The vans : Leyland Sherpa (CV306) development story

We all know and love it from the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, but the Leyland Sherpa had a vitally important role in life beyond that – to beat Ford’s all-conquering Transit.

Keith Adams tells the story of its development and then evolution into the Leyland-DAF 200-400 Series.

Sherpa: A hardy Leyland Transit challenger…

Austin-Morris Sherpa

By the late 1960s, BLMC’s offerings in the van market were becoming very old hat indeed: the J4 was long in the tooth, and the JU, while better than the J2, was not much loved in the trade either. The company’s LCV panel van market share was dropping off rapidly, as the more modern Ford Transit and Bedford CF vans muscled in.

The idiosyncratic Commer PB (with a car track under a wide van body) – so much loved by the GPO, or so it seemed – was about the only van that BLMC could beat on product terms.

Stan Dews, an ex-Longbridge Engineer who had previously left for the bright lights at Ford, becoming a key Engineer in the Transit programme, was lured back to Longbridge to take on, among other things, the solution to BLMC’s panel van problem. Dews soon set about his task of producing a new model with which BLMC could fight the successful new Ford.


First thoughts for a new Leyland van

His first concept, the Leyland CV300, used the 1800/2200 (ADO17) power packs for front drive and, as a result, was blessed with a superb low loading floor, very much like that of the Citroën HZ. But that was nixed by management spooked by trade restistance, which led to something more promising, but equally doomed.

Not daunted by this criticism, Dews then worked up a pure Transit clone, the CV154 (above): same package, better styling, didn’t look like a ‘piggy bank’. However, when the investment numbers were added up, they came to £8 million – adjudged too much for a van.

By this time, BLMC’s LCV division was losing market share hand over fist and was down to something like 7% of the panel van market. In desperation, Dews cast around the parts bin of the existing J4, JU and car ranges to see which pressings and running gear could be adapted for a ‘bitsa’.

The Sherpa is born

Sherpa prototypes undergoing pre-production testing in Finland. The man responsible for its conception, Stan Dews, is wearing the hat, next to him is Brian Hanley, while Ken Daniels is in the background. No doubt, they're contemplating how to dig-out his van...
Sherpa prototypes undergoing pre-production testing in Finland. The man responsible for its conception, Stan Dews, is wearing the hat, next to him is Brian Hanley, while Ken Daniels is in the background. No doubt, they’re contemplating how to dig-out his van…

The answer that he soon formulated was:

  • JU underframe and axles
  • J4 side panels and roof
  • Marina 1.8-litre B-Series petrol engine plus an uprated 1.8-litre version of the old 1.5-litre B-series diesel
  • Austin 3-Litre version of the C-Series gearbox, with an overdrive option
  • Marina heater unit
  • Mini exterior door handles
  • Austin 2200 steering wheel
  • Instrument nacelle from Marina van… and so on…

In fact, wherever existing parts could be used, they were, and no existing option was overlooked. Stir into the pot whatever new body pressings were needed to knit it all together, and voila! – the CV306 was born.

Initial cost estimates said £1million and, on the strength of such favourable financial forecasts, the project was given the green light. Of course, Dews naturally kept trying to add in more goodies, much to the chagrin of the Product Planning and Finance Departments.

The CV306 very much needed to be designed and built on a shoestring – and every addition to the basic concept that Dews added would tip the finance further away from the original and appealing £1m estimate.

Selling the new mid-sized van

Marketing the CV306 posed an interesting question – the package was somewhat different to the all-conquering Ford Transit, and so the marketing pitch of the new van would also need to be somewhat different.

The official line was that LCV should aim the CV306 slightly below Transit on a ‘value for money’ ticket and also exploit a tighter package that was narrower, and therefore a bit easier to manoeuvre in narrow streets and yards, while still being competitive on actual ‘cube’ – with flatter sides compared to the somewhat wasteful, styled curves of the Transit.

The CV306’s relatively narrow body was seen as one of its major selling points – and, to be fair, it was in many ways a more pleasant van to drive in the urban sprawl than its Ford counterpart. Within BLMC at the time, there was also a certain amount of the ‘it doesn’t matter what it looks like, as long as it works’ attitude about the CV306, despite the fact that one of the Transit’s main selling points at the time was its car-like looks. Regarding the ‘back to basics’ approach to CV306 styling and implementation, an insider put it in these terms: ‘I railed against it, but was told to shut up!’

Making it more car-like

As demonstrated by rival products such as the Ford Transit and Bedford CF, the J4/JU’s traditional forward-control layout was becoming unfashionable, not only due the poor frontal impact protection it afforded but also as it tended to result in higher servicing costs.

Mounting the Sherpa’s engine out in front, along with the attendant extension in wheelbase, brought the further benefit that the front seats could be moved forward by a few inches.

This, along with the relocation of the spare wheel and the fact that the sliding cabin doors – where fitted – now opened externally, meant that a remarkable 30cu ft of extra capacity was liberated in the otherwise unaltered, J4-sourced loadbay, thus taking the Sherpa’s total capacity to 190cu ft.

Getting it into production

Once the CV306 package was settled, the process of productionisation continued. The Longbridge Body Engineering Department produced some ‘hard point’ drawings showing the panelling required to cover the new front engine position. Amazingly, these drawings were taken off to start tooling with little more than a cursory makeover from Harris Mann’s department.

So, it wasn’t really ‘styled’ at all. Some smoothing off took place on the way to production, the roof panel lost some of its fancy J4 detailing, but essentially the CV306 passed from drawing board to production line with little modification at all – perhaps, in retrospect, part of the Leyland Sherpa’s appeal was in its honest, no-nonsense styling.

Because the majority of CV306’s componentry was so well sorted to start with, there were no particular problems during the development phase. There was always a bit of propshaft vibration noise, but this was considered par for the course on a cheap commercial vehicle, and wasn’t addressed until LDV undertook their ‘Bulldog’ facelift in 1994.

Leyland Sherpa 1975

One of the things that Stan Dews managed to pull off was to develop a proper channel-frame chassis version for the heavier-payload Sherpas – the chassis cab versions.

Dews did not want to go down the Transit route, where chassis cabs were made up by sticking top hat pressings onto the regular underframe stiffeners. Because of this one insistence that was allowed to follow through from drawing board to production line, Leyland was provided with a highly adaptable platform.

Stan Dews had been proven correct and, even latterly, LDV continued to exploit the ease of special body building which resulted from having a proper chassis. This was one of the things that pushed the investment budget up to £3 million, but this was still small potatoes considering the subsequent uplift in sales that LCV experienced – to 14% of the market.

Brand confusion at launch

Changing face of the Sherpa: TOP LEFT: As originally launched; silver-finish grille with LEYLAND lettering. TOP RIGHT: Second thoughts: SHERPA replaces LEYLAND, while grille becomes matt black. BOTTOM LEFT: Austin-Morris badge is added to grille, and positions of sidelights and indicators are reversed. BOTTOM RIGHT: Freight Rover badge replaces Austin-Morris one in the final incarnation of the original Sherpa design.
Changing face of the Sherpa: TOP LEFT: As originally launched; silver-finish grille with LEYLAND lettering. TOP RIGHT: Second thoughts: SHERPA replaces LEYLAND, while grille becomes matt black. BOTTOM LEFT: Austin-Morris badge is added to grille, and positions of sidelights and indicators are reversed. BOTTOM RIGHT: Freight Rover badge replaces Austin-Morris one in the final incarnation of the original Sherpa design

John Barber did create something of a hitch in the marketing of the new van at launch time – he overruled the name Sherpa, insisting that the new van should be given the extremely cumbersome title of: ‘The new Leyland Van from Austin Morris.’

After six months of general trade and customer confusion, the Sherpa name was re-instated, and it never looked back. Things were helped by the fact that Ford couldn’t meet demand for the Transit, while the Bedford CF experienced problems with its slant-four engine.

When BL was restructured into Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph divisions in the late 1970s, the Sherpa's grille gained an Austin-Morris badge. Its rear badging proudly boasted that it was now a Morris product, although publicity material never actually referred to it as a "Morris Sherpa". Rather more significantly, this also marked the point at which the 1.8-litre B-series engine was replaced by the 1.7- and 2.0-litre O-series, in a move which mirrored developments in the contemporary Marina and Princess models.
When BL was restructured into Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph divisions in the late 1970s, the Sherpa’s grille gained an Austin-Morris badge. Its rear badging proudly boasted that it was now a Morris product, although publicity material never actually referred to it as a ‘Morris Sherpa’. Rather more significantly, this also marked the point at which the 1.8-litre B-Series engine was replaced by the 1.7- and 2.0-litre O-Series, in a move which mirrored developments in the contemporary Marina and Princess models

Sherpa vans don’t quit, and neither do their drivers

As one ex-employee related, ‘I liked driving Sherpas – reckon the handling was better than the Marina’s! The overdrive spec was good – we used the Triumph switch in the top of the gearknob, and it worked on third and fourth, so you could play tunes and keep it on the cam – good fun!’

And on the subject of the diesel version, ‘the B-Series diesel Sherpa was the first diesel I ever drove – didn’t realise at first that you had to use a much bigger throttle movement just to get away from rest, but once acclimatised, I enjoyed the feeling of relentless progress and slogging power of a diesel.’ Remarkably, BL would also claim that the Sherpa was more aerodynamically efficient than most contemporary passenger cars.

The Sherpa soon earned itself a reputation for toughness, no doubt helped by the world-wide exposure it received as the result of its cameo appearance in the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me (below), where it displayed tenacious stamina to keep going across inhospitable desert terrain, despite having been torn to shreds by the steel-toothed villain, Jaws.

Leyland Sherpa - Spy Who Loved Me

New engines, a better look

1978 saw the range revised, with the O-Series petrol engines replacing the long-in-the-tooth B-Series, although the old B-Series diesel unit soldiered on. A short while later, the Sherpa was treated to a Morris badge, along with some very minor cosmetic revisions.

Despite these improvements, as the 1980s dawned things were not looking good for the Sherpa. Ford’s recently relaunched Transit had a commanding hold on the market, taking a 28% share, while the Sherpa could manage only a pitiful 8%, placing it behind rivals from Bedford and Dodge.

However, BL did not give up on the model. Instead, in 1981, it set about restructuring its light commercial operation, creating the Freight Rover division as part of the Land Rover group. At first, the only outward evidence of this move was the addition of the new Freight Rover badge to the Sherpa’s grille, but much wider-ranging developments were to follow.

Moving with the times: K2 arrives

Selling the Sherpa: some of the eye-catching images with which the K2 version was launched in 1982.
Selling the Sherpa: some of the eye-catching images with which the K2 version was launched in 1982

In 1982, things started to happen for the Sherpa. First fruit of the development programme was the K2 facelift, which gave it a smart new nose, with a Range Rover-style grille and mildly revised panel work. More significantly, the K2 also benefited from some structural alterations to the still J4-derived rear bodywork.

This was most evident in the now-vertical trailing edge of the cabin doors and, as well as resulting in a tidier appearance, the changes meant that for the first time the Sherpa van could be offered with a sliding loadbay door capable of taking a standard-width pallet.

Much was made of this new feature in the launch advertising, with the advertising agency – Dorland – enlisting an African elephant to demonstrate the degree to which accessibility had been improved. Dorland also revived the James Bond connection by securing the services of stunt driver Tim Condren (who worked on the Bond films) to drive the van off a 4ft ramp, creating an enduring image for anyone who saw the national press advertisements at the time (above).

The range expands

All this exposure helped to boost the Sherpa’s image considerably and sales began to improve steadily, helped by keen pricing. In preparation for the imminent demise of the ancient EA van, the factory offered a new ‘Hi Capacity’ walk-thru body built on either the 255 or 280 chassis-cab, and yielding an impressive 330cu ft loadspace.

The original, integral-bodied pick-up had now been dropped in favour of a drop-side pick-up built on the Sherpa chassis-cab. Engine availability continued unaltered, with 1.7- and 2.0-litre O-Series petrol units, the 1.8-litre B-Series diesel and the option of a Landi-Hartog LPG conversion, first introduced at the launch of Freight Rover the year before.

Another curiosity of this era was the four-wheel-drive Sherpa (below), brought about as a result of Freight Rover having been positioned within the Land Rover group. Offered in van, minibus and chassis-cab forms and intended to appeal to the likes of construction companies for use on building sites, it unfortunately didn’t find enough customers to ensure a permanent place in the line-up.

Getting high: The K2 facelift saw the Sherpa offered in "Hi Capacity" and 4-wheel-drive versions.
Getting high: The K2 facelift saw the Sherpa offered in “Hi Capacity” and 4-wheel-drive versions

Within a couple of years of the launch of the K2, as the newly profitable Freight Rover was gearing up to enter the private sector, the Sherpa took another leap forward. The introduction of the third-generation version was marked by a further mild facelift, featuring square headlamps, new bumpers and re-positioned indicators.

The range was now divided into the 200 Series, which retained the original, J4-derived rear bodywork, and a wide-bodied 300 Series, with all-new rear bodywork and a twin-wheel option. This meant that the range now encompassed gross vehicle weights (GVWs) from 2.0 to 3.5 tonnes.

While the 200 Series retained the original Sherpa’s 190cu ft capacity, the 300 Series offered rather more. With short- and long-wheelbase options, the standard capacities rise to 268cu ft and 316cu ft respectively – but the long-wheelbase Sherpa was also offered with a high-roof option, taking its capacity to over 400cu ft, a figure which comfortably eclipsed that of the even the larger of the two Leyland-era EA vans.

Coming of age: with the 200 series (left) and 300 series (right) models, the Sherpa gained a new lease of life; these models are still being built by LDV, in somewhat modified form, as the Pilot and Convoy respectively.
Coming of age: with the 200 Series (left) and 300 Series (right) models, the Sherpa gained a new lease of life – these models were subsequently built by LDV, in somewhat modified form, as the Pilot and Convoy respectively

Even bigger…

For those who needed yet more space, a factory Luton-style body was offered, built on either the standard or wide-bodied chassis-cabs, providing capacities of 400cu ft or 550cu ft.

The chassis-cab also formed the basis for a narrow- and wide-bodied drop-side pick-ups, available with either short- or long-wheelbases. Of course, the chassis-cab could also be ordered on its own so that bespoke bodywork could be fitted – again, it was offered in a choice of widths and lengths, but with the further option of either single or double cab.

Passenger vehicles were also catered for: while the 200 Series continued to be offered as a 13-seat minibus or 14-seat crewbus, the new 300 Series spawned a range of standard mini-coaches offering up to 18 (more comfortable) seats. Freight Rover even had a stab at the MPV market, with its Sherpa Combi, but a graduated, two-tone paint job and snazzy body-side graphics couldn’t conceal its commercial origins.

Sherpa Electric

Extending the Sherpa outwards

While the O-Series petrol and B-Series diesel engines continued as before, the 2.5-litre Land Rover diesel was also offered on the 300 Series models. Alternatively, customers could still opt for the Landi-Hartog LPG conversion and Freight Rover also introduced an electric-powered version of the K2-series Sherpa, which offered a range of 50-60 miles on an overnight charge.

Developed in conjunction with Lucas Chloride EV Systems, the Sherpa Electric offered a payload of 950kg for its GVW of 3.5 tonnes, but with all of its 36 six-volt batteries located underneath the van’s floor, its load space was identical to that of the standard 200 series, at 190cu ft.

It was around this time that the Sherpa attracted the attention of the Police. Towards the end of 1984, London’s Metropolitan force placed a contract with Freight Rover for the development of a ‘Rapid Intervention Personnel Carrier’, or fast minibus. Taking the high-roofed 300 Series Sherpa as a base, Freight Rover managed to squeeze a Land Rover-sourced 3.5-litre V8 power unit into engine bay, allied to a ZF automatic transmission.

As well as the uprating of various mechanical components that this engine transplant required, a number of further modifications to the standard specification had been specified, such as a reinforced roof and bullet-proof glass all round. Despite the significant amount of engineering work this involved, the contract was completed within a year, and the first V8-engined Sherpas hit the beat in August 1985. Other customers soon followed, with the V8-engine eventually powering the likes of Sherpa-based ambulances and even delivery vans.

Conclusion – three decades of determination

Millennial LDV Pilot: the Sherpa redefined. Was that dip above the front bumper the result of a conscious decision to create a visual link with the Sherpa's orginal design?
Millennial LDV Pilot: the Sherpa redefined. Was that dip above the front bumper the result of a conscious decision to create a visual link with the Sherpa’s original design?

In short, with the launch of the third-generation models the Sherpa had truly come of age. The only shame was that it would not be the Rover Group who would reap the benefits. Since the creation of Freight Rover in 1981, the Sherpa had pretty much begun to live a separate existence from the car divisions.

Following the aborted sale of Land Rover (including Freight Rover) to General Motors in January 1986, the vans division followed Leyland Trucks into the private sector in 1987, finally being absorbed into the Dutch firm DAF in 1989. The Leyland-DAF-badged vans continued in production throughout this period and remained so when the company became LDV.

In 1989, the 300 Series became the 400 Series, gaining the option of air suspension, while in 1996, the range was facelifted once again (this time under the project name, Bulldog), to become the Pilot (formerly 200 Series) and Convoy (400 Series) – and they remained in production until 2005, to be replaced by a van heavily based on an ill-fated Daewoo proposal (below).

The models which lasted until 2005 maintained much commonality with the Sherpa, proving not everything that came out of Austin-Morris during the 1970s would not be successful on the market.

After a long an distinguished life, a new era was ushered in by the LDV Maxus van. (Picture: What Van? magazine)
After a long and distinguished life, a new era was ushered in by the LDV Maxus van
Keith Adams


  1. And the Maxus could have been such a good vanif a little more money had been spent. The 95 bhp 3.5 tonne version would keep up with the sprinters and Transits in the outside lane, while the 120 bhp one left them catching flies from the slipstream as it left them behind

    • LDV also ‘sold themselves short’ by failing to offer an extra-long Maxus with some of its extra length incorporated in, say, rear overhang. This would have offset the width reduction over its successful 16-seater Convoy predecessor.

  2. I used to drive those old shaped Sherpa’s for Royal Mail, not so long ago, maybe 5 years? Anyway, they were absolutely dreadful, would wheelspin at the mere mention of rain, and were completely useless in the snow.

  3. In the late 70’s my father joined a bakery division in Leicester carrying out door to door deliveries of bread and groceries.After a few years in a J4 box van an order of new Sherpas came in and TBO743S,a 185 with sliding doors was his new ride.After 4 years and 48000 miles the engine was on 3,and the body was well ventilated.SUT162X a diesel followed which lasted better.Fond memories.

  4. hi this truck is one of my favourite trucks of the decade and i want to know where i can get this dashboard to buy thanks form vishal meghbaran

  5. By 2005, this was easily the most obsolete vehicle produced. The ’78-’95 Merc T1 was far more refined and civilsed as was the Mk3 Transit (DI diesel apart). On the plus sude the were easy to work on, but you needed to work on them often and rustproofing was dire even by LCV standards.

    They seem to be rapidly moving to extinction already, an early victim of low resale prices. Although I still miss my ’94 ambulance even though it did attempt to strand me in every country in the European Union.

  6. @Gav: Rustproofing was certainly better than Mercedes vans of that era, it wasn’t uncommon to see a nearly completely rotten Sprinter by the time it was 5-6 years old (I know from personal experience. At least the Convoy/Pilot range didn’t rust till they were 10 years old or so usually.

  7. Any idea why they named the ‘K2’ version after a telephone box?

    Something to do with it being Buzby’s favourite fleet van?

    • I’ve always thought it was a reference to the mountain known as K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. It’s called K2 because – slightly oddly – it doesn’t have a name in any local language, but it’s one of two prominent peaks in the Karakoram range on the Kashmir/China border (I just looked all this up).

      So – the first big revision of the Sherpa was called K2, not Mk2 or Series 2, because K2 is a mountain, and a Sherpa climbs mountains. Clever stuff!

      However, that’s all my own interpretation. I have never seen any official explanation for the K2 designation, which in any case was never used as an actual name for the vans. Like ADO16 or SD1, it was a factory code which ended up being used by enthusiasts as an all-purpose reference to the vehicle range.

      Theoretically, later revisions should have been called K3, K4, etc, but as far as I know this wasn’t done.

  8. Steve you’re right on early Sprinters they were awful and didn’t even have a separate chassis so the MoT man needed expensive repairs.

    I wonder if they’ve cracked it with the current generation of LCVs, I haven’t spotted a rusty Crafter or Mk6 Transit yet. Whoever does manage it should be blessed with great residuals, although maybe declining diesel lifetimes will simply mean that an easy to spot fairly inexpensive problem is replaced with something far more insidious.

  9. @8, Bangernomic Gav,

    If the then 4 year old Sprinter I drove for work was anything to go by (06), then they still havent got it cracked. And the bosses nearly new Sprinter van leaked rain through the overhead courtesy light.

    I haven’t seen any crusty Rafters though.

  10. what i want to know is ,,on my 1978 camper i have the 1.8 diesel ,but it has the perol vacuum system ,i heard you can change this but how??? ,,the total ldv site is down and scotish vanners sends me to some stupid bloody clairvoint site HELP???

  11. Certainly the LDV 200 manufactured in 86 signified a real low in production.

    In a vehicle which was expected to spend its life carrying weight, LDV management decided to save money by fitting glass-fiber rear leaf springs.

    This perfectly demonstrates the management attitude which was to cut costs at all costs!

  12. Im going to look at a leyland sherpa camper van 1981. Claims not rusty, just went through an MOT with no advisories, tidy inside. No leaks, no pulling whilst driving, no big black smoke clouds, or grey ones either….
    any advice?

  13. answer to Trevor, above – because it was desirable to keep the same brake system and servo set up on the Diesel Sherpa as on the Petrol versions, a ‘gizmo’ was developed by Austin Morris Engineering. It was basically a bit of plumbing that created the required vacuum from the inlet manifold (as a diesel doesn’t have a throttle, as such, you don’t get the normal suction effect). They were very proud of it and asked me to submit it for a Design Award. gAt about the same time, I submitted the ‘ATC valve’ – the bimetallic-strip air intake gubbins that was used on most of the AM vehicles of the time to speed warm-up from cold, but allow colder air for better volumetric efficiency once warm. The Award went to the ATC, but I don’t think the judges could quite understand what the Sherpa Diesel Vacuum device was about!

  14. I had the extreme misfortune of having to drive a Sherpa, it was the last perkins engine model before they went over to pug engines. Being a non turbo diesel engine it was as flat as a pancake, as well as having the worst steering play I’ve ever encountered in a vehicle ever!! how these things ever passed an mot god only knows….And don’t get me started about the handling in icy conditions…lets just say that if I was to sit on a lump of coal whilst driving one of these things you could expect it to de a diamond by journeys end!!. There were only two good things about these vehicles. Fuel economy was pretty amazing considering it had to be driven pedal to the floor to make any headway in modern day traffic and the other thing was the door handle to get out bloody thing!!!

  15. Our company runs a dozen or so LDV Convoy minibuses, some now 12 years old and most around 200k miles now, they replaced Ford Transit and Merc 0800 models and have proved to be excellent motors. They don’t rot like the Fords or Mercs that developed serious corrosion in 3 years or so from new. The Convoys are easy and cheap to maintain and have been very reliable, particularly the older 2.5 Ford Banana engined ones.The later 2.4 Ford Duratorque powered ones do suffer starter motor problems due to metal filings shed from the duel mass flywheel being attracted to the starter motor magnets(a problem common to the similar engined Transit)The only other problems we experience are the front seat mounts which could benefit from some extra reinforcing of the cab floor and door lock mechanisms which wear fairly fast. The 2.5 engined machines are noisier running and don’t have the speed (cica 65mph) of the Duratorque machines (70mph+)But the 2.5s pull better from low revs. Fuel consumption is around 27 mpg. We have one late plated (06 year)example (last of the line) built under the Gaz ownership years (completely different instrument panel to all the others) (Russian?)and that is well rapid (85+ (the speedo stops at 85)).

  16. I have had an ex Royal Mail 7-seater for the past 7 years. It has the 2.5 Ford engine. It is a superb workhorse. I also use it to tow my 1.5 ton caravan – it has been to the furthest north point in Europe (North Cape Norway), furthest west and furthest south (Tarifa in Spain)all in 12 months. I have also taken it to Austria skiing three timers, twice with the caravan, once at -20C snow? absolutely no problem. It will cruise at 75 all day but a little slower with the caravan (especially up hill!) Reliable, cheap to run, superb. Shame they stopped making them.

  17. Hello!
    I’m writing from italy, I receveid as a present a Leyland Sherpa 255 caravan, year 1982, 1798 cc diesel engine.
    The engine is very good and so is the inside but i’ve some problems with brakes and transmission.
    I need to find the 4 brake cilinders and the transmission cruise but it’s quite difficult here in Italy because its almost an unique caravan :))…
    Anybody knows how and were can I find them in some eglish e-commerce web site?
    Is there any used parts seller, who sells out of britain I can ask for?
    Or is there any distributor in italy?
    I’d like to adjust it and use it, all inside is good and works perfectly!
    Thank you very very much!

  18. I run a Stag with a Rover V8 3.5l which I am told came out of a Sherpa van (please don’t tell anyone). It runs fine except I only get 20mpg (with a Holley 4 barrel carb) and as it is a light car I am wondering what fuel consumption was while in the Sherpa. Any one any ideas please?

    • I had an ex-police riot van Sherpa with a 3.5 V8 an a manual box. 8-12mpg. Only reason I sold it! Was hilarious to drive.

  19. answer to MissMoppet

    The V8 Leyland DAF 400 did somewhere between 8mpg on emergencies and perhaps more 12mpg in slightly more careful use. We used them for a few years as Ambulances with manual gearboxes. Very under braked, no power steering, hard rear suspension, and always broken down are the worst memories. Wheelspin in 3rd gear, sideways action, and the deep bellow of the engine under heavy acceleration and load where highlights, and it made the vehicle rock from side to side when the throttle was blipped when stationary. Seems like another life time ago now.

  20. Looking for a little advice! I have a 1987 Freight Rover Sherpa 250 camper van. I’ve fully restored the body and camper but the engine (2l petrol) is goosed! I’m looking to convert it to a diesel and as we take it to France need economy and reliability so was wandering if a more recent LDV diesel would fit (loads on eBay!). I know there are a few incarnations that were fitted to the LDVs – what would be the easiest solution and what else besides the engine am I likely to need – geabox etc.

    This seems to be the place of knowledge for all things Sherpa van!



  21. I have run my DW8 engined Pilot from nearly new. It is slow but always gets there. It is a proper workhorse and not an embarrassing thing to drive like the crazy offerings of today like VW Transporters with lowered suspensions and 20 inch alloys that break a spring if you put any load in them.

  22. I owned a ’93 leyland daf 200 with the Perkins diesel. It was reliable but so slow it was embarrassing. Horrible steering despite new kingpins, zero traction in the wet/ice. Having owned a transit from the same year, the 200 must have been dirt cheap to be remotely marketable.
    Mercedes T1/207 vans were equally dire.

  23. Hi everyone… Have a chance to get a very tidy freight Rover era Sherpa 230 with factory camper conversion.. it is ok body wise…abub ble or two, but a super camper and cute in an ugly sort of way…
    The engine though basically functionally fine is awful…slow noisy etc ,just an old generation diesel…
    I have heard of the pugget XUD going in, and as I had a 1.7 305 that I scrapped at 500000 miles for other reasons, the motor was fine, I am pretty keen on seeing if I can do the conversion.
    The Sherpa has a 4 speed and overdrive which seems ok, or should I try and get the XUD with an inline gearbox as a unit…?
    Conversion plates or kits available..? All info gratefully received Thanx in advance J
    ps because its difficult here to change specs of vehicles radically, I will have to stay with a 2 litre – ish 4 cyl diesel, and the XUD is in so many different vehicles its common and cheap in the scrapper’s.

  24. The Leyland Sherpa was number three behind the Transit and the CF. I believe there were 2.0 five speed manual transmission versions available.

    • Yes Graham, there were 2.0 five speed versions. Petrol O-series engines were used in the Freight Rover 200 and the last years also offered the MDI (O-series/Perkins Prima) diesel. These both continued in the Leyland Daf 200s right up to the 1993 change to the LDV Pilot which had the 1.9 Peugeot XUD, Less economical but a bit quieter. As far as I remember the O-series engines were mated to the LT77 5-speed box and the Pugs had the R380
      The MDi although a bit underpowered is a very reliable and economical engine. As used in Maestros and (with Turbo) Montegos.

      Bit late for Jonathan, but the XUD would be a very major job to fit to a Freight Rover, whereas the MDi would be quite easy. Assuming yours is the 1.8 B-series diesel, and not the Mdi already, you can either adapt/make a back plate,(assuming you don’t get a Sherpa Mdi engine with one on)to fit the overdrive box or get the engine and 5 speed box from a Leyland Daf 200. you will also need the prop shaft and centre bearing, and the cross member which holds the centre bearing, or get your existing propshaft remade to fit. I can’t remember which is the longer propshaft, but I think you need it cut down.

      Jason, I assume it’s also too late for you, but you already have most of the bits you need for fitting the MDi as your O-series petrol is basically the same, but you will have to flip the backplate over and cut a chunk out of the bell housing as the starter is on the wrong side.

  25. My 1978 Camper started with the 1.8 Petrol, switched to the 1.8 Diesel (with the vacuum pump off a 1.9 Pilot as I was missing the clever adaptor Trevor and Ian were talking about further up ) then to a knackered Montego MDi with the dead Turbo removed, and now on a much happier MDi out of a Leyland Daf 200, all linked to either the original 4 speed or the Overdrive 4-speed I replaced it with which brings the ratio’s up to a point were the MDi can rev high enough to drive the original Diff with ratios for the B-series petrol. 75 is as fast as I’d want to take it anyhow, even though I’ve upgraded to Disc brakes on the front by replacing the entire front axle with one off a 2002 Pilot.
    Don’t know why people complain about them to drive, I enjoy it, although the noise level is pretty high.

  26. Any chance of a feature on the Bedford CF, which was Britain’s second biggest selling van in the seventies and early eighties?

  27. A bit confused regarding the CV154 prototype on the one hand the article says it was a pure Transit clone, yet at the same time mentions it featured the same package as the FWD CV300 prototype.

  28. Hi! We have a 1984 Sherpa campervan, its amazing but like an idiot I have lost the keys. Obviously I am not popular right now with the other half and we really need to find either the pattern so we can get a new set cut (ideal outcome!) or a replacement barrel and key from the same period so that it would clip in. Can anyone help at all? Getting desperate and the other halfs patience is wearing out! Cheers!

  29. great article and well written,, i think the sherpa had a love hate relationship with its drivers mainly due to its limited improvements? As the article says it used the same basic panels from the 1960s JU J2 etc until it ceased production in 2005! compared to the constant changing transits and mercedes the sherpa/200/pilots 400 etc became so dated they appeared almost embarrasing, but as a owner operator on paper compared to the competion they must have been appealing not only purchase price but on running costs, albeit at the expense of the poor driver!! i drove a 1989 200 with the perkins prima and after tampering with the fuel injection pump it managed 90mph plus,, however in later life i now suffer from titnus!! i recall the radio was pretty pointless as at anything over 50mph may as well have switched it off, it was a reliable van and covered in excess of 170,000 miles of abusive miles, i dont think any transit of the time could have tollerated the abuse that van took,

  30. 23ishs th June , 2016

    Dear Sir
    Leyland sharpa Van
    I have a Layland Sharpa 240 van since 1996 . Registered No of Motor Traffic Department ,Sri lanka is 27 sri 3669 . registered year is 1981 . The present condition of this van is very poor . body is decayed.
    Therefore , I want to repair . Engine is not essential.
    Essential Body parts are as follows,
    1. Full body
    2. Dash board
    3. Wheels
    4. Other parts without engine
    Please, inform me , the above parts prices with shipping & other full charges or expenses.

    yours faithfully
    Address :- Dinakara Mawatha,
    Sri Lanka.

  31. During the 1990s we were operating quite a number of 300 series with coachbuilt service bus bodies. These were powered by the 15J Land Rover 2.5 diesel engines. Reliable enough in a builders van, but on buses working 18 hrs a day 7 days a week, they could not stand the pace. An engine may last 2 years with replacing injector pipes weekly.

    We had to find an answer, as they were cheap to maintain, and the body costs were the major value. Other marques were too expensive at the time, and few available.

    We hit upon using imported Isuzu 4jb1 2.8 diesel units from Japan. These being similar to the turbo units in the Isuzu Trooper. Ours were Naturally aspirated units. With a conversion plate it matched up to the Rover box, and a mod to the flywheel, and other minor mods, it was perfect. Reliable, and better fuel consumption.

    We sold the engine as kit form to many operators in the uk, along with re powering all of our fleet of vehicles.

    It made a good usable vehicle and lasted a few years until we had to upgrade to Merecedes due to seating capacity.

  32. Hello! My Name is Christoph and I am from Germany. I have a very special question regarding the 3.5 litre V8 Freight Rover. How many of them have originally been fitted with this legendary V8-Engine? I am interrested in the numbers they produced and it seems to be impossible to obtain any Information about this van here in Germany as it is totally unknown… Maybe someone can help me and thanks in advance, Christoph

  33. Just over a year ago i purchased a sherpa van from Dingwall it’s a 1 family owned 20k genuine miles .after 1 yr the couple had windows fitted and a sink as they only used for camping. The van was used very little and I’m told after a few yrs the gentleman passed away. His son took the windows out of the van and returned it back to a panel van . Now bearing in mind that the van had been garaged all its life which kept it in remarkable condition. After a few yrs the grandson decided that he wanted the complete use of the garage as he has a building company and was not a classic van enthusiast this is how i came to be the new owner, my good friend has a coach painting business and he repaired and painted the sides back to the lovely harvest gold original colours and I’ve had put my logo on the van . I’ve been a classic van enthusiast since 1980 in which time I’ve owned a a morris minor pick -up a Bedford ca van a Bedford ca minibus now my leyland sherpa ill never sell this one . At the age of 67 i think this will be my last
    Hope you enjoyed my comments Regards Tom Mcnair

  34. As the rather remarkable Sherpa was essentially a bitza that went on to have a very long production life, had BMC been inclined would it have been possible for the company to have developed an earlier Sherpa analogue of some sort give or take a few years+?

  35. I also worked on the development of the composite springs, and there is an addition to the story of the brake steer being some 10 time worse.During the meeting process, all the tests conducted reproduced the loading conditions normally carried out for steel springs, and they passed perfectly. But, no-one looked at ALL the loading conditions. Normally a steel spring is much stiffer in longitudinal loading so these lads are rarely checked on rigs etc. When the van did not pass the brake steer testing towards the end of the process, I discovered the fact that the plastic springs were in fact stitching elastically under brake loading – exacerbating the brake tee condition. It was too late to adjust the plastic spring tooling etc, bit was easier to stiffen the axle beam, retiurnng to a status quo on overall deflection.

  36. Have just been watching the Netflix documentary series on the Three Mile island nuclear accident.

    In the third episode, there appears to be a Sherpa van in the background (at around 13 minutes 16 seconds). Did they ever go to the States ?

  37. I was lucky enough to be at launch of Maxus having been a LDV salesman. In many respects a harder sell than Convoy. But either way the writing was on the wall.Decades of under investment could never recover the situation. I did end up running two maxus my self once i moved on, had the basis to be a good product.

  38. I recently saw a mint condition K2 in a Lidl car park. Immaculate. I wish I had my phone on me to photograph it.

    This CV300 concept, using parts from the 1800/2200, would that have been a hydrolastic suspension set up? I would love to know how it would have faired in a van.

    • Belated reply to TonyB- I didn’t read this thread at the time- The C-Series gearbox* was basically commonised on the MGB, MGC and Austin 3 litre in the late 1960s – just without the remote shift on the 3 litre. The C Series gear train was also used in the ADO 17/ADO71 1800s and 2200s transverse gearboxes.
      *This wasn’t the same inline gearbox used on the earlier Big Austin/Wolseley/VCP/Healey 3 litres etc, but a sort of MkII version.

  39. One of the chassis engineers on the Sherpa was the lead chassis engineer on MGs RV8, ZT260 and SV. He was the Longbridge RWD specialist on account of having a Beetle when he became an Austin Apprentice. PHACT!

  40. Did any Sherpas ever get converted into ambulances as the market for ambulances in the seventies and eighties was dominated by Ford and Bedford, with some older BMC designs in use until the mid seventies? I always wonder if the poor engines fitted to most Sherpas then and the poor repuation British Leyland products had put off the NHS, who needed their ambulances to be as reliable as possible and able to accelerate quickly.

  41. I remember the V8 police sherpa vans from being a young copper in the late 80s/early 90s.
    The Saturday night special : )
    Lots of body rock when the throttle was blipped, great heater and could get a decent move on when pushed though quite low geared. Had to bump start one once when the battery was flat and we were called out – lucky I had a good set of pins on me : )

  42. @ Darren, Cumbria Constabulary had a V8 Sherpa in the nineties as a rapid response van. Quite a machine and no doubt able to get the police to a disorder very quickly, but had a terrible thirst for petrol and was expensive to maintain. Mostly plod were confined to their diesel Transits if a van was needed.

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