Hard testing resulted in the majority being scrapped but six are said to have survived in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and here. South Africa got a pair of test mules and surprisingly both survive. One in pick-up form and the other in station wagon body style. Both are in good working order, making for the largest density of operational Ants in the world.
Like so many British products of the time, the Ant employed revolutionary design that has now become the norm. Sadly, these weren’t capitalised on as the Ant died a premature death, thanks to typical British Automotive Industry politics and buyouts so prevalent at the time. Leyland came on board and, not wanting conflicting products in the same market, decided to ditch the Ant and go with Land Rover. The rest as they say is history but with the success of the diminutive Suzuki SJ/Jimny 4×4 in more recent times, one wonders: if the Ant focus had rather been civilian-based, could it have run alongside, and complemented, the Land Rover as the British off-road heroes?
Smaller but similar in aesthetics to Land Rover, the Ant is slab-sided with little front and rear overhangs for good approach and departure angle. However it upped the game somewhat with a monocoque construction using a galvanised steel body. Inside the cabin it is simple and functional without even the slightest concern for comfort. Seats are small, hard and offer no side support. A ‘deluxe’ version was looked at, which would have included grille bars, floor mats, interior door panels, wood-panelled rear load area and chrome bumpers, but this came to nought. The pictured Ant exemplifies this simplicity with a canvas roof section, sliding side windows and flat metal dashboard completed by a single speedometer and just two switches (for wipers and lights). The windscreen does fold forward and flat like a Jeep’s.
But the really smart stuff happened in the drive train department. The famed 1100/1300 A-Series engine found its way into the Ant. The A Series engine was mounted transversely atop the gearbox and tilted backwards. This tilt improved ground clearance and lowered bonnet line. Transverse positioning posed a problem when it came to traditional four-wheel drive though. The solution came by fitting a new housing onto the existing diff casing. Inside, the addition of a bevel gear driven by an idler from the standard diff solved the issue. This bevel drove a propshaft to the rear axle differential. This new housing also held another idler gear for selecting direction of rotation and two extra gears for high and low ratios. A dog clutch meant the rear diff could be engaged or disengaged from within the cabin. The result was that the Ant could make use of three different drive set-ups without having to climb out from behind the steering wheel – front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and either high or low ratio. Testing on the dunes behind the Blackheath plant showed the outstanding abilities of this system. And lots of fun potential.