The installation and maintenance of Britain’s telephone network was originally the responsibility of the Post Office, and as with their purchases of Royal Mail vans, Morris (and later BMC) was traditionally the favoured supplier.
This virtual stranglehold was broken in the 1970s, although BL/Austin Rover continued to supply vans during the 1980s, a decade which saw not only the formation of the privatised BT (formerly British Telecom) but also the sale of ARG’s Freight Rover division, which produced the Sherpa, in preparation for the privatisation of Austin Rover itself. Rover’s final delivery of vans to BT took place in the early 1990s.
Car derived vans
The GPO’s choice of smaller vans for telephones duty closely mirrored those chosen for use as mailvans, with the Minor, Minivan and even the Marina/Ital-based models all making an appearance. However, the Austin Maestro gained far greater acceptance with BT than it did with their former colleagues at the Royal Mail.
The Minor van formed the mainstay of the GPO’s small van fleet for almost two decades. In fact, it was due almost entirely to the patronage of the Post Office that this van continued in production for as long as it did. As was the case with those supplied for Royal Mail duty, early Telephones examples were fitted with black rubber wings and raised headlamps.
In the early 1960s, the GPO bought two Austin A35 vans for evaluation purposes. This one was kitted out as a Telephones van, while the other one (940 EXU) received the Royal Mail livery. No further A35s were purchased by the GPO.
With the demise of the Minor and the fact that the Marina wasn’t ready to replace it immediately, the Post Office turned mainly to the Bedford HA for its Telephones van during the 1970s. BL did, however, get consolation orders for 1000 Marina-based vans as Telephone Utilities in 1972/73.
With the end of Bedford HA production in 1982, BT turned to BL for its small telephone utility and leased 2035 Ital ‘440’ models (plus 117 ‘550’ models for use as Radio Investigation Vans) in 1982, 3976 ‘440’ models (plus 34 ‘440’ RI vans) in 1983, and 2,794 ‘575’ models in 1984.
A typical vehicle from the BT’s 1980s deliveries of Ital-based vans, photographed when new in Reading in May 1983.
After the Ital, BT moved onto the Austin Maestro City 500 for use as telephone utilities and bought 467 in 1984, 3658 in 1985, 3252 in 1986, 2195 in 1987, 4170 in 1989, 6708 in 1990, and 1,032 in 1991 after which the diesel engined Ford Escort was favoured with BT orders.
This view shows a standard vehicle from the 1986 delivery, photographed in King’s Lynn in May 1990.
This one, photographed at Norwich in July 1989, carries BT Payphones livery.
Some of the Maestros were finished in BT’s reversed livery of dark blue and yellow lettering for Business Systems’ duties. This one, from the 1989 delivery, photographed at Somerton in August 1990.
As with the Royal Mail, Land Rovers were used for those hard-to-get-to areas…
In the GPO days, vans purchased for telecoms use tended to differ from those bought for Royal Mail; thus, this page includes such models as the J2 and its successor the 250JU, but not the Sherpa’s predecessor, the J4. Use of the larger LD was common to both arms, though, and in later years the Sherpa would provide another common thread.
The Morris J2 was bought extensively by Post Office Telephones from 1960 to early 1967. This is a typical J2 in service with Post Office Telephones in London, probably mid-late 1960s.
The Post Office was the largest single buyer of both the LD and its replacement, the EA. This well-used example, dating from 1967, was operated by PO International Telegraph Services.
The GPO’s first order for the Morris 250JU van was a batch of 587 bought for use as 15cwt Telephone Utilities in 1967, some of which can be seen here at the BMC dispatch yard at Adderley Park in 1967 (along with some J4s). Registered NYY 202E to NYY 788E, this first batch of 250JUs carried consecutive serial numbers U233984-U234570.
This view shows NYY 290E (from the above batch) in London SE1, shortly after delivery in July 1967. The writing on the door shows that it was allocated to the TELEPHONE MANAGER CITY AREA, LONDON.
A second batch of 1000 250JUs, this time badged BMC, followed in 1968. They were registered SGW 430F, SLX 1F to SLX 650F and WHV 370G to WHV 718G, with serial nos U241198-U242197 and they had consecutive chassis numbers 4001-5000.
The Post Office then changed its livery for telephone vehicles from green to brilliant yellow, and this livery was carried by the next large batch of BMC 250JUs: a batch of 15cwt Stores Vans, lacking the roof rack and interior racking of the telephone utilities. These were registered WLF 97G to WLF 196G, with serial nos 203065-203164.
WLF 170G from the later batch, pictured at Dundee in June 1970. Note the extra registration plate in the cab for use when towing a trailer.
During the 1970s, British Telecom’s orders for vans in this class were placed almost exclusively with Commer/Dodge. However, a small number of Sherpas Crewbuses were purchased as personnel carriers.
In 1981, BL won an order for 361 Freight-Rover Sherpa 255 chassis cabs to carry demountable bodies for use as 750Kg Utilities. Subsequent years saw delivery of 3033 in 1982 (plus one badged Leyland), 1103 in 1983 (although about seventy were destroyed at a factory before delivery, 3062 in 1984, 2290 in 1985 (later ones badged as 200 series), 1500 in 1986 (200 series) and just 101 in 1987. Thereafter the Ford Transit was preferred.
BL had further success in gaining orders for the heavier 1-tonne Utility, again using the demountable body concept, and leased 20 Freight Rover 350 1-tonne chassis cabs in 1983, 339 Sherpa K4s in 1984, 430 K4s in 1985 and 525 K4s in 1986.
A batch of 36 Leyland Sherpa 240 Personnel Carriers arrived for telephone use in 1976, including this one photographed in Cardiff in August 1980.
One of the 1986 delivery of demountables, photographed in Merthyr in September 1989.
This view shows one of the 1985 delivery in Somerton in March 1992 repainted in the 1991 BT grey livery.
Not all the 750Kg Utilities were demountables and BL secured an order for 193 of these panel van utilities in 1986. This one was photographed at Somerton in September 1990.
Although BT had generally moved to the Ford Transit from 1987, they continued to buy small batches of Sherpas including 27 Freight Rover Sherpa 300 vans with Powered Access Spencer platforms in 1988 and illustrated newly repainted in the 1991 grey livery.
This page was compiled by Declan Berridge, based on information and photographs kindly supplied by Chris Hogan of the Post Office Vehicle Club.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
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