Home > Land Rovers > MLR41 ~ Otokar Soft Top Defenders Pt1

MLR41 ~ Otokar Soft Top Defenders Pt1

In continuance of the Otokar Military Land Rover story, in this first instalment of a two-parter I turn my attention to the interesting Soft Top Defenders, writes Bob Morrison.


In the beginning, back in the late 1980s, the Land Rovers built by Otokar in Turkey predominantly from Solihull-supplied kits of parts were naturally almost identical to their British siblings but it did not take long for the engineering team in Istanbul to start proposing and developing their own variants.

Otokar (Otobus Karoseri Sanayi A.Ş.) were very well known as a coachbuilders at this time, with literally tens of thousands of passenger buses bearing that brand name being seen on the streets of all the cities and on the roads between towns, so they had very experienced engineers in abundance. By the time of my 1992 visit to the factory, where I picked up a five-door Station Wagon to get me around for the duration of the multinational Exercise ALLEY EXPRESS, they had already started producing high canopy cargo carriers for the Turkish Armed Forces. (Incidentally, it was during this exercise that our late friend Yves Debay persuaded me it was in our best interest for Carl Schulze and myself to start cooperating rather than competing).

Other than the window sections in the canopy there are few external differences between this Otokar-built Jandarma 110 soft top and its Solihull-built siblings [©BM]

The Turkish company, although committed to using British mechanical components and primary body parts, had to produce a percentage of local components to comply with national import and taxation regulations so they already made their own 90, 110 and 130 chassis as well as wheels and seats. At this time Land Rover only produced two chassis lengths and had to cut & stretch a 110 chassis to create a 130 but in due course as quality was second to none the UK company would start importing both extra-long and heavy duty chassis (the latter used on some military variants) from Turkey to satisfy demand. Incidentally, the very earliest Otokar-built vehicles were technically pre-Defender (the name change was made in 1990 with the introduction of the slightly revised 1991 Year Model vehicles) but as only a tiny fraction of Turkish production was prior to the change I will call them all Defenders though it is possibly worth stating that the earliest carried Land Rover 110 (but not One-Ten) badging.

Interior of the above Jandarma 110 soft top photographed in 1992 – note side-hinged tailgate [©BM]

As we have already seen in a past article, the first contract from the Turkish Armed forces was for Station Wagons but it was not long before reasonably conventional design three-door soft tops were also procured for branches of the military. The Jandarma, Turkey’s para-military gendarmerie who provide internal security and guard the border regions, as well as providing emergency services cover in the more remote parts of rural Turkey, were early users of the soft top 110 and during my 1992 trip I visited one of their stations in a small town close to Istanbul to photograph one of these and one of their Station Wagons (see MLR39). The most noticeable difference between the Otokar 110 Soft Top and its British Army sibling of the same period was the side-hinged rear tailgate (with swing-away wheel carrier) though, as we have seen before, this was actually an option offered to military customers by Solihull as some users such as the Czech Paras preferred it over a drop tailgate.

The blue beret worn by the driver of this Otokat 110 soft top indicates he is an elite Jandarma Kommando [©BM]

Later that day I was also given the chance to visit the elite Jandarma Kommando counter-terrorist force at their base in the Istanbul area, where I enjoyed a traditional Turkish lunch in the officer’s mess before being given the chance to photograph both a standard 110 soft top and a 110 truck cab cargo variant on rough ground behind their motor pool. It was the latter vehicle, with its distinctive high line rear canopy which I was really interested in snapping as at that time it was only in Turkish service.

Note side-hinged tailgate on 110 soft top (left) and full width tailgate on truck cab cargo variant [©BM]

The rear body of the early Otokar 110 truck cab cargo version was in some ways quite similar to that of the Solihull-built Land Rover 127 (or One-Two-Seven) Rapier Tractor, being flat-sided with a full-width rear tailgate, though of course it was built on a standard wheelbase chassis and, unlike the British vehicle, it had an enclosed truck cab. Intended purely for conveying cargo, the rear body was fractionally wider than the cab and the tall canvas rear canopy had no windows; unlike the standard 110 which had two in each side and one in the rear. Lighting arrangements for both these vehicles were similar to standard civilian Land rovers of the time and they was little evidence of militarisation other than the NATO green paint job.

Longer wheelbase Otokar 130 Rapier Tractor – like the 110 cargo soft top, the flat-sided rear body was only fractionally wider than the front cab [©BM]

Otokar also produced a similar truck cab cargo version on the 130 / D130 chassis and when seen at an angle the 110 / D110 can be misidentified as such due to the optical illusion created by the disproportionately high canopy. I photographed one of these outside the Istanbul factory in 1992 and, as can be seen from the above side-on shot, the additional 21” or 535mm wheelbase stretch is actually quite apparent. This version, which had similar slab sides to the Jandarma Commando 110 truck cab cargo version, also had side lockers and I reckon it was almost certainly a Rapier Tractor as the Turkish Air Force used there for airfield close air defence.

Later variant Otokar Defender 110 troop carrier with wider dropside rear body and canopy window [©BM]

The Defender 110 truck cab with with a slightly wider rear body and removable outward-facing seating for six would be produced in very large numbers for the Turkish Armed Forces over the next two decades and I plan to look at this version in greater detail in the next part of the Otokar Land Rover story.

Another Otokar D110 troop carrier, without its canopy – photographed in Lefkoşa / Nicosia in 2014 [©BM]

[ images © Bob Morrison ]

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