Commerials : Light trucks
Prior to the 1968 merger with Leyland, BMC was busily cultivating its own range of trucks, writes DECLAN BERRIDGE…
These trucks were mainly derived from the former products of Morris Commercial, which BMC had inherited in 1952. As with many of the cars and vans produced by company, most of these light trucks were sold under both the Austin and Morris brands, although some larger models actually carried the BMC badge. However, following the merger with Leyland in 1968, all Austin- and Morris-badged light commercials from the JU upwards were rebranded as BMCs.
In 1970, when production of the remaining BMC-based trucks (such the FG, WF, Laird and Boxer) was consolidated at the Bathgate plant in Scotland, these models were rebadged as Leylands to bring them into line with the parent company’s truck range. Internally, however, the former BMC products were stigmatised by being referred to as the ‘Redline’ range, while the pukka Leyland products were known as ‘Blueline’; this demarcation soon found its way into general parlance.
Sadly, the merger had unfortunate consequences for the profitable truck operation, as it was constantly called upon to support to ailing cars division. This inevitably had an adverse effect of the development of new models, resulting is pre-merger models such as the FG and WF continuing in production right into the Eighties. Even the mid-Seventies ‘G’ cab, which served the majority of Leyland’s light trucks, was a clever revision of the 10-year-old FJ. The fact that these models sustained Leyland when they were clearly beyond their pensionable age is testament not only to the quality of the original designs, but also to the loyalty of various British companies to the products of the nationalised company.
The Eighties brought with them a rejuvenated truck range. The major news was the all-new modular T45 cab, which made its first appearance on the Leyland Roadtrain but would find its way into the light trucks range a few years later. This cab had been the result of massive investment, which saw a dedicated new production facilty built within the Leyland’s main factory complex in Lancashire. However, as with the renaissance experienced by the newly-formed Freight Rover division around the same time, these events were to be the prelude to privatisation; before the decade was out, the Rover group had divested itself of its commercial vehicle operations to concentrate its efforts on car production.
|Morris LC4/LC5 1952-1960
The Morris LC range had its origins in the pre-war LC 25/30-cwt vans and trucks. Around the time of the 1952 merger, Morris was launching the third-generation LC4 (there had been no LC2, for some reason), which reflected the post-war trend towards smaller-diameter wheels. Around a year later, it was superseded by the LC5 (pictured), which was available only as 30-cwt truck, due to the availability of the forward-control LD van. Joined in 1954 by an LC05 diesel version, the LC5 continued in production until 1960, when it was replaced by the entry-level versions of the all-new FG truck.
|Morris FV-series (Series I) 1948-1954
Morris FV-series (Series II) 1954-1955
Morris FE-series (Series III) 1955-1959
Also sold as Austin 3-ton/5-ton and BMC 7-tonnerAt the time of the formation of BMC in 1952, Morris was building its FV truck for sale in the forward-control 5-ton sector. Although it had been launched in 1948, it had a decidedly pre-war look about it, particlulatly with rear-hinged “suicide” doors.
In 1954, the FV gained the new Series II cab, which saw the rear-hinged doors replaced with narrower, front-hinged items. Being a post-merger product, the Series II also featured distinct styling for its Morris and Austin versions; the former had the distinctive inverted heart-shaped grille which had also be seen on the initial versions of the J-Type and LD vans, while the latter had a low-mounted horizontal grille, flanked by the headlamps and set within a ridged panel.
In 1955, after just one year, the FV was replaced by the FE (or Series III) cab. The FE saw the individual Morris and Austin styling replaced with a single corporate design, although it was still sold under both brands. This design was also adopted for a new 7-ton version (pictured), although this was badged only as a BMC. In 1958, the larger FE models gave way to the new FF range while the following year, the new FG series replaced the lighter models. However, despite being completely different models, each of these successors would retain a visual link with the FE: the FF used the same lower front panel, while the FG retained the concept of separate front quarterlights.
|Morris FG 1960-1968
Also sold as Austin S200 and 404
Renamed BMC FG 1968-1970
Renamed Leyland FG1970-early 1980sJust as the 1960s were dawning, the new FG truck burst onto the scene; with payload ratings ranging from 1½ tons to 5 tons, it would replace both the LC-series and the lower end of the forward-control FE range (see above). At its launch, the FG’s cab was hailed as a leap forward in commercial vehicle design. Uniquely, the cabin doors were mounted across the angled rear corners of the cab; being rear-hinged and rather narrow, this meant that when opened, they barely protruded beyond the width of the cab itself, thus delivering the main benefit of sliding doors in a context where these clearly could not be used. While BMC coined the term “angle-planned” to describe this arrangement, the FG’s unusual shape soon led users to refer to it as the “three-penny bit”, after the pre-decimal, twelve-sided British coin of that name.
Another innovative feature of the FG was its curved kerbside-view windows, mounted at the front corners of the cab, below the windscreen. These helped the driver to “place” the truck when parking, and were also an important aid to safety in busy high streets, as they eliminated a traditional blind-spot. However, all was not sweetness and light for the FG’s driver: the “angle-planned” design had a detrimental impact on the internal width of the cab, and consequently, the seats were rather narrow – as were the doors themselves – making life tough for the more portly driver. And assuming that he could get himself seated comfortably, he then had to contend with the heat generated by the engine which shared his cab-space, and get to grips with a gear lever that was thoughtfully mounted right at the rear of the cab.
Despite these shortcomings, the FG had a loyal following in the commercial market; the British Gas company was particularly fond of it, but to anyone who grew up in Britain during the 1970s the FG will be immediately identifiable as the archetypal Sunblest baker’s van. Another popular application for the FG was as a laundry van, in which configuration a capacious walk-through body was fitted to the basic chassis/front-end – with sliding doors…
|Morris FM 1961-1968
The Morris FM was essentially a modified version of the FG cab, with a snout added to allow the engine to be mounted further forward, thus providing room in the cab for an extra passenger seat. However, it retained the FG’s two most distinctive features: the kerbside-view windows and angle-mounted doors, the latter meaning that the outer passenger seat had to be tilted up to gain access to the new central one. The FM was supplied almost exclusively for use by Post Office Telephones (the state-owned forerunner of BT), including the one shown here.
Thanks to Rob Markham for his contribution to this entry.
|Morris WE 1955-1964
Also sold as Austin 3-ton/5-ton, S203 and 403
Morris WF 1964-1968
Renamed BMC WF 1968-1970
Renamed Leyland WF1970-1981Despite having the appearance of being a much larger truck, the WE range was the “normal-control” (ie: front-engined) counterpart to both the Series III FE and its successor, the FG. Derived from Austin’s Loadstar cab, in most other respects its specifications mirrored those of its aforementioned counterparts.
In mid-1964 the WE cab was revised to become the WF, gaining twin headlamps and a one-piece windscreen, along with the nickname “Woofer”. Remarkably, consistently high customer demand helped to ensure that the WF range remained in production throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, finally being replaced by the Landmaster in 1981.
|Morris FF 1958-1961
Morris FH 1961-1964
Also sold as Austin 45Launched in 1958 to replace the upper end of the FE range, the FF came in 5-ton, 7-ton and 8-ton variants. While not as innovative as the FG cab (which would appear within a couple of years to sit below the FF), it did at least have a more up-to-date appearance than its predecessor. While the lower front panel was carried over from the FE cab (see above), the rest of the cab was new, with a contemporary wraparound windscreen taking the place of the FE’s old-fashioned two-part screen with separate quarterlights.
The FH cab looked identical to FF, but used a modified floorpan in order to accommodate a six-cylinder diesel engine. The FF/FH cab – and its Austin equivalent, the 45 – also formed the basis for a variety of coachbuilt conversions by independent companies: in Asian countries, it proved a popular with bus and coach constructors, while Scottish company Halmo Engineering stretched the basic cab to produce a crew-cab. In 1964, the FH was repalced by the all-new FJ cab (see below).
Introduced by BMC in 1964, the FJ-series cab went on to form the basis of Leyland’s lower-end trucks (including the non-HGV Terriers) well into the 1980s.
|Morris FJ 1964-1968
Also sold as Austin FJThe all-new FJ cab was introduced to replace the FH range (see above). Sharply styled, with its distinctive twin-headlamps mounted at a jaunty angle, the FJ would also define the style for the BMC EA van, launched a few years later.
In true BMC fashion, the FJ could be bought as either an Austin or a Morris, with non-HGV ratings of 5 and 7 tons, known as the K100 and K140 respectively. (Heavier versions were also available, including the 8-ton K160 and the 10-ton K360 “Prime Mover”). The FJ cab’s main advance over the FH which it replaced was the fact that it was tiltable, vastly improving access to the engine and other mechanical components. Other innovations included a flat, uncluttered, “walk-through” cab floor enabling the occupants to enter or exit the cab from either side, and a natty roof-mounted console for the minor switchgear.
The FJ could also be ordered as a chassis-front end for the fitment of coachbuilt pantechnicon bodywork. In this configuration (and also when an over-cab Luton body was fitted), the cab-tilting mechanism was necessarily sacrificed in favour of traditional engine-access panels within the cab.
|BMC Pilot cab 1968-1970
Redesignated Leyland Pilot cab1970-1975Following the 1968 merger, the FJ cab was given a mild makeover to form the basis of Leyland’s Laird and Terrier light trucks (and was also used on the heavier models in the “Redline” range, such as the Boxer and Clydesdale, and even the 16-ton Mastiff). The most obvious difference between the FJ cab and the Pilot was that the former’s stylish twin headlights were dropped in favour of single units, mounted in pods at the outer extremities of the cab. While this may have offered a broader field of vision for night driving, it also made the headlights rather more vulnerable to damage.
As with its ex-BMC stablemates, the Pilot cab gained Leyland badging in 1970, and remained in production for the following five years, before being transformed into the more modern-looking G-series cab.
|Leyland G-series 1975-1980
Redesignated Leyland Super-G1980-1984Considering that the external styling differences between the Pilot and the G-series cabs were limited to a new lower front-panel and bumper, the transformation could hardly have been more effective. A sleeker, wider look was achieved by splitting the front panel into three well-defined lateral planes: the lower level held the better-integrated headlamps, flanking an four-slot air intake (on the Terrier; the larger models had 8 slots); above this was a chrome-plated grille panel (although this was sometimes painted matt-black, in body colour, or to match a company’s livery); finally, in a shallow recess whose shape mirrored that of the grille, was mounted the large Leyland lettering, written loud and proud.
Towards the end of 1980, the G cab became the Super-G. While most attention was lavished on upgrading the cab’s interior, there were also some minor external changes. Most noticably, the Leyland badging was now flush-mounted on a matt-black background, bringing it into line with the style of the recently launched T45-series Roadtrain. In this form, the G cab continued in production until the launch of the RoadRunner in 1984, whose cab was a derivative of the all-new modular T45 design.
However, towards the end of the G cab’s life, Leyland produced the experimental “Windfoil Terrier” to demonstrate the benefits to be gained by managing the airflow around such vehicles. In addition to the aerodynamic addenda, this vehicle also saw the G cab given a further facelift, this time predicting the style of the forthcoming Roadrunner.
There was one further twist in the long-running story of this cab. In 1981, the main body was used as the basis for the new front-engined Landmaster (and also the rather larger Landtrain and Scammell S24), thus ensuring that a substantial chunk of the original BMC design would remain in production well beyond its 20th anniversary.
|Leyland Roadrunner 1984-1987
(Leyland Trucks was privatised in 1987.)The 7.5 tonne Roadrunner was launched in a blaze of publicity at the end of 1984, replacing the Terrier. The T45 cab, which had first been seen on the new Roadtrain in 1980, was of modular design, meaning that it could be produced in a variety of widths, heights and lengths to suit a range of applications. For the Roadrunner, it had a unique frontal design, giving the truck a very smooth appearance with fashionable rectangular headlamps and wraparound indicators.
At the truck’s launch, stunt-driver Russ Swift (who would later help to revitalise sales of the Montego) carried off his trademark trick of driving the Roadrunner at 45 degrees, providing Leyland with the slogan: “Roadrunner: The toughest truck on two wheels”. Much was also made of the cab’s kerbside window, a feature which had clearly been inspired by the venerable FG (see above). In the Roadrunner it was glazed with laminated glass, which also had a screen-printed pattern to preserve the modesty of the cab’s passenger(s). Being asymmetrical, this window also gave the cab a quirky, modern look; indeed, during pre-launch testing of the MT211 prototype, this was the one feature that was considered worthy of being disguised.
Great play was also made of the comfort afforded by the cab’s interior. Acknowledging that the basic Roadrunner models could be driven on a standard car licence, it had an adjustable steering column, allowing the driver to set the wheel at a more vertical (car-like) or horizontal (truck-like) angle, according to his or her preference; the height and backrest angle of the driver’s seat could also be adjusted, in order to complete the transformation, although in truth, even in its most “vertical” position the wheel’s angle was still decidedly truck-like…
During the Roadrunner’s third year on the market, Leyland Trucks was privatised, along with the Freight Rover division, with DAF buying the business. Volvo later acquired Leyland Bus after a brief period of ownership by its management following a Management Buy-Out. Shortly afterwards, the Roadrunner was sold in continental Europe under the DAF brand, but without its most distinctive feature – the kerbside window.
This page was contributed by Declan Berridge