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See Homepage. This page: An obscure and very compact delivery van designed by Fairthorpe in the 1950s.
Classic vans and pickups

The Fairthorpe Wagonette.

Return to the Classic van & pickup section. Old picture of a Fairthorpe Wagonette
Until a copy of a factory sales leaflet turned up, I'd not heard of the Fairthorpe Wagonette before. I'd known of the company, mostly for its range of home-built sportscars such as the Electron and the Electron Minor of the 1950s, and the occasional vague reference to something called the Atom, and the Atomota.

The Atom and Atomota.

Micro-cars, and bubble cars, were relatively common sights in the 1950s, no doubt the reason for Fairthorpe designing the Atom, its first car, launched in 1954 and resembling a cross between an alien spaceship and a poached egg. It was a pint-sized machine, powered either by a BSA engine (250cc and 350cc single-cylinder versions were offered), or by a 322cc Anzani "twin". In 1957 the Atomota replaced the Atom, a completely new car that had its engine positioned up front, rather than in the tail as had been the case with the Atom. Production of this continued until 1960 or thereabouts.

Introducing the Atom Wagonette.

Fairthorpe were not content with just marketing a small car to the private motorist. They also wanted to build a small, handy, delivery van, to suit local traders and delivery drivers. Three-wheeler vans, from James and Reliant, had proven that there was a market for a small, cheap to run, van, so Fairthorpe's designers set to work and created the Atom Wagonette. The sales leaflet shows a two-tone Wagonette on its cover. A search online only brings up this photograph, on a handful of different sites, suggesting that, if any were produced, numbers built were Low.
The Wagonette was equipped with hydraulic brakes (at a time when most small cars and vans made do with cables and rods), with independent suspension to all four corners. Economy figures of 55 - 60 miles per gallon were quoted in a bid to woo potential buyers, plus "... with its air-cooled engine it can be left out in the worst of weather without any danger of freezing, and its rugged construction permits it to be used on the worst of roads".
Three versions of the rather bulbous Wagonette were offered, starting with the Mark 1 with manual starter at 255 GBP plus Purchase Tax. Electric start would add a further 15 GBP. The Mark 2A (electric) cost 287 GBP plus PT, while the 3E (electric) cost 327 GBP plus PT. By comparison, the equivalent Atom cars cost approximately four pounds more. The leaflet isn't dated, but I'd guess it was printed in around 1956.
No other photos of the van are given, which is a little surprising. It measured 11ft 3ins in length, and 5ft 2ins wide. Transmission was via a chain drive from a three-speed Albion gearbox. Unusually, carrying capacity is given by volume, rather than weight, which was usually the case with brochures for vans and other commercial vehicles. Twenty sq. ft. of capacity was offered in the rear compartment, same for the passenger area, while in the nose a further six sq. ft. was available.
Typically, vans were plain-jane affairs with few frills or unecessary ornamentation. Despite this, Fairthorpe did offer a number of extra-cost options. These included chrome-plated hub caps, a chrome front bumper, exterior door handles, differential drive, a heater, and extra seats if required.
Were many Atom Wagonettes built? The only photo I can find of the Wagonette is the one shown above. Did any in fact get built? The van shown above could well have been a mock-up. If a few vans did find homes with penny-conscious business owners in the 1950s, none appear to have survived - unless you know different?
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