Before we get to know Persephone, posing here for the photo that was eventually to be used on the front cover of my latest book, let me introduce an ex-Land Rover:
This is, or was, my elderly Series IIa
A couple of years ago, this elderly Land Rover came to the end of its useful life. In short I got fed up with continually repairing the chassis that was well past its sell-by date. So one weekend, I stripped it of all the equipment I'd accumulated over the years and decided there and then to build something that was exactly what I wanted. So started the project that eventually became known as Persephone.
Now for Persephone. This built-from-the-ground-up Land Rover is actually based on a shortened Range Rover chassis, with Series IIa body mounts fabricated onto the front and rear. Diffs are Dyna 60 (Salisbury) widened with custom axles feeding Range Rover hubs and discs. Power is provided by a high-compression Leyland P76 engine with an 'interesting' cam from Kelford and fuelled by dedicated LPG. Ignition is courtesy of a Chevrolet HEI distributor. All this feeds into a standard Rover LT95 gearbox to handle the plentiful supply of horses produced by the remarkably light power plant.
Tyres are 33x12.5x15 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R radials courtesy of South Pacific Tyres, fitted to custom bead-locked rims. Diff locks front, rear and centre together with air-operated fiddle brakes to each wheel help get around tight places, although I can still manage to get stuck — as many out there will be able to testify.
A large rear-mounted winch with feeds out both front and rear complete the beast, other than to mention the rather substantial roll cage just to help make me feel that bit more secure — just in case.
Why is she called Persephone?
In Greek mythology, Persephone is the goddess of the underworld. The daughter of Zeus and Demeter (goddess of the harvest), Persephone was so beautiful that everyone loved her. Even Hades (brother to Zeus) wanted her for himself.
When she was a little girl, Persephone and the Oceanids were collecting flowers on the plain of Enna, when suddenly the earth opened and Hades rose up from the gap and abducted her. None but Zeus had noticed it.
Broken-hearted, Demeter wandered the earth looking for her daughter until the all-seeing Helios revealed what had happened. Demeter was so angry that she withdrew herself in loneliness, and all fertility on earth stopped. Finally, Zeus sent Hermes down to Hades to make him release Persephone.
Hades grudgingly agreed, but before she went back he made Persephone eat a pomegranate (the fruit of the underworld). This meant she would always be connected to his realm and would have to stay there for part of the year. The rest of the year she remained with her mother. Now whenever Persephone is in Hades, Demeter refuses to let anything grow and winter begins.
So Persephone is the goddess of the underworld, begrudging wife to Hades, and the goddess of spring and rebirth … seemed an awfully appropriate name to me!
Seen on the front cover of Volume 2 of my North Island series of books, I have owned my much cherished Series IIa Lightweight for nearly 20 years now. Originally built at Solihull in 1970 for the British Army, it was one of the truly luxurious versions, being both a GS (General Service) vehicle and officers' staff car — it had a heater!
Now facing semi-retirement while I consider a restoration project for some of the more tired bodywork, she is nonetheless the jewel in my collection of 4WDs. As far as I can determine, there are only two others in New Zealand — that is of course unless you know different!
In any event, this is by any standard a pretty rare beast in this neck of the woods and well worth the time and effort involved in keeping her mobile for many more enjoyable years to come.
A potted history of the Lightweight:
Land Rover, which supplied the standard 1/4 Ton 4X4 Series IIa to the Ministry of Defence, was developing the Lightweight during 1966/67. It was based on the standard 88" wheelbase chassis and engine etc. The MOD approved this as it was aimed at a 'General Staff requirement for an airportable helicopter vehicle that could carry a useful payload and be capable of towing light support weapons' (official text).
The standard 88" was not suitable for the role because it was too wide and heavy to be stored in military aircraft of the time. Land Rover designed a totally new body making it possible to remove the rear top half of the load bed, tailgate, doors, windscreen and top bulkhead, and bumper. 6.00X16 tyres were even fitted to save weight along with the oil cooler disappearing on very early vehicles. The axles were modified with different halfshafts to keep flush with the overall width (this feature disappeared on later SIII vehicles, as it was no longer necessary).
However, when production started, 6.50x16 tyres were fitted as standard. The Wessex helicopter could lift a stripped-down Lightweight, the rest of the vehicle coming later.
One prototype 20 BT 91 was tested during 'Operation Wagon Trail' in 1967, officially titled 'Truck, Utility, General Service, 1/2 Ton, 4X4, Rover Mk 1'. The Payload was increased to 1/2 ton compared with 1/4 ton for other 88" 4x4s in use.
This description means there were actually two Mk 1s (the other being Truck Utility 1/4 ton 4X4 GS Rover Mk 1 80" WB produced during 1948 to 1951).
The Lightweight was mainly based on the Rover 10, which it replaced in general service and was fitted for radio. Its main difference was the body. It fulfilled the same role as the Rover 8 and 10, but could be reduced in weight and bulk quickly, resulting in a stark but useful air transportable vehicle.
The following could be removed for airlifting: doors, tailgate and upper body panels, hood and sticks, rear seats, spare wheel and windscreen. The main production change came with the Series III when the headlights were relocated to the wings. If one studied the weights it can be seen how useful the vehicle was in the late 1960s, even if the actual weight loss was quite small.
Later larger helicopters made the Lightweight obsolete in its original role. The RAF and Royal Navy/Royal Marines also used the Lightweight. The Royal Marines adapted theirs for beach landing with waterproofed electrics and air intake and exhaust via snorkels.
I always seem to get the urge to try to improve on nature. This tired old Range Rover I actually acquired for spares, but it proved just a little too good to scrap. So, armed with only modest amounts of money, I set about putting it back on the road.
The body I decided to ignore. Primarily aluminium, it was in reasonable condition, if rather dented and misshapen. But what the heck: I wanted a truck that I didn't care about. I certainly didn't want something so pristine that I'd be scared to scratch it.
On this point I have been highly successful. The various panels have received plenty of scratches and dents and in some case have even been totally ripped off — to be replaced by cheap second-hand spares from my local supplier.
Perhaps the biggest job was to replace the almost dead 3.5-litre Rover V8 with my favourite power-plant, the P76. This alloy V8 has its origins set at the Buick plant in the States, and is found in various guises around the world. Rover took it to create the original 3.5 series of engines, while Leyland Australia upped the capacity a little to 4.4 litres to power its one and only large Aussie car, the P76.
With only a little effort the horsepower can be raised significantly, and the provision of a hotter cam and some excellent dynamic balancing means that the old girl is now a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The other advantage is that most bits are interchangeable with Persephone, so I can always manage to keep one or the other running while away with both on long trips.
Tyres are Dunlop Grandtrek AT2s, again courtesy of South Pacific Tyres. Those who know me, also know too well how I rave about these tyres. As an AT they have superb manners on the road, and even more surprisingly they perform even better off road. I have on many occasions left those with the super-aggressive mud tyres miles behind. Mind you, the free-revving P76 does make a huge difference to tyres' performance of an AT — they do need a generous amount of wheelspin at times.