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Why buy a classic van or pickup?
Introduction.For a long time, collecting and restoring small vans and pickups was a very niche pastime within the old-vehicle world, to whom tinkering with a more commonplace classic car was just a bit too conventional. In recent years however things have changed somewhat, and interest in light commercial vehicles is picking up steadily. There are a number of reasons for this I think, with perhaps rarity being the leading cause. Few light commercials get treated well when they are new, so rarely survive even into middle age, let alone old age, hence supplies of restorable examples have always been thin on the ground. Many car owners are turning to preserving an older commercial just to do something a bit different. Restoring cars is a well established hobby in the UK at least, and there are usually plenty on show at vintage fairs and such like, so preserving an older van means that you'll have something a bit more unusual to take to these same shows. Big trucks are more of a headache, as storage and the sheer bulk of the work required in saving a wreck can be quite daunting, so a light commercial vehicle (LCV) is often a good compromise, many fitting into domestic garages comfortably.
Old vans, as a breed, have never been glamorous, and have usually sat in the shade of family or sporting cars from the same manufacturer in preservation circles. During this time, many old pickups and vans have fallen by the wayside, being scrapped for donor parts or left forgotten in old barns. This also had a knock-on effect with the supply of parts, when some brave soul decided to resurrect a van. Few specialists were willing to remanufacture or stock original parts for LCVs, the reason being that storage costs money, so why hold on to often-rare parts for older vans, if no-one was going to need them? This catch-22 situation led to some people being put off from saving a van, just because of this spares shortage.
Interest in old vans is on the increase
Perhaps a clear indication of how the interest in classic commercials is increasing, is by considering the many magazine titles that now cater for vintage trucks, both large and small. These publishers have spotted that the interest in vans etc is on the increase, and see a market for their publications. This increased exposure to the hobby will hopefully further people's interest in this corner of vehicle preservation, and lead to more vans being preserved before they become extinct.
Types of small commercial vehicle
When talking about light commercial vehicles (LCVs), its interesting to think about just how many types of vehicle this encompasses. Standard factory-spec vans and pickups are the obvious types that spring to mind, however there are other interesting variations on this theme too. My own interest, for example, is in the lightweight 10cwt commercials built by Ford in the late thirties, through to the late fifties. A scan through period brochures of the time will give details on the usual suspects, but also tantalising glimpses of altogether rarer machines, such as Utilecon estate versions, pig swill collectors, dust carts, refridgerated vans, woodie-style estate cars, gown vans, ice cream vans, mobile canteens, and many more, all built with a particular trade or use in mind. One of the popular light commercial variants is that of the camper, or 'motorhome'. Companies such as Martin Walter produced a wide choice of camper conversions on standard factory chassis, and these are popular today with show-goers who like to stay over at 2 day events for instance. More unusual were some of the special one-off promotional bodies built for breweries, department stores, and such like. The heyday of such vehicles was prior to WW2 when some very extravagant coachwork was built to fit bog-standard chassis, but it did continue into the postwar era, until the separate chassis vehicles gave way to the one-box monocoque types. After this time (late 50s) fewer one-off coachbuilt vans etc seemed to be made. Preserved examples of the unusual are very rarely seen nowadays as few survived beyond their natural design life. Any remaining unrestored examples are well worth resurrecting, complete with their bespoke coachwork wherever possible.
Popular types & manufacturers
In the UK at least, there are some makes and model of older van that regularly turn up within the commercials section at a show. The Morris Minor is a case in point - with their separate chassis (unlike the saloon) the Moggy van or pickup can make an ideal restoration candidate, particularly so as they have an unusually strong spares backup, sharing as they do much with the saloons of the time. Fords are popular (no pun intended!!) with Thames commercial variants of the 105E Anglia car regularly going on show, along with the E83W, 300E, Fordson 5cwt, and boxy 400Es often in appearance. Other Morris commercials include the handily sized 8 Z van, the J Type, J2, and later J4 and Marina-based vehicles. The Bedford marque is remembered by lightweight vans as well as heavyweight trucks, by models including the HA and the very popular CA series of vans, campers and ambulances. A list of lesser-spotted examples, and now very sought after by marque enthusiasts, might include the Commer Cob, Model Y Ford 5 cwt, and Mini van or pickup. The rarest van I've come across to date, and one that I rescued from imminent doom and owned for a while, was a 2 stroke SAAB 95 van. Only 3 had been imported in 1962, and this was the sole survivor (a small number of V4 95s are still around however). This van was sold on, with a kit of parts that I built up for it, and is now fully restored and looking A1.
Finding parts to restore or run a van
As already mentioned, the spares supply for LCVs can be more of a problem than for similar saloons of the same era. Determination often pays off, but it just takes more work, contact with clubs, hunting, and advertising in the right places, to weedle out the bits that you need. All part of the fun if you ask me! There are a few owners clubs around that cater for LCVs, either by marque, or that cater for older commercials whatever their make. These can be a good place to find parts. Also worth trying are the aforementioned classic truck mags, as many now run a free classifieds section (as I do on this site) for anyone wanting to sell or find older parts. All these methods are worth a try, but there is often no alternative to foot-slogging around autojumbles, with a list of parts required, an illustrated parts book, and a stash of folding notes in your pocket. Perhaps even more of a problem than spares supply, when dealing with the restoration of a little van or pickup, is the condition of the vehicle being worked on. Its worth mentioning again that most vans get a real hammering during their working life, and often get tossed aside only when they are incapable of use or looking unlikely for a new MOT. Needless to say such a vehicle that may be totally worn out, then left in a shed or field for 40 years before being 'rescued', is going to throw up a heap of problems for its new owner to try and fix. Not that anything is unfixable, it just may take more determination than if it was a nice low mileage run-of-the-mill classic motorcar. In fact I'd liken finding parts for any 25+ year old commercial as difficult a process as a vintage car owner might encounter, when hunting for parts to fit a pre-war car. Anything is do-able, it just may take a little more diligence and ingenuity to actually get it done, thats all! Of all the parts that are difficult to find, it'll most likely be finding items of bodywork that causes the biggest issues. Vans get bashed about anyway, and rarely repaired with anything more than a dab of filler and a slap of red oxide paint for good luck. The sides of vans can take a real pounding, the often large flat expanse of tinwork being vulnerable to knocks from both inside (cargo, tools flying about etc) and outside (parking misdemeanours etc). Repairing these successfully can be very time consuming. Older vehicles with a separate chassis may have continued in use long after the bodywork had started to disintegrate, simply because the chassis is usually much sturdier than the body that sits on it. So long as the chassis was ok, keeping the vehicle road legal was much easier than if the chassis began to rot too.
If you're venturing into the worlds of classic trucks for the first time, it might be worth finding out if there is a club that specialises in your van, or at least caters for it along with other similar vehicles. I'm in the Ford Sidevalve club, which as well as old Fordsons also caters for sidevalve Pops, Prefects, 100Es and so on. Equally, other clubs, such as the Standard Motor Club, cater for owners of rare commercial variants of the more popular saloon cars (in the case of Standards, this would encompass the 10-based 6cwt pickup and van, plus the commercials versions of the Vanguard). As with any old-vehicle purchase, genning up on the subject before wading in with a chequebook and buying a ruin to restore can be a useful exercise, if only so you know what you're letting yourself in for.
Valuing a LCV
Putting a value on a particular LCV is a tricky process, unless its a popular example often seen for sale in preserved circles (the Moggy van is perhaps the most popular of all). Unrestored postwar jalopies, terminally rotten, with no MOT and with a slim hold on life, will probably not be worth much at all no matter how rare it is. Pre-war vans may be a slightly different kettle of fish as anything thats restorable will be very rare indeed, and as such may command a premium over a similarly sized postwar van. I can really only comment on values for the Ford 10 vans as they are the ones I've been involved with most of all. Mint, fully restored vans, may be worth 8000 GBP and more, but the market for people willing to pay this much is not large, so holding out for top prices may be a drawn out affair. Middling conditions vans and pickups hover around the 3500 or so mark, but must be roadworthy and usable, although a bit scruffy around the edges perhaps (aka 'cosmetically challenged'!). Vans that have been converted into pickups later in life are worth less than a vehicle that started out as a pickup or van from new. An original vehicle that is complete, but needs major recommissioning/refurbishment after years of inactivity, will be somewhere under a grand, with a really derelict Fordson or Thames being in the low hundreds only. The low-ish value of projects reflects the amount of work that turning a shed into a nice example will take - for instance, a recon engine for these sidevalve Fords can set you back nearly 1500 quid by the time it has new pistons, refurb'd white metal bearings, and so on.
Choosing to restore or run a classic commercial can be a fascinating thing to do, especially if you can trace the history of your vehicle back to when it was new, and get a real feel for what it was used for. The other great thing about seeing a lineup of older lorries and vans, is that they often have their original signwriting still in place. Even a line up of identical vans can still be very interesting, simply because of the various liveries that the vehicles are turned out in. You can't say this for a line up of Austin Maxis, Vivas, or similar saloons.
Classic vans and cars forum here at oldclassiccar.co.uk
Classic estates & people carriers of the 1940s - 1960s
Classic Ice Cream vans
My choice of top 10 pickups and vans
Free van & pickup screensaver featuring classic light commercials.
A number of classic commercials also feature in the vintage photos section. For instance: A really unusual light van and pickup is the German Tempo Matador - click here to see a photo of one in military service, back in the 1950s. A number of light commercials appear across the site, if old vans and pickups are your interest, it might be worth having a look at the vintage photograph section, the motoring collectables feature, and also classic commercials classified section.
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