This Is What It’s Like To Hoon An Ex-SAS Military Dune Buggy
Photography by Will Broadhead
How many of us loathe the Monday morning commute? I bet a good proportion of the population get the Sunday evening impending sense of helplessness as the weekend draws to a close and the office beckons. Imagine though, if your average Monday wasn’t average at all, your commute was in something a little more interesting, across terrain of a more “agricultural” variety. That would shake things up nicely, wouldn’t it? Come with me on a journey…
Even as a photographer, my Monday is usually a dull affair. Most of my work takes place during the weekend, so the start of everyone else’s business week is usually spent cleaning and putting away equipment. Naturally then, when my friend Ben from the Classic Motor Hub sent me a message saying they had something a bit different in for me to see and asked if I was free on Monday, I jumped at the chance; the filing could wait and on Sunday evening I dreamt of the Ferraris and Lamborghinis that make up the stock of the Hub, wondering what this mystery machine could be. An old race car maybe, possibly an exotic tarmac-tearing supercar from the recent past? All of these were feasible at a place like the Hub, but all my guesses landed well wide of the mark, for as I pulled into the old WW2 RAF site I barely noticed the yellow dune buggy-esque vehicle parked up in front of the hangers. After all, it’s not unusual for something like that to be sat outside. But when I met Ben and he handed me an Army-issue headset with a big grin on his face, things started to fall into place.
The machine we were going to be, well, road testing, was in fact a former SAS light strike vehicle. This was more Mad Max insanity than James Bond sophistication, but I could see instantly that a lack of elegance was in no way going to ruin anything here. This particular Ricardo Cobra LSV was put into service with the 22nd Regiment of the SAS in the lead up to the 1991 Gulf War. Is it a typical modern classic? No. Is it a typical Petrolicious car? Not at all. But it is an intriguing machine that I think we mechanically-minded can appreciate.
Powered by a Volkswagen turbo diesel engine and delivering power through a four-wheel drive transmission, these machines were designed to get two-men crews in and out of battle quickly. A GPMG, or anti-tank missile launcher, could be mounted on the frame above the passenger if desired and there were various points for lashing equipment to the chassis, or indeed the chassis to a helicopter. Ultimately, they never saw active service, with the Land Rover-killing terrain in the Gulf proving too harsh for these machines, and the 500km range was not enough for the missions needed to be carried out.
Being an example of military gear, especially special forces kit at that, I can’t tell you too much about engine specs, or performance figures, but then you aren’t into vehicles like this for the top speed anyway right? Suffice to say you can use all the power it can deliver through its well-treaded boots, and there’s still a little bit of torque left to catch you out when things get slippery. Jumping into the bucket seats of the cab is an experience in itself, and by the end of the day both Ben and I had developed a novel sort of vaulting maneuver to mount and dismount from the beast. We thought we looked magnificently cool, when I’m sure in reality we looked utterly ridiculous.
There’s something very unique about driving down public roads in a vehicle like this—I’ve always enjoyed messing around in old Landies and such—but to be thundering down the road in a genuine SAS contraption releases a certain carnal excitement. It eats up the narrow Cotswold lanes with ease and unsurprisingly, all other road goers are keen to give way. Once you’ve got over the slightly tight diff that gives a feeling of crabbing as each of the four driven wheel fights to be the top dog in the traction stakes, the experience of this open-top buggy is extremely pleasant. It’s not even too noisy if you’ll believe it, and whilst one might expect the off-road suspension to be a touch wallow-y on concrete, its just pliant enough, and ever so comfy.
As we arrive at the rural and picturesque village of Bibury, we soon become the biggest tourist attraction, parked up in amongst the shiny Range Rovers and tour coaches that are the usual visitors to this beacon of quaint English idyll. We even have our departure filmed and whilst a little celebrity status is fun for a bit, I’m itching to get this thing onto the green lanes and farm tracks to give it a proper thrashing.
Thankfully these areas abound in Bibury, and we’ve even managed to get one of the friendly local farmers to agree to us using his land for some more aggressive driving. With great big smirks on our faces as the chunky rubber hits the mud, we are soon bouncing through pot holes and careening over crests with consummate ease. The shifting sands of the Middle East may have been a bit much for this thing, but out here in the sticks it’s at home and rarely feels stretched. It’s excellent fun too, with the torque of the fairly punchy diesel allowing us slides aplenty through the changing surfaces and bow waves of water ejected from stagnant puddles (turns out you never really grow out of splashing in puddles) giving way to smiles a bit wider and muddier than before. Never mind SAS, this is A-C-E!
When its time to hand her back I’m left wondering what a vehicle like this is actually for. It’s not as practical as a Land Rover, probably costs a fortune to build, and doesn’t really have any prestigious military history, so what’s the point? As I ponder these things though, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the LSV’s wing mirror. The answer to my question is written all over my face in the form of a big, dirty, toothy grin. The smile says it all and what more justification does it need? Can I have the keys back please?