What's the story?
Darren Parsons probably knows more about the 101 Forward Controls that served with the Royal Luxembourg Army than anybody else I’ve met. ‘I had a British 101 and I really liked it,’ he explains, ‘but I wanted something a bit more unusual for taking to shows. I also wanted something I could sleep in at the bigger events. When I discovered that one of the Luxembourg ambulances was for sale at a military dealer in Belgium I went across to see it, liked it and bought it.’
That 1998 transaction was just the start, of course. Owning the 101 set Darren off on a trail of discovery about the Luxembourg vehicles that still excites him today. It’s brought him many new friends. And another Luxembourg 101: the radio truck in our pictures came direct from a military auction in summer 2000.
The 101 was drawn up by the Army and given to the old Rover Company to build. Part of the deal was that Rover could sell it elsewhere once the MoD had settled the specification it wanted. So from 1975, as the 101s began to enter British service, Rover began to look for extra business.
About 10 per cent of all 101s were sold to overseas armed forces, and the firm had to pay the MoD a royalty on every one. By 1978 they’d decided there wasn’t enough money in the 101 to carry on building it, so even though the MoD would have liked to order more, Solihull said no.
The Royal Luxembourg Army was among the first overseas customers to place an order. That was in 1975, and 58 vehicles were ordered in 1976-77 (a demonstrator was ordered as well). All were LHD 24-volt types with standard GS bodies, but five reached Luxembourg via the Marshall works in Cambridge. Here, they were stripped of their truck bodies and fitted with new box bodies. Three of the vehicles became radio trucks, and two became ambulances – and Darren has one of each.
One of the things that attracted Darren to the Luxembourg vehicles was that their design is very different from either the ambulance or the signals bodies for British 101s. ‘The British designs hadn’t been finalized by the time Luxembourg placed their order,’ he says. ‘So Marshall designed a body that suited both the ambulance and the radio truck. In some ways, it’s like an earlier version. There was improved rear access on the British ones, for example.’
When Darren shows his vehicles, he usually sets the radio truck up with its aerials in place and its rear awning fitted.
These trucks do about 10mpg on a good day, which limits how far Darren drives them. The massive blind spots and left-hand drive make them tiring to drive long distances, and of course, if Darren wants to take them both to a show, he needs either a second driver or a low-loader. ‘I do a couple of big shows and a couple of smaller ones.’ Says Darren, ‘and maybe some local Help for Heroes charity days.’
Our favourite bit?
The awning is a remarkable piece of equipment, braced internally by wires whose tension can be adjusted, and it carries a stencil with the maker’s name on it - MCE (Marshall of Cambridge Engineering). ‘It reached me through a pal who was buying some other Luxembourg equipment. It was only afterwards that we realized it belonged to a 101 radio truck!’
And the verdict from LRO writer James Taylor?
Fuel thirst aside, there’s always been something special and quite unique about the sound of a 101’s exhaust. The 3.5-litre V8 may only put out 128bhp, but it sounds meaty. I’ve always liked the sound, but I’ve never heard it sound quite as fruity as it does emerging from the tailpipes of the Luxembourg 101s. Go on then Darren, rev it again just one more time…
Model: 101 Forward Control
Engine: 3.5-litre carburetor-fed V8 petrol
Power: 128bhp at 5000rpm
Torque: 185lb at 2500rpm