M201 SAHARA

As its name implies the Sahara version of the M201 was designed to cope with the deserts of North Africa. The Sahara was not an army modification to the standard factory issue jeep but was a special model that the army requested Hotchkiss to make and was produced in batches on the factory production line. The photo taken at the Stains factory in 1963 shows the finishing area where a batch of Saharas complete with sand coloured canvas can be seen in the distance behind the standard M201s.

Like the standard jeep, early Saharas were built with 6 volt electrics then from mid 1960 as 24 volt jeeps. There were many significant differences between the Sahara and the standard M201 though and it was much more than just the sand tyres and a desert sand paint job!

 

The Sahara chassis was of a modified design which included strengthening, up-rated rear suspension springs (13 leaf) and additional mounting points for equipment like the tool box fitted at the front. To improve the Sahara's range a second fuel tank was fitted under the passenger seat with a selector in the fuel line to switch between the two tanks and a second jerrycan was mounted between the front seats. To help overcome vaporisation problems in the high operating temperatures an electric fuel pump supported the normal mechanical one. A cyclonic air pre-filter was fitted on the right-hand wing to reduce the risk of damage to the engine posed by sand in the air. The sand that it collected was ingeniously discharged into the exhaust pipe using the venturi effect to draw the sand down and jettison it with the exhaust gasses.

 

FRAME DETAIL

  The tool box and its mounting brackets obscured the position on the frame where the army serial number was stamped. To work round this the army number was often, but not always, stamped on the side of the chassis in the same area as the frame number. Thanks to 'Chaz' for supplying the above photo - unfortunately the detail has been obscured by the thickness of paint. As more data is collected there is an increasingly probable link between frame numbers and Sahara models in that 6 volt Saharas (pre 1960) were sometimes prefixed by 'MS' rather than the standard 'M'. In the case of the 24 volt Saharas (1960 onward) the prefix was sometimes 'MVS' rather than the standard frame 'MV'
The need to stamp the army serial number on the side of the frame can be understood from the photos of Tim Tearle's Sahara. The tool box was mounted on the strengthened tapped holes obscuring the number in its standard location though it was still stamped there as well.

Frame numbers with the 'S' included have been found on jeeps where there is no apparent evidence of Sahara origin at all which creates a bit of a mystery though it could be that surplus 'S' frames were used up at the factory to produce standard jeeps from time to time and / or  jeep chassis refurbished at La Maltournée had the mountings removed and the holes welded over.

 

If your M201 has the army number stamped on the side of the frame like this or a frame number with an 'S' in it somewhere then the chances are that it was originally built as a Sahara model and I need to hear from you by e-mailing me here.

AIR INTAKE AND PRE-FILTER


Air from the cyclonic pre-filter mounted on the was piped through a specially notched bonnet.  (Photo: M201 No. 21942) This Sahara was subsequently used as a 'normalised' radio jeep.
 
 

SPOT LIGHT

The directable spot lamp mounted on the left-hand side of the windshield was another specific feature of the Sahara model. The circuit diagram given in MAT 3541 shows that the switches for both the spotlight and the windscreen wiper motor were mounted on the windshield itself, a neat trick in that the standard set of single contacts could be used. The lamp was mounted on a bracket welded to the frame . Note also switch 'K' for the electric fuel pump.

EVIDENCE OF SAHARA ORIGIN

There are very few Sahara versions of the M201 in existence today. Having been designed and built primarily for use in the Algerian war their raison d'etre diminished after the war ended in 1962. Their sturdier design made them ideal candidates for conversion to weapons carrying duties and most were converted to carry the ENTAC missile system.

The converted Sahara jeep in the photo opposite retained its sand tyres, toolbox, pre-filter (just visible) and spotlight. Basically the conversion was simply a matter of installing the ENTAC launch and control equipment on the jeep and repainting it which did not require a rebuild at La Maltournée  and could explain why the Sahara features were retained. This also had the added benefit that should the need have arisen, the jeep could have been returned to desert duties.

The above photo was taken in 1987 but a photo of the same jeep taken in about 1970 and still in service with 1e RCP shows that by then the toolbox and pre-filter had been removed and the sand tyres replaced by bar grips though the jeep was still 221-2282 and had not been rebuilt.

Many photos of Saharas that were converted ENTAC exhibit some of the Sahara features though it would appear that over a period of time these gradually disappeared. The spotlight was almost universally retained presumably as it was seen to be useful.

Removing the pre-filter left a cut out in the bonnet which was normally closed up by welding in a new piece of metal. The photo opposite shows how this was achieved on Tim Tearle's Sahara. In the case of M201 No. 21942 (a Sahara converted to radio jeep) it was left open which is unusual.

  Evidence of Sahara origin found on M201s today can be confusing. Although Sahara chassis have the army number stamped on the side as well as the top of the chassis rail at the front and a frame number containing an 'S', where they were completely rebuilt at La Maltournée  all other evidence appears to have been removed e.g. the fuel pump mountings ground off and the toolbox mounting hole ground off and closed over. These 'normalised' frames then ended up on standard rebuilt jeeps with no real Sahara origin beyond that of the chassis.

Rebuilding at regional workshops and Clermont Ferrand led to parts being jumbled up. The windshield shown in the photo (left) has the Sahara spot light mounting bracket though the jeep it actually ended up on had never been a Sahara.

Tim Tearle's Sahara was never rebuilt and provides a good example of some other original Sahara detail. In the photos below the brackets welded to the side of the main chassis rail (below left) are were where the electric fuel pump was once mounted. The control for isolating the electric fuel pump (below right) was mounted in front of the fuel tank by the drivers seat mounting though the electrical switch mechanism was actually mounted under the floor, hence there are no visible cables.  

 
Further evidence of the jeep's Sahara origin is apparent from the front wing which still has the holes on the top surface where the cyclonic air pre-filter was once fitted. The rear of the wing has holes where pipe leading from the pre-filter to exhaust was secured by clips and a hole in the step where the pipe passed through to the exhaust system. Loops fitted to the bonnet also appear to be another feature of the 24 volt Sahara (below).

 
Basic technical details of the Sahara can be found in the army publication EMA 2222-17 and the technical manual for the Sahara which was MAT 3339.

If you think that your M201 may have once been a Sahara or at least has some parts of Sahara origin please do let me know even if it has obviously been rebuilt since. I am trying to trace as many examples of these as I can.

Thanks to all who have helped in making this page and the pages it links to possible.

Emile Tarbes: 6 volt Sahara M201 no. 8665 (1959)

Tim Tearle: 24 volt Sahara M201 no. 23469 (1963)

'RR' 24 volt Sahara  M201 no. 21942 (1963)