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Homepage. This page: Research leads to the Commer's early history being discovered.
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The Commer Superpoise restoration project

The Commer's early history.

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Shortly after buying the Commer, and having it transported back home, the search to uncover as much of its history as possible began. Accompanying the vehicle were a number of documents dating to the 1960s, the earliest being a green registration logbook that confirmed the names of the gents that used it to transport their racing cars. However nothing from the Commer's earlier days was known, other than that it may have been used by a firm involved with the ice cream trade at some point in time.

Registration records.

Both the old-style logbook, and a current V5C, exist for the lorry. The older document confirms that at one time it was painted light grey, before being changed to green, the colour it was when used as a transporter and remains, albeit faded, to this day. A check on the EL registrations page here at OCC confirmed that it was first registered in the Bournemouth area. A visit to the Kithead Trust website, advised that certain old vehicle records for Bournemouth are now archived at the Dorset History Centre, so contact was made to establish whether they had any record of the old girl. The reply was positive, so a cheque was popped into the post, and the wait for news began.
A few days later, and a scan of a page from an old master registrations book arrived on the doormat. The page in question records the vehicles registered between 25th March 1950, and 4th April 1950. The earliest is KEL 456 (a James motorcycle), the latest KEL 490 (an Austin). Near the foot of the page is the single-line entry for KEL 488, the Commer. Two useful nuggets of information are present. One, the supplying dealer - Tice & Son - and the customer to whom the newly-registered vehicle was sold, logged as Fortes. The date, 1st April 1950, coincides with that on the old card logbook.
The vehicle registration record
In fact the list of vehicles referred to in this one page alone is quite fascinating, it'd be interesting to have access to the full book of registrations. Makes such as Bond, Standard, Humber, Excelsior, Mini Motor, Fordson and many more all feature, a real catalogue of once-famous British motor manufacturers. Included among them is a lone entry (KEL 461) for an ex-War Department Dodge, which I'd like to know more about. But, back to the Commer.


But what, or who, was (or are) Fortes, or as it should be - Forte's? As mentioned, I had found a reference to a link to an ice cream firm previously. Searching around online found references to Forte's, located at The Square in Bournemouth. At the time it was an ice cream bar/restaurant, so presumably the Commer was used for deliveries of their ice cream products to their other outlets and/or trade customers. Nowadays the name is more often associated with hotels dotted around the globe. Whether there are any surviving Forte's records or photographs, detailing the vehicles used by the firm in those days, I've yet to find out.

Tice & Son.

Of more use so far, by a long way, has been the reference to Tice & Son. This I took to be the supplying dealer, and the name does appear in a 1950's copy of the RAC Handbook, on Wimborne Road. Once again, a search engine was pressed into duty to find out more about this dealership. This brought up the website of Tice Wimborne, which sounded promising. A glance at their site confirmed that they've been in business since 1927, so it seemed likely that this modern-day business had a link to the one operating in 1950, at the time of the Commer's sale. I dropped them an email, and waited for news.
A couple of days later, Michael Tice telephoned me, confirming that yes Tice & Son was their company's earlier trading name, and that they had operated from 723 Wimborne Road in Bournemouth. In business for many years, they'd been agents for all manner of vehicles either side of the war, including for a time as an official Commer and Karrier commercial vehicle dealership. I passed over the description of my recent acquisition, to see whether they still had any old records going back that far, in which the Superpoise might get a mention. He also advised that he has an album of photos going back to the early days of the business, so would have a look to see if there was anything relevant to me within it.
Not long after, I received a call suggesting that I might like to check my emails.
I was keen to see what the garage which had supplied the Commer new, looked like in those days. Michael sent over the following fantastic photograph from the 1950s. It shows a brand new Karrier articulated lorry, with its trailer, in the livery of The Southern Gas Service. Signs for Commer, Karrier, Rootes Group Service, and of course Tice & Sons, adorn the building. To the right are references to the company's service and coachbuilding departments. The coachbuilding shop was on the first floor of the building. Peering out from upstairs is a Commer, with a second vehicle also in view.
Happily the building survives to this day, and while no longer in use by the Tice family business, it remains in their ownership and operates as a garage for another firm. This Streetview link shows the building as it is today: link.
Tice & Son of Wimborne, Commer dealership

KEL 488 in 1950.

It was great to see the photo of the garage. What really blew me away though was the following photograph, of the vehicle I'd recently exhumed from long-term barn storage, as it looked when it was brand new, sixty-four years earlier. Amazingly, within the old Tice & Son photograph album, there survived a black and white photo of my old Commer. This was a real find, confirming its first owner and revealing the attractive signwritten livery that it had first sported, advertising "Forte's - For Fine Food. Cafeterias and Ice Creameries". For comparison, I've also included a recent photograph of this possibly-unique survivor.
Forte's of Bournemouth livery on the lorry
The same vehicle as it is today
Did Tice & Son do the body on the Commer? It seems highly likely, although on the vehicle's bulkhead there is a small plate with a "BMB Limited" body number on it. At the time, Tice's also had a coachbuilding operation running around the corner from the main garage, on Brassey Road (since demolished).
[2017 Update - original paperwork that records the purchase of the Commer in 1963 for use in a new role as a race car transporter, turned up in 2017. These papers, along with the old logbook, have been scanned and can now be found on this page.]

Then and now.

Little has changed over the years, other than the colour scheme obviously. The only real change of note, bar the different rear view mirrors, is the style of aluminium moulding that runs down each side of the van. In 1950 there was a single strip that curved down over the rear wheel cover, or spat. In later years this was altered, it now continues to the rear of the bodywork, and has been joined by a second, parallel, strip. A close look at the panelwork now reveals where the original curved strip was once sited, above the wheel spat. The screw holes disappear though on the rearmost corner panel. I suspect that the rear side panel was damaged at some point. With a new panel screwed into position, it was probably easier to delete the curving section of trim, and simply have a straight replacement, joined by a second strip perhaps to add a little more of a feature to each side.
Flashing orange indicator lamps, which look very 1960s in appearance, are also a later addition.
Probably at about the time the van was converted into a car transporter, it acquired its green topcoat of paint. There are signs of pale blue on the front wings, beneath the green, and a darker blue in places at the rear. The logbook mentions a colour change from grey to green. Quite what colour the Commer was at the time of the photograph in 1950, I'm not sure. And whether it had other owners throughout the 1950s, I've yet to establish. Maybe the original Forte's signwriting survives beneath the later coats of paint?
Hopefully more information about the van will turn up in future. I'd like to thank the Dorset History Centre for not just preserving their old registration records, but also for swiftly sending me a copy of the page that referred to KEL 488. Had it not been for that, identifying who originally sold the van, and its first owner, would have taken a lot more research and time, and the photo from 1950 may never have been found. I must also thank the Tices for taking the time to search through their old album(s), and emailing me the surprising results of their efforts.
I wonder if any organisation in the Bournemouth area has a photo of the Commer parked outside the Forte's restaurant? Maybe an old newspaper archive will have something.
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