From 1935 the DAF automobile company designed several armoured fighting vehicles based on its innovative Trado truck suspension system. Among these was the Pantrado 2, an armoured car. From 1936 the Dutch military encouraged DAF to develop this type into the Pantrado 3, a design more closely meeting army specifications for a reconnaissance vehicle, in order to establish a small indigenous armoured vehicle production capacity. A prototype was built and in early 1939 twelve vehicles were ordered of the DAF M39 type, the last of which was delivered in January 1940. The vehicles were destined to equip reconnaissance platoons of four cavalry hussar regiments.
For its time the DAF M39 was a modern design with an all-welded monocoque construction of the hull and extensive use of sloped armour. The turret, fitted with a relatively powerful 37 mm cannon, was produced in Sweden by Landsverk. The type was lightly armoured and relatively fast, with a good cross-country capability. It had been intended to build a second series of an improved type with 6 x 6 drive, the DAF M40, but production preparations were interrupted by the German attack during the Second World War.
When the Netherlands were invaded on 10 May 1940, no operational unit had yet been equipped with the type. The crews had not finished their training yet and the vehicles themselves had not all been completed due to delays in the fitting of the armament and repairs necessary because the welded armour plates proved prone to cracking. Therefore only three DAF M39s actually participated in the fighting, in ad hoc-units, engaging German airborne troops and landed transport planes. After the Dutch defeat, German combat units would for several years employ the captured vehicles under the designation Panzerspähwagen DAF 201 (h), some of them upgraded by DAF, until gradually losing them all on the Eastern Front.
After the war there were plans to restart production, building two hundred vehicles for Dutch reconnaissance units and perhaps a number for Belgium, but eventually it was decided to use light tanks for this role instead.
In 1937 the quickly deteriorating international situation urged the Dutch government to speed up its 1936 modernisation programme for the Dutch armed forces. In view of the limited budget available for armoured vehicles, Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Izaak H. Reijnders decided that most funds should be dedicated to the acquisition of tanks. Therefore the existing number of twelve Swedish Landsverk 181 (named M36 in Dutch service) armoured cars, equipping a single squadron, should only be expanded with a dozen more for a second squadron, two additional vehicles to function as command cars for each squadron, twelve vehicles to provide a platoon of three for the reconnaissance unit, a motorised cavalry Hussar regiment, of each of the four infantry corps and finally ten vehicles to be used as matériel reserve and for training: 36 new armoured cars in total.
Fourteen Landsverk 180 (M38) vehicles were received between 16 March and 11 November 1938 to equip the second squadron and as command cars; however the Dutch in 1937 also tried to reduce their dependency on foreign manufacturers — especially Sweden, the armour industry of which country was known to have close informal ties with Germany — by employing their own small truck industry, the DAF company.
The army had in 1935 first suggested to DAF to produce some British type under licence. Although officially the Netherlands adhered to a policy of the strictest neutrality, it was hoped that by secret negotiations it could be arranged that the British would send an expeditionary force in case of a German attack and that some communality of equipment would facilitate such future cooperation. Also the army considered British armoured cars to be the best available. However it transpired that DAF had already developed an indigenous design, which it claimed to be more advanced then any British armoured car.
From 1935, the co-founder of DAF Hub van Doorne and captain engineer Piet van der Trappen had started a number of armoured fighting vehicle paper projects based on their Trado suspension system. The Trado, named after themselves (Trappen — Doorne), consisted of a leaf-springed bogie with two actuated road wheels that could be easily attached to, driven by and rotate on the back axis of any commercial truck, thus adding a “walking beam” to the vehicle that significantly improved its cross-country performance. The Trado III suspension system, an improved version, was a considerable commercial success and applied to many existing and new civilian and military truck types. The armoured vehicle projects had the designation Pantrado in common, a contraction of the Dutch word for “armoured car”, Pantserwagen, and Trado.
The Trado III-suspension could be fitted with a track on the lines of the Kégresse track, changing a vehicle into a half-track. The first project, the Pantrado 1, envisaged a very long type with a good trench-crossing capability, brought about by applying the principle of the articulated vehicle: it was to consist of two fully tracked truck hulls attached back to back, connected by a large horizontal articulated cylinder. The full track was to be achieved by extending the track over the rubber-tired front wheels. The cylinder could be split, creating two tanks, each with the engine in front and the fighting room, crowned by a gun turret, at the back. This type remained a paper project only.
The second project, the Pantrado 2, was initiated by DAF after it had become clear to them in 1935 that a second batch of armoured cars would soon be procured by the Dutch Army. In February 1936 they submitted a design of a double-ended small 6 x 4 armoured car/half-track, with a transversely mounted engine and a crew of four, to the Commissie Pantserautomobielen, the army commission tasked with selecting possible candidates. The commission initially was very negative about the type. It concluded in May 1936 that the car had simply been designed around the Trado-suspension without regard for ergonomics or fighting abilities. In its rejection the commission was joined by the Inspector of Cavalry, who in June pointed out to the minister of defence that the mere fact that the Pantrado 2 had yet to be developed, precluded any procurement. However, this occasioned the Commander of the Field Army to add a comment emphasizing that it would nevertheless be very desirable to have a home-made armoured car, especially if it were equipped with a Ford engine, as a Ford factory and an extensive Ford service network were already present in the country. In July the Chief of General Staff concurred with this assessment. In response to these views by high-ranking officers, the commission changed its opinion, now officially concluding that “acceptable concepts” had been expressed by the DAF proposal and suggesting DAF might build a prototype. The delay in its report was explained by the great interest the new design had awakened with the commission members!
Meanwhile Van der Trappen himself had defended his proposal by writing an article in the authoritative Dutch military magazine De Militaire Spectator, claiming it was much more modern, especially more compact, than the Swedish Landsverk types. In September even the Dutch steel industry began to lobby for the DAF design. Despite the political pressure the minister of defence in October 1936 decided to reject the Pantrado 2. However, he promised that a complete list of specifications would be provided to DAF, outlining the qualities the Dutch Army desired for any future armoured car design. These included: a weight limit of 6.5 tonnes; six wheels; a maximum speed of 70 km/h; a power/weight ratio of 15 hp/ton; an armament consisting of a 37/40 mm gun and three machine guns; a complete protection against any munition below 10 mm calibre; a dual drive capacity; a half-track option; a 6×6 drive; bulletproof tyres; a range of three hundred kilometres; good yet safe visibility; an emitter-receiver radio set; gas-proof armour; gun stabilisation; a smoke screen capacity and a searchlight.