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Ocelot of trouble


The Ocelot goes through its paces. Without Stuart at the wheel, this time


I had a relatively rare day out of the office yesterday. We’d been invited by a group of companies including Force Protection Europe and Ricardo to go to Millbrook Proving Ground to see the new armoured car, the Ocelot, one of the two competitors to replace the Army’s controversial Snatch Land Rovers. These things are too good to pass up. How often do you get to drive an armoured car?

Millbrook’s in Bedfordshire, not far from Woburn. It’s one of the places car and truck makers go if they want to prove their cars can do what they say they will - so it’s got a banked track where you can test out maximum speeds, it’s got a network of roads through rolling countryside and woodlands where you can simulate different sorts of driving (they do a lot of movie stunt work there - the sequence in Casino Royale where Bond rolls his Aston Martin end-over-end was filmed there).

They also have what they call a severe off-road circuit. This is seriously rough stuff - huge gravelly hills, sections with big rocks, potholes, simulated mortar holes, roads that twist the chassis of the car. That’s what they use to test military vehicles, usually. Tanks get stuck there.

Anyway, this is a big defence sector event, and all the military magazines and the execs from the companies involved are there. It feels like virtually everyone is ex-military; lots of gentlemen and ladies of that certain bearing. Lots of jargon being thrown around. If it hasn’t got a three-letter acronym, invent one quick.

First off, we got driven around the offroad course in the Ocelot. Great big thing, high off the ground, enormous wheels with loads of clearance between them and the chassis.

Inside, there are two seats up front facing forwards and four in the back, in pairs along the sides facing inwards. When you’re sitting in those, you can’t see out, so being driven over all this rough stuff was rather like being strapped inside a big, hot cocktail shaker. When you go over particularly bumpy bits you bash your head on the padded handles either side of the headrest. I felt slightly ill.

After lunch, we got a chance to drive the Ocelot. I had the second go, and sitting in the back of the vehicle was a senior execs of one of the companies who developed it. A retired colonel, as it happens. I strapped myself into the four-point harness, looked at the controls - automatic, handbrake on the side, lots of buttons. The instructor next to me gave me a few pointers - there’s a turbo lag, so you won’t accelerate as soon as you put your foot on the gas; there are the buttons that turn off the differentials so you’re driving all the wheels, and so on.

And off we went. I’d never driven off-road before; it’s fun, but it’s not easy. The rock run — 20 yards of big rocks set into a slight downward slope — jerked the steering wheel all over the place. There are huge concrete ditches set at angles across the road, so I had to lower each wheel in turn into them. I roared up hills and crept down them. The bit where you go through the big ditch full of mud was particularly tricky, because there are deep wheel ruts under the mud which send the wheels the wrong way, and I had to try to accelerate over them with the mud clawing at the tyres.

And all the while I was being given instructions and rally-style directions. ’Get to the bottom of the hill, gas on, now floor it! Don’t lift off don’t lift off don’t lift off and cover the brake! Brake! Bottom of the hill and left, left, left, move the steering wheel faster, left and right! Rightrightright!’

Fifteen minutes’ drive and we got to the end of the course, and I was hot and sweaty but feeling pretty chuffed with myself - got all the way around, didn’t get stuck in any mud, and there were no yells of pain from the back.

And that’s when I noticed the smoke coming out of the dashboard.

’Is that smoke there?’ I asked, as calmly as I could.

’Oh, probably not,’ the instructor said.

Then he looked down.

’Everyone out of the vehicle, please. Quickly as you can.’

There were huge clouds of smoke coming out of the vents in the bonnet.

’What did you do?’ asked the ex-colonel.

’I think I broke your armoured car,’ I said.

He raised an eyebrow.

’Ooops,’ he replied.

One of the other journos, an urbane chap who also writes for the Jaguar Owners’ Club, sniffed the air.

’Smells like electrics, doesn’t it? I hope it’s electrics. If it’s electrics, it’s probably not your fault.’

The instructor and another ex-military type were trying to get the bonnet open. They appeared to be having problems.

’It’s definitely on fire under there!’

There was a big blast from a fire extinguisher, just as the on-site fire service turn up, sirens blaring, and leap out to unroll hoses.

’That’s a little unnecessary, don’t you think?’ said the urbane journo to the ex-colonel.

’Leave them alone, they’re enjoying themselves,’ he said.

Another Ocelot turned up to give us a lift back.

’What did I do?’ I asked the instructor, as he walked past me to talk to the other driver.

’Nothing; electrical fault,’ he said.

I would like to emphasise that HE SAID IT WASN’T MY FAULT.

Back at the reception, I grabbed a drink and listened to a conversation over walkie-talkies concerning the whereabouts of the recovery truck, as various people consoled me with reminiscences about the time they blew up the gearbox of an APC.

’It’s certainly a worry and we’ll report it in our faults dossier, but really, don’t worry,’ the ex-colonel told me. ’We’ll find out what it was.’

’What happens if it was my fault?’ I asked.

’We’ll put the bill in the post, old chap. And we probably won’t invite you back.’

It turns out that it wasn’t my fault; the Ocelot I was driving was the first pre-production prototype, and its wiring harness — a type not used in later prototypes or in the version that will go into production — had short-circuited. I’m relieved, and so is my bank manager. I’ll be looking forward to the next invitation. And I promise I won’t break another one. Not that I broke this one.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Good report. After 50 years in competitive motorsport, I'm accustomed to those experiences. I'm just surprised no-one had a sly dig at Joseph Lucas "The prince of darkness". Which would be jolly unkind. I've used Lucas electricals during all those years, and it has been very reliable - as well as having an good back-up of skilled and friendly agents.

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  • Great story Stuart and good to see the armed forces are taking transport seriously but, there's always a but, it has the appearance of a council gritter or some other materials distribution vehicle and, being so big, is a prime target for enemy infantry forces with a bazooka type weapon. I spent some time in the forces first in the TA and then the Royal Navy and most of the transport seemed to have a huge fuel consumption for very little advantage in manpower carrying capacity. The Ocelot with room for just six and a very slow overland speed seems a little over designed. Perhaps the trial track was the ultimate operational ground that it can handle and it may have a greater turn of speed and lower consumption on the flat and level. Anyway, it was a very good report, thanks.

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  • Very nice writing, made me smile a lot on a rotten day. Thanks.

    And you did break it, didn't you?

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  • Good to see a military story on the site Stuart. Just to clarify the Ocelot and various other vehicles that are currently going through trials and development, have been designed to provide protection to the crew in the event of a road side IEDs and mines, that explains the V shaped hull and the vehicle's obvious bulk. "Bazooka" attack is a much lower threat in the current theatre of operations but the vehicles still offer protection for it as well as small arms fire. Any ex-Colonel interested in employing the skills of an ex REME ASM Artificer Weapons in their company can get in touch with me at;
    PS If you'd like to see more of the military's hardware I suggest you visit DVD on 23-24 June at Millbrook. I'd be happy to accompany you to decode the TLAs (Three letter acronyms). Follow the link to register:

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  • Great !!! where do I sign up ?

    Frank G.

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  • And do you know what kind of electrical fault was? Doesn't this type of vehicle have teflon as protection in the electrical wire system?

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  • OMG please assure me that the "prince of darkness " is dead I thought he died along with Bristish Leyland after we expelled them from this country for making uncertifiable junk.
    The irony being that we are now swamped by a tsunami of asian junk while our own manufacturing and engineering capabilities and capacity sits idle down the pub scanning the job ads , the great Australian car is now reduced from 79% local content just 5 years ago to a humble 8%. While our logistics industry is flat out importing replacement parts for the failed OE products.
    However it is great to see that the Brits are still capable of developing something that works and actually designed around some real performance factors , even if not able to withstand the fiddlings of some little journo.
    The question I ask ,is how long was the development program?
    We took near on 15 years to develop the Land rover replacement . "the Bushranger" whereas I worked with the Singaporeans who went from start to production within 3 years of an "adequate" APC . Basically cheque book engineering throughout the world . "tell what to do and I will buy it NOW, here is the money"
    They obviously learnt something about management by committee after those colonial years.
    The denial by Govt. and Military to utilize the critical path project engineering of local automotive industry was incompetence at its best.
    The frustration of the Bushranger caused the Govt. to opt for US CKD alternative denying opportunity to utilize local engineering resources.
    Perhaps Stuart should visit Australia ( we have excellent off road driving education facilities) and learn why the vast majority of the 4WD fraternity abandoned Land Rovers many years ago and see the number of SME operations manufacturing high quality off road products . The shame being that our own Govt. and military totally ignore these inovative and well engineered products in favour of US/EU designs manufactured in Asia.
    Our refurbishment of the old M113 is now fitted with a Cat engine made in Korea just a short artillery shot from the DMZ and is to fire ordance made in RSA.
    Perhaps your Col. friend may like to comment on the stategic implications of such well planned logistics

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  • Ha,

    here is the states we don't know the "prince of darkness" by name, but certainly know the symptoms. I recall my brother needing to replace the entire wiring harness in his MG B, from washing the car. Let's hope for everyone's sake this WAS operator error of some sort... Sorry Stuart...

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  • No fire wires and auto extinguishers, I am amazed, obviously built to a very low budget, and finaly, It could pass for a Humber armoured pig or a number of other armoured patrol vehicles from the sixties quite easily, anti mine pointed bottom is not new, nor is power pack design or diff locks. absolutly nothing new and I forecast a white elephant.

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  • Worth pointing out again that the vehicle in question was a pre-production prototype. Seeing as the MoD has now ordered Ocelots, it doesn't appear to be a white elephant.

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