Rampside Outtake – Silver City Airways Bristol Type 170 Freighter

Ford Zephyr Bristol Freighter

One of the pleasures in contributing to CC is dong the research for a feature, and discovering something like this. Just as Paul Niedermeyer found the fascinating Rampside Classic Boeing 707 last month, whilst researching the background for the Bristol 411 feature, I came across several photographs of the Silver City Bristol Freighters and Superfreighters operated by Silver City Airways. In the case above, the car is a Ford Zephyr convertible, from 1957-1963, being loaded into a Superfreighter.

Silver City Bristol 401

This is the photo that first caught my eye – a Bristol 401 being loaded into a Bristol Freighter. You will have identified that the Freighter and Superfreighter were not, visually, a match for Bristol’s most famous post-war design – Concorde.

SilverCity Bristol Super freighter

Silver City Airways was an independent (that is, not part of the nationally owned BOAC or BEA) airline who operated a car ferry service from Lympe near Dover on the south east tip of England, to Le Touquet on the northern French coast. The flight took around 20 minutes, compared with 2 hours by ferry.

Silver-City-Freighter-Hillamn Minx Convertible

The Freighter was built by the Bristol Aircraft Company, was known officially as the Type 170 and first flew in 1945. It had twin radial Bristol Hercules engines, a fixed undercarriage aircraft and a simple rugged design whose main feature was a large, uninterrupted cargo hold, accessible through clamshell doors opening at the front, below the cockpit, which is raised above the cargo deck, 747 style. The aircraft was unpressurised, so there was some internal turbulence and the flights to France were made at around 1000ft. The Superfreighter was  the longer version, easily spotted by the full height clamshell loading doors.

Silver City Hillman Minx

Silver Wings made its first car ferry flight in 1948, and in 1953 leased the larger Mk32 or Superfreighter version, which was configured to take 3 cars and 20 passengers. This allowed Silver City to expand operations to include other routes from southern England to France, to Belgium and Ireland, and in 1955 built a dedicated airport terminal and runway at Lydd, known as Fewrryfield, in Kent, south east of London, that handled over 250,000 passengers a year. At the peak, Silver City were making over 200 ferry flights a day across the English Channel at around £25 a car and 4 passengers.

the Duke Of Edinburgh officially opened Ferryfield in 1956, and allegedly took the controls on the flight to Le Touquet. This excitement seemingly reduced Pathe news reel to silence.

Competition increased as high capacity roll on/roll off ferries and faster hovercraft services could successfully compete on price, speed and comfort in the 1950s and early 1960s. At the same time, the Bristol Superfreighters were exhibiting signs of metal fatigue and there were no replacement aircraft available. Silver City, now part of the larger British United Airlines group, closed the car ferry services at the end of 1962.


But these photographs remain, and personally I find them quite evocative of a time when travel with your car to the European continent was a significantly more dramatic and adventurous enterprise than it is now.

Airfix Silver City

You can confirm that, just by the fact that Airfix did a model of the Superfreighter.