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50 Years of The Bedford CF

This year is, as any classic enthusiast knows, one packed to the gunnels with significant motoring anniversaries, including 50 years one of Britain’s most familiar vehicles. When the Bedford CF made its debut in October 1969, it faced the challenge of replacing one of the defining post-war vans. Between 1952 and August 1969, Luton had made 370,045 Bedford CAs and the CF was faced with the additional prospect of competing against the Transit.

Since October 1965 the Ford that was the ‘tradesmen’s’ choice’ had re-defined the light commercial vehicle sector and by the following year Luton’s plans for a rival were underway. The CF featured a semi-forward control layout and was an inch longer and six inches wider than it’s predecessor.

The 25-strong model line-up included a choice of two wheelbases, five payloads, and diesel or petrol engines, the latter being the 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre “slant four” units from the Victor FD.

‘The CF is built to last any opposing force’ stated the advertisements – i.e. especially those hailing from Langley and, slightly later, Southampton. As for the invitation ‘if you're looking for a long service van, and one that merits good conduct medals galore—come and inspect the new CF Brigade at your Bedford dealer’ – in 1969, many fleet buyers would have been either WW2 veterans or former National Servicemen.

The Bedford was available in “Chassis Cowl”, “Chassis Cab” and “Panel Van” forms.  If the works manager was feeling especially generous, you might be issued with the “De Luxe” version - it may have cost an additional £28, but the standard equipment list did include ‘an additional roof light’.

One slightly anachronistic detail about the CF was that although it sported a floor gear lever rather than the familiar CA column shift, it was still initially available with a three-speed transmission.

By the mid-1970s the CF was indeed part of the fabric of British life; an ambulance, a brewer’s dray, an ice cream van or a school mini-bus just waiting to transport you to that thrilling educational trip to the local cardboard box factory.

A yellow-&-white liveried Bedford would deliver your new Rediffusion colour television set just as a CF2 Co-Op milk float distributed pints of silver top with gold top for high days and holidays.

Naturally, there was also any number of camper conversions with brochures that promised glamour, excitement and freedom from a mundane world. The “Brigand” offered ‘luxury accommodation for four adults’, the “Dormobile Freeway” had surfaces finished in ‘woodgrain melamine’ and the “Autosleeper” boasted a very ingenious range of seating options. Looking at the brochures a) makes me recall Weymouth holidays in the rain circa 1978 and b) is a reminder of the demand for a manoeuvrable, reliable and well-packaged motorhome.

The launch of the Ford Transit Mk. II in 1978 spurred Bedford to facelift the CF in late 1979, and two years later Commercial Motor reported that it accounted ‘for 44 per cent of the company's total production’.

In 1983 GM announced the mechanically improved CF2 but the introduction of the Isuzu Fargo-based Midi in 1985 was a harbinger of Bedford’s immediate future. Since the early 1980s, Luton had been collaborating with BL on a joint CF2/Sherpa replacement, but the “World Van” project eventually collapsed.

The advent of the “VE6” Transit at the beginning of 1986 made the CF2 look about as contemporary as a re-run of Department S, and when production ceased at the end of 1986, it marked the end of wholly British-designed Bedford vans.

The last-of-the-line “Special Edition” was especially desirable as it came with a radio-cassette player and a choice of two ultra-1980s  metallic green” or silver paint finishes embellished by the sort of graphics usually associated with ABC albums

And so, here is a reminder of the days when every high street would feature adverts for Corona soft drinks, cafes that accepted Luncheon Vouchers for the delights of sausage, egg & chips– and at least one CF:


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