The General Post Office (GPO) had long-favoured Morris vans both for Royal Mail and Telephones duties, and this loyalty was maintained throughout the BMC era and right into the early 1970s.
Following a brief dalliance with Bedford, BL products were again purchased for much of the 1980s. Indeed, the Sherpa van remained popular with Royal Mail following the sale of the Freight Rover division in 1987, and its successors – the LDV Pilot and Convoy – can still be seen on postal duties to this very day…
Car derived vans
The car-based mailvans have included the once-ubiquitous Morris Minor and rarely-seen Austin Maestro…
Though the Series Z van – based on the pre-war Morris Eight – was still in production when BMC was formed in 1952, it was soon to be superseded by the ubiquitous Morris Minor. BMC’s breakthrough model, the Mini, also entered service with the Royal Mail in van form…
Morris Eight Series Z
In 1940, the long-serving pre-war Morris Minor mailvans gave way to the Series Z, which featured a larger version of the standard coachbuilt body grafted onto the Morris front end; very soon, however, the factory-built panel van had to be accepted by the GPO. Deliveries continued until 1953, when the Series Z was replaced by the familiar, post-war Morris Minor.
Morris O-type (Minor) The post-war Morris Minor was the GPO’s standard small mailvan from 1953 until it went out of production in 1972. This view shows one of the original 1953 delivery, with its distinctive black rubber wings (which could shake off minor scrapes without the need for costly bodywork repairs) and split windscreen. Later deliveries, such as that pictured below, had red-painted, metal wings and one-piece windscreens.
The GPO’s first batches of 50 Minivans were delivered in 1960 and 1963, following the purchase of this prototype in 1959. The device on the back door is a locking bar to improve security, which was fitted to new mailvans up to 1971. Minivans were not popular as mailvans, as their low height made getting in and out of them tedious for postmen. When the Morris Minor went out of production, BL only had the Minivan available initially so the Post Office bought large numbers between 1972 and 1974, before adopting the Bedford HA between 1975 and 1978. Finally, a small batch of 25 Minivans was bought in 1981, although some of these were stock-piled, with the last of them not being registered until as late as January 1984.
This example has a detachable roof-mounted extension to increase its carrying capacity.
Based on the Austin A55 Cambridge, the ½-ton van sat above the ¼-ton Minor-based van in BMC’s commercial range, with both these models being available in Austin and Morris versions. It was produced until 1971, when it was replaced by the Marina-based 7cwt and 10cwt vans.
With the demise of the Minor and the fact that the Marina wasn’t ready to replace it immediately, the Post Office turned briefly to the Minivan for its small mailvan (see above). However, a batch of 500 Morris Marinas was ordered for mailvan work in 1973. The Post Office returned to BL for its mailvans in 1979, buying Marinas and Itals from 1979 until 1983.
Numbers of Marina mailvans were 2300 in 1979, 140 in 1980, 2000 in 1981 and 600 in 1982 (440 models) followed by 2607 Itals in 1982 and 780 in 1983.
This view shows a pair of 1980 Morris Marina mailvans at Kelso, repainted in Scottish Datapost livery.
This staged brochure shot was largely wishful thinking on the part of Austin Rover, as Maestro vans were not widely used by Royal Mail. In 1984, Royal Mail decided to switch to diesel engines for its small mailvans, and both Ford Escorts and Austin Maestros were tried. However, just 70 examples were purchased: the Maestros were considered too noisy, so the Ford Escort went on to become the standard small mailvan for the next seventeen years.
This boxy FL2-based mailvan underwent trials with the Post Office at the beginning of 1967, to see whether the car’s much-vaunted turning circle would make it a worthwhile basis for a delivery vehicle. It seems the idea was scuppered by the van’s tall rear bodywork, which while offering an impressive 200 cu ft load capacity, was found to make the van unstable when fully loaded. Needless to say, it was consequently not adopted for service.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Royal Mail’s bright red Morris J4, LD and BMC EA vans were a common sight Britain’s streets. In the mid-Seventies, the Sherpa got off to a slow start, but its successor, the LDV Pilot, went on to become the archetypal mailvan.
The Post Office bought both the standard Morris LD02 with factory-built bodywork, and a heavier version as a chassis-cab for bodying with coachbuilt bodywork. This view shows one of the larger versions fitted with plywood and fibreglass bodywork, photographed outside London’s Euston railway station. An LD mailvan had a starring role in The Who’s Mod-fest Quadrophenia, when it crushed the beloved scooter of the central character Jimmy.
Inset is a model of the LD van from the Lledo/Vanguard range (LLE DG71005), one of several models in Royal Mail livery which can be purchased from Roxley Models.
Austin Morris EA
Royal Mail bought the EA van in both 345/350 and 420/440 variants throughout its production run. Illustrated here is one of the special high-roof versions bought in 1971 and 1973-81 for use as a 360cf. mailvan. Pictured in Glasgow in May 1973 with some of the earlier coachbuilt LDs in the background, and a J4 bringing up the rear.
The Morris J4 replaced the earlier Morris JB in 1961 and they were bought for use as mailvans up to 1974. Early examples had petrol engines but this was soon superseded by the diesel version.
In succeeding the J4, the Sherpa should have been assured a favourable reception by Royal Mail. However, delivery of its first order for 325 Sherpas, placed in 1974, was delayed until the following year, forcing the company to buy Commer PBs instead. This lead to Royal Mail returning to Commer for its vans each year from 1976 to 1978.
BL returned to favour in 1979 with both Sherpas and Marinas being bought for Royal Mail duties. This marked the beginning of a long-standing alliegance, and the Royal Mail Sherpa soon became a familiar sight on Britain’s roads. Indeed, its successor – the LDV Pilot – can still be seen in regular service with the Royal Mail today.
Photographed in Hereford in 1979, this is one of Royal Mail’s first batch of 325 Sherpa 150 cu ft mailvans, which were badged simply as Sherpa 215s. These were the only ones delivered with the old gilt ROYAL MAIL lettering. The one illustrated subsequently received the later double-line lettering carried by the remaining 550 vans from the 1975 delivery.
This view shows the rear of a 1980 Sherpa – note the solid rear windows specified in this size of mailvan.
And early K2-series Sherpa, featuring body-coloured bumpers and window grills.
Freight Rover Sherpa This is a Sherpa Electric (note the heavier wheels and the underslung batteries), from the mid-1980s Freight Rover Sherpa 200 range, examples of which were also sold to several utility companies. In 1984, the Post Office decided to have a major trial of battery-electric propulsion, so it bought 80 such vans divided between the Sherpa and the Bedford CF. Unfortunately, hills proved to be too much for the electrics, and the vans frequently discharged their batteries before reaching the end of the delivery or collection round.
This page was compiled by Declan Berridge, based on information and photographs kindly provided 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...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)
- Opinion : Why Land Rover has done the right thing - 10 September 2019
- The cars : Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 development story - 1 September 2019
- The cars : Hillman Avenger development story - 1 September 2019