Tuesday March 20, 2018
If you take a look at almost any brochure for a British light commercial vehicle of the 1960s, it will contain page after page of drawings featuring smiling and Brylcreemed tradesmen delivering bread or milk with a smile. My own memories, albeit from the 1970s, are more of ageing rockers giving “V” signs out of the opened sliding door as they attempted to overtake a Southampton Corporation Leyland Atlantean - and of the BMC LDs. The day would so often commence with the sounds of Unigate’s electric milk float, the ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky (which was in the charts for approximately 3,000 weeks) on Radio One and, once a week, the clank of the mobile shop’s diesel engine. To outsiders, it may have looked like just another elderly dark green Morris LD30, but to our Hampshire village it was a welcome purveyor of Jacob’s Fruit Club Bars, Bird’s Dream Topping and other fine foods.
The LD range dates as far back as July 1952 when it replaced the Morris-Commercial PV. That same year also saw the formation of the British Motor Corporation and so the LD was offered in Austin guise two years later, as a replacement for the K8 “Three Way” van. Power was from 2.2 litre petrol but in 1955 the line-up gained a diesel option together with new frontal treatment. Five years later, there was a four-speed gearbox and the range continued in production until 1968 when it was replaced by the BMC EA van.
The brochures promised ‘5ft. 4ins headroom’ inside and assured fleet operators that ‘your driver will enjoy operating his van because everything that can be done has been done to reduce operational fatigue and make his lot a happier one!’ Asides from operators dancing with glee (albeit not at the wheel) there was also a ‘vista-like view of the road ahead’, and a load capacity of either 235 or 275 cubic feet, depending on whether you specified the 1 or 1.5 ton model.
The chassis, with its four cross-members, was quite formidable and the LD could also be specified in cab-only form for specialised conversions by independent coachbuilders. Many examples of the Austin and Morris were used by dairies, breweries, grocery firms, small coaches, pantechnicons and mobile canteens. The LDs were also seen as Black Marias, fire tenders and, perhaps most famously, as an ambulance. The conversions for London County Council became so well-known that they will feature in their own blog so for now here is some footage of a LLC crew in action - .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewiS5zPZ95c.
By the early 1980s LDs were becoming quite a rare sight and whenever I encounter one at a classic motor show, it is as though I am transported back to the days of delivery drivers in brown shop coats, cheerfully smoking Woodbines as they handled trays of confectionary. It was also a star of cinema and television and out of many LD appearances on screen I will mention just three key moments – its cameo in that subtle masterpiece of British cinema, Carry On Matron and the first ever episode of The Sweeney, as seen here with the late great Ian Hendry - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E58To_8zgQ4 - After all, it is not any commercial vehicle that has the honour of co-starring with both John Thaw and Sid James.