Leopard - Land Mine Resisting Vehicle 

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Contact:  leopardATbaragwanathDOTcoZA

Necessitas Dominum Non Scit


(“Necessity knows no Master”)



Basic Vehicle Details:


Official Designation: Leopard Security Vehicle


Model: Mk 6. also known as the “High boy” (last production variant).


Year of Manufacture: 1979. (Produced from 1975 to 1979 - all Marks).


Manufacturer: Willowvale Motor Industries, Harare, Zimbabwe and distributed through local VW dealerships. (Note the original supplier’s decal, 'Puzey and Payne, Salisbury', in the left-hand side window. Salisbury is now Harare).


Production: 725 to 750 (Sources vary).


Passengers: 5 plus a Driver. (6 persons in total until 1978, when the allowed capacity was reduced to 4 passengers and a driver only for all variants regardless).


Running Gear: VW 'Type 2' (T2b) Kombi Transporter / Bus front and rear sub assemblies, produced by Volkswagen Brazil 1975 - 1979, modified at Willowvale to accommodate the Leopard body. Rear wheel drive only.


Engine: 1600cc, 4 Cylinder, Type 1, Air-cooled VW Dual Port Engine, with additional external Oil cooler.


Gearbox:  Standard 4 Speed manual, driving through custom low ratio reduction boxes at the rear wheels.


Fuel Tank Capacity: approx 40 liters (Leaded Petrol) No fuel gauge to avoid electrics to detachable Fuel Tank. - Speedo odometer reading increments where used.


Gross Vehicle Mass: 1,760kgs (Dry, no passengers).  


The History:


As a result of the escalating use of anti-tank and anti-vehicle land-mines in all areas of the country during the Rhodesia / Zimbabwe independence conflict and the dehabilitating affect these were having on the civilian population in the Country especially in rural and farming areas, a solution had to be found.


This highly unconventional vehicle, the Leopard, the bare essentials to make a working motor vehicle and the necessary protection against a mine blast which went well beyond the design bounds and norms of the time, was the solution.


Indicative of the land-mine problem was that for the year 1979, 1,178 mines (3.3 per day) are recorded as having been detonated and another 911 (2.5 per day) having being recovered, a total of over 2,000 for the year within the border of the Country.


After the unfortunate death of a close relative in a land-mine incident in 1974, inventor Ernest Konschel began exhaustive research on land-mine damaged vehicles and mine craters, ultimately designing and producing the first in a series of dedicated monocoque construction mine resisting vehicles, the Leopard. 

(Monocoque meaning the body forms the chassis or frame of the motor vehicle, as opposed to a purpose made chassis). This design is a forerunner to many of the mine resistant vehicles developed and used in Southern and Central Africa from that time to the present.


Prior to this, mine proofing had been various attempts to armour plate existing vehicles chassis and bodies or insulating them with sand-bags, rubber conveyor belting and the like, or building a strengthened body onto an existing chassis.


Designated the 'Leopard' after the graceful feline and intended for the civilian sector, the Leopard was in production from 1975 to 1979 and went through some 6 major refinements or ‘marks’, a total of at least 725 ultimately being built though retaining its basic design all through its production life.


Based on the principle of a deep ‘V’ shaped strengthened body sitting high off the ground which would deflect the force of a mine blast away from the occupants of the vehicle, the Leopards design also featured other essential mine resisting innovations such as:


- placing the road wheels well away from the body as these generally trigger the mines and allowing the blast to freely dissipate between the wheels and the body,


- high ground clearance under the body to allow the blast from mine detonated centrally under the body to easily dissipate,


- ‘shear’ bolts between the axles and body so as to prevent the full force of the blast being transmitted through to the occupants by disconnecting the body from the axles in the event of a mine blast. This ‘modular’ arrangement, also allows for the quick exchange of damaged axels in the event of recovering or repairing the vehicle after a mine blast.


- sturdy roll-bars to ensure the body righted itself and protect the occupants if toppled in a blast, the occupants being secured into the body by safety harnesses.


- sacrificial fuel tank and battery box ensuring these are detached from the vehicle and thrown clear for safety and fire prevention reasons, in the event of a mine blast. The fuel tank being placed on the extreme rear of the vehicle to further enhance safety. (Fuel capacity limited to 40l to further reduce the risk of fire).


- an open top to the body to allow pressures to quickly equalize between the inside and exterior of the body in the event of a mine blast, further protecting the occupants. A soft canvas roof is fitted to keep out rain, dust etc.


- front mud guards are essential to ensure the drivers view is not obstructed by debris thrown up by the front wheels, though these to are sacrificial.


- The original VW 'Trailing Arm’ suspension considerably assisted the effectiveness of the Vehicle in that the road wheels tend to follow the contours of the road, unlike conventional suspensions which primarily move in the vertical and tend to 'pound' the road.


The use of carpeting on the seats is partly an economy measure, but is a necessity to ensure that spinal compression injuries do not occur to the occupants in the event of a blast, the seats being in the form of benches welded to the hull.


Originally designed to carry a maximum of 6 people an average sized passenger group at the time, the seating capacity remained as 6 all through the production life of the Leopard though the carrying capacity was reduced to 5 persons in 1978 by the licensing authorities as an additional safety measure. Luggage within the passenger area is completely discouraged as a safety measure and so no storage space is provided.


Intended only as a mine resisting vehicle and designed around the need to deal with the enormous temperatures and pressures resulting from a mine blast, some 3,000 deg C and estimated 2,000 to 3,000 lbs per square inch pressure at the point of detonation, the Leopard was never an armoured vehicle, though the body did offer some protection to the occupants against some types of small arms fire.


Note the lack of reinforcing or ‘armouring’ around the engine, gearbox, axles or other critical components and fact that these are open, contrary to the design of armoured vehicles and in keeping with the design needs of a mine resisting vehicle in keeping weight down. Successor designs of mine resisting vehicles to the Leopard incorporated armour and armoured characteristics to better protect their occupants and the critical components of the vehicle itself.


Built on the front and rear sub assembles of a 1970’s VW Kombi, the Leopard was powered by a standard VW Kombi Type 1 dual port Engine of 1600cc.  The standard 4-speed manual Kombi gearbox was also retained. To obtain the necessary power to ensure the vehicle could properly pull off in first gear and in negotiating difficult obstacles, low range gearing was specially fitted to the reduction boxes on the rear wheels, the mine resisting body weighing some one and three quarter tonnes, or approximately twice that of a standard Kombi.


The combination of the weight and gearing contributed significantly to a shortened tyre life as can be seen by the mixture of tyre types fitted to the vehicle, the left rear Dunlop tyre most likely being the type fitted at manufacture and original fitted to the front.


 As the overall weight of the Leopard at 1760 kgs was significantly greater than the standard Kombi, a means had to be found to keep the engine from constantly overheating. This was achieved by the addition of a large external Oil cooler situated behind the engine. (See cooling 'tower' situated behind engine, in pictures).


Although a heavy vehicle by normal standards, the weight or ‘down force’ onto the ground exerted by the Leopard was generally below that required to trigger an anti-tank mine, though sufficient in some cases to trigger other types of mines. The specific design of the rear axle with ‘trailing arm’ suspension particularly assists in this. (From approximately body number 600 onward, the trailing arm sub-assemblies where no longer used and were substituted with 'vertical' travel design suspension units, as available from VW suppliers).  


In the 67 incidents where Leopards are recorded to have detonated mines or had mines detonated under them, only 6 related fatalities are recorded. The success of the Leopard was such that the vehicle was acquired and used by many individuals, general business, mining concerns, farming estates and other large organisations such as the Post Office Mail and Telephone services, Electricity Supply Commission and some government departments such as Health, Public Works and Internal Affairs in their day to day activities.


Only one standard colour was available from the manufacturer, that being the ‘Drab Green’ on display and manufactured locally by Dulux Paints. This was applied directly to the vehicle body without primer etc. Many owners of the Leopard changed this to suit their own requirements and in avoiding the drab green, with its military connotations. One version in an 'Ice White' with traditional Hot Rod 'flames', "The Iceman", was in daily use in 1980/1.


Leopard on Display:


The Vehicle on display is body number 596, which was produced in early 1979, the last official year of production of the Leopard. Prior to being taken off the road in about 1985 and the engine and other components salvaged, this vehicle had completed some 5,045 kms. The vehicle is thought to be completely original other than for the missing engine, gearbox and other components.


All of its working life was spent in the Cashel Farming District of Zimbabwe and shortly after being taken off the road in 1985, was placed in storage until relocated to South Africa for preservation and restoration. Note: the fittings for a VHF Farm two-way radio and long range SSB radio set.


Only 5 examples of the Leopard are currently known to have survived, two of which are wheeled and the remaining 3 bodies only, this being the only wheeled example currently known outside of Zimbabwe. An example of the Leopard was thought to have been returned to Great Britain for evaluation and exhibition at the time of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, though this has yet to be confirmed.


Update: October 2005 - confirmation received from the Imperial War Museum (North) in Manchester, UK, confirming they have a Leopard Mk6, this was gifted to the Museum in 1984. Unfortunately this has been repainted at some time in the incorrect colour.




Although simple in design and its nature, the restoration of this Leopard to running condition is a particularly difficult task in that many unique parts of Brazilian and Zimbabwean origin are needed in ensuring an accurate and authentic restoration.


Many thanks to the following persons or organisations who have assisted in the restoration project to date:


- Mr Ernest Konschel, designer and originator of the Leopard, for the many hours of discussion and donation of papers from his personal collection. (His work saved the lives of many and prevented the injury of may more during the Rhodesian Bush War, the Leopard being the first of 3 successful vehicles he designed and oversaw production of, including the Pookie Mine detecting vehicle).


- Mr Peter Locke, co-author of the book; "Fighting Vehicles and Weapon of Rhodesia, 1960 to 1980", for access to his personal library of information and his invaluable support in the locating of various Zimbabwean produced spare parts.


- The Director and Technical Staff of the South African National Museum of Military History (SANMMH), for their invaluable ongoing support and assistance.


- Mr Ferdi Radel, VW Air-cooled master mechanic, collector and racer who provided the Gearbox has undertaken all the necessary remedial works on the Engine, Gearbox and other major mechanicals and especially for patiently answering many novice queries.


- Mr John Lemon, historian for VW of South Africa, for his extensive research assistance and who has patiently answered many technical and other queries.


- Mr Tim Bell, official Tea maker, for his endless interest, hours of assistance and uncomplaining use of his flatbed trailer.


- Mr Johan Van Rooyen of Johan's Leather Creations, for finding the correct canvas and replicating the hood. 


- Mr Jackie Weldon, who graciously donated his extensive stock of used VW parts and provided the Engine.


- Mr Harry Greaves, for the donation of a spare Gearbox he had 'lying around'...


- Mr Carvel Webb, for the donation of an 80mHz whip antenna


- Mr Johan Duvenage, for the extensive and detailed video and still record he made of the vehicle, prior to restoration work beginning.


- The Raynes of EVO Automotive, for the kind donation of a set of locking wheel nuts.


- Mr Rob Leimer of Leimers Land Rovers, for the supply and kind donation of obsolete parts.


- Mr Alan Levine of Ace Auto Scrap Yard, "the most organized scrapyard in the country", for his personal time and kind donations from his yard. The Ace scrap yard specalises in VW Microbuses.


- Ms Z Sam, Colourist, of Barloworld Automotive Coatings makers of Plascon Paints, for all her kind help and efforts in matching and formulating new paint to the existing aged and weathered paint finish. ("its a kind of green ....."). 


- Anthony of; SAJCO, prop and drive shaft specialists who professionally and authentically reconditioned the Drive shafts.


- Phillip Coen, "The frantic auto sparkie" for re-doing the starter motor after a "certain group of amateurs" messed up its previous overhaul. 


- Bosal South Africa, for the identification and kind donation of exhaust parts.


- LUK Clutches Africa, for invaluable help and support in identifying an authentic Clutch assembly.


- Clover Scales South Africa, for assisting with load cells and scale for weighing the vehicle in-situe 


- Dulux Paints South Africa, Technical Help Desk and in particular Mr John Reid (Dulux no longer produces automotive paints).


- Dulux Paints Zimbabwe, in particular Harold K a man with may years of extensive knowledge and a suburb memory for detail, especially where colour is concerned. (I now know what a stoving enamel is !)


- Dunlop and Firestone Tyres South Africa, Technical Help Desk and Engineering Sections in the identification of tyre tread patterns and appropriate replacement tyres. 


- Vidar Rubber, of Johannesburg, South Africa, who provided the axial universal rubber mountings for the engine snubber mount. Vidar were the original supplier of these and still produce them today for the Coach building industry.


- Beetle Buddies, the Beetle specialists, who's staff have provided invaluable practical information and for supplying the appropriate starter motor. (Now closed down).


- Imperial War Museum North (Manchester, UK) for information and pictures of their Leopard Mk6.


- To the many people who have sent in their Leopard pictures and experiences - thank you !


Visitors to this Web Site who may know of possible sources of VW Brazil 1976 to 1978 Kombi Bus or Transporter parts are requested to contact:  leopardATbaragwanathDOTcoDOTza or call: +27 (0)83 700 5057.  Please visit the Wish List for particular parts wanted or available for exchange.


Reference Materials:


General References:


- "Rhodesian Bush War" -Wikipedia.

- "Leopard Security Vehicle" - Wikipedia.


Specific References:


- Authors own research, notes and material.

- Fighting Vehicles and Weapons of Rhodesia; 1965 to 1980, Locke and Cooke, P and P Publishing, Wellington, New Zealand. 1995. (Now limited reprint; Click here for details and to order).

- Taming the Landmine, Peter Stiff. Galago Publishing. South Africa. www.galago.co.za

Library of Pictures 

(Canvas Roof Cover has been removed for repairs in this series of pictures)

Click on images to enlarge 

These images are primarily a record and reference for restoration purposes, but may be of interest.

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Quarter view of the Leopard ex Factory (credit: Ernest Konschel)

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Inst. Cluster (Standard ex Kombi)

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Technical team at South African National Museum of Military History 


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An indication of the changed, lower ratios fitted to the rear axel reduction boxes.

Top road speed at optimal engine revs is 83kph.

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Remains of Canvas Roof Cover (circa 1978)

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5 of us used to fit in here ?

Top of the Oil Cooler 'tower' can be seen just behind the air cleaner.

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Memories .....

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Memories .....

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Wheel Detail - 

Note inclusion of frangible spacer

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Drivers Foot Well

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Brake Fluid Res and Engine Crank-Case Breather above

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Brake Servo and Master Cyl

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Brake Servo Unit - Top View (Headlight 'Dip' switch in view)

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VHF 2 Way Radio Bracket

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Interior Light - for Map reading etc

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'Hella' lamp lens detail.

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Some Restoration Work In Progress:

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Weighing the Vehicle to determine it's Gross Mass - 1760kgs.

 Load Cells can be seen under the front wheels and the Scale Head and Printer on the front right Mud Guard.

(Scale provided at cost by Clover Scales South Africa - with thanks)

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Gear Box finally found - Pic taken just after it arrived

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Replacement Canvas Roof, copied from the original fitted.

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Exhaust parts kindly donated by Bosal South Africa

Many thanks to Bosal for this

very generous donation

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Exhaust installation kits by Bosal

Other Leopard Pics:

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Leopard in Police Service.

Notice 'G-LPD Govt Registration

This is an earlier version of the Leopard, probably a Mk5.

(Photo taken at mechanical workshops, while vehicle was in for repair. Battery holder is open and battery has been removed).

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Seen clearly in this picture is a later refinement to the Leopard, the addition of bullet tumbling screens, on the lower hull, as an anti ambush measure and to help improve the ballistic protection of the blast resisting hull.

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Leopard Mk6 at Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, UK

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