October 15, 2011

The Bombardier Iltis - the perfect exploring vehicle

I've got my eye on buying a 1984 Bombardier Iltis; crazy?  Not really, here's why.

In the early 1980's the Canadian Forces needed a small light four wheel drive vehicle for their people to zoom around it.  The request for a suitable proposal went out, and Bombardier won the bid with a licensed Volkswagen "Model 183", the same design being used by several other militaries the world over, with some slight modifications to suit the Canadian Forces requirements.  

The Iltis had a long list of features that made it an extremely desirable military vehicle.  It could drive through solid-bottomed bodies of water up to 2 feet deep without stalling, due to its elevated air intake.  It had selectable 4WD with locking differentials.  The manual transmission had a "ground" gear, which acted as a doubler for 1st gear through an integrated transfer case - giving it a rock-crawling low gear capability for awkward driving situations.  It was built around a 1.7L Volkswagen, 4 cylinder, liquid cooled engine which put out about 75 horsepower.  To me, the Iltis was a resurrection of what made the original military "Jeep" so awesome.
Volkswagen Model 183
(predecessor to the Bombardier Iltis)

Sketch / Diagram
The Iltis, specifically in Ontario, is a tricky beast.  The Ontario Ministry of Transport no longer allows licenses to be issued to them (due to politics, not safety).  Those which are on the road can stay on the road, but no others can get licensed as road vehicles.

I have a daily driver car, and a daily driver truck right now.  The truck costs twice as much as the car in gas, because it's a Dodge 5.9L Magnum V8 which consumes gas as fast as you pour it in - but I love it, and will hate to get rid of it.  The purpose for buying the truck was utility - we live on the outskirts of town, and we're always moving something, usually something you wouldn't want in a carpeted Suburban-like.  The truck was purchased as a "hauler".  The truck does not have to be a daily driver for me - in fact, by being daily driver-able, I tend to drive it more than I should, because I love to drive it - it's my "sports car".  Selling the truck and getting an Iltis will make the vehicle less-of a daily driver.  I don't think I'll be taking the Iltis to work every day (who am I kidding, I'll be taking it to work in the summer FOR SURE).  It will be able to get a Christmas tree, it will be able to tow my welder, it will be able to move any dirty objects I need moved - trees, bushes, whatever.  The interior is military quality - functional, no frills, bare metal, no silly carpet.

Ex-Canadian Forces
Light Utility Vehicle Wheeled (LUVW)
The Bombardier Iltis
Why now?  Well, this past year I started my trek to see all of the Pinetree Line stations - they've mostly been torn down, but some ruins still remain in the bush, partially accessible by car.  I have plans to go to Casey, QC and see the abandoned runway there as well.  Having a four wheel drive vehicle, capable of driving all day, and then going off road to a location in the bush became a requirement.  Just before the last trip to the former site of RCAF Station Parent (in Parent, QC) the truck's brake line blew in downtown Ottawa - fortunate for me, as I would have been screwed if it had blown five hours from home.  I drove the front wheel drive sedan all the way to Parent QC, which was a fun 5hr drive, but the sedan was really out of it's league on the dirt roads.  I needed something with proper four wheel drive to get where I wanted to go, even if I had been driving my truck, it is only a rear wheel drive vehicle.

I've known about the Iltis for a long time, but I never thought it was a practical choice - until a member of the family showed one to me the other day, and a friend of mine sourced one for sale in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  After seeing an Iltis up close, it seemed like the right vehicle for me.  With my interest in Canadian military history, love of militaria, and use case for an occasional vehicle that was sturdy and off-road worthy - it seems to be the right choice.

VW Iltis - 1980 Paris Dakar Rally Winner
Looking more into the history of the Iltis, I found it was used as a Rally car as well - winning the 1980 Paris Dakar rally!  Granted, it was a 110HP version, but the rest of it was pretty much stock!

"Back in 1980, an almost entirely production-based Volkswagen Iltis sufficed to achieve the duo’s victory. The off-road vehicle was only complemented by underbody protection, modified dampers, a roll cage, different seats, additional instruments and a further fuel tank. The standard 1.7-litre engine delivered about 110 instead of 75 hp for the 10,000-kilometre rally distance from France via Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and (then) Upper Volta, all the way to Senegal."

I'm currently in a holding pattern regarding the purchase; waiting for a safety check by the seller's local VW dealer, and waiting for my insurance broker to come through with a price to insure it.  Wish me luck!


  1. Just bought one last week from a friend who never finished the project.
    The rebuilt was almost complete but he completely stripped the electrical system to convert it to 12VDC. Everything had been changed to 12VDC, starter alternator pump gauges lights, but no wires.
    So now I have to redo the entire electrical system from the ground up.
    Regards from Quebec

  2. Hello;
    I am looking for a VW Bombardier type 183 Iltis. Please advise if you know of any for sale. I live in the US and would like to import one to California.

  3. WANTED: Bombardier type 183 Iltis. I am interested in purchasing a VW Bombardier type 183 Iltis. I live in the US and would like to import one to California. If you know of any for sale, please contact me.