Vans : BMC’s Purpose built vans and pick-ups

Following the 1952 merger, BMC rationalised its van range by concentrating on the Morris models.


However, in order to keep their spearate Austin and Morris dealer chains supplied, they turned again to badge engineering, with certain vans being offered under both marques with just the badges and grilles differentiating them. In August 1968, the fledgling BLMC decided to rebrand the larger Austin- and Morris-badged vans (and light trucks) as BMCs; this policy lasted until 1970, when the J4 and JU vans became “Austin-Morris” products and the Leyland brand was finally applied to their larger stablemates.

When the Sherpa was launched in late 1974, it also carried the Leyland badge. However, a few years later, the decision was taken to sell all vans up to and including the Sherpa under the Morris brand. Then, in 1981, the Sherpa was moved to Land Rover division, under the newly-created Freight Rover brand, and four years later the Morris brand was dead.

Morris J-series

Hailing from the Morris empire prior to the 1952 merger, the J-series vans would form the backbone of BMC’s light commercial range right through to launch of the Sherpa in 1974.

Morris J-type 1949-1957
Morris JB-type1957-1960This forward-control, 10cwt van was clearly the product of pre-war thinking. It was powered by a side-valve engine driving through a three-speed gearbox, but offered little more than the more popular 10cwt car-derived Morris MCV. The JB-type of 1957 gained a more powerful, OHV engine and 4-speed gearbox, but retained the same overall appearance. It was replaced three years later by the J4.
Morris J-Type van
Morris J2 1956-1967
Also sold as Austin J2 and Austin 152The 15cwt J2 was BMC’s first unitary-construction van. It was also produced in pick-up, minibus and chassis-cab forms, with the latter proving popular as the basis for motor caravan conversions. The Morris and Austin versions of the J2 were differentiated by their frontal styling, with the former having a pressed steel interpretation of the “inverted heart” grille seen on the J-Type and LD vans, while the latter made do with a plainer, rectangular affair.Originally powered by the 1489cc B-series engine, the J2 later received the 1622cc version in 1961, when it was redesignated “J2-M16”. Diesel versions were also offered. In 1967, it was comprehensively redesigned and uprated to become the JU (see below). The J2’s core role in the market would pass to the revised J4, whose new payloads effectively straddled that of J2.
Morris J2 van in GPO livery
Austin 152 pick-up
Morris J3: the van that never was…

When the J2 was joined by the smaller J4 (see below) in 1960, the designation J3 was reserved for an entry-level version of the J4, which was to have used the familiar 948cc version of the A-series engine. However, the J3 never materialised, presumably because this diminutive engine, offering no more than 37bhp, would have struggled to power a van of this size.

Morris J4 1960-1974
Also sold as Austin J4 and Austin Morris J4In replacing the ancient JB-type, the J4 must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. Neatly styled, this forward-control, 160 cu ft van soon became a regular part of the British street scene. Many were used by Royal Mail in their distinctive red livery, and by the Police as Black Marias; they were also popular with the newspaper distrubutors. Meanwhile, the inevitable pick-up version proved popular with builders.In 1961, it was redesignated J4-M10, with the suffix reflecting its payload. In 1968, the 10cwt version was replaced by the 180J4 and 200J4, having payloads of 14cwt and 18cwt respectively.In promoting the van, much was made of the fact that the loadspace represented 60% of the van’s overall length, a figure achieved as a result of its forward-control layout. However, by the 1970s the tide of opinion was turning against forward control, both on grounds of poor crash protection and increased servicing complexity. Thus, in 1974, the J4 was transformed into the Sherpa, although its legacy would live on into the new Millennium…
Austin Morris J4 van
Austin Morris J4 pick-up
BMC 250JU 1967-1970
Renamed Austin Morris 250JU1970-1974The JU was basically a reworked J2, benefitting from updated front-end styling and, more importantly, a wider track which afforded more stable handling. The “U” in the model name stood for “underfloor”, in reference to the relocated engine which now sat at an angle, beneath the seats. Payload was also significantly increased, to 22cwt for the standard model and 24cwt for the deluxe. Coupled with a load capacity of 200 cu ft, increasing to 220 cu ft without the front passenger seat, the JU was clearly intended to mop up the lower-end of the discontinued LD’s market (see below). The J2’s petrol and diesel engines were carried over, but the interior received a makeover, gaining an ADO17-style, slimline metallic dashboard which led some observers to suspect that Issigonis had a hand in its design. The increased body-size and payload meant that the JU made a very effective minibus, while the chassis-cab version found favour for ambulance and motor caravan conversions.
Austin Morris 250JU van
BMC 250JU pick-up

Larger vans

Morris LD series 1952-1968
Also sold as Austin 1-ton and 1½-tonLaunched in July 1952 to replace the pre-war Morris PV, the LD series was initially available as the petrol-engined, 1-ton (20cwt), 235 cu ft LD1 van. One year later, this was joined by the similarly-styled 1½-ton (30cwt), 275 cu ft LD2, which was both longer and taller.In January 1955, the van received new front-end styling, and a diesel engine option was introduced for the 1-ton van, designated LD01. The next significant change came in April 1960, when a four-speed synchromesh gearbox was adopted; this saw the 1-ton models become LD4 (petrol) and LD04 (diesel), and in a similar vein, the 1½-ton models were renamed LD5 and LD05. As part of the cross-range redesignation undertaken in 1961, the models were renamed LD-M20 (1-ton) and LD-M30 (1½-ton), with the new suffixes denoting payload in cwt. Following the launch of the JU range, the LD was reduced to just one model, which was redesignated 260LD in 1968 and replaced by the EA van later that same year.
1952 Morris LD van
1960 Morris LD4 van
BMC 350EA 1968-1970
Renamed Leyland EA1970-1984The EA (easy access) van was introduced to replace the LD series, and as it was launched following the Leyland takeover in 1968, BLMC’s branding policy dictated that it initally wore the BMC badge. With a payload of 1½ tons (30cwt), the van could be ordered with standard or long bodywork (both built on the same wheelbase), offering loadspace capacities of 274 cu ft and 322 cu ft respectively.In 1970 the EA was rebranded as a Leyland vehicle, and the range was also revised. A new, long-wheelbase version was introduced, meaning that the EA now offered a significantly larger loadspace than its predecessor – the LD – had done, being available with capacities of 322 cu ft (short wheelbase) or 390 cu ft (long wheelbase). This was accompanied by an overall increase in payload, which now ranged from 1½ to 2 tons. It could also be ordered in chassis-cab form.Leyland never made any bones about the EA’s utilitarian nature, promoting it variously as “a box on wheels” or as being “plain, practicable and packed with power”, which incidentally was provided by 2½-litre, OHV petrol (70bhp) and diesel (58bhp) engines. Sadly, much of the goodwill which had been earned by the LD evapotrated, as the EA was beset by build quality and reliabilty issues. It would nevertheless become a familiar sight on Britiain’s roads during the 1970s, and also achieved some sales success in continental Europe. It was eventually replaced in 1984 by the larger versions of the Sherpa.
1968 BMC 350EA van
1978 Leyland EA van
1978 Leyland EA chassis-cab with dropside body

The VA was created specifically to fulfil a contract to supply freight vehicles to the nationalised road haulage company, British Road Services (later rebranded as Roadline). The design was entirely practical, with easy access to the front-mounted engine, good forward visibilty afforded by the deep, flat-paned windscreen and, most important of all, a massive loadspace. Following its demise in the early 1970s, Roadline switched to using Luton-bodied Sherpas and Leyland Boxers, amongst other vehicles.

1972 BMC VA van in Roadline livery


The Sherpa earns its own section on this page due the fact that, while it started out as a replacement for the J4 and JU, it would eventually evolve into a more-than-worthy successor to Leyland’s larger offerings, such as the EA, VA and even the lower end of the FG range.

Leyland van 1974-1975
Renamed Leyland Sherpa 1975-1978
Renamed Morris Sherpa 1978-1981
Renamed Freight Rover Sherpa1981-1982The initial “Sherpa” line-up consisted of vans in 185, 215 and 240 versions (where 185 denotes a GVW of 1.85 tons, and so on); pick-ups in 215 and 240 versions; a 240 crewbus and minibus; and various chassis-cab options in 220 and 250 versions. Payloads were quoted as 13/14cwt for the 185; 18/19cwt for the 215 and 220; and 22/23cwt for the 240 and 250. Loadspace, at 190 cu ft, was considerably higher than that of the J4 and only just short of the 250JU’s.In 1978 the 1.7- and 2.0-litre O-series engines replaced the original 1622cc and 1798cc B-series petrol units, while the 1798cc B-series diesel stayed put. The range was redesignated accordingly:- vans: 200, 230 and 250; pick-ups: 230 and 250; minibus and crewbus: 250 only; chassis-cab: 255 only. A few months later, the Sherpa was rebadged as a Morris. In 1981, BL created the Freight Rover division as part of the Land Rover group, so the Sherpa’s badges were changed again.
1975 Leyland van
1978 Leyland Sherpa pick-up
Freight Rover Sherpa (K2 series) 1982-1984

The short-lived K2 Sherpa had a neater appeareance and much improved side-access to the loadbay. The Sherpa van could now be bought in 200, 230, 250 and 280 versions. The crewbus and minibus continued in 250 form. Loadspace remained at 190 cu ft, but a new “Hi Capacity” walk-thru body was also offered, built on either the 255 or 280 chassis-cab, and offering 330 cu ft of loadspace. An optional Luton body took loadspace up to 460 cu ft, again with a choice of basic chassis-cab GVWs.

The original, integral pick-up had now been dropped in favour of a drop-side pick-up built on the Sherpa chassis-cab. The 255 and 280 chassis-cabs were also available on their own, ready to receive bespoke bodywork. 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. A 4WD Sherpa van was also now offered.

1982 Freight Rover Sherpa K2 van
1982 Freight Rover Sherpa K2 dropside pick-up
Freight Rover Sherpa 200/300 series 1984-1987
Renamed Freight Rover 200/300 series 1987-1989
(No longer part of Austin Rover Group from 1987 onwards)With the next facelift, the Sherpa gained square headlamps, new bumpers and repositioned indicators. Alongside the original bodystyle (now known as the 200 series) there was new wide-bodied variant (300 series) available in a choice of two wheelbase lengths. The 200 series was initially available with a 2-tonne GVW, while the twin-wheeled 300 series vans were designated 285 (swb only), 310 and 350. While capacity for the 200 series remained at 190 cu ft, that of the 300 series ranged from 268 cu ft to 402 cu ft, depending on the combination of wheelbase and roof profile (a high-roof was an option for the lwb 310 and 350 models).For those who needed yet more space, a Luton-style body was offered, built on either the 255 or 350 chassis-cabs, providing capacities of 400 cu ft (with 200 series cab) or 550 cu ft (300 series), and a maximum payload of almost 2 tonnes. The chassis-cab also formed the basis for a standard- and wide-bodied drop-side pick-up, in 255, 280, 285, 310 and 350 versions, again avaialble with either short- or long-wheelbases. Of course, the chassis-cab could also be ordered on its own, again in a choice of widths and lengths, so that bespoke bodywork could be fitted, with the added option of either single or double cabs. The 200 series continued to be offered as minibus or crewbus, but the 300 series was also offered as a minicoach seating up to 18 people.While the K2 Sherpa’s engined remained available (including the ancient B-series diesel), a 2.5-litre diesel unit was now offered on the 300 series, and following the completion of a special Police contract, the Rover 3.5-litre V8 unit also became available from 1986. However, with the sale of Freight Rover the following year, the Austin Rover Group ceased to be a player in this sector of the light commercial market.
1985 Freight Rover Sherpa 200 van
1985 Freight Rover Sherpa 400 van
1985 Freight Rover Sherpa 400 dropside pick-up

Following the privatisation of Freight Rover in 1987, the Sherpa name was dropped, so the vans became known simply as the Freight Rover 200 and 400 series. With the formation of Leyland-DAF Vans in 1989 (later known as LDV), the 300 series was superseded by the better-built 400 series, which also offered air suspension and a 2.5-litre Peugeot-sourced diesel engine. At this stage, both the 200 and 400 series were given new radiator grilles, bearing the “Leyland DAF” badge. In 1996, the LDV 200 and 400 series were facelifted to become the LDV Pilot and Convoy ranges respectively, and these continue in production at the time of writing.

Merger victims

Austin K8 1948-1954

This 25 cwt van earned the sobriquet “Three-Way” owing to its arrangement of double doors on both the nearside and offside, as well as at the rear, providing excellent access to the loadbay; it is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “Freeway”. It remained in production for a couple of years following the formation of BMC, but utimately gave way to the more modern Morris LD range (see above).

Austin K8 'Three-Way' van
Standard Atlas/Twenty 1958-1962
Renamed Leyland 15/201962-1968The Standard Atlas van was a competitor to BMC’s J2 and J4 vans in the 1950s and 1960s. Similar in style to the J2, it was initially available in 10cwt and 12cwt payloads, powered by Standard’s 1630cc petrol engine. These models were later joined by 15cwt and 20cwt versions, which used either a 2138cc petrol or 2260cc diesel engine. There was also a Standard Twenty pick-up derivative.When Standard-Triumph was bought by Leyland in 1961, little time was wasted in relaunching these models as the Leyland 15 and 20, in which form they competed with the Morris (and Austin) J2. When Leyland was merged with BMH in 1968, these vans were found to be surplus to requirements. All was not lost, however: the tooling was transferred to Standard Motor Products in India, where production continued throughout the 1970s.
1962 Leyland 15 van
1962 Standard Twenty pick-up
Leyland 2-tonner

Advertised as being “built by Standard-Triumph to Leyland standards”, the 2-tonner was available as a box-van in short- and long-wheelbase versions, but following the 1968 merger, its role was taken by the similarly specced but more capacious EA van (see above).

Leyland long-wheelbase 2-tonner

This page was contributed by Declan Berridge

Keith Adams


  1. My brother had a J2 van. There are many stories – here is a starter. Because the gearshift linkage passed over the engine, everything was reversed at the gearlever. So 4th (top) gear was left and forward, and 1st was right and rearward. Ergonomics has come on a bit in the last 50 years!

  2. With reference to the article about Standard Atlas light vans, I have read several articles that state that the first production Atlas vans used the engine from the Standard Eight/Ten cars, a whopping 956cc! Needless to say these did not prove popular and thus the 1630 from the larger saloons was used to great effect.

    • Fitting engines that were seriously underpowered to commercial vehicles was once commonplace. I remember working on a 12-seater minibus that had a 1.6 Ford crossflow engine, low compression version and tiny carb fitted as standard to a Ford Transit. The same company also owned a 16-seat minibus with a 2 litre Pinto. Much better, but it used to eat clutches. Not a design fault. The driver was an elderly gent who was very hard of hearing and used to engage the clutch at 4,000 rpm. The record for the driver ruining a clutch was two weeks. By then, I could do the entire job in thirty minutes.
      We thought that the owner of the company would complain, but she told us that he’d worked for her family company all of his life and they didn’t have the heart to retire him. There can’t be many companies like that nowadays.

  3. I used to drive a few 250JU’s in the late 60’s as a vacation job. It was easy to drive (particularly compared to the 420G which I drove once a week!) but the throttle cable broke every few weeks & the rear door stay tore out of the body within the first couple of months and these faults continued in each of the models I drove over a period of 4 years! There was no followup on recurring faults!

  4. To this day, I’m surprised at no Outside Bodybuilders themselves reducing (narrow) Sherpa/Pilot chassis-cabs to chassis-cowls. Surely, its proper separate-chassis would have eliminated potential losses of structural integrity. Also, even Ford approved of Dormobile-bodied LWB parcel-vans & 16-seater minibuses that utilised manually ‘cut-down’ panel-vans rather than pre-strengthened Chassis-Cabs/Cowls.

  5. I love your website, it has so many nuggets of fascination. This is a little strange but, when I was really ill with sepsis, I had a dream about coming across an old classic pickup for sale. It was a really detailed dream. Although I have no recollection of seeing one in real life, the one in my dream was a Black Austin J2 pickup, complete with the ‘flying-buttress’ feature where the bed sides meet the cab.

    I found this out by coming across one on eBay. It was exactly the same as my dream, only differing from the one in my dream in the most minor detail. I sent a message to the seller and told him about the dream. As soon as I pressed ‘Send’ I wished that I had not.
    In the message, I described the area that the dream pickup was for sale in: it was parked near some canal locks on a slight incline. The seller sent a photo of his J2 that mirrored the canal locks and other features of my dream. I asked him if it ever had fake wood panelling in the cab. He said it did when he bought it and it came with wood panelled door cards & dashboard. There was an automatic transmission that the last owner was going to install. The one in my dreams was an auto’ with a column shift lever.

    The seller also mentioned that his wife nicknamed it the ‘Haunted Truck’. English is not my first language, so apologies if this reads badly.

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