VW 181 Facts & Figures

Utility vehicles

The very first vehicles used by the military were utilitarian versions of  contemporary mass-produced models. The Ford T with bucket seats and Austin Seven scout cars long preceded purpose-built vehicles like the ubiquitous WW-2 Jeep.

After WW-2 the interest in light utility vehicles led to various models being produced. Because as much as possible mass-produced parts were used and the vehicles were kept simple, they were cheap to manufacture and maintain. Main disadvantage was their limited off road capability, but since they were not meant to be used as a tactical vehicle this was no real problem. They were used for military police and liaison duties or as a command, patrol, dispatch and radio vehicle.
All the utilitarian vehicles mentioned below have open top bodies with canvas tops, generally resembling Jeep type vehicles. Some have purpose-built bodies, others have more or less modified standard car bodies. Most have two wheel drive but some also have been converted to 4 wheel drive. For military use they are fitted with standard military equipment such as lighting, heavy duty battery, tools, etc.

Besides the VW 181, the following utility vehicles were built:

BMC Moke

Purpose-built unitary body with BMC/Leyland Mini running gear. Offered on civil market.


Citroën Méhari: based on 4x2 platform chassis of the 2CV car, fitted with plastic body on square tube frame. Offered commercially. In 1979 a 4x4 version was launched.
By 1980 the French Army had acquired some 8,000 (mainly for the Gendarmerie) of the special Armée version with 24-volt electrical equipment and other modifications.
Citroën A 4x4: derived from the Méhari 4x4, with revised bodywork. Despite its rudimentary looks, this vehicle has refinements such as all-round independent suspension and four inboard disk brakes.
In 1981 the French Army ordered 5,000 as a replacement for the Méhari.



Militarized open top version of DAF 66 car. Rear wheel drive with continuously variable transmission. Body changed from bulkhead rearwards. Not offered commercially. Used by Dutch Army only, for which 1,200 were built starting in 1973.


Open top version of  East German Trabant. Used by East German border guard.


Renault R1123/Sinpar, converted R4 van with an open top body and 4 wheel drive conversion by Sinpar. Used chiefly by the French Marines. Not offered commercially.
The Renault 4 Rodéo and Renault 6 Rodéo have the R4 front wheel drive platform chassis with a new body (not unlike the Méhari). Commercially available. Renault Rodéo 6/Sinpar has 4 wheel drive conversion.

Source: Hanno Spoelstra.

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