Chris Cowin looks at a vehicle which used to be everywhere, but has now largely disappeared: BMC’s 250 JU Coach.
It was part of British Leyland’s range in Britain until 1974, and formed part of the 250 JU commercial vehicle range which could trace its roots to the 1950s.
Remembering an icon: BMC 250 JU Coach
Move over Volkswagen Microbus… as the 1960s swung into the ’70s, Brits could buy the distinctive 250 JU ‘Coach’ – a roomy minibus.
It could carry up to 14 (including the driver) with 11 passengers facing forward in the rear compartment on upholstered seats, or 12 on longitudinal benches. (Kids of the 1970s may remember such benches crammed with far more than 12 youngsters).
Rather awkwardly, access to the rear seating area was by the tailgate only – even though the preceding J2 Coach (as favoured by The Beatles in their early days) had featured a side entry. This is likely to have been due to evolving United Kingdom PSV (Public Service Vehicle) regulations.
Some export 250 JU Coaches retained the side door which was listed as an ‘export only’ option, with vehicles so equipped being popular as school buses in Malaysia, to take an example. But in its absence passengers climbed up and through the single side-hinged rear door with the aid of a large step platform.
Compared to the old J2 vehicles on which they were based, the new-for-1967 250 JU range had a wider track (by 10 inches at the front), giving better stability, and also a longer wheelbase, with the front axle moved forward. Steering and brakes were revised, combined with a restyled front and new ‘strip speedo’ dashboard that owed a lot to the Austin 1800 (the influence of BMC’s Technical Director Alec Issigonis ran far). ‘Spherivent’ ventilation nozzles cooled the cab.
The 250 JU range was built at Adderley Park, Birmingham, though it’s believed the coach models were fitted out by an external company.
However, the 250 JU range came down the pipeline at cash-strapped BMC at a busy time, and they retained many elements from the 1950’s J2, being still forward control (with the engine under the cab) when that was going out of fashion. The ‘U’ in JU stands for ‘Underfloor’. That made for a noisy and sometimes hot vehicle. The ‘250’ referred to the two and a half tons gross loaded weight rating that applied to this range of vehicles.
The Coach model was normally supplied with ‘Deluxe’ trim which included chrome bumpers, a heater/demister (lucky passengers) and twin sun visors up front. Its 49bhp came from the 1622cc B-Series petrol engine. Automatic transmission was an option, and so was the 1489cc B-Series diesel engine (not in conjunction with automatic). An identical engine offer to the Morris Oxford VI, in fact. Crossing the Welsh mountains with 14 hefty rugby players on board was no fun.
The 250 JU Coach, like other members of the 250 JU commercial range, suffered something of an identity crisis. Originally, in 1967, both Austin and Morris versions were marketed, followed by a single version branded and badged BMC during the period (1968-70) when BMC continued to exist as a division of the new British Leyland.
Then, from 1970, until replacement by Sherpa in 1974, they were badged Austin-Morris. At some point the rear lamps were changed from twin individual units to a cluster similar to the Mini pick-up, and there were detail changes to the grille and bumpers.
These ‘coaches’ faced competition from the rather more modern Bedford CF and Ford Transit equivalents, with British Leyland’s share of the overall light commercial market slumping badly during the early 1970s.
The ‘new Leyland van from Austin-Morris’ – swiftly renamed Sherpa – took over from both 250 JU and the smaller J4 van range in 1974, and British Leyland’s share of this market segment swiftly rose from a low of 7% to 14% two years later.
To the relief of some passengers, the Sherpa could be ordered as both a ‘crewbus’ and ‘minibus’ – the latter featuring the side door that the UK market 250 JU Coach had lacked.