11 January 2024
It looks like a 1990s Defender, but appearances can be deceptive… Meet the lightweight concept vehicle it was hoped might herald a new era of Land Rover
It’s always amusing to watch visitors to the Dunsfold Collection Museum walk past this vehicle without a second glance. For me, it’s become an indicator of how much a Land Rover enthusiast really knows about the company’s engineering and product development concepts, quirks, tangents and cul-de-sacs.
What you see here is the LCV2 or, to give it its full name, Lightweight Concept Vehicle Phase Two, and although it deliberately bears a strong resemblance to an early 1990s short-wheelbase Defender, it could not be more different. In fact, it is so different that perhaps we should really ignore the fact that it has Defender badging on the front grille and the offside rear panel. The badges are not there to announce to the world that this is a new Defender, they are there to help make it look like an old Defender, so nobody would give it a second glance when it was out and about on the public highway in 1997.
Defender badging is only there as camouflage
By 1994, Rover’s Technical Strategy team was increasingly focused on the benefits of aluminium structures as a means of making significant weight savings in future models, and the LCV project was intended to explore these ideas. LCV1 was the first phase, which involved replacing the standard body on a five-door Discovery with a replica body made exclusively of aluminium mounted on the standard chassis. The results were encouraging, and approval was given to proceed with LCV2 in 1995 under the control of chief engineer Mike Pendry.
Officially described as a Technology Platform study conducted by the Experimental Vehicles section, which was part of Advanced Vehicle Engineering, the project set out to assess the viability of a lightweight vehicle constructed using a purpose-built bonded aluminium monocoque structure, incorporating as many lightweight materials and new systems as possible, and this time the inspiration was the Defender. Being able to compare the LCV2 experimental vehicles with a current production model made sense.
This concept vehicle sailed well under the radar
After LCV2 had been completed, the intention was to move to LCV3, which would take the concept further forward and incorporate other development ideas such as independent suspension, followed by LCV4 which would possibly pave the way for an all-new production vehicle, which many subsequent commentators have suggested would have been a new, lightweight, sporty Defender model.
In the event, the programme did not seem to find favour with Land Rover’s BMW owners and LCV2 was terminated before it had achieved all its aims. LCV3 and LCV4 never happened, and the original Defender soldiered on for another 19 years before production finally ended in 2016. Much of the experience gained from the Light Concept Vehicle project was carried forward into future vehicle development programmes.
To separate the folklore from the facts, we’re talking exclusively to Peter Wilson who worked in Advanced Vehicle Engineering at the time as Project Manager, Experimental Vehicles, reporting to Mike Pendry. If anyone can tell us what the LCV programme was really all about, it’s Peter.
Aluminium bulkhead without ventilators; windscreen is standard Defender
“Mike had been on the Range Rover P38A project, and I had just completed the Rover 400 saloon when we were asked to take on the LCV2 programme. The third member of the team was John Charlton, although we also hired a small team of nine or ten contract design engineers as well. We rented a building at an off-site facility at Southam, and the project brief was to investigate new production techniques that could be applied to any Rover vehicle. LCV2 was never a Land Rover-only initiative, but we decided to take the production Defender 90 as our template and set ourselves a goal of reducing its weight by one third.
“From the outset, we were applying new ideas and approaches to every aspect of the design and engineering to reduce weight, from the all-aluminium spaceframe to the specially made Michelin tyres. The spaceframe had aluminium nodes at the corners and was immensely strong, and as weight was saved in one area of the design, we found that it would contribute to further gains in other areas.
Dunsfold’s vehicle under construction with the spaceframe awaiting the bonded panels
“The spaceframe and bonded aluminium body panels were much lighter than the standard Defender chassis and body, and this meant we could use the smaller and lighter L-Series diesel used in Rover’s cars, rather than the heavy Tdi.
“Although you can see rivets on the body of the LCV2, they were only there to assist with the location of the panels and to prevent them from peeling apart. The panels are actually bonded together, and it is the bonding process that creates the strength inherent in the final bodyshell. The LCV2 vehicles were bonded using either epoxy or a compound called Corrabond. Epoxy creates many workplace health and safety issues and is not pleasant to work with, so we also tested Corrabond, which was relatively unknown at the time. It was much easier to handle and far better to use in a production environment, although we had concerns about how durable the bonds would be.”
Philip Bashall, of the Dunsfold Collection, takes us on a guided tour of the LCV2’s many unique engineering features
I ask Peter how many LCV2 vehicles were built, because I know that as well as the Dunsfold example there is another survivor at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon. “The original plan was to make 13,” he tells me, “but in fact only 11 were built, four as complete road-registered vehicles, three as crash cars, and three as body test cars, all with station wagon bodies. A further example was built as a show car to understand what the whole package would look like under a styled body, and this was known as ‘LCV2 and two-thirds’ because it incorporated several of the ideas that were intended to be part of the LCV3 phase of the project. This is the pick-up that now lives at the BMM.
Aluminium monocoque and fabricated sills are obvious once you get the vehicle on the ramp
“Our original budget was £7.5m and although we hadn’t spent anything near that, we knew the budget was under threat. The LCV2 and two-thirds vehicle was a compromise to allow us to continue with the project on a reduced budget.”
The LCV2 repays careful and detailed examination because there are many clues as to the thinking of Land Rover’s engineers, and not just about the merits of bonded aluminium monocoque construction. There are also insights regarding the company’s ongoing struggle with how best to remedy the inherent faults with the Defender design, something it never really managed to resolve before the end of production in 2016.
Let’s examine the Dunsfold vehicle more closely. Firstly, Philip Bashall points out the aluminium bulkhead, which is not just about weight reduction but also about fixing the perpetual horror story of rusting steel bulkheads and sagging doors. It is interesting to see that the hinged ventilator panels have also been deleted.
Bespoke lightweight wheels by Speedline and special tyres by Michelin are unique to the LCV2
The roof, which is a different profile to the Defender and lower, does not have Alpine lights and is made from Plytron thermoplastic, while the floorpans are made from a GRP composite material. The windows are made from polymer, which is much lighter than glass.
The doors are three inches longer than a production Defender, which means it is possible to access the forward-facing rear seats without resorting to the tailgate. Forward-facing rear seats would not be seen on a production Defender for years.
Cast aluminium suspension units, with springs at the front and air at the back
Underneath, Philip points out the cast aluminium suspension units which carry springs at the front and a prototype air suspension system at the back with a self-levelling capability. Lightweight disc brakes are fitted all-round. The wheels are magnesium alloy and were manufactured to a lighter weight specification by Speedline, while the 225/35 R16 tyres were specially made by Michelin and have thinner sidewalls, also to save weight. It isn’t obvious, but apparently the focus on adding lightness also extended to the steering box, which was a special design by ZF to, you guessed it, save weight.
L-Series 2.0-litre diesel from Rover’s saloon car range was installed north-south in the LCV2
The most remarkable part of the whole vehicle is the engine and drivetrain. The 2.0-litre L-Series diesel is not mounted transversely, but in a north-south orientation, driving a carbonfibre propshaft from the rear of the engine-mounted clutch to a remote five-speed gearbox and bespoke two-speed transfer case located in the centre of the vehicle. The transfer ’box is fitted with synchromesh so it’s possible to change between low and high ratios on the move.
Gearbox and bespoke transfer ’box fitted centrally with carbon fibre prop to the engine-mounted clutch
In terms of the LCV2 project’s weight-saving goal, all of this came together to create a vehicle weighing 1350kg, which was around 500kg lighter than a production Defender 90 hard top. “It’s surprisingly sprightly on the road,” Philip tells me. Wheelbase was 2360mm which was the same as a production 90, but the LCV2 was 60mm narrower and 236mm lower, with wider track widths on both the front and rear wheels.
Peter Wilson remembers that both Dunsfold’s LCV2/04 and the pick-up, LCV2/05, were selected to be presented to BMW’s Wolfgang Reitzle in June 1997 in what was dubbed the ‘Royal Visit’ to the Advanced Engineering facility.
“We wanted all the LCV2 vehicles to be finished to a very high standard, but this was especially true of the pick-up,” Peter explains. “Dave Bees was part of Advanced Engineering and he did the styling on it, although this upset Geof Upex who ran Rover’s styling team at the time, who felt his outfit should have done the work. Advanced Engineering were quite often thought of as a bunch of renegades!”
What looks like a Defender rear crossmember is purely cosmetic and not capable of towing
Reitzle was second-in-command at BMW at the time, and he was underwhelmed by what he saw. Shortly afterwards, the LCV2 project was halted. The official explanations included a requirement to rationalise platforms, and the perceived concerns with the use of the bonding agents in a production environment. There were also worries about the high cost of damage repairs to the bonded structure.
It has often been said that Reitzle was not a supporter of BMW’s decision to acquire Rover, although he is respected for his single-minded focus in driving the creation of the L322 third-generation Range Rover to supersede the P38A, which he apparently hated. Whether he, and indeed many of BMW’s executives, engineers, and designers really ‘got’ what Land Rover was all about, is doubtful. And you have to wonder whether the cancellation of the LCV2 project was, in the end, just another example of this lack of understanding and connection.
When Rover’s mounting losses meant that BMW had to dispose of its ‘English Patient’, Reitzle was one of the casualties. He never made it to the top job at BMW that many had thought would be his.
THE LCV2 Vehicles
• LCV2/01, 90 Station Wagon
RHD. VIN SPLLB2BX7TAXXXX55. Assembled using epoxy. Originally built with an L-Series diesel engine, later replaced with a petrol KV6. Registered J173 UPC in November 1996. Scrapped.
• LCV2/02, 90 Station Wagon: RHD. VIN SPLLB2BX7TAXXXX56. Assembled using Corrabond. L-Series engine. Durability test vehicle. Registered M419 XHC in July 1996. Scrapped.
• LCV2/04, 90 Station Wagon: RHD. VIN SPLLB2BX7VAXXX112. Assembled using Corrabond. L-Series engine. Demonstration vehicle. In the care of the Dunsfold Collection. Registered J601 PDE in January 1997. Extant.
• LCV2/05, 90 Pick-up: KV6 engine. Pick-up body painted red with a white roof intended to be a ‘show’ vehicle to impress BMW executives. It did not succeed. Registered J781 JHY in April 1997. Now displayed at the British Motor Museum, Gaydon. Extant.
• LCV2/06, 90 Station Wagon: RHD. VIN SPLLB2BX7VAXXX113. L-Series engine. General development hack used for towing tests. Registered J210 OBX in March 1997. Scrapped.
• LCV2/07 Tests: Not finished as a complete vehicle. Used for front and side crash tests. Destroyed.
• LCV2/08 Tests: Not finished as a complete vehicle and used for frontal crash tests. Destroyed.
• LCV2/09 Tests: Body only, used for recovery testing. Destroyed.
• LCV2/10 Tests: Not finished as a complete vehicle and used for rig-tests. Destroyed.
• LCV2/11 Tests: Not finished as a complete vehicle and used as either a body or rolling chassis for rig-tests and crash tests. Destroyed.
• LCV2/13 Tests: Not finished as a complete vehicle and used as either a body or rolling chassis for rig-tests and crash tests. Destroyed.
• LCV/03 and LCV/12 were not built. It is interesting to note that the DVLA has all five of the registered vehicles on its records at the time of writing, and states that V5C registration documents were issued as late as 2001. All five vehicles are listed as ‘Vehicle Make: FLEET’. They were never registered as Land Rovers.
Like to have your own Land Rover library?
Try our Budget Digital Subscription. You'll get access to over 7 years of Land Rover Monthly – that’s more than 100 issues plus the latest digital issue. All issues are fully searchable so you can easily find what you are looking for and what’s more it’s less than 10p a day to subscribe. Click here to find out more details and start enjoying all the benefits now.