Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News
As in Europe, vehicles in postwar England were typically small and efficient, sized for that country’s busy city streets and narrow rural lanes. Petrol was still scarce and expensive in Great Britain in the 1950s -rationing returned for a spell in 1956-’57, due to the Suez Crisis- so economy was always stressed. Ford’s British arm had a perfect entry in with their sturdy little Thames Van, and the British Motor Corporation countered with its advanced Austin/Morris Mini-Van.
Like the Alec Issigonis-designed Se7en/Mini-Minor that it was based on, the BMC 1/4-ton van featured a transverse engine and front wheel-drive, along with a fully independent, rubber cone suspension behind 10-inch wheels and tires. It offered just one seat, for the driver, leaving the rest of the unit-body’s enclosed space open for cargo… 46 cubic feet, the four-page 1960 brochure notes. Power came from a single SU-carbureted 848-cc (51.74-cu.in.), 34 hp overhead-valve four-cylinder that was channeled through a four-speed manual transmission.
The home-grown competition from Ford was appeared similarly modern but was more conventionally designed, with this slightly earlier (circa 1955) Thames 300E 1/4-ton van sporting a longitudinally mounted engine and rear wheel-drive. It too featured a unit-body (more than a foot and a half longer in total length) that offered one seat for the driver, along with 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space. That engine was of a single-carbureted side-valve (L-head) design, made 36 hp from its 1,172-cc (71.52-cu.in.) displacement, and was mated to a three-speed manual transmission.
As this colorful deluxe Ford brochure shows, the Thames was actually available for purchase in America (this brochure came from a dealer in Haverhill, Massachusetts), and although I’ve never encountered one, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some here. I’ve similarly never seen a BMC Mini-Van… was that ever imported to the U.S.? What do our U.K.-based readers recall of these vans and their ilk? And would you use one of these pint-sized haulers for your small business?
Click the thumbnails below to enlarge.