This Bedford C A Is Seriously Cool
Grant Ford writes in the main about classic cars and events around the UK and abroad. On a recent outing to a south coast show he met current owner Dr Mike George and spent time with the Bedford CA Utilabrake, has he gone over to the dark side and the world of commercials?
Firstly, I have to confess I know very little about commercial vehicles big or small and even less about the world of the classic commercial, but I know what I like and I like this van. The very same vehicle made an appearance in Classic Van and Pickup over six years ago when it was assessed by the magazine whilst up for sale at Thornfalcon Cars in Somerset, a classic car dealer. One person who studied this article and saw the potential was Dr Mike George and two years later the van was his wedding chariot and had become a major part of his life. Mike and Carrie have laboured with the help of their family to bring this van to a standard which impressed me so much I left my comfort zone of classic cars and entered the ‘Dark Side’, the world of the commercial.
The van embarked on an interesting life when it left the factory in Luton on the 14th February 1968 and headed for Martin Walker Ltd in Folkestone for its Utilibrake (Minibus) conversion. Once completed, a career with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service beckoned an organisation that had just been registered as a charity after decades as part of Civil Defence from the war. Mostly known for the original ‘meals on wheels service’ the van would have been used in many different roles. Although records of this time are somewhat vague it seems that after 20 years’ service the next few were spent either changing hands or being left in a field before the right owner came along.
A car show in Somerset brought the Bedford and its saviour together in 1994 and a restoration project that still looks good today was completed in 1996. The Bedford was being offered as a spares donor and the owner at the time was unable to get the trusty van to run very well or for very long. Despondency had set in and the scrap yard was calling. Adrian Mills a local mechanic could see the potential and once the spark plugs were ‘re-gapped’ the Bedford came to life; with £300.00 spent and one rooky mistake corrected it was time to concentrate on the body. There is no doubt after a quarter of a century on the road and some years of neglect the Bedford was going to require some TLC. Apart from the numerous dents and bumps all over the tired paint Adrian tells of a lot of time fixing all 4 wheel arches and the drivers’ sliding door recess from the dreaded tin worm. Pictures of that time show Adrian and his young son David, one at work preparing the Bedford for paint the other at play in his favourite place the driver’s seat. Adrian told me that the little lad is now in his twenties and not so little. With doors, wings and bonnet removed the Bedford loaded with its own panels was towed to the Vauxhall dealership where Adrian was employed at the time, and into the spray booth.
Colour decisions are never taken lightly and with a friend, who worked at the paint shop, samples were examined, test colours made up and the decision made. Vauxhall Jade Green which is enamel finished contrasting the Old English White and the result was better than Adrian had hoped for.
The Bedford was well looked after but used daily over the next few years; Adrian told me that the van gave some great service plus many happy days and it became part of the family. ‘It was used for anything and everything’ and that included delivering Yellow Pages; Adrian removed the seats so his wife could use the van for the task. Whilst at work the dreaded phone call came. ‘The vans making a funny noise’, worrying Adrian enquired how many of the phone directories were in to rear of the Bedford. ‘Oh it’s only up to the windows!’ was the innocent reply. It seems the enormous weight was causing the prop-shaft to grind through the exhaust pipe. A friend had been admiring the van over the years and after relenting to his constant enquiries the family parted with the Bedford as the new Millennium came around, only for it to return to the fold in 2005 before other projects forced the sale to Thornfalcon Cars in early 2006.
It seems that Thornfalcon owner Stephen Hill also fell for the Bedford’s charms as the van was not sold on for a while, in fact the van was enjoyed for family outings and a wedding or two before being advertised.
Dr Mike George was the man to purchase the Bedford from Thornfalcon, registered to him 14th July 2007 and the first task for the van was to take the family to his wedding day.
Since becoming the latest custodian of the Bedford CA Mike has carried out all the required repairs as noted by CVP in its ‘For Sale’ article at Thornfalcon Cars. The seats were removed, new flooring and roof lining installed. The seats were stripped and re-trimmed in the correct pale green with white piping. Any paint imperfections and rust spots were sorted out by Thornfalcon Cars and the icing on the cake is the matching caravan.
A Bluebird Europa caravan circa mid-sixties was purchased from Ebay (scary) in October 2011 and the following winter a body off restoration was undertaken. Mike tells of serious welding and long hours, plus the much needed help of mother in law Doreen and Aunt Norma. Once reassembled and painted to match the van the ladies helped Carrie transform the interior. Cath Kidston wallpaper and matching furnishings, stove and sink make it the perfect place for Mike and family to relax.
Does the van struggle with the caravan in tow? ‘Yes’ is the answer. Having the later 1600 OHV engine and 4 speed gearbox helps but with only 50hp on tap and the aerodynamics of Buckingham Palace hills require some thought. I was however very impressed with the vans manoeuvrability, with the wheels right under your feet and the sliding door open the CA could park anywhere with or without its matching trailer.
Having covered just 62000 miles and the final parts of the restoration completed, future plans for the George family are to enjoy what they have and by being out at shows and events others can appreciate the 45 year old combination; unless you are stuck behind them struggling up the notoriously steep Duncton Hill in West Sussex.
The conclusion is that classic vans are becoming very ‘cool’ or even ‘trendy’ according to my kids; normally they show no interest in the cars I write about. Their mother is equally unimpressed with your average classic car but like the youngsters she loves the van, the images on my PC have been inspected and now I am getting advice on which of the Bedford’s pictures are best. Local shows are seeing a variety of smaller vans and pickups being owned and restored by ever younger enthusiasts, they are more affordable than most classic cars and yet different. Where will this lead? CVP could become the new GQ magazine and its editor a pin up figure! Who knows, but I can’t deny vehicles like Mike and Carrie’s Bedford CA have given me a different perspective on the classic scene.
Bedford CA Utilabrake 1968
Engine 1594cc OHV 50HP
Gearbox 4 speed column change
Front Suspension Double wishbone/coil springs
Rear Suspension Semi Elliptic leaf springs
Brakes Drums and shoes, Hydraulic cylinders
Estimated 370,000 CA vans sold world-wide in 17 years/cruising speed 50mph and max speed 65mph/ returns average 25mpg.
ELVA RACING PV
Restoring race team car transporters has become extremely popular over the past decade. Historic race teams see it as part of the uniform to arrive at the circuit with a suitably liveried coach conversion from the 1960’s or 70’s. Elva was not just a race team; they were an engineering company on the South coast of England who built beautiful sports cars from the mid 1950’s. The name Elva was derived from the phrase ‘elle va’ meaning she goes, but that was the only thing French about this team, British through and though. The story starts with Frank G Nichols a Sussex man, who on leaving the army with some mechanical skills set up a small garage in Westham in 1947. The business was a success and bigger premises took Frank to Bexhill, a town with a big motorsport interest that held the countries first racing on public streets. The early post war years produced a lot of specials; home built racers that were cheap and competitive, many using an Austin 7 base with tuned engines. Frank saw an opportunity to build his own car that could be used for work during the week and raced on the weekend.From humble beginnings the Elva marque were involved in the building of over 1000 machines. The list of engine manufactures that used their racing chassis is impressive and includes Coventry Climax, Ford, Porsche and BMW. The McLaren Elva’s came along in the 1960s with a variety of power plant options, most preferred the American Chevy 358 V8 with 482bhp. This combination enabled Bruce McLaren to race sports cars worldwide, the cars were built at the Trojan works in Croydon run by Peter Agg in partnership with Frank Nichols. Designated the McLaren Mk1 it enjoyed great success in the United States. This particular model also helped Bruce McLarens racing career with a Tasman Championship victory and win at the New Zealand GP meeting in 1964.In fact Elva had always enjoyed a massive following in the USA. Their tiny workshops in Bexhill started with the early model, the Mk1B, the car that preceded their most successful sports car, the Courier. Building these cars at a rate of 3 per week and having the parts available to do so, leads us on to the hero of the story, the Morris Commercial PV. Originally launched pre-World War Two, a very small number were built, however an estimated 15000 were produced from 1946 to 1953 and many supplied via specialist coachbuilders. This particular PV is a 1947 early example exactly matching the Elva Engineering vehicle. It seems that the variants and adaptations were almost endless with use as delivery and ice cream vans, a school bus, Black Maria and even by funeral directors. The Elva PV was mainly used for towing and parts movements. From the heavy industry of the Midlands via the London Dockyards to the south coast; carrying tube steel for the chassis and engines from Coventry, the PV finally delivered completed Elva race cars to the waiting ships for the long journey to the USA and beyond. Unfortunately the original PV and their other support vehicle, a Fordson E83W Pickup, along with the Elva Engineering company it-self, have long since gone. Luckily Roger Dunbar of Elva Cars (Arundel) stepped up to the plate, with his vast knowledge and enthusiasm for the marque he went on the hunt for a Morris Commercial PV in 2005 with nostalgia and a promotion tool in mind. A year or so later, a chance phone call and some luck took Roger north east to Hull; a PV in great condition was being used to ferry goods to market and car boot sales; a deal was struck and the PV headed south.Considering the vast distances covered daily by the PV it is remarkably basic. A driver seat only and no luxuries (not even a heater). Roger tells of a noisy, heavy and rather slow way to travel. We discussed performance and at the 45mph top speed things become uncomfortable, Roger says the 2050cc 16hp engine is happier at 35-40mph on the flickering speedo, and so is he. It was a vehicle for a job in a different era, so how had she survived so well, the answer laid with a Bill Mattravers. Bill a restorer of some note had purchased the PV in 1993; she had been sat in a secure lock up for twenty-odd years. It is believed the PV originally put in years of service delivering carpets in and around Bristol. It took four years for Bill to work his magic. When asked, he told of woodworm in the lowest part of the body and the front end framework was just rotten, all cut out and replaced, once all the wood was up to scratch new alloy panels draped the sides. Mechanically a full engine rebuild, gearbox bearing and clutch, followed by a re wire among umpteen other jobs. Roger knew that the time and level of expertise put in by Bill would guarantee years of enjoyment and promotion for the Elva PV, however the van was handed over to Tony Brooks for a complete mechanical check-over, and his colleague David Cooper, who has many years’ experience dealing with bodywork preparation and re-sprays. The attention to detail was not going to stop now. Once the vehicle was painted in the original PV red, artist and sign-writer Mark Weston was given the task of matching the livery from old photos in Rogers’s collection; the final result is just stunning. The PV is a credit to Roger and the Elva name, a sports car builder that produced some amazing machines that seemed to have been appreciated more overseas than at home. The Austin Commercial played a major rule in the build process; in the early years all that was needed to produce these fine race cars arrived in the back of the PV and once completed the finished machine was trailered to its new owner behind the PV. Sixty six years old and just like Helen Mirren (66) still turns heads everywhere she goes.