I went by Bert’s Two Guys and a Dog Garage to see if that Bedford Van was still there. It was gone, but in it’s place was something even more obscure.
What is that thing? And I do mean thing, it kind of resembles a VW Thing in profile. The wheels look Land Rover – esque but the body is all wrong, like some sort of mutated Jeep.
At the back I could see that it’s an Austin product, I had to go home and look it up but yes, it’s a Gipsy.
This was Austin’s entry in the post war 4 X 4 military/farm/go anywhere market.
The Austin Gipsy was produced from 1958 to 1968. The intent was for the Gipsy to compete with the Land Rover, a mission at which it failed miserably. The British Army never bought it in any quantity, and total production was around twenty thousand units. The Gipsy did find a niche role as a light fire engine, and several hundred were laid up by the British Home Office for use in the event of a national disaster. The anticipated disaster never happened, and the nearly pristine Gipsies were auctioned off in 1997.
Both long and short wheelbase vaiants were made, with two- and four-wheel drive being available. Some Gipsies wound up in the colonies, and who knows how many were built with left hand drive for Canada. Our climate and salty winter roads are very hard on British steel, and I’m amazed that this example has more or less survived for 50 years. I’ve never seen a Gipsy before. Ever.
Take a look at this, here’s a non-rusted example of the short wheelbase variant in the UK:
I’m sure you’ll find this much more fetching; it has the same stubby purposeful charm as a Land Rover, Jeep CJ, or Land Cruiser. In fact it’s such an improvement that it makes me wonder how much effort it would be to shorten this one. Could it be as easy as removing that obvious middle body extension and sectioning the frame by 21 inches?
Here’s the 2.2l Austin motor. Looks like some work has been done to get it running. Again, lots of sheet metal corrosion here, the brake and clutch master covers are just lumps of rust.
Just to sidetrack a bit, one of the things I love about old British vehicles is the obvious pride that parts suppliers took in their product.
Can you imagine a modern parts supplier taking the time and expense to do this? Not when profit margins are measured in fractions of a penny. Say what you will about Lucas, Girling and Coventry Radiator & Pressworks Co. Ltd., at least they cared enough to put their name on the product. Unlike Austin, Coventry Presswork is still in business too – bloody brilliant!
While we’re talking about running gear, early Gipsies had a very interesting suspension design. Each wheel was suspended by a rubber sprung trailing arm, like a scaled-up light trailer. This is the front.
The intention was to give superior independent wheel travel, but like a lot of innovative British concepts the execution doesn’t seem to have quite panned out. Later Gipsies like our subject truck have a conventional leaf spring and solid axle suspension.
Scooby-Doo floor-mats are a nice touch, and go well with the plywood seats, and the holes in the floor. As you can see this poor guy is pretty rusty, you’d have to be a real Gipsy enthusiast to agree to the $2,495 asking price.
I was feeling pretty confident that I had a worldwide scoop on a Gipsy article here at CC, but there’s already one that Bryce did a few years ago.
The end of the Gipsy was also typically British. In 1968 Leyland Motors and British Motor Holdings merged into British Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd (BLMC). This left the Gipsy being built by the same organization as the Land Rover; is it any wonder that it was quickly axed?
On another sad note, it looks like Bert’s is winding down operations. Bert is retiring, and I’ve heard that nobody is taking over.
There’s no customer cars on the lot today and the long term resident cars are all for sale. The building was originally built as a gas station in the 1940s. Too bad for our town, Bert has been fixing the stuff that I couldn’t for almost 20 years, and we’ve found him to be trustworthy and capable. Thanks Bert, and happy retirement!
Nice find! I must have missed the write up on these from Bryce as I had never heard of them before. I like it.
Looking at the signs above the business windows, I’m not surprised it hasn’t rusted away yet.
“Please do not call the dog out of the door.”? — That’s pretty unique, too.
The dog is a very well trained Shepherd. He’ll sit there in the doorway all day but I think he would tear apart anybody coming in after hours. Some people think all dogs are pets.
One of life’s Big Lies: “He won’t bite.”
I always hate to hear of a good honest mechanic retiring, as there just aren’t enough of them around any more. The shop reminds me of one that I used to take my MGs to back in the ’80’s, operated by a guy about my age now who was a chain smoking, occasional binge drinking crusty guy who’d fix anything right the first time, and always for a fair price. He actually fabricated a few parts for one of my Midgets, as he felt the pricing for replacements was unfair and the quality lacking. Great guy. He ultimately couldn’t keep up with rent and didn’t want to invest in new-fangled diagnostic equipment, so he folded by the early 90’s and took a head mechanic job for a local factory, keeping all of their lathes and presses in optimum condition until he passed away a few years back. I always smile when passing that place if I’m back in the area. A small body shop still operates out of the space.
That white over white Fleetwood looks like something that would surely tempt me if I lived nearby.
I returned to my small hometown in Kentucky early in 1979 after being discharged from the Air Force. The VW Rabbit that I owned was pretty reliable but did require periodic maintenance. Almost everyone in town with an imported car patronized this one shop downtown, located in what had been a bicycle shop, dating back to the 1890’s. The running joke was that the two brothers who ran the place were the only people in town with a complete set of metric wrenches. In any event the shop was always crammed with imported vehicles, some exotic but mostly more mundane. The brothers eventually relocated to a more spacious facility on the edge of town; the business is still there although the brothers have both departed this world.
Nice find. These show up in Alberta more often than one would think. Usually in poor condition. Everyone has been an early one with the novel suspension so I have not been tempted to acquire one.
Somebody needs to snap up the Cadillac. It looks pristine. It’s also in the year range I buy cars from. Doubt if I could afford it though. You all know how cheap I am.
The LWB looks like a cross between a Land Rover and a Mehari. Interesting rig to find over here.
That white Caddy looks rather appealing…and it’s got color-matched hubcaps. Big points for those.
Where is the garage, Doug, if it’s not too impertinent or revealing an answer?
Where I grew up the best wrench is out of town several miles. Many make the trip, which means a second car and driver.
In the rural settlement I’m in now there’s a busy little place with no sign, metal buildings in the desert with containers and trailers full of parts.
When I go to the dealer in town I’m struck by how much overhead there is, huge waiting room with TV’s and of course wi-fi, vending machines, etc. All very controlled; one never gets to speak to a mechanic directly. I despise the place, only go for recalls or parts. Meanwhile the country wrench took time to explain some details and recommend a vendor for a kit when I replaced the AC on my car.
Interesting divide in this country; there are people who not only don’t want to get their hands dirty and wouldn’t know how to, they don’t even want to speak to or see someone who does. And so we have people who don’t know a group of people, who have a notion in their mind of what those people want, and are sometimes surprised by what they actually do. Turns out they have their own minds, of all things.
But when the two do speak directly, I think they each find that the other is more complex and different than they might have thought. If they could compare experiences, they’d see that the middlemen are the distortion problem. But I’ve never met a service writer I’ve liked or trusted, so maybe it’s me.
When I bought my first new car (an early ’80’s GM product) it had some minor problems. Finally the service writer agreed to drive the car. He got behind the wheel while I took shotgun, inserted the key and reached toward the center console, then looked at me: “Uh, I can’t really drive a stick shift. You better drive.”
Wow, quite a find. That front looks like a cross between a Jeep and a Land Rover.
Too bad about your mechanic – I always hate losing a good one.
These were sold new in New Zealand (hence Bryce’s article), and there are still a few around – I saw one most recently two weeks ago, and there’s another listed currently on Trade Me. My father’s boss (at a BL dealer) had one throughout the 1980s which he used for towing his boat. I always found it interesting that the Gypsy and its SII Land Rover competitor were both utilitarian devices built for work, not for looks, yet somehow the Landie managed to look great (then and still now) whereas the Gypsy is rather ungainly.
I can only ever recall having seen one of these outside of a car show here in the UK and that would have been around 30 or more years ago. it wasn’t in use but left derelict round the back of a cafe car park in either Essex or Hertfordshire. The slightly later Mini Moke got itself rather better known.
Call me stupid (I am so why not) but I like this little thing .
The 2.2 Liter engine looks a close Cousin to the famous BMC ‘B’ series engine ? .
Too bad about Bert’s closing up Shop .
I’d love to live in a place like that =8-) .
Related but only just it appeared in the Austin 16 pre war and post war in Austin and Morris trucks in different tune it was in the A90 Atlantic and the Healey four none of these are exactly the same but share parts the Gipsy was its last hurrah as far as I know the B was much smaller starting at 1200cc growing to 1800cc in the MGB 1500 and 1622 being other sizes.
I was right and wrong on the clue it was a Gipsy but a LWB, I learned to drive in a SWB version a 66 with the leaf springs it would go almost anywhere and with heavy steel body and light fibreglass roof/rear cap it had excellent hillside ability similar to a Landrover though having not managed to roll either I clearly didnt get near their extreme limits, the early type with rotoflex suspension had very Jeep like behaviour on hillsides and a tendancy to go wheels up, they were god solid capable vehicles but Leyland for some strange reason decided not to compete with itself in that vehicle category and went with Landrover, Gipsys are quite rare now days though I know of a couple locally.
British Jeep Commando.
Uglier, too, but something about it is very cool. I like it for that fact alone!
I saw one of these pop up on the used Victoria website a while back. In about the same condition. I have never seen one before, but they must have sent a few out to the colonies. I imagine finding replacement parts on this side of the pond would be hard.
The Gypsy was a lighter duty machine than the Land Rover.It was not as tough nor as corrosion resistant.In fact it was a bit of a dud,like the overweight Champ.Having said that it was easier to drive a gussied up version may have sold ,a missed opportunity,look at the scepticism Spen King faced with his Range Rover.
The suspension of the early Gipsys was called ‘Flexitor’ and it was the first suspension design by Alex Moulton to reach production and marked the start of his association with BMC which would later produce the Mini’s rubber cone system, Hydrolastic and Hydragas. You pointed out that suspension is ‘like a trailer’ but do you know that that’s exactly what Flexitor was originally designed for? And Flexitor-fitted trailers were made long after the Gipsy ended production. You can still buy Moulton bikes with a miniaturised version of Flexitor suspension today (some of the models have little Hydrolastic springs as well!).
The 2.2-litre engine may look like the familiar B Series but isn’t a version of it, it’s just the third engine in Austin’s original post-war range of OHV engines which was originally the 803cc (which became the A-Series), the 1200cc (which became the B-Series) and the 2199cc (used here and which never got a BMC Series number). All are essentially scaled versions of each other with Weslake compound-port heads, pushrods on the cylinder port side and ignition components on the valve side etc. The Gipsy engine was originally used in the A70 ‘Hampshire’ and ‘Hereford’ models and the A90 ‘Atlantic’ and was then tuned up for use in the Austin-Healey 100/4. It also powered the Austin FX3 and FX4 ‘black cabs’ and lots of Austin light commercial vans and trucks. There was a diesel version, which was also available in the Gipsy and remained in production for decades as a marine engine alongside marinised versions of the B-Series. You can still find loads of boats on the British canal system powered by BMC 2.2 Diesel engines with hours-meter readings that translate to interstellar mileages!
It’s interesting to see Austin copying the traditional 1940’s Land Rover form, style, and colour so closely, 10 to 15 years after the original Land Rover appeared. It shows the power of a highly successful image, but one that has little to do with the actual product in this case.
Apparently Land Rover decided to use aluminium body panels in their first model after WW2 because steel was so tightly rationed. The use of aluminum made flat panels with simple radius curves desirable as they could easily be cut from a sheet on a jig and then bolted to the frame. The iconic simple, boxy look was therefore a direct result of the material used, and the trademark green colour apparently came about because of an abundance of surplus aircraft paint!
Land Rover kept using aluminum after steel became available, even though it was more expensive, because of its corrosion resistance. Which makes it odd to see a greenish Land Rover look-alike, in a flat panel, slab-sided style, but made of stamp-able, corrodible steel.