Since 1941, plans were made for the development of a new reconnaisance tank based on PzKpfw II Ausf J (VK 1601). In March of 1942, MIAG and Daimler-Benz received orders to build a fast (medium/heavy) reconnaisance tank, designed to operate under heavy combat conditions – Gefechtsaufklarung. MIAG was to construct the chassis, while Daimler-Benz was construct the turret. Both were to be designed and ready for production by October of 1942.The main purpose of this vehicle was to be at HQ tank platoons in Panzer units.
Two versions were proposed, "Leopard (leicht)" lightly armored fast version (18ton) and "Leopard (schwer)" heavily armored one (26ton). The light version was quickly dropped in the Summer of 1942, in favour of the heavier one. Design of VK 1602, named Leopard was based on the development of previous projects such as PzKpfw II Ausf J (VK 1601) and PzKpfw II Ausf M (VK 1301). Its hull was similar to that of PzKpfw II Ausf J (VK 1601), but was largely influenced by PzKpfw V Panther, which was still being developed at the time. Its suspension was made up of interleaved road wheels similar to PzKpfw II Ausf L – Luchs. It was planned that Leopard would eventually replace lighter (leichter) PanzerSpahwagen II Ausf L Luchs – Sd.Kfz.123 (VK 1303).Mock-up was ready in May/June of 1942 and first prototype was to be finished by the September 1st of 1942. Full scale production was to start in April of 1943.
Leopard’s armament consisted of 50mm KwK 39/1 L/60 and 7.92mm MG34/42 in newly designed small turret. It was also planned to use 75mm KwK 41 gun. VK 1602′s was heavily armored and had well sloped frontal armor (influenced by Panther). Leopard was to be powered by Maybach HL157P engine with total power 550hp which allowed VK 1602 to travel at maximum speed of 50-60km/h. In order to improve its cross-country ability, 350mm wide tracks were used. It was to be operated by the crew of four men. "Panzerprogramm 41" made provisions to build 339 Leopards (105 by December 1943 and further 150 by mid 1944). The start of production was previously planned for April of 1943, but the entire production was cancelled in January of 1943, when the first prototype was still incomplete. The reason for cancellation was its heavy weight and lack of heavy armament which made the vehicle vulnerable to enemy tanks. Also the fact of Leopard being similar to Panther pointed out that reconnaissance Panther can be developed and produced at lower cost.
This concept was continued in the Daimler-Benz’s design of improved VK 2801, but this was never completed and entire program was cancelled on May 8th of 1944. The vehicle was to be powered by Maybach HL230 (700hp) but Daimler-Benz engines were considered as well.
Finally, the task of combat reconnaisance was taken by PzKpfw V Panther and PzKpfw IV. Eventually, Leopard’s turret with its armament was later utilized on the heavy armored car Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma. Rheinmetall also planned to utilize Leopard’s chassis as base for 105mm leFH howitzer carrier, designated Waffentrager Leopard and Sturmgeschuetz auf Leopard (L/70) assault gun/tank destroyer armed with Panther‘s main gun – 75mm KwK L/70, but only wooden mock-ups were made. There was similar project to use Leopard as a base for Flakpanzer armed with either 20mm Flakvierling or 37mm Flak 36 gun but it was never realized.