp table.
The battery bank is perhaps the most useful part of the original FFR power system. The batteries are fitted into lockers built into the side of the vehicle’s tub, about where back doors would be if it was a civilian Land Rover Defender. Along with the normal cranking battery under the passenger’s seat, that makes a total of FIVE batteries. You can probably start to see now how one of these vehicles might be put to excellent use for overlanding or remote area touring.
There’s a power distribution box in the rear of the FFR vehicles designed for use with radios. It uses MILSPEC 3-pin connectors which are available if you wanted to make up some customised power cables. The box has a total of five output sockets, but also has two input sockets which are designed purely to charge the four big radio batteries. These batteries can be charged by an external 24 volt generator or from another FFR vehicle using a power cable.
There’s a light in the rear of the vehicle which has a three way switch – for bright white light, night vision red light and off. It’s normally attached to the centre hoop of the canvas canopy which serves to minimise shadows when fiddling with radio equipment.
The tailgate on the FFR model is fixed and doesn’t open. It’s a half-tailgate so signals personnel can clamber in and out of the rear of the vehicle quickly and more easily, without having to waste time opening and closing a tailgate.
Finally, there’s a lockable interior compartment which was used for radio spare parts and such, and which doubled as a mounting platform for radio equipment.
Aside from these differences, the basic vehicle is the same as the normal Australian army 110 Land Rovers – two-doors, an Isuzu 4BD1 naturally aspirated 3.9 litre diesel engine, four speed gearbox, factory lift, galvanised chassis, old school drum brakes all round, bullbar, roll over protection system, camouflage net carrying rack on the roof, blackout lighting system, recovery points, underbody spare wheel carriage, airlifting points, de-ditching tools on the bonnet, folding windscreen, pintle hook for towing, jerry can carriers on the rear chassis rails, etc.
Some General Service and Fitted For Radio vehicles also came with a PTO winch installed. This winch, made by Thomas, is operated by the drive shaft of the vehicle, and so doesn’t rely on battery power for use. Battery powered winches are fine, but even with the engine running and the alternator charging, a battery operated winch can run down a vehicle’s battery and it is vulnerable to wiring faults or very wet and muddy situations or conditions. A PTO (Power Take Off) winch only needs the engine to be running and the PTO engaged.
There’s one breed of Australian Army Landrover 110 which I consider to be the ultimate overlanding vehicle (with a few caveats), and that is the RFSV (Regional Force Surveillance Vehicle). This is an FFR body which has been modified and upgraded for dedicated remote area use by the Australian Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Units – NORFORCE, the Pilbara Regiment and the 51st Royal Far North Queensland Regiment. These guys are our eyes and ears in the most rugged and remote parts of northern Australia. In order to complete their mission, they need to be mobile and they need vehicles which are highly capable and super-reliable. That vehicle was the RFSV. Modifications-wise, the RFSV has – heavy duty rear diff with lower gears, upgraded chassis, specialised storage bins in the rear, PTO winch, dual fuel tanks, under-bonnet air compressor, side carriage racks for water and fuel jerrycans, snorkel, high lift jacking points, split rim wheels, carriage for two extra spare wheels on the rear, carriage for two jerrycans on the rear, civilian style dual 12v battery system, side brush bars, power steering, upgraded suspension, heavy duty clutch, rear disc brakes, etc. Awesome specs which for the most part make the RFSV a seriously capable vehicle.
The big problem with the RFSVs is that they are crewed by three people, but there are usually only two seats in an Army 110 Land Rover. The solution for the third seat was to chuck a dickie seat with full safety harness into the back of the vehicle, but then that meant the roll cage (Roll Over Protection System – ROPS) had to be made higher so the Patrolman in the back wouldn’t bang his head on the roll bar, and of course, this meant the canopy had to be made higher. With the camo net rack installed it’s a lot higher than I would like and it’d be impossible to fit a civilian Land Rover Defender aluminium roof panel due to the ROPS. The higher canopy is more susceptible to damage from vegetation and the vehicle is more top-heavy than the usual Land Rover 110.
With the side jerrycan storage racks fitted, and the rear spare tyre carrier and dual jerrycan carrier fitted, what you have with the RFSV is a vehicle which is too high, too wide and has too crappy a departure angle for harder tracks, trails and water crossings. The width isn’t too much of a problem since the side jerrycan racks can be unbolted easily enough. For use as a daily driver, the height of the canopy – particularly with a camo net carriage rack fitted – means you’ll be excluded from most airport and shopping centre car parks due to height restrictions.
My ex-army Land Rover would be a daily driver, so when not in the mountains, rainforests, deserts or on the plains and out in the dust and mud, it’s tasked with carting groceries, driving to and from the city, dropping off or picking up family and friends from the airport, doctor’s appointments, cinema car parks and all the other things that a vehicle is used for day-to-day.
There’s another 4×4 Australian army Land Rover which evolved from the RFSV design which was used as an insertion and weapons platform in Iraq and Afghanistan by Australian Special Forces, called the SRV -SF (Surveillance and Reconnaissance Vehicle – Special Forces). These are available for auction sale to private buyers and with a standard land rover 110 windscreen and doors fitted for the roadworthy inspection (then promptly returned to its natural state) they can be road registered in most states of Australia.
Awesome vehicle with lots of well-thought out modifications and features, and without the height problems associated with the RFSV, since these vehicles needed to be loadable into various aircraft such as C-130 Hercules and the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Unfortunately, an SRV-SF wasn’t even on my radar since the prices for a good one start at almost A$30,000 and with many of the Special Forces-used SRVs being combat veterans, I’ll leave them for the collectors who will treat them as the historic artefacts they are.
I ummed and ahh’d for a long time about whether to purchase an RFSV or an FFR. My ultimate vehicle would have been an RFSV with a normal height FFR or GS ROPS and canopy fitted, but the task of tracking down the required parts at a decent price proved too much. In the end, since it was the base vehicle for the RFSV anyway, the FFR won out, and with my particular FFR I came very close to hitting the jackpot. I’ll tell you all about it in the next post.