quarta-feira, 1 de junho de 2011

History: The Bedford CB


People have often wondered why the successor to the long-running and popular Bedford CA was called CF. We still don't have the answer, but BARRY HARVEY, who worked in the Vauxhall experimental department, recalls some short-lived work on a CB project.

Before the Ford Transit conquered the market there was the Bedford CA. Bedford's long-running 15cwt van in production from 1952 to 1969 and for most of that time was Britain's most popular small commercial.
The CA's replacement was called the CF, so what happened to the CB, the CC, CD and CE?

Little has been written or said about this question, leading to the general conclusion that the CA was so good that various proposed replacements were considered to be no improvement until Bedford got to the letter F.
Whatever the truth of that, we now know that Bedford certainly produced a possible successor to the CA, as the photographs on these pages show.

Whether the public would have liked it is open to question. The styling of the CA was certainly American in origin but the overall lines were not extreme. In fact in 1952 they probably seemed attractively advanced, as indeed was the case.

The CA had independent front suspension, an up to date engine, from a Vauxhall Wyvern car, and an all-steel body mounted on a separate chassis.

The competition from Ford and Morris were quite old-fashioned designs in comparison and Austin's nearest competitor, the K8, more modern than the Ford or Morris, was designed for bigger loads.

Judging by these pictures, the CB was a much more radical American design than the CA. The high front panel and shallow windscreen, the low mounted grille, the dog-leg windscreen pillars and the sloping tail going in several directions at once, might have been too much for the more restrained British van buyer.

Even the name on this prototype is formed in a typical American magazine-style typescript that would have seemed quite foreign to British eyes.

As Bedford and its parent company, Vauxhall, were owned by the American company General Motors, it is hardly surprising that there should be a Transatlantic influence on what might be produced in Luton and Dunstable. The Vauxhall cars of the Fifties were unashamedly American in their styling.

Was this potencial replacement for the good old CA a scaled-down version of a Chevrolet or General Motors van produced in the USA?

When the CF appeared in 1969, its style too was inspired by General Motors' American products, but, like the CA, it was sufficiently restrained not to look out of place in Britain.

Whatever the origins of the intended CB, it was a short-lived project and the senior engineers of the time are no longer with us.

One man who was there, as a young trainee, is Barry Harvey, now retired but secretary to the Vauxhall Owners Club 1903-1957. He writes: 'I did a five-year apprenticeship at Vauxhall, starting in 1954. The first two years were spent in the Apprentice School learing machining, welding, sheet metal work, drawing, etc, with day release for college.

'After two years we were placed in various departments in the factory to continue training. I was lucky to be sent to the Experimental Division of the Engineering Department where I worked in various jobs for the whole of my 40 years' service.

'In 1956 or 57 (I think), during my spell in the Running Shop, where all lash-up, test and prototype cars, vans and trucks were built, I worked on the build of the CB van, the intended successor to the CA, which had been launched in 1952.

'After we had built about five vans, left drive and right drive, the project was suddenly shelved. Rumour at the time was that the van resembled too closely the newish Ford Thames 400E and Vauxhall would not risk being accused of copying the design.

'But the new Bedford was not too similar. Maybe it was the Ford Taunus van from Germany that Vauxhall was concerned about.

'The CB vans were parked up for some time, then brought into the workshops one at a time and scrapped. That was a shame, but the CA soldiered on successfully for many years after that.'

After all his years in the front line of Vauxhall-Bedford development it is hardly surprising that Berry has recently bought a rare surviving CA panel van which he is restoring …

• Our thanks to Dennis Sherer of Vauxhall Motors Ltd, for suppluing these archive pictures.

[Published in Classic Van and Pick-up February 2004]

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