Extraordinary Scottish Land Rover model highlighted in new book

“It must have been a hell of a beast to drive and more like something out of Star Wars than a Land Rover.”

James Cuthbertson is believed to be at the wheel in this image, putting his Land Rover variant through its paces.
James Cuthbertson is believed to be at the wheel in this image, putting his Land Rover variant through its paces.

Author Giles Chapman has hailed the genius of a Scottish engineer who created the extraordinary variant featured in a new picture book about the classic British all-terrain vehicle.

Biggar-based snowplough maker James Cuthbertson developed the idea of adding tank-like tracks to the wheels to enable access to especially challenging ground conditions.

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The model was also tested by the Army for bomb disposal operations.

The tracks were added to enable the vehicle to negotiate boggy ground, and for use in bomb disposal.

Land Rover – Gripping Photos of the 4x4 Pioneer, which is published next month, features an image of what is believed to be Cuthbertson himself at the wheel, demonstrating a prototype on a steep incline at the end of a field.

‘Relentlessly effective’

However, he only built 15 such vehicles, between the late 1950s and early 1970s.

One sold at auction for £33,000 three years ago and another stood outside Lix Toll Garage near Killin, by Loch Tay, for many years.

An AA Highland Patrol Land Rover being used to free a snowbound Austin A40 Somerset in the mid-1950s.

Chapman wrote: “Scottish engineer James Cuthbertson came up with the idea of fusing a Land Rover’s nimbleness with the relentlessly effective use of tracked wheels, as on a tank.

“He sold them to farmers with undulating, marshy land where reducing ground pressure was a benefit.

“Using a sturdy subframe, each track used four narrow road wheels, complete with pneumatic tyres, and industrial-strength power steering was, of course, included.”

Stepladder to reach door

Giles Chapman's book is published in September by The History Press, price £20.

Chapman told Scotland on Sunday: “This was in an era before quad bikes with balloon tyres.

“The version was intended for the worst kind of land with craters and ravines – and it really did work.

“But it was a bit of a Heath Robinson contraption. You would have had to take off the tracks to use it as a normal vehicle, which would have been a hell of job.

“A stepladder would also have been needed to reach the door.”

Author Giles Chapman has amassed a wealth of photos showing unusual Land Rover variants.

Metier

Chapman said the vehicle’s unusual characteristics also made it perfect for dealing with explosives.

He said: “Where it found its metier was in bomb disposal and I can imagine the Army testing it at their base at Chertsey [the former military vehicles research unit in Surrey].

“It could inch its way very carefully over ground by having the ability to spread its weight, like the current remote-controlled vehicles which also have tracks.

“Useful when a hair trigger could set off the bomb.”

Motoring writer Alan Douglas observed: “As Land Rover conversions go, the Cuthbertson is one of the strangest but a credit to the ingenuity of its creators, Cuthbertsons of Biggar.

‘Very much collectable’

“They replaced the standard wheels with four sets of triangular tracks which spread the weight on the ground and let the vehicle cross boggy ground which would otherwise be impassable.

“They were mainly built for the forestry industry, so if you can find one, they are very much collectable.

“One of the few in existence is on display at the National Motor Museum at Gaydon in Warwickshire.”

A spokesperson for the museum said: “The front tracks are steerable in the conventional way but, when four-wheel drive is engaged, each track is powered with different motion.

“This stops the side-to-side scrubbing of the tracks when turning, which tends to happen on conventional tracked vehicles.

‘Enormous Meccano set’

“The very high ground clearance makes it well-suited to marshy ground, although its poor climbing ability makes some operations, such as scaling the banks of a riverbed, difficult.”

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Chapman said the Land Rover was ripe for being customised by inventors like Cuthbertson because of the way it was built: “It was essentially an enormous Meccano set, so was easy to adapt for weird applications.”

Other customised Land Rover examples featured in the book included versions with cherry pickers, extended as fire engines and pulling trucks on a railway line as a road-rail vehicle with train-style flanged wheels.

Ice cream van

One was converted as an ice cream van at Whitby in Yorkshire, while another had a conveyor belt added to load luggage onto aircraft.

Conventional versions have been driven by the Queen, and the emergency and associated services such as police, Coastguard and the Red Cross.

Another of the book’s illustrations shows one of the AA’s Highland Patrol Land Rovers being used to pull a car from a snowdrift in the 1950s.

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