With its wide-reaching colonial empire at risk from unrest, the British Army relied heavily on cost-effective armored cars for security - the vehicles easily able to outpace and outgun most any weapons and systems to be fielded by rebel parties. Alvis built a series of such vehicles for the British military and others prior to and during World War 2, continuing in the role during the Cold War years as well. Once usch product became the FV603 Saracen 6x6, a lightly armored 6x6 wheeled Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) to be used t shuttle personnel under protection and provide a security-minded measure where needed. Alvis was founded in Coventry, UK as the Alvis Car and Engineering Company, beginning production of civilian automobiles in 1919. The brand then fell under the Rover label in 1965 before eventually going defunct in 1967 (today the Alvis brand is a property of defense powerhouse BAe Systems). The company ultimately produced the Dingo Scout light vehicle, FV601 Saladin armored car, a dedicated 8x8 AVLB bridgelayer and the successful family line of light vehicles in the FV101 Scorpion/FV102 Striker/FV103 Spartan (and similar).
Despite its rather unorthodox appearance, the Saracen is composed of a rather conventional internal design. The engine is held in a forward compartment, aspirated through a heavily slatted grill assembly, with the driver compartment just aft and a vehicle commander in the centralized crew cabin at rear. The vehicle holds space for a further nine combat personnel with entry/exit made possible through a pair of large, hinged rectangular doors at the rear of the hull. All sides of the vehicle can be defensed through hinged firing ports that also feature vision slits for observation. The Saracen is fully-armored in the sense that it is capable of sustaining direct hits from small arms fire and light artillery projectiles. Protection includes 16mm of Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) covering. Smoke grenade dischargers are fitted over the front fenders in two banks of three and can provide the crew with a make-shift, self-imposed smoke screen as required. The 6x6 wheel arrangement comprises three individual axles, each with steel-rimmed rubber road wheels for maximum traction. Shock absorbers are afforded to each wheel position for off-road capabilities. The Saracen is therefore granted a maximum road speed of 72 kmh and can managed upwards of 32 kmh off-road. Operational range, through the gasoline engine, is 400 kilometers. Power for the series is served through a Rolls-Royce B80 Mk.6A 8-cylinder engine developing 160 horsepower output. A fully-enclosed turret is optional along the hull roof line and this emplacement usual mounts a .30 caliber light machine gun offering for basic defense/offense. Alternatively, the vehicle could be outfitted with a water projector for riot control. Primary production Saracens were recognized simply as "Saracen Mk 1".
The FV603 Saracen is from the same line of Alvis FV600 military vehicles though some components differentiate it from the rest. This family includes the aforementioned "Saladin". The Saracen was, itself, further evolved into several battlefield-minded forms including Armored Command Vehicle (as the FV604), an Armored Command Post artillery-spotting vehicle (as the FV610) and a battlefield ambulance (as the FV606/FV611). The series was pressed into action in 1952 during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) which involved British and Commonwealth participation. Malaya remained under British rule as a colony where it formerly languished under Imperial Japanese occupation during the fighting of World War 2. The rising tide of communist power in the nation led to a bloody guerilla war that required interventon that included the British commitment numbered 35,000. The war was eventually won by the British and Commonwealth forces to help restore some order in the troubled country.
The Saracen became a widely-exported vehicle as well where it served with the forces of Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the UAE, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Niger, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Thailand. The Sri Lankan Army utilized the Saracen during the 1983-2009 Sri Lankan Civil War though it is perhaps recognized for its time under British use during "The Troubles" of Northern Ireland spanning from 1967-1998. Saracens were used as security vehicles and a highly visible deterrent to ongoing violence in the country. Lebanese Army Saracens were used in similar fashion during the long running Lebanese Civil War that spanned from 1975 into 1990.
While some nations still rely on the Saracen APC to some extent, many modern-minded forces have retired the line for more modern alternatives or, lacking funds, not at all. The British Army retired their Saracen line in 1993 after decades of faithful service.
Sources indicate total production of Saracen cars having reached 1,838 units with production spanning from 1952 to 1972.