When it comes to classic cars, few nations have a richer and more impressive heritage than the United Kingdom.
From utilitarian Land Rovers, world-beating designs like the Mini, the sleek lines of sports cars like the Jaguar E-Type and huge sellers like the Ford Cortina, it seems every era of our collective automotive history is lovingly preserved, celebrated and enjoyed.
Sadly though, the same cannot be said of the commercial vehicles that keep that keep the country moving and form the backbone of our economy.
Despite the fact, vans like the Ford Transit or any one of the wealth of HGVs on the market are as much a part of the modern landscape as the bright red post box or pubs called the Red Lion, you’ll seldom see one of their number on display at one of the thousands of vintage motoring events that take place across the country each year.
The reason’s obvious, of course. Commercial vehicles are bought to do a job and, once they’ve earned their keep and outlived their usefulness, they’re sold or scrapped with barely a hint of sentimentality.
But does this repetitive and ultimately fatalistic lifecycle of the modern commercial vehicle put us at risk of leaving future generations with no physical examples of vehicles that play such an integral part of all our lives in the here and now? And can anything be done to change attitudes towards CV preservation?
This week, TNB spoke to a number of influential and well-known figures involved in the world of classic vehicles and asked them for their thoughts.
Dan Geoghegan is Chief Executive of Bicester Heritage, a site for all concerned with the UK’s automotive heritage, and Bicester Motion, a wider automotive business park, focused on the future technology surrounding the automotive industry in the UK.
Bicester Heritage is base for dozens of businesses concerned with various aspects of the nation’s automotive history and attracts tens of thousands of enthusiasts each year to its popular motoring gatherings, known as ‘Scrambles’.
On a daily basis, Dan is surrounded by rare and wonderful examples of models from the golden days of British motoring, but he laments the fact commercial vehicles are seldom given the same care and respect.
He said, “Commercial Vehicles are relatively uncommon at our Scrambles but, when they do appear, they draw the crowds owing to their rarity and stalwart place in automotive history.
“Names such as Scammell, Albion and Foden speak of a lost age, and you only have to look at auction results to see the strong demand for, say, Austin A60 vans, Morris pickups and liveried Land Rover utility vehicles. These functional and, often, stylish vehicles evoke strong memories as well as offering valuable experiences of our enterprising commercial history. Long may they be cherished.”
Another man with more insight into the subject than most is Simon Hucknall, Head of PR at Vauxhall, and the man with the keys to a prized heritage fleet that’s the envy of many a manufacturer.
Simon said, “The preservation of commercial vehicles is particularly important to us as we’re now the country’s only mass market LCV manufacturer.
“We are very proud to still be producing the Vivaro in a plant that sits on a site where we’ve been manufacturing continuously for 115 years.
“Being able to illustrate that by rolling out a pristine example of one of our former vehicles is fantastic and always generates lots of interest.
He added, “More than any other vehicle, commercial vehicles have become part of the motoring tapestry.
“When you go into any town and city we’re almost blind to them because they’re everywhere. They form part of the road architecture in a way and so we don’t really give them a second glance.
“It’s because we generally see them in that way and because they tend to be disposed of once they’ve fulfilled their obligation to a particular company there’s no incentive for businesses to keep hold of them and they’re just scrapped.”
He continued, “Because there’s no real incentive for people to keep them, when you do see a preserved commercial vehicle it has even more impact than a preserved classic car.
“For example, we have an immaculate Bedford CF from 1975 that’s probably rarer than a Ferrari GTO, quite literally. If you went on to the DVLA website you’d probably find that there’s only ours and maybe a couple of others left because people just didn’t care about them back in the day. So, when you see one it has real impact.”
Dominic Taylor-Lane runs the Association of Heritage Engineers, an organization that aims to promote the sharing of skills and experience across the heritage engineering world.
He believes the key to preserving our commercial vehicle heritage could lie in getting young people interested and engaged. An added benefit of this, he says, could even be the development of skilled engineers able to address the skills shortage and future generations of engineering talent.
“You only have to look at the cult that’s grown up around the VW Transporter to see that it is possible to make people interested in the preservation and maintenance of commercial vehicles.
“If we can encourage young people perhaps to see the scope and opportunity of working with commercial vehicles and as a stepping stone into classic cars, there could be an answer.”
He added, “Here we need to not be too prescriptive and purist about how young people treat their vehicles.
“It would be fantastic to have the odd commercial vehicle that looks exactly as it did when it rolled off the production line but given young the opportunity to put their own spin on these vehicles and to express their own style would be a great start.
“This would also help us get young people interested in engineering and commercial vehicles and encourage them to work in the commercial vehicle sector.”