This page: Interested in classic cars but have a growing family? then why not consider a classic estate car / mpv?
Classic estates & people carriers (MPVs).
MPVs, or Multi Purpose Vehicles, aren't a modern phenomenon, although it's only in recent years that the MPV tag has been given to van-shaped family vehicles in this country. Usually slightly larger than a traditional estate, the classic MPVs often sold under imaginative model names, the best known in the UK at any rate probably being the Utilecon and the Utilabus. With ample glazing and several rows of seats, they offered great flexibility thanks to their seating and cargo-carrying opportunities. If you wanted flexibility but without the driving position of a van, you could often compromise and instead buy an estate version of a mainstream saloon, but this page focuses on the van-derived passenger carriers.
Anyone with a family will know that classic cars don't always lend themselves to a growing family, especially with the amount of clutter that a day out usually requires. Buggies, high chairs, changing gear and spare sets of clothes are all required if taking a young family out somewhere. Most people opt to drive around in a modern estate or MPV, and leave their classic gathering dust (and rust) in the garage. However, if you still want to be able to go out in a classic motor vehicle, and have the rest of the family along for the ride, maybe it's time to hunt down one of the increasingly rare classic people carriers that were once quite popular. None of them are particularly easy to find, just like the vans on which many were based, as they were usually built in quite small numbers when compared to contemporary saloon-car equivalents. But with a little dedication and detective work, finding usable examples of the classics looked at below should be possible.
Ten postwar van-derived MPVs.
Some estates were designed as estates from the outset, but those looked at here are either van-derived estates, or share their outline with a light commercial elsewhere in the range. So here are just 10 of those you might have seen on British roads, between the 1940s and the 1960s.
Austin A40 Countryman.
The A40 Countryman, based on the A40 van (itself a derivative of the Devon saloon) was a popular choice in the late 1940s, and early 1950s. Powered by a simple ohv engine of 1200cc, it offered a spacious interior, perfect for a growing family. The factory image shown here shows a horizontally split two piece tailgate, whereas later examples have two conventional doors, as found on the van. Up to six people, including their luggage, could squeeze into the A40, a vehicle that would ".. appeal especially to country dwellers and rural tradesmen". Priced at 415 GBP + Purchase Tax at its launch.
Bedford CA Dormobile.
The Dormobile was one of several re-worked versions of the Bedford CA offered by the Martin Walter coachbuilding firm. The seating arrangements were very flexibile, allowing upto ten people to fit inside the estate version if using the side benches. If the forward-facing seats were chosen, then upto seven people could be accommodated. If just two people were using the CA, and needed to have an overnight kip in their Bedford, then a full-size double bed could also be erected in the rear load area, making the Dormobile a handy piece of kit, even today. A twelve seater "Utilabus" was also offered.
Bedford PC Utilecon.
Prior to the launch of the CA range, it was the PC 10/12cwt that fitted into Bedford's mid-range van line-up. Again it was Martin Walter Ltd of Folkestone that undertook this conversion to the basic PC van, converting it into a handy estate. Two versions were offered, one based on the slightly smaller 5/6cwt Bedford van, and the other on the very similar-looking 10/12cwt PC van. The PC Utilecon could accommodate up to seven people in all, using three rows of seats, the rear two rows folding out of sight into the floor when no longer required. The engine was a four cylinder unit of 1442cc.
Ford Thames 10cwt Estate.
Martin Walter offered their own version of the 10cwt Ford Thames, or E83W, and visually it looked very similar to Ford's own offering, the Thames (Seven Passenger) Estate Car shown here. Only a slightly different side window treatment differentiates the M-W from the factory job externally. One passenger sat alongside the driver, with a middle row seating two, and a third row at the back seating upto three people. Both the latter two rows could be folded flush into the floor, should the vehicle need to be used as a van. Power was from the familiar 1172cc sidevalve engine.
Fordson 5cwt Utilecon.
The smaller of the two Ford van-based estates to feature here, the Martin Walter Utilecon version of the 5cwt E494C Fordson light van. This model was a four seater, costing 295 GBP + 81.18.11 Purchase Tax in 1950. They came as standard painted in beige, but for an extra 5.0.0 (plus P.T.) you could instead opt for Woodgrain, Cream, Desert Sand, Blue, Westminster Green or Light Grey. Further details could be obtained by writing to the firm at the Utilecon Works, Folkestone, England, or by telephoning 3103.
Hillman Husky Estate.
Various incarnations of the Husky were offered over the years, culminating in the Imp-based version in the early 1970s. The Husky shown here is a Series 1 variant and, as per usual, was based on the contemporary light van of the day - the Commer Cob. A single rear seat was added in, enabling upto four or five people to travel in reasonable comfort. As the 1950s rolled on, the Husky was tweaked here and there to keep the design fresh. By the late '50s it featured a four cylinder ohv engine of 1390cc, producing 51bhp at 4,400 rpm. Single- or two-tone paint finishes could be specified.
Jowett Bradford Utility.
The basic Bradford van sold alongside the rakish Jupiter sportscar, and the sleek Javelin four door saloon. The van version first saw light of day in 1946, with the estate, or "Utility", model adding to the range in 1947. This was a classic example of a van with windows, and it featured a second row of seats allowing four people to be propelled by the flat twin engine in moderate comfort. So long as there was no headwind, a basic Bradford could muster 53mph, and somewhat less if fully loaded with people and/or luggage. Fifty miles an hour arrived in a tad over 47 seconds.
Morris J2 Minibus.
If vehicles such as the Bradford were a little on the compact side, or just plain slow, then perhaps something from the late 1950s would be more suitable. The boxy Morris J2 / Austin 152 was a forward-control van, powered by a 1500cc engine (petrol or diesel). It's handling was often described as 'interesting' but there was no denying it's usefulness. Shown here is the J2 Minibus. It could seat eleven passengers, plus the driver, and had both a one-piece rear door, and also a handy side door (with automatically retracting side step), to allow swift entry and exit. The rear seating ran lengthways.
Standard Vanguard Estate.
Several versions of the Phase 1 and 2 Vanguard were offered in the early 1950s, the model shown here being the Vanguard estate, a model that shared much of it's design with the Vanguard van. The car first hit the streets in 1947, but larger families would have to wait until 1950 for the estate car version to arrive. This didn't much matter though as the bulk of car production prior to 1950 was exported, in a drive to rake in overseas investment to a cash-strapped nation following WW2. A four cylinder petrol engine of 2088cc featured in most examples, with a Laycock-Normanville overdrive an option from 1950 onwards.
Now for something built overseas, Sweden to be exact. The PV range of saloons was a success for Volvo across Europe, and it didn't take long for van and estate versions, known as the Duett, to follow. The first version, with a split two-piece windscreen, was known as the P445, with the P210 (single piece screen) arriving in the early 1960s. Production of the Volvo Duett continued until 1969 (four years later than the PV544 saloon), by which time the 145 Express was ready for sale. A factory-built van based on the 120 Amazon was never offered, hence the extended production run of the Duett.
Old Classic Car (C) R. Jones 2022. Content not to be reproduced elsewhere.