first field car
In 1954 the newly formed German Bundeswehr
(Federal Army) invited the German car industry to submit pilot models for
the new Army's Lkw 0,25 t gl (Lastkraftwagen, 0,25 ton, geländegängig;
or: truck, ¼-ton, off-road). As the Bundeswehr would have
liked to procure a further-developed variant of the Type 82 Kübelwagen,
Volkswagen was also approached to get involved. But Dr. Heinz Nordhoff
could not really be interested in what - for VW - was a small-scale production
of four wheel drive field cars. And they had their hands full on civil
Eventually, Auto Union's DKW Munga
was selected and it was in production from 1956 to 1968. Out of a total
of 46,750 built, about 28,400 were procured by the Bundeswehr.
involved in field car manufacture
In the 1960s France, West Germany and
Italy started a joint project for a new 500 kg (4x4) amphibious vehicle
which became known as the 'Europa-Jeep'.
Awaiting the arrival of this vehicle the Bundeswehr decided to procure
a stop-gap vehicle to replace the DKW Munga, which was really getting outdated
near the end of the 1960s. From 1969 Volkswagen built 15,200 type
181 multi-purpose vehicles for the Bundeswehr as a temporary substitute.
It was largely based on commercial VW vehicles to keep development and
production costs down. This resulted in what was in effect a modernised
version of the WW-II era Type 82. Like the original, it had rear wheel
drive only (with optional self-locking differential) and therefore it had
a limited off-road capability. It was however, perfect for liaison duties
etc. and it was classed as a Mehrzweckwagen (multi-purpose vehicle).
When the 'Europa-Jeep' project was
finally cancelled in 1976, the Bundeswehr issued a new requirement for
8,800 4x4 vehicles with a cargo capacity of 500 kg both on and off roads.
The amphibious requirement was dropped. Both Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen
were approached to build prototypes for trials.
Volkswagen, meanwhile, had acquired
Auto Union in Ingolstadt in 1965, dropped the DKW marque and let the name
Audi re-emerge. Audi, being the successor of the original Munga manufacturer,
was interested in producing field cars for the Bundeswehr. Volkswagen really
only furnished its name and the capital needed. During the fall of 1975
the first talks took place, and in May 1976 a contract was closed for the
delivery of ten prototypes the next November.
Apart from having experience with
the Munga, the pressure of time led to the step to further develop it into
what became the VW 183 Lkw 0,5 t gl, alias Iltis. The drive line
and front and rear axle were of the same concept: independent suspension
with transversal leaf springs and wishbones, interchangeable suspension
components and drive shafts front and rear and the front differential incorporated
in the gearbox. The styling of the bodywork reminded of the Munga's
shape, and in fact the rear half of the prototype bodies were hardly more
than that of the Munga's elongated variant. The production version of the
Iltis bodywork had several improvements such as under-bonnet stowage boxes
incorporated in the front mudguards. Many automotive components were sourced
from contemporary mass-produced cars: the 1.7 litre, 75 horsepower engine
originally came from the Audi stable and was used in the South-American
versions of the Volkswagen Passat. Likewise, the gearbox/differential housing
and clutch were taken from the Audi 100.
In 1977 the Volkswagen Iltis was
selected for production, which started during the summer of 1978. The first
200 examples were delivered to the Bundeswehr on 30 November and 52 more
followed in December. By mid-1979 the Bundeswehr already had some 2,000
in use. In 1979 and 1980 3,400 Iltis' were built, followed by the last
1,800 for the Bundeswehr in 1981. At the end of 1982 production ceased
after the last 119 examples were built for the civil market. The grand
total had been set at 9,547 examples.
Of the total of 8,800, the Bundeswehr
got 8,470 units, 310 went to the Luftwaffe (air force) and 20 examples
were in use with the Marine (navy). Bundeswehr variants include
ambulance, anti-tank (with MILAN ATGWs), artillery survey, command/radio
and field telephone cable layer.
The Bundeswehr later replaced the
VW Iltis with its former contender, the Mercedes G-series. Surplus Iltis'
were passed on to Greece, Turkey and even Estonia, which received 250 examples
in September 1997. Others were sold off to the surplus market, because
of which the Iltis has become available to private collectors as far afield
as the USA and Japan.
The French connection...
In the late 1970s, after withdrawing
from the 'Europa-Jeep' project, the French Army invited the French automotive
industry to come up with proposals for a new light all terrain vehicle
to replace their ageing Jeeps (Hotchkiss M201, Willys MB and Ford GPW).
Citroën presented a modified CX-engined Iltis as the Citroën
C44, and other contenders were Renault with their TRM500 (a re-engined
Fiat Campagnola) and Peugeot with their P4 (Steyr-built Mercedes G-series
with Peugeot engine and drive-line). In 1981, an order for no less than
15,000 Véhicules Lègers Tous-Terrains was awarded
to Peugeot, mainly because of the greater number of P4 variants they could
...and the move
After the completion of the Bundeswehr
contracts in October 1981, Volkswagen sold the world-wide manufacturing
and marketing rights of the Iltis to Bombardier Inc. of Valcourt, Quebec,
Canada, as Volkswagen orientated all its products towards the civilian
In 1983 Bombardier advertised the
vehicle in the military press as a "state-of-the-art" ½-ton
utility vehicle, which could be "equipped with a gasoline or diesel
In 1984 the Canadian Government ordered
1,900 Iltis' to replace the Canadian Forces' M151A2 jeeps then in Regular
Canadian Army service (the Canadian Army, Militia (reserves) were equipped
with the M38A1CDN jeep.) The order was valued at 68 million Canadian dollars,
including spare parts, training, etc. Deliveries were to take place during
1984-1985. The Canadian Iltis was manuafactured in four distinct variants:
Iltis Field Ambulance;
Iltis Commander's Vehicle;
Iltis Signals Line Vehicle.
The Light Reconnaissance Vehicle is
basically a standard Iltis and the Canadian Airborne Regiment mounted the
TOW on the Iltis as well.
Bombardier saw its hopes to sell
the Iltis abroad fulfilled with a Belgian Army order for 2,500 vehicles
in 1985. As the Iltis was originally a VW product, the Canadian licence-version
was supplied through Volkswagen-Brussels NV. The Iltis (including ambulance
versions) replaced the ancient Minerva/Land-Rovers and Willys CJ3A Jeeps.
To replace the armoured Minerva in service with
of the Regiment Para-Commando, the Rocourt Arsenal modified a number
of Iltis' into Recce vehicles. They have a two FN MAG machine-guns, one
in front of the right front seat, the other in the rear pointing rearwards.
A luggage rack has been added to the rear, and the spare wheel moved to
the right rear side.
The Iltis was also built for the
Cameroon armed forces.
Canadian troops used their Iltis'
during Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait. Both the Canadian and Belgian
UNPROFOR troops used the Iltis in former Yugoslavia in 1994.
Boschen, Lothar, Das große
Buch der Volkswagen Typen. Alle Fahrzeuge von 1934 bis heute. Stuttgart:
Motorbuch Verlag, 1983, p.551-555. ISBN 3-87943-799-8.
Foss, Christopher F. (ed.), Jane's
Military Vehicles and Ground Support Equipment 1983. Fourth Edition.
London: Jane's Publishing Co.Ltd., 1983, p.255, 265-266. ISBN 0 7106-0766-0.
Hogg, Ian V., and Weeks, John, The
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles. London: New Burlington
Books, 1980, p.284. ISBN 0 90628 675 1.
Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 September
1997, p. 23.
Kaminski, Cal, 'Kaufberatung: Käfer,
beinhart! VW 181: Der Kübel ist das Billig-Cabrio schlechthin, aber
viele Exemplare tragen deutliche Kampfspuren vom Bund'. Markt Klassische
Automobile und Motorräder, no.8, August 1992, p.30-34.
Reuss, Hans-Jürgen, 'German Logistics
Vehicles'. International Defense Review, no. 12/1985, p.1995-1999.
Schwartz, Egbert, 'Der Zivieldienstverweigerer:
VW Iltis 1978-82'. 4x4 Allrad-Magazin Special: Allrad Klassiker,
no. 4/96, August/September 1996, p.24-27. ISSN 0946-0780.
Vanderveen, Bart, 'Auto Union's DKW
Munga. The story of a 1950s' German Field Car'. Wheels & Tracks,
no. 45, October 1993, p.28-37.
Vanderveen, Bart, 'VLTTs for the French
Army: The days of the WWII-type Jeep's active service in France are numbered'.
& Tracks, no. 1, October 1982, p.30-33.