Thursday March 7, 2019
In the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed to be an unofficial rule that any school trip had to be undertaken using a J2-based minibus. You would see them in the car parks of the Little Chef or Fleet Services on the M3, as a grim-faced teacher (wearing Peter Sellers-style glasses and a Burton’s sports jacket) attempted to round up all straggling members of a geography field trip.
The J2 was made under several different brands, reflecting the utter chaos that was BMC/BLMC/British Leyland, but it did mark a major development in the company’s light commercial line-up when it was launched in 1956.
By that time the Bedford CA had dominated the British light commercial vehicle market for the past four years and the J2 not only augmented the older J-Type, it was also the company’s first unitary-built van.
The Morris-Commercial J2, as it was originally known, cost £554 if you ordered a J2 in primer form and a further £28 if you wanted to specify a BMC paint finish. The range was paralleled by the Austin-badged 152 line-up which was identical to the Morris asides from grille and badging.
‘The new models are typically Continental in appearance, but once people in this country have become accustomed to it they will find the styling attractive’ mused Commercial Motor.
The brochure listed ‘twin windscreen wipers’, ‘twin rear view mirrors’, ‘winking indicator lamps’ and ‘four-speed synchromesh gearbox’. A heater was an optional extra, but as the 1,489cc B-Series motor was located between the front seats, there was little danger of the cabin becoming overly cold. Some older readers will remember how the J2’s starter and choke controls were mounted on the rear of the engine box.
Later models of the J2 featured a floor gear lever in place of the not overly popular column change, and from 1961 the J2 M16 was powered by a 1,622cc engine, with the option of a 1.5-litre diesel unit. In 1967 the line-up was succeeded by the Austin and Morris 250 JU so that the British Motor Corporation might better compete against the Ford Transit.
The “U” suffix denoted an engine mounted under the floor, the track was wider and the payload was increased. However, subsequent changes of badge from “BMC” to “Austin-Morris” could not mask the fact that by the early 1970s, the 250 looked antiquated in comparison with both the van from Southampton and the Bedford CF.
Production of the 250 ceased in 1974 with the introduction of the Sherpa, but the popularity of the J2 range during its heyday should not be overlooked. They served as police vans, as ambulances, as crew buses for the armed forces, and as transport for builders, grocers and farmers.
Several were used by Securicor, and in 1960 the Liverpool music promoter Alan Williams used his Austin 152 to transport a local rock roll band named The Silver Beatles to Hamburg.
BMC offered the J2 in chassis-cab form so that a coachbuilder might create a milk float, an ice cream van or, probably most famously, a motor-caravan. Central Garages of Bradford offered the Paralanian, a camper so luxurious that it came with a refrigerator and a wc as standard.
In the early 1960s, to take a holiday in Swanage in a new J2 conversion that was ‘Your Car and Mobile Home Rolled into One’ was to live the Macmillan era dream. Especially you had fitted a radio, the better to listen to the BBC Light Programme as you chugged along the A36…