It might not be the glamorous monster that is the US Army Humvee, or even the Mercedes G-Wagen that Canadian forces use today. But that doesn't mean that the Iltis can't be your ultimate trail rig, off-roader, or winter go-anywhere machine.
The Iltis, which is the German word for polecat, was originally a Volkswagen. Its official name was the Type 183. It was the direct replacement for the Type 181, which was better known as the VW Thing. That's right. The strangeness that was the VW Thing was originally designed as a military vehicle.
In the late 1960s, the German military was involved in a multinational project that would give Europe a Jeep of its own. But development on that vehicle fell apart over skyrocketing costs and increasing complexity. That didn't stop the army from needing a compact four-wheel drive vehicle, so the German government put out a call for a vehicle that would fill the gap.
Volkswagen's entry to the competition was actually designed by Audi. Audi took the Munga, an older military vehicle made by DKW, and updated it. DKW was one of the Auto Union brands that VW combined under the Audi name.
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Audi modified the Munga by giving it a new four-wheel drive system - a system was the basis for Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive. They also gave it a new suspension and a new 75 hp 1.7L four-cylinder engine. The design used a super-low 8.2:1 compression ratio that let it run on low octane gas. It had part-time four-wheel drive and locking differentials. Audi used many of the same suspension parts at all four corners, to lower the number of spares required for field service.
Volkswagen sent the Iltis to government testing. Not only did it pass the tests, it was chosen over the equally competent G-Wagen, largely because the Mercedes-Benz was significantly more expensive. Production started in 1978, and eventually, more than 9,000 were delivered. To show off the capability of the vehicle, VW entered four in the Paris Dakar Rally. The stock vehicles finished first, second, and fourth.
But our Find of the Week this week is a Bombardier Iltis. How did a German army vehicle make it to Canada and get a Canadian name?
Well, Canada needed a new jeep too. In 1981, Volkswagen was considering building a plant in Canada. Quebec and Ontario were locking heads with the feds over where the plant should be built. As part of the deal for the plant, the federal government persuaded VW to hand over Iltis rights to Bombardier. Bombardier planned to build the off-roaders at a plant in Valcourt, PQ.
The feds agreed to buy 1,900 of the vehicles from Bombardier. A year later, Bombardier sold 2,500 of them to the Belgian military. For about half the price we paid. Bombardier built the Iltis until 1989. The Canadian military continued to use the Iltis through the 1990s. In 2002, the Department of National Defense announced that the Iltis would be replaced by a militarized version of the Chevy Silverado - mainly for reserve unit use - and by the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
The Iltis could be carried by helicopter, dropped from a plane, had machine gun mounts, and could seat four. A diesel engine option was available. What it couldn't do was have real doors. Soft doors and a soft top were all you got.
Our Find of the Week is for sale in Montreal. It's a 1985 model with the 1.7L VW engine. It has just 45,000 km on the clock, although most of that was probably spent off-road. The Iltis has a 24V electrical system, so this one comes with a 24V 6,000 lb winch. It has an upgraded stereo with a CD player and USB so that you have something to listen to in the woods. It also has a backup camera. There are roof racks and storage racks everywhere, and two spare tires. There's even a telescoping orange beacon. Which you might need if you park this camo-coloured truck in the woods.
If you're thinking about using this as a daily driver, it has a claimed top speed of 130 km/h. But it might get a little windy inside. If you're looking for something that can drive just about anywhere, then this 1985 Bombardier Iltis might be just what you're looking for.