The SdKfz. 234 series of eight-wheeled armored cars replaced the older SdKfz. 231 series of eight-wheeled armored cars beginning in 1943. The easiest way to tell the difference between the 231 series and the 234 series is to look at the side profile of the lower hull. The 231 series had two separate mudguards above the tires. Whereas the 234 series had one mudguard running the entire length of the body.
On 5th August 1940 the Heereswaffenamt placed an order with Bussing-NAG for an eight-wheeled reconnaissance vehicle as a successor to the original GS type. The new vehicle was to be similar to the original but having a monocoque hull in place of the chassis and to be better suited to operation in hot climates. To satisfy the latter condition, the Tatra firm in Nesseldorf received an order for the development of a 12-cylinder V, 14.8L diesel engine developing 220hp at 2250rpm. Hitherto, all German armoured cars had been powered by petrol engines. Despite the early start, this 'tropical' vehicle did not enter production until 1944.
Parent firm for the chassis and hull was Bussing-NAG of Berlin-Oberschoneweide but the chassis itself was built by Bussing-NAG of Leipzig and received the manufacturer's designation ARK. The armoured hull was produced by Deutschen Edelstahlwerke in Krefeld, and the turret (where fitted) was by Daimler-Benz AG and F. Schichau in Elbing.
The first trial vehicle, which weighed 10 tons, was delivered to the Wehrmacht in July 1941; but the original engine gave great trouble and so an improved model (Tatra 103) was built with special provisions to restrict noise. The third, and final, tropical engine was to have been delivered during 1942; but with the termination of the African campaign it was not pursued. Entering production during 1943, the vehicle appeared in the following variants: Schwerer Panzerspahwagen (2cm) Sd. Kfz.234/1; Schwerer Panzerspahwagen (5cm) Sd.Kfz.234/2; Schwerer Panzerspahwagen (7.5cm kurz) Sd.Kfz.234/3; Schwerer Panzerspahwagen (7.5cm lang) Sd.Kfz.234/4.
The vehicles had thicker armour than the earlier GS series. Frontal thickness on the hull and turret (where fitted) was 30mm, on the hull sides 8mm, on the turret sides and rear 14.5mm, and on the hull rear 10mm. The hull roof and turret roof were 10mm thick. With the diesel engine and the larger (270-20) tyres, the range with a full fuel tank was 600km-which greatly increased the tactical value of the vehicle. Later production models had the fuel tank capacity increased to 360 litres, giving a range of operation of up to 1000km.
During 1944, the armoured reconnaissance vehicles of the ARK series replaced the GS series. Although originally intended for use by the Afrika Korps, they entered service too late but were used with great effect in Russia and north-west Europe. A total of about 2300 were built, and they were the last armoured cars to be produced for the Wehrmacht. The Sd.Kfz.234 series constituted the only wheeled armoured car scheduled for the March 1945 production programme. It was to have been produced at the rate of 100 vehicles per month and was the only reconnaissance vehicle to be continued apart from the special model of the Pz.Kpfw.38 (t).
The Sd.Kfz.234 vehicle was externally similar to the earlier GS vehicle except that the monocoque hull made it much lower, and the original four mudguards were replaced by two long fenders-one on each side-each containing four panniers. The overall weight of the various models was between 10.5 and 11.5 tons. The general automotive layout remained unaltered but for the fact that Knorr pneumatic foot-brakes were used in place of the original mechanical type of the GS vehicle.
There were four main variants.
234/1 - 1 x 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 autocannon, 1 x MG34 Machinegun. This design featured an open-topped turret. Around 200 were produced.
234/2 "Puma" - 1 x 5 cm KwK 39 L/60, 1 x MG34. Employed a fully enclosed turret originally designed for the VK1602 Leopard light tank. The turret front was protected by 30 mm armor set at an angle of 20° from the vertical. The sides and rear had 10 mm armor set at 25°, and the top plate was 10 mm armor. The gun mantlet was rounded and was 40 to 100 mm thick. 101 were produced between September 1943 and September 1944.
234/3 - 1 x 7.5 cm K51 L/24 in open-topped superstructure replacing the turret. 88 built between June and December, 1944.
234/4 "Pakwagen" - 1 x 7.5 cm PaK 40 L/48 in open-topped superstructure replacing the turret. 89 built between December 1944 and March 1945.
Characteristics common to all vehicles on the ARK chassis
Weight of chassis: 8000kg (8.0 tons).
Length of chassis: 6000mm (19.68ft, arbitrary measurement).
Width of chassis: 2145mm (7.04ft, arbitrary measurement).
Ground clearance: 350mm (13.8in). Track (all wheels): 1945mm (6.39ft).
Wheelbase: 1300 + 1400 + 1300mm (4.26+ 4.60 +4.26ft).
Wheel width: 190mm (7.5in).
Engine Make: Tatra. Model: 103 diesel.
No. of cylinders: 12 (75' V).
Output: 210hp at 2250rpm.
Swept volume: 14825cc.
Cooling: Air (compressor).
Carburettor: Two Bosch PE 6A fuel injection pumps.
Transmission Gearbox: Constant mesh, helical gear; three gears plus transfer, giving six forward and six reverse ratios.
Drive: All eight wheels. De Lavaud roller free-wheel-type inter-axle differentials; ZF cam-type inter-wheel differentials.
Clutch: Twin disc dry-plate.
Steering: Eight-wheel worm and nut; steering wheel inclined at 90'; additional steering controls at rear.
Brakes: Foot-brake, Knorr pneumatic, acting on all eight wheels. Hand-brake acting on all eight wheels.
Suspension: Semi-independent with semi-elliptic springs coupling front and rear pairs of wheels on each side. Three-piece pressed-steel disc wheels, mounting cord-reinforced low-pressure bullet-proof cross-country tyres.
Tyre size 270 x 20.
Fuel capacity: 240 litres (later 360 litres) (53 gallons, later 80 gallons).
Turning circle diameter: 14.9m (49ft).
Grade ability: 30'.
Wading depth: 1200mm (3.9ft).
Vertical step: 500mm (1.64ft).
Trench crossing ability: 1350mm (4.42ft) .