Wednesday May 29, 2019
Picture the scene – you are in a telephone box, about to make an important call but either button “A” is refusing to function or that new-fangled “Pay on Answer” system has eaten all your 6d coins. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a Telephone Engineer’s Mini Van.
It has been written many times before, but the fact remains that in May of 1960 the Mini Van was the first FWD commercial to be encountered by the average Briton. For anyone who might otherwise have been contemplating an Austin A35, Morris Minor, Ford Thames 300E, Commer Cob or Standard 6cwt, the Mini represented a step into the unknown. Of course, in the 1950s Citroënoffered the Slough-built 2CV Van and Pick-Up, but sales proved limited.
Commercial Motor praised the Mini’s ‘extremely pleasant’ handling and precise rack & pinion steering, although they did warn ‘for a tall person, access to the seats and, in particular, the front of the van body, is made difficult by the low roof height’. The price was £360, plus an extra £12 for the passenger seat, and the original colour choices ranged from “Whitehall Beige” tor “Smoke Grey”.
BMC’s early publicly emphasised the payload capacity of 46 cu ft. (58 cu ft. without the second seat) and how the Mini was as ideal for the small trader as it was to augment a larger vehicle or as part of a fleet.
One major potential customer was the GPO (General Post Office), and in the early 1960s, its management thought the Mini would supplant and eventually replace the Minor. In practice many drivers complained of its low ground clearance and that it had a lesser payload than the older BMC commercial.
167 ELP entered Post Office service in November 1962 as one of a fleet of 65 Mini Vans employed in London. It bore the “Mid-Bronze” livery of the telephone service and came with a raised front number plate while rubber bumpers at the rear coped with parking knocks.
There was also a reinforced roof and inside, the optional heater was one of the van’s few concessions to luxury. However, to any operator used to a Minor, where demisting was via the opening windscreen, this fitting represented sheer decadence
The Morris-badged Mini is devoid of the trademark roof rack, parts bins, tool racks and security grilles of an Engineer’s Van; it probably served as a “Planner’s Van”. It was decommissioned in 1969 – the same year that “Post Office replaced the term "GPO"” – when its current owner acquired it.
In 2004 the Mini began an extensive restoration, and it now looks much the way it did nearly 57 years ago, down to the insignia on the front doors. One intriguing detail about the GPO fleet is that as “Crown Vehicles” they were tax-exempt.
The Metro Van succeeded the Mini Van, now badged as the "Mini 95", in late 1982, and by the late 1990s, they were already becoming fairly uncommon sights. It is still a genuine shock to learn that out of over 5,000 examples commissioned by the GPO in the 1960s there is the only known surviving Telephone van still on the road.
This makes 167 ELP is an invaluable historic vehicle – and one that makes you think of the phrase ‘press button “B” caller and try later’.
With Thanks To: Mark Skillen and the Post Office Vehicle Club - http://www.povehclub.org.uk/