Commercials : Car derived vans/pick-ups

Austin A35 pick-up

For many years, the small and medium-sized Austin and Morris vans produced by BMC were almost as familar a sight on British roads as the cars on which they were based.

Lucrative contracts with the nationalised utility companies helped to ensure that some of these models remained in production way beyond their natural sell-by dates, although the same could also be said for Leyland’s larger vans, and indeed, this also held true for some of Leyland’s competitors.

By the end of the 1980s, Rover’s CDV production had been reduced to just one model – the Maestro van – as the upmarket image being cultivated for its newer models precluded the development of commercial versions the Rover-badged cars. When the Maestro van finally died in 1994, so did the company’s long tradition of producing light commercial vehicles… or so it seemed. At the beginning of February 2003, MG Rover sprang a surprise by launching CDV versions of the Rover 25 and MG ZR.

On this page you’ll be able to trace the history of the car-derived commercial vehicles produced by BMC and its successors, and also catch a glimpse of some models offered only in overseas markets, plus some that never quite made it into the showroom…


Small models

Austin A30 van 1954-1956
Austin A35 van 1956-1968
Austin A35 pick-up1956-1957Sharing its major mechanical components and frontal styling with the “Baby Austin” A30 saloon, the 5cwt A30 van (type AV4) soon found a ready market with Britain’s small businessmen. The same bodyshell was used for the Countryman estate car version, having been fitted with rear side windows.Although the A30 van offered the same payload as the first Morris O-type (Minor-based) vans (see below), it was physically smaller, having a load capacity of just 60 cu ft as opposed to the O-type’s 76 cu ft.In 1956, the van was uprated in line with the car range, receiving a 948cc A-series engine in place of the original 803cc version, to become the A35 (type AV5). While the A35 saloons were replaced by the Mini in 1959, the van soldiered on, with a MkII version (type AV6) being launched in 1962, identifiable by its white radiator grille and less-fussy door skins.This version lasted just 6 months, before being replaced by the MkIII version (type A-AV8) in October of the same year, which gained the 1098cc A-series engine. Finally, in May 1966, the 1098cc engine was supplanted by the Mini’s 848cc unit, considered adequate for the sort of local delivery work these vans invariably undertook. Production ceased in February 1968.The A35 also spawned a shapely pick-up (type AK5), but just 475 of these were produced over a short and sporadic production run between 1956 and 1957.
Austin A30 van
Austin A35 van
Austin A35 pick-up
Minivan 1960-1982
Mini pick-up1961-1982The Minivan appeared witin a few months of the Mini itself. Sitting on a longer wheelbase, it featured a basic, pressed grille, double rear doors and the 848cc A-series engine. Payload was 5cwt, while load capacity was 46 cu ft, or 58 cu ft if the passenger seat was removed. This same bodystyle would be used for the Traveller and Countryman estate cars which appeared later that same year, although they almost invariably featured the cosmetic addition of a wooden rear-body framework.Exactly one year after the launch of the Minivan, the pick-up version arrived, built on the same wheelbase and sharing the vans other styling cues. Further developments were few and far between. 1967 saw the introduction of the 998cc engine, which was offered alongside the 848cc unit, but both van and pick-up would retain the original Mini’s charctertistic sliding windows and external door hinges throughout their production life.At the end of 1978, they were renamed “Mini 95″ in reference to the 0.94-ton gross vehicle weight (rather than payload), and a couple of years later, they became part of the Morris van range. When the new Metro-based van arrived in October 1982, the Minivan and pick-up’s days were numbered, and they were quietly dropped at the end of that year.
Minivan in Royal Mail livery
Mini pick-up with canvas tilt
Morris Mini 95
Morris Metro 1.0/1.3 1982-1985
Renamed Austin Metro 310 (later Metrovan) 1985-19901982 was a significant year for the Metro: as well as seeing the introduction of the image-boosting new MG and Vanden Plas variants, the bargain-basement City version was also launched that year, forming the basis for the van version that would follow before the year was out.In launching the Metro van, BL was merely responding to public pressure. Within short order of the car’s launch, a growing number of businesses had recognised its potential as a load-lugger, and had produced their own makeshift conversions by removing the rear seats and blocking out the rear side windows, much as they had done with the 1100 estates in the previous decade. From that point on, despite it being BL’s intention that the Minivan should serve this market, the Metro was clearly destined to replace its long-running forebear. Indeed, despite initial impressions, the Metro van’s payload and loadspace were all but identical to (if slightly less practical than) the Minivan’s (although BL did not publish a capacity figure for the Metro with its passenger seat removed). As it transpired, there was a short overlap in production of Metro and Mini vans, but the older vehicles days were numbered.BL’s initial reluctance to offer the Metro as a van may have been driven by a wish to avoid diluting the car’s trendy image. Even after it had bowed to the inevitable, the van was still set apart from the car range by virtue of its Morris badge. As with the larger Maestro, a pick-up was not part of the standard range, although a few specialist conversions were offered, such as the Metro Mover. The factory did, however, produce a small number of MG Metro vans as special orders for privileged customers. Following the demise of the Morris marque in 1985, the restyled Metro van emerged with an Austin badge, alongside the new Maestro van. The Metrovan continued in production after the Austin badge was also dropped (in 1987), but the more upmarket Rover Metro of 1990 was not officially offered in van form, although there were some aftermarket conversions.
Morris Metro van
Austin Metro 310
Austin Metro 310
Rover Commerce / MG Express2003-dateFollowing an absence from the commercial vehicle market of almost ten years, MG Rover announced two new car-derived vans in February 2003. Based on the Rover 25 hatchback and its MG ZR counterpart, these vans can be seen as the spiritual heir to the Metro van, although the Rover Commerce has the dubious honour of being the first van ever officially to wear the Viking badge; readers of the section on the Metro (above) will be aware that the MG Metro was produced in van form (albeit in very limited numbers), but the Rover Metro was not. Incidentally, the Commerce was referred to simply as the Rover CDV in the original press release, while the MG’s “Express” name has been used on a van before – by Talbot for their 1980s Sherpa rival.As with the Metro, the conversion of the 25 and ZR to CDVs was fairly straightforward, involving little more than the removal of the rear seats and panelling-in the rear side windows. Models start with the entry-level Rover Commerce, based on the 25i, with an 84PS, 1.4-litre engine and 520kg payload. At the other end of the scale is the range-topping MG Express 160, which trades a little in payload (485kg) to offer a 130mph top speed and 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds from its 1.8-litre VVC engine, making it the fastest van on sale in the UK. Other models comprise a 101PS, 2.0-litre diesel, with payloads of 485kg (Rover) and 475kg (MG), and a ZR 105-based MG Express, with a payload of 505kg. Rover Commerce van
MG Express van

Medium-sized models

Morris Z-series ¼-ton1940-1953Based on the Series E Morris Eight (itself an updating of a pre-war design), the 5cwt Z-series van was nearing the end of its production life at the time of the 1952 merger. Just one year later, it was replaced by the Morris Minor-based O-Type van and pick-up truck, which offered an improved load capacity with its boxy rear bodywork. Morris Z-series van in Royal Mail livery
Morris ¼-ton (O-Type) 1953-1971
Also sold as Austin 6cwt & 8cwtBetter known as the Morris Minor van, the O-Type was introduced with a 5cwt payload in 1953 to replace the Morris Z-series. The payload was uprated in 1962, with 6cwt and 8cwt versions being offered right through to 1971. The standard van had a load capacity of 76 cu ft.Alongside the standard van and pick-up versions, the O-Type could also be supplied as a chassis-cab, allowing coachbuliders to build custom bodywork for everything from campers and ice cream vans to tow-trucks and mini-artics. Another popular mid-1960s conversion was a high-roof extension for the standard van, allowing such things as gas canisters and the new-fangled upright fridge-freezers to be carried. Additionally, dealer chain Wadhams offered an estate-car conversion, which basically involved fitting the van with rear seats and side windows to form a kind of cut-price Traveller, sans wood.Special versions of the van were produced for the Post Office (traditionally one of Morris’s most loyal customers), to be used by the Royal Mail and GPO telephone engineers. Early examples of the former type were fitted with black rubber front wings (see right) both to protect against minor impacts and to keep the initial purchase price down. In fact, the van’s sheer longevity can largely be attributed to the loyal patronage of these customers in the later years.
Morris O-type van
Morris O-type pick-up
Royal Mail-spec Morris O-type van
Morris Cowley MCV1950-1956Introduced to replace the essentially pre-war Y-series van, this Morris Oxford MO-based 10cwt van served in the ½-ton sector as big brother to the ¼-ton Z-series and O-type vans, proving more popular than the forward-control Morris J-type van which offered an identical payload. The boxy van body gave a capacity of 120 cu ft, or 138 cu ft without the front passenger seat.In addition to the standard van, the factory also turned out pick-up and chassis-cab versions, with the latter being used as the basis for a wide range of specialist vehicles – including the custom-built, wooden-bed pick-up shown here: the better-integrated rear bodywork on factory-produced pick-ups was all-steel. Morris Cowley MCV
Morris Cowley chassis-cab with pick-up bodywork
Morris ½-ton Series III1956-1962Based on the Series III Morris Oxford, this model replaced the Cowley MCV. Load capacity for the standard van remained at 120-138 cu ft, and again it could also be ordered as a pick-up or chassis-cab, for bespoke coachwork such as that seen here. Six years later, it was discontinued in favour of the Morris versions of the new Austin A55 van (below). Morris ½-ton Series III milk float
Austin A55/A60 1958-1972
Also sold as Morris ½-ton1962-1971Utilising the front-end styling of the MkI Austin A55 Cambridge, this van’s raised roofline resulted in a useful 96 cu ft load capacity, one of the factors that saw it continue in production until the early 1970s, seeing off the proposed ADO17-based panel van (see below) in the process. In 1962 it was upgraded to the A60 mechanical spec, also receiving a minor facelift but essentially retaining the mid-1950s Cambridge style. It was eventually pensioned-off in favour of the Marina-based van.
1970 Austin A60 van
Austin-Morris 7cwt/10cwt 1972-1978
Renamed Morris 440/5751978-1982Effectvely replacing both the Austin A55 and Morris Minor vans, the Marina-based models were briefly sold in identical Austin- and Morris-badged versions before being cunningly rebadged as “Austin Morris”. Both van and pick-up offered a 10cwt payload, and were powered by the widely-used 1275cc A-series engine; the van was also available in a 7cwt version, with the option of the 1098cc A-series. Load capacity for the van was 88 cu ft, rising to 104 cu ft with the front passenger seat removed. The pick-up had a 36 cu ft loadbay.In 1978, the models were relaunched as the 440 (7cwt) and 575 (10cwt), and received the styling revisions applied to the Marina 2 saloon and estate models, including matt black bumpers and redesigned dashboard. They were also rebadged at this time, in line with BL’s emerging strategy for vans to fall under the Morris marque. Finally, in 1980 the A-series engines were supplanted by the revised A-Plus unit, in 1275cc form only.
1975 Austin Morris 7cwt van
1978 Morris 575 pick-up
Morris Ital 440/5751982-1985In line with the revisions which had been made to saloon and estate models a couple of years before, the Marina-based van and pick-up eventually gained the Ital’s new front end, along with the passenger cars’ new model name. Following the demise of the non-commercial Ital models in 1984, Morris briefly became the LCV-only marque that BL had envisaged back in the late 1970s. Almost 15 years after production ceased, the tooling was sold for production in China… 1982 Morris Ital 440 van
Austin Maestro 500/700 1985-1987
Maestro 500/7001987-1994The moribund Morris marque finally died in 1985, when the Ital 440 and 575 were replaced by the Austin-badged Maestro 500 and 700 respectively. The new vans featured a larger rear opening, in addition to the benefit of the increased payloads that the new names suggested. Loadspace, however, was slightly down, at 86 cu ft. There was no factory-built replacement for the Ital 575 pick-up, although a small number of vans were converted into pick-ups by external contractors. When production ceased in the mid-1990s, it marked the end of the Rover Group’s involvement in the light commercial market under BMW. However, the van later resurfaced in China as the Etsong QE6440.
1985 Austin Maestro 500 van

4×4 models

The Land Rover and original Range Rover could often be seen at work for the emergency services, with ambulance and fire-engine conversions being undertaken by a number of specialist companies. Here, however, we concentrate on the factory-produced commercials.

Land Rover (Defender)1948-dateOver its 50-year-plus production history, the venerable Land Rover has always been available in a variety of van and pick-up configurations. The original 80-inch wheelbase model was superceded by the 86- and 107-inch models in 1954, while four years later, the Series II models were launched with 88 and 109-inch wheelbases respectively, which were retained for the Series III of 1971.The range was revised for the 1980s, with the Ninety and One Ten models replacing the 88 and 109 respectively, and in 1990 the Defender name was introduced to reflect the Land Rover name’s newfound status as a marque. There were also the forward-control models, offered between 1954 and 1978 in a variety of wheelbase lengths, although, as with the special light-weight Land Rovers, the vast majority of these were sold under military contracts.Land Rover’s expertise in the commercial market was reflected in BL’s 1981 reorganisation, which saw the Freight Rover division created within the Land Rover group to handle the Sherpa van, a move which would lead to the creation of the formidable 4-wheel-drive Sherpa. Land Rover Series III 109
Forward-control Land Rover 101 pick-up
Range Rover1972-1994This rarely-seen van version of the Range Rover really belongs in the “Overseas models” section (below), as it was built primarily for sales in markets where commercial vehicles did not attract the import duties that made the standard Range Rover too expensive for many customers. However, a handful were in fact sold in the UK, mainly to Police forces. Production of the van continued long after the two-door estate model had been discontinued, giving a clue as to the feasibilty of the special edition two-door CSK model which appeared in 1990. 1984 Range Rover van
Land Rover Discovery1993-1998The Discovery van was offered as a more civilised alternative to the traditional Defender. Like the Discovery estate from which it was derived, it was initially available only as a 3-door model, but in later years, the 5-door Discovery was also offered as a sort of semi-van, with its rear seats intact but its luggage-bay side windows blanked-off. Various other countries had their own van versions of the Discovery, some of which were introduced to avoid punitive import duties. 1994 Land Rover Discovery van
Land Rover Freelander Commercial1999-2006Land Rover launched a new derivative of the Freelander at the Fleet Motor Show at the NEC, Birmingham, in 1999. The Freelander Commercial is based on the three-door Hardback and was targeted at major fleets, small businesses and people who need to transport equipment to remote off-road areas, customers will include utility, plant hire, security and construction companies. 1994 Land Rover Discovery van

Overseas models

Morris DOMIThis Danish variant was produced by Dansk Oversoisk Motor Industrie (hence the name), based on the standard Minor chassis cab. DOMI added the integrated, all-steel rear bodywork, lower but longer than that of the standard O-type van, and offering a useful increase in loadspace. Morris DOMI
Morris 1000 Super CombiAnother Danish offering, this time achieved by panelling-in the standard Traveller’s rear side windows and removing the rear seats. This makes an interesting counterpart to the Wadham-converted estate cars, which were basically Minor vans with side windows and rear seats added… Morris 1000 Super Combi
Austin A40 Farina1961-1967This export-only A40 van was sold mainly in Finland and Portugal. However, these “vans” were actually fully-trimmed Countryman models with metal plates spot-welded over their rear window apertures, easily removed following delivery. This provided BMC with an effective means of circumventing import restrictions on private cars, although in truth, little more than 500 of these vans were ever built. Austin A40 Farina van
Austin A55 UtilityThe UK did have a pick-up version of the Austin A55/A60, but the Austin A55 Utility featured here was a local Australian initiative, developed to take advantage of the ready market for this type of vehicle Down Under. Austin A55 Utility
Siam di Tella ArgentaLogic may have suggested that the Austin A55 pick-up would be superceded by a Farina-style model, but in the world of commercial vehicles, there was often little incentive to replace a tried and tested model purely for cosmetic considerations. However, a Farina pick-up was offered by Siam di Tella in Argentinia, alongside their locally-produced Farina saloons and estates. Siam di Tella Argenta body shell
Austin 1800 Utility1968-1971The 1800 Utility replaced the A55 in Australia.More… Austin 1800 Utility

Proposed models

Triumph Herald1960This converted saloon was the prototype for a proposed Herald-based van, featuring a high roofline and one-piece, top-hinged rear tailgate, but it was not adopted for production. Instead, Triumph produced the Courier (see “Standard-Triumph” section, below) between 1962 and 1966. Triumph Herald van proposal
BMC 18001966BMC condsidered replacing the ageing A55 van (see above) with this smart-looking 1800-based van. BMC 1800 van proposal
BMC 11001967This 1100 estate-based van was considered for limited production, to be used by BMC’s dealers, but it was found that the car’s Hydrolastic suspension was not particularly conducive to this role. However, the idea was taken up by several businesses, notably the television rental firm DER, who bought standard 1100 estates and fitted opaque panels, bearing their logos, over the rear side windows. BMC 1100 van prototype

Standard-Triumph

Although these models are included here for the sake of completeness, it should be noted that they were no longer in production by the time of the BMH-Leyland merger of 1968.

Standard 7cwt/10cwt1954-1963Based on the Standard Pennant saloon and powered by an 1147cc engine, these utilitarian offerings competed with the Morris O-Type and Austin A55 vans (see above) in the 7cwt and 10cwt classes respectively, and curiously looked a little like an amalagam of both these rivals. They offered a competitive load capacity, and had the advantage of being sold at a lower price than many of its rivals.In 1960, Triumph looked at developing a replacement based on its Herald saloon (see “Proposed models” section, above), but this effort was aborted in favour of the Courier van (see below). 1954 Standard 10cwt van
1961 Standard 7cwt van
Triumph Courier1962-1966Triumph panelled-in the rear side windows of its Herald estate to produce the Courier. However, after a moderately successful first year, sales fell sharply, as potential customers realised that many rival vans offered more loadspace for rather less money. In fact, in the last two years of production, fewer than 100 Couriers were built. 1962 Triumph Courier van

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


12 Responses

  1. Cliff - March 19, 2013

    A very interesting article on some often overlooked models.

    My father bought a 1962 registered A35 van in 1965. Finished in cream with the reg number 228EOM. It was the main family transport for over 5 years.

    This was the AV6 version with the white grille and larger engine but it had the ‘more fussy’ front door panels as shown on the A30 in the picture above. Perhaps it depended on what parts were on the factory floor at the time.

    It also had factory-fitted rear seats even though it had no back windows. Vans didn’t attract purchase tax in those days. Once a van was 3 years old you could then convert it into a car by fitting rear windows and not have to pay the tax. An early example of legitimate tax avoidance ! He had the rear windows put in as part of the deal with the garage he bought it from.

    The rear seats were quite neat, folding down to make a flat load area with the cushions slotted upright in the footwell behind the front seats.

    Whenever I see an A30/A35 now it amazes me how small these things are, especially in the width department. How on earth did we fit everything in ?

  2. Richard Davies - March 19, 2013

    IIRC the A35 Pickups had purchase tax levied on them as it was claimed they could (if anyone was brave enough!) carry passengers in the back. This does explain the low numbers sold.

    The A70 Pickup seems to be missing, I’ve got the feeling they were export only (like the Zephyr pickups), or simply mostly sold abroad.

  3. Hilton D - March 20, 2013

    Interesting… the cars and vans we took/take for granted have many useful purposes. I find it strange that Ford never brought out a Focus van like they did with Anglia’s & Escorts. Perhaps the Transit Connect took over that mantle?

  4. Richard16378 - March 20, 2013

    The Fiesta based courier seemed to fill the gap as well.

  5. Rory57 - March 21, 2013

    AARGH! Another got-to-get-me-one-of-those moments. I had no idea there had been an Argentine Riley 4/72, let alone a pickup version. I took my driving test in a Riley 4/72 and I have a thing for car-derived pickups so one of Siam di Tella Argentas Farina pickups has got to join my Landcrab Ute and the Farina hot-rod in the fantasy garage.

  6. maestrowoff - March 21, 2013

    The Austin 1800 Ute is much better looking than the normal saloon!

    Interestingly the current MINI Clubvan is one of the few car derived vans available now.

  7. Landyboy - March 22, 2013

    The majority of the Range Rovers that left Solihull as vans went to Portugal, where they were then finished as 3-door Range Rovers. The van bits were recycled back to Solihull. I imagine that as a result of EU membership, the import duty rules that caused this arrangement were phased out.

  8. arelbe - March 24, 2013

    Marina and Maestro vans both stank of petrol, which their car sisters did not. Anyone know why?
    Had to be a no-no for repeat sales.

  9. Erik Loye - March 26, 2013

    Re the Morris 1000 Super Combi. It was imported as a standard Traveller with rear seats and panelled off rear side windows from Cowley. The reason for this was that vans with rear seats but no rear side windows only carried 50% of the passenger car sales tax.
    But this was discontinued in 1969 and the Traveller was imported without rear seats but this time with glas in the rear side windows (a safety regulation allowed windows vans’ load area).
    The Austin A40 Farina and Herald Station Car was imported as well but had the rear side windows blinded but rear seats fitted as the Minor Combi. This was a normal practise for a large number of station car models when the 50% reduction was in force.
    Erik

  10. James MUDDELL - April 6, 2013

    When I was an apprentice i was given the job of fitting out the back of the British Gas Maestro vans. I loved fitting the floors & side boards, racking, roof racks etc. It wa so much fun & I always got bonus.I must have kitted out hundreds of them

  11. Malcolm Ramage - April 7, 2013

    One thing I remember was a garage at the bottom of Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire, he had a rather posh pickup with lifting attachment that he made himself out of a Rover SD1.

    It looked fantastic and performed flawlessly rescuing caravan owners who either missed or ignored the warnings that caravans should not attempt the hill climb.

    Wonder where it is now? Must be 14 years since I last saw it.

  12. Sam Mace Frankie - May 10, 2013

    Did anyone else notice the giant killer Robin with an eyepatch in the top picture?

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