During the Bedford production run, which continued until the 1980s, some 551,866 TKs were built, but close on its heels, with more than 520,000 coming off the production line, was the Bedford T J Perhaps even more remarkable was the fact that production of the T J actually outlasted the company which had developed the model, and later versions were still being produced in the 1990s many years after the demise of Bedford itself. The designs and tooling were picked up by AWD and Marshall, and these two companies, which continued to produce the T J for the expert market, extended the availability of the model for a few more years.
While the revolutionary elements in the design of the TK would certainly make an impact on the UK market, as far as the T J was concerned Bedford continued with its long established tradition of producing a reliable and rugged bonneted vehicle. The range was launched in September 1958 with the release of 12 models in a line-up which was broadly similar to the previous TA and T D Types. The available models extended from the 25/35 cwt trucks through to a seven toner which provided customers with a wide choice of wheel-bases and payloads.
Compared with the bonneted lurries produced by the company during the 1940s the introduction of the TA Type in the spring of 1953 certainly displayed a certain degree of transatlantic influence. Indeed the cab and front end were practically identical to the series of Chevrolet trucks which had been fitted with an Advanced Design cab and which had been introduced to the American market in the late 1940s. To power its new vehicle Bedford offered the 214CU in petrol engine but in addition the four-ton and five-toners were fitted with the Perkins P6 which Bedford had adopted as its first official factory-fitted diesel engine. The TA. although produced in good numbers, did not sell particularly well in the UK but it did prove to be a very popular export model. It would seem that UK operators preferred to use the S Type when that model came to the market, and in addtlon Bedford was having to contend with increased competition which was coming from new Ford Thames models.
The normal control TA was followed early in 1957 by the T D aimed at the midrange market with the smaller models in the new range retaining the styling of the earlier TA while the heavier models were fitted with a redesigned and more elaborate grille. The T D also offered the choice of either petrol or diesel engines although the use of the Perkins P4 was short¬lived. being replaced by a newly developed Bedford four-cylinder diesel engine.
TJ on show
Although by this time design and development work had already started on the new forward control Bedford TK. the company continued to recognize the need for a normal control model. Announced in September 1958 the new TJ Type appeared at the Commercial Motor Show in November 1958 and it did not take too long for the T initial to be dropped and the range became more familiarly known as the J-Type.
Although the basic design continued the theme set by the TA and T D, one of the most obvious differences was the size of the wheels fitted to the lighter models. The J1 25/3Scwt, the J2 three toner and the J3 four toner were all fitted with 16in wheels which in the first instance certainly raised doubts about performance In the minds of some correspondents. However, during the design and development process extensive tests had been carried out on the rough stone roads of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. Bedford and several of the tyre manufacturers had worked together to develop and produce 16in heavy duty wheels and tyres suitable for use in vehicles up to four tons.
The tests Involved several thousand miles of running in arduous conditions over unmade roads as well as extensive testing in town and on main road conditions. These had proved that the performance exceeded expectations and in addition there were useful weight savings, reduced stress levels on the chassis and transmission, lower loading height and the tighter turning circle facilitated maneuvering.
A redesigned and lighter spiral bevel rear axle was fitted to replace the heavy duty hypoid rear axle on the four-ton version. Additional benefits included reduced weight and the smaller diameter tyres, which were also cheaper, were also found to last longer during test running. The heavier models — the J4. J5 and J6 — were fitted with 2Gin wheels.
Although broadly similar to the TA and T D the cab and front end had undergone some design changes and the split windscreen had gone. The bonnet had been given a more sloping profile to improve forward visibility while the size of the one piece windscreen had been increased and it was also deeper and more curved. The bottom line of the newly designed windscreen was nearly six inches lower than the previous T D Type and was fitted with longer wiper blades to clear a much larger area of glass than on the earlier models. Additional glass windows were fitted to the rear of the cab panel which featured a single wide centre panel and curved corner lights at each side. There were two designs for the front grille and mudguards with the lighter models in the range having vertical slats and deeper set headlights with a distinctive, and very car like, ‘eyebrow’, while the four toners and above had a grille with horizontal grille slats.
The cab interior layout followed closely the design of the previous models with an adjustable driver’s seat together with a two man passenger seat but the dash and facia panel had been redesigned. The instruments, speedometer, milometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge and the charging and oil pressure warning lights were all incorporated within a hooded single dial giving a clean and uncluttered look to the dash. The advertising of the day stated: «The Bedford cab is a cool cab. light, roomy and well ventilated.» The brochure was published in 1960 and perhaps the use of the word ‘cool’ could be regarded to reflect not only the temperature but also the truck’s ‘street creed’. Standard models would certainly be cool as the provision of a cab heater remained an optional extra.
For the J1. J2 and J3 models a choice of either the 57hp four-cylinder 20Ocu in diesel or the six-cylinder 214cu in petrol engine was available. The petrol engine was in essence a revised version of the 28hp unit which had appeared in the late 1930s but following design improvements the unit was now rated at 85hp and delivered a much better performance on the road. The J4 and J5 could be fitted with the 214 petrol engine but was also available with the 300cu in petrol and 30Ocu in diesel engines. The top of the range J6 seven toner had only the choice of the 300cu in petrol or 300cu in diesel engines. The four-speed gearbox with synohromesh on all but first and reverse was standard across the range although there was a choice of close ratio or wide ratio settings.
The smallest of the type, the J1 25/35cwt, was available with 119in wheelbase and a range of different configurations, and could be delivered as a chassis cab, a Hawson bodied drop side, a pick-up body or with a Sparling van body. The three-ton J2 featured dual rear wheels and was available with the standard 119in wheelbase or the longer 143in wheelbase which could accommodate an 11 ft 6in body. However, the four-ton J3 was available only with a 161 in wheelbase which allowed the fitting of a 14ft body and was aimed primarily at the distribution trades which the company had already identified as a prime market. The combination of spacious load capacity and 16in wheels, giving a low loading height and improved maneuverability, made the model a popular choice for town and local delivery work.
Initially the J4, which was rated as a five toner, was available only with the 167in wheelbase, while the six-ton JS was available with a short 120in wheelbase as well as the I67in version. The heaviest of the TJ range was the seven-ton payload J6 available as a 179in long wheelbase version or as a shorter I 55 in wheelbase which proved popular with tipper operators. The J4A tractor unit with a I20in wheelbase was also included in the range but remained in production only until 1966. The eight-ton tractor unit, suitable for use with Scammell automatic couplings, could be used with any semi trailer for a gross train weight of 27,000lb. Coupling and uncoupling was automatic and a simple release lever for uncoupling was positioned within the cab. The tractor units were offered with either the 214cu in petrol engine cr the 300cu in diesel.
A further introduction came in 1960 with the launch of a half-ton light pick-up which was essentially a very light T J retaining the cab and bonnet birth powered by the 2651 cc six-cylinder petrol engine and three-speed synchromesh gearbox used in the Vauxhall Velox arid Cresta cars. Later models were fitted with the larger 32S4cc from the Vauxhall Cresta which made for a very lively small pick-up but one which would see its production come to an end in 1965.
The T J range would continue more or less unchanged throughout its production run although as far as the home market was concerned it was eventually withdrawn in tire mid 1970s. With the company having made a loss in 1976 and the introduction of European legislation concerning brake regulations applying to vehicles which were sold in Britain, the decision was made to withdraw the T J range from sale on the home market. Domestic demand for bonneted trucks had fallen away sharply and the cost of developing and redesigning the TJ was something that the company could not justify.
However, the opposite was true as far as the export market was concerned as the bonneted design was still very much in favour and the T J remained in production as an export only model. Overseas sales continued to hold up well and by the end of the 1970s well over 10,000 J types were being produced each year with a total of 13.003 being built in 1977 and 15.694 in 1978, while in 1981 8360 were built. Asia. Africa and Australia were the main markets with many units delivered as knocked down kits to be assembled in local factories. For example in India in 1968 Hindustan Motors started to build the J5 and J6 at its own factory with production continuing until increased competition from vehicles from T a t a and Leyland eventually brought an end to production.
Sliding doors and 4x4s
There were few variants from the basic models but a 4×4 was developed to military specifications in the mid Sixties and easy access and parcels vans were also developed by H a w s o n s.
The Bedford H a w s o n Easy Access van was exhibited at the Commercial Motor Show in 1962 and was based on the 119in wheelbase J1 chassis which had been modified as a semi-forward control model. The steering column was also shortened and set in a more position and the van featured a redesigned glass fibre front end with a short full width sloping bonnet but which retained the T J grille design. Sliding doors and a low step afforded easy kerb side access to the driving cab and the 350cu ft van body and was launched as a competitor to the Comer Walk-Thru design.
With the greater proportion of Bedford trucks being mass produced the company was willing and able to respond to specialised requirements. A four-wheel drive J type based on the J5 chassis proved to be a very useful model and many were used by the utility companies in a variety of roles. The Southern Electricity Board used such vehicles to erect its supply poles and some of these crane fitted vehicles had working lives of over 20 years. The J2 was also used as the basis for a small coach, being converted to forward control and fitted with a short version of the P l a x t o n Embassy body with a 19-21 seat capacity.
In September 1968 in an attempt to rationalise and simplify vehicle classifications a new alpha numeric system was introduced by the company. The raw classification would include codes for model type, engine, gvw range, wheelbase, driveline and cab type. As far as the J Type was concerned the model code C was allocated for the T J 4×2 normal control and this was then followed by various letters and numbers relating to the other features. Whether the new system simplified or complicated the issue is open to conjecture. In the mid 1970s a ‘badge designation’ system was introduced. This was based on model type and gvw with the result that the J1 now became the TJ340 with the J2 through to the J6 becoming the TJ610, TJ700, TJ850, TJ940 and the TJ1100 respectively.
With the announcement by GM in September 1986 that Bedford was to cease commercial truck production it seemed likely that this would also mean the end of the T J. Although it had been withdrawn from the UK market over 10 years previously the range was still selling overseas. However, some models continued to be built m the last few months. Military contracts tor the T M 4×4 arid 6×6 vehicles continued, as did the production of models for overseas contracts which included some of the bus chassis and some T J models.
Following arrangements to buy out the D u n s t a b l e truck and bus plant at the end of 1987 it was planned that production of certain models would continue under the AWD banner. There were plans to r e m t r u d u c e the T L and also upgrade the T J range, however by 1992 this enterprise had gone into receivership. That year the business was bought by Marshall of Cambridge which announced that Bedford would nave be part of Marshall S P V Ltd and would continue to offer the models produced by AWD which included the T L and the M T. and also a TJ2 which was basically a T J fitted with a Perkins engine and was built as an export only model.
For any commercial vehicle to have a production run in excess of 20 years is a remarkable achievement but to extend that run to over 40 years is quite astonishing, especially when the vehicle had remained basically unchanged during that time. When compared to the innovative Bedford TK the design of the J Type range may be regarded by some as American Retro’ but it certainly found favour both at home and abroad with those drivers and operators who preferred to have a bonnet in front of them.
My thanks to Andrew D u e r d e n for arranging the use of photographs from the Vauxhall Heritage Archive.