A panel van is a standard addition to a many a car builder’s range, and BMC were no different. Under a range of names from Morris Commercial, Austin, BMC, Leyland and Freight-Rover, a range of light commercials, some directly based on cars and others sharing engines and transmissions, were a common sight in Britain from the 1930s on. Although this was the last of the line, it came with a very different history.
BLMC’s light van heritage came (predominantly) from BMC and within BMC from Morris Commercial, part of the Nuffield empire. The last one, from that family line, was the 1974 Leyland Sherpa, itself a derivative of the early 1960s BMC J4 series (the rear doors were common, for example) soldiered on, under a range of names until 2004.
Under a range of names? Well, remember it was BLMC, so the brand names were always up for debate, from Leyland Sherpa, then just Sherpa, then Freight Rover Sherpa, Leyland DAF 200 series, when Leyland trucks and DAF merged and the LDV 200 series when the van business was separated again under a management buy out from the bankrupt Leyland DAF business in 1993. Finally, a major facelift resulted in the LVD Pilot in 1996, but eventually the market caught up with it. Leaf spring front suspension was really no longer good enough.
LDV was a small business, employing perhaps 1000 people, and like the later MG-Rover concern, had little in-house design and development capability. It was a van builder, buying in engines and gearboxes from its former parent, Perkins or Peugeot.
The new product actually stared life as a Daewoo design, developed in joint venture between Daewoo in Korea and LDV in Birmingham. The project started in 2000, with the intenrtion of Daewoo producing the van in Korea and Poland, as well as LDV in the UK. When Daewoo Motor had its troubles, LDV was able to secure full ownership of the project, and the production equipment was all moved to Birmingham from Poland.
The now named LDV Maxus came to the market in early 2005, powered by an Italian VM 2.5 litre diesel engine with 95 bhp or 120 bp, front wheel drive through a five speed gearbox. The gross weight ranged from 2.8 to 3.5 tons, with an option of short or long wheelbases, three roof heights and the usual possibilities for different uses and bodies.
The interior was notable for the central instrument pod, and the high mounted gear lever, both huge changes over the very dated Sherpa, and arguably fully competitive with its contemporaries. The interior quality was a bit rough and ready, even by van standards, although the specification levels were pretty good.
It was sold, predominantly in the UK and Ireland, although there were exports to some of the traditional UK export markets.
Users tended to be either the high volume, lower specification customers, such as the Post Office, and other organisations having to buy on value, such as the police, hire companies and school minibuses. The post office has only recently decommissioned the last ones, and given the use they got, that suggest a pretty tough van. And no doubt cheap.
Many are now filtering through to the sole trader builder/electrician/plumber and courier users, though they will never will hold bragging rights against a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or the dominant Ford Transit.
LDV failed in late 2005, and was purchased by the Russian GAZ company, with a plan for production to start in Russia. The company failed again in June 2009 and was ultimately sold to SAIC. A Chinese assembled van and pick-up are now being offered in the UK, in a low profile, low volume way, and is also available in Australia.
The only vans now built in Britain are the Vauxhall/Opel Vivaro, a twin of the Renault Trafic, which is assembled at Luton, in the old Vauxhall factory. Ford Transit production is now centered on Turkey.