Sankey 'Widetrack' trailer - Andrew Noakes - Motoring Writer

Military vehicle aficionados know them as 'Sankeys' after the GKN Sankey company, which designed these trailers and made some of them, including this one. There are two main types – the earlier 'narrowtrack' version, designed for use behind a 'Series' Land Rover, and the 'widetrack' designed for Defenders.

Narrowtracks are easy to spot because none of them have tailgates (at least, not as standard).

Widetracks come in three versions:

  • Mk1: mechanically-operated drum brakes, folding front leg
  • Mk2: mechanically-operated drum brakes, jockey wheel
  • Mk3: hydraulic disc brakes, jockey wheel

The EMLRA has more on the different types of Sankey trailers. Mine's a Mk2, and judging by its original military registration (23 KE 51) it was commissioned around 1985.

Sankey trailer military markings

Sankey trailers are handy because (a) they're cheap, (b) they're very strong and (c) they're designed to go anywhere a Land Rover will go. The geometry of the trailer was carefully designed so that it follows faithfully in the Defender's wheeltracks, which makes life easier on narrow off-road tracks (or even urban traffic islands).

Two obstacles stand in your way if you want to pull a Sankey trailer with a 'civvy' Defender: the electrics and the towing hitch.

Sankey electrics

The standard electrics on a Sankey trailer are 24-volt and will need some work before they will operate correctly with a civilian Land Rover – and that also means you will need a lighting board when you collect the trailer (as above).

You need to remove all the bulbs and replace them with 12-volt equivalents. You also need to deal with the military wiring plug on the trailer, in one of three ways. You can wire a military socket to your Defender, you can cut the military plug off the trailer and replace it with a standard trailer lighting plug, or you can make up a military-to-civilian adaptor. The easiest route is to remove the military plug and replace it with a standard one, which is what I did.

Towing hitch

The next step is to fit an appropriate towing hitch to the Defender. Most road-going trailers are fitted with a hitch designed for a 50mm tow ball, but the Sankey trailers use a different system – a NATO ring or 'lunette', which should be hooked up to a NATO towing jaw or 'pintle'.

Beware of these NATO towing jaws: there are two sizes. The smaller one is used on Land Rovers and similar sized vehicles. There's also a larger one, used on bigger trucks. Typically, the first one I found (on ebay) turned out to be the larger size and was useless, but eventually I got the right one. The NATO pintle will bolt directly to a Land Rover Defender rear crossmember using four holes which are pre-drilled, but for versatility I chose to fit the NATO pintle to a Dixon-Bate adjustable towing bracket. That way I can easily fit a standard towball if I ever need to tow a normal trailer.

Nato towing jaw and lunette
Sankey trailer and Land Rover Defender

The NATO ring/pintle combination offers two big advantages over a normal trailer hitch. First, it's very strong, so the trailer is unlikely to part company with the towing vehicle even when towing on rough tracks. Second, the pintle can rotate, allowing the trailer and tow vehicle to follow the terrain. This also means that if the trailer overturns it's less likely to take the tow vehicle with it.

The Sankey came to us during the summer (from military surplus specialists John Richards near Market Drayton) and has since earned its keep carting various items around, including piles of wood for our woodburner. I've replaced the trailer's towing eye/damper assembly (because the casing on the original was breaking up, causing the reversing lock to fail) but otherwise it's been perfectly reliable.

Next step for the Sankey is to fit a jockey wheel, which it's currently missing: it would make hitching the trailer to the Defender a whole lot easier.

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