Truckshow Classics – Big Rigs from a Small Island

proper trucks

America can do many things, including Big Rigs. But other places can do them just as well, so with apologies to Bill Bryson of Des Moines, Iowa and Norfolk, England, here are some Big Rigs from a Small Island.Bedford

First up, the Bedford M series. First introduced in 1939, it was also used widely as a bus chassis.

1964 Bedford TJ

The Bedford TJ series ran from 1959 to 1975 in the UK, and was then offered for export, primarily to less developed markets in Africa and Asia. Engines included the Vauxhall Cresta 2.6 (later 3.3) litre petrol six and a range of diesel engines. It was never a big seller in the UK, but its durable and straightforward nature appealed elsewhere, and UK manufacture continued until 1986 with active spares support well into the 1990s.

 1968 Bedord TK

Bedford’s alternative to the TJ in the UK market was the TK, a common sight throughout the UK, used for haulage, public services and military uses. Production ran from 1959 to 1981, when the TL derivative was launched.  During the 1960s and 1970s, this was one of the most popular trucks in its sector in the UK, and a dropside like this one is still an everyday sight in some places. The UK military embraced the TK, with the four-wheel drive MK version being the next vehicle up in the size scale after the military Land Rover.

 1966 ERF

Moving up the weighbridge, we have this 1966 ERF LK44, again featuring a dropside body which is rarely seen today, having been replaced by the curtainsider. ERF was an off-shoot of the famous Foden company and this range had a composite cab with very distinctive styling. Engines were usually Gardner with a John Brown gearbox, in this case.

ERF.Atkinson and ERF again

The LK series was succeeded in 1966 by the LV range, again with a composite cab, shown on the right above. This example is 6×4 tractor unit, rated for 32 tons gross weight, using a Cummins engine. Noticeable now is the fact the truck does not have a sleeper cab, something that only came to dominate in the UK in the 1980s.

Atkinson 8x4

ERF was one of several truck builders in the based in the northwest of England; another was Atkinson, from Oldham in Lancashire. This example is a 8×4 bulk transporter; such trucks were the mainstay of the construction and civil engineering industries throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and were used for 101 other bulk uses. This example is a 1971 model, with a Gardner engine, and was known as the Mark 1 cab.

 Atkinson 8 wheeler

This is the predecessor to the Mark 1, built in 1951 and now restored as a fine example of the last generation of trucks in which the heaviest were the rigid chassis, rather than an articulated unit. The Gardner engine was 8.6 litres, and the steering and brakes lacked any power assistance

 Leyland Octopus 8 wheeler

Any review of British trucks cannot exclude Leyland, and for good reason. By sticking to its knitting of trucks and buses, Leyland had enough financial firepower to start the process of buying much of the UK motor industry, starting with Albion trucks in 1951, Scammell in 1955 and then into cars with Standard-Triumph in 1961. This is a 1962 Leyland Octopus (great name, along with Hippo, Buffalo, Bison and even Gnu!), again restored to its former glory.

 AECMercury brick truck

This AEC Mercury was one of a batch built for the London Brick Company in 1962, and used was by them around southern England, delivering bricks.

 AEC 4x2

Leyland absorbed AEC, also the makers of the Routemaster bus in 1962, and in 1966 rolled out the new cab, known as the ergomatic range, across the whole Leyland and AEC truck catalogue. This 4×2 drop side Mercury is typical of many trucks of the 1970s.

1973 AEC tractor

Leyland used the Ergomatic cab across various truck brands including Leyland, AEC and Albion, and this Mammoth tractor unit is typical of the 1960s generation of articulated trucks used in the UK.


Scammell, part of Leyland Motors from 1955, had long been the highest profile builder of truly big trucks in the UK. This 1953 Scammell Highwayman ballast tractor unit is typical of many used for oversize loads during the 1960s and 1970s. These were rated for up to 50 tons, and are now most usually seen working on fairground equipment, and yes, that is a steam wagon next to it.

 Scammell Crusader

The Scammell Crusader was originally developed for the UK military in the mid 1970s, as a tank transporter. It is powered by a 26.7L Rolls-Royce/Perkins twin turbocharged diesel engine coupled to an Allison automatic transmission, and was rated for 65 tons. Civilian versions were also built, as were tank bridge transporters and a recovery version, such as this one. Now de-mobbed, it makes a interesting comparison in scale with the AEC Mercury.

Most of these trucks were present at the Cambridgeshire Steam Rally in July 2013–why not come over? I’ll see you at the Cambridge and District Classic Car Club stand!

There is a key fact linking all these trucks, apart from being built on this small, but proud, island–all the brands and factories these were built in are now dormant.