Royal Mail Morris Minor Van

Thousands of Morris Minor vans once travelled British roads carrying the Royal Mail. One has made it to Australia on an extended delivery run.

Without doubt, the most iconic commercial version of the Morris Minor is the Royal Mail van, with its pillarbox red paint and many unique features. It’s not surprising that so many people in the UK recall these on the road, as the General Post Office (GPO) was by far the biggest single fleet buyer of Minor Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs).

The Minor ¼ ton (or 5cwt) van came into being in May 1953, although a prototype had been built as early as 1949. By this time the BMC had been established and the use of the 803cc A-series engine had been standardised for the Austin A30 and Morris Minor – now designated the Series II.
Unlike the saloons and estate cars, though, the LCVs featured a separate chassis. This provided a number of benefits, including the flexibility of load area designs and the ability to carry a greater payload.

The Minor LCV was effectively a cab-chassis design that could be supplied in that configuration, with an open or closed cab back, or with either a pick-up tray or closed van rear end – simply bolted to the chassis and the cab.

This made it very suitable for fleet buyers, such as the GPO, who could have the rear section built to their own specification.

The first Post Office vans featured black rubber front wings with exposed “frog-eye” headlamps, which were deleted in 1954, with the advent of the “slatted-grille” facelift model. All early LCVs had rectangular mirrors mounted on the A-pillars, and these were replaced with round wing-mounted versions on the facelift.

The split windscreen also had an interesting feature, as the driver’s side could open from the bottom. 

This was apparently to prevent the window fogging up in the cold UK winters, as the optional heaters were not specified. 

To facilitate the opening window, the wipers were mounted at the top of the screen instead of on the scuttle. This feature remained on postal vans up until the end of 1958, even though saloons had received a one-piece windscreen with the launch of the Minor 1000 in October 1956. The GPO vans only received the one-piece screen, and a heater/demister, in January 1959.

There were two main specifications used for the GPO vans, and these were identified by their colour schemes – the telephone technicians vans were painted mid-green with gold signage (changed to bright yellow with black in 1968), while the Royal Mail delivery vans were in the bright red.

Like all Minor LCVs, the GPO vans were very spartan inside. Only a driver’s seat was provided – the passenger seat being only available as an optional accessory – as well as one sun visor, while the glove compartments never received the lids used on the Minor 1000 up to 1961. In fact, the earliest postie vans had only a plain, painted wooden dashboard, but this was replaced with the introduction of the facelift model in 1954.

Mechanically, the GPO vans were basically the same as the production model, except that they featured a low compression version of the 803cc engine – right up until 1964, when they finally received the 1098cc engine that had been fitted to the saloon and estate cars two years earlier. 
As Ray Newell points out in his 2008 book, Morris Minor – 60 Years On The Road, “None of the GPO vehicles had this (998cc) engine fitted. The fact that they were fitted with a restrictor to limit speed was a further reminder, if any were needed, of the (Post Office’s) obsessive quest to save on costs.”
Where the civilian version used a single rubber mat on the floor, the postie vans only had thick industrial rubber mesh pads in each foot well. All Minor commercials had smaller front bumpers, painted silver instead of chromed, and the postal vans also used larger rubber rear bumperettes than the civvy version. The postal vans also had external rear door catches, to hold them open, rather than the internal type of the production version.

GPO vans always had black wheels, with plain chrome hubcaps (without the M motif) that were deleted in 1961. As with all GPO vehicles, each wheel arch featured a printed number, for the correct tyre pressure.

Even before the Great Train Robbery of 1963, security of the Royal Mail was a major concern. To prevent unlawful access to the postal vans, there were numerous deadlocks, wire grilles on the rear windows, special anti-tamper shields on the rear door hinges and a large securing bolt for the left-hand rear door. The rear doors were also secured by a large steel bar that could only be released by a handle inside, just behind the driver’s door. Yale deadlocks were also fitted to all doors.

Although early production model Minor vans didn’t have semaphore trafficators fitted, the postal vans had external versions fitted. These were replaced with “pigs ear” indicator lights, mounted on the edge of the roof, above the Royal Mail logos, toward the end of production.

Inside the cab there was also a wire mesh safety barrier for the driver, a small fire extinguisher and an even smaller first-aid kit – the position of which changed a bit over time.

While the Minor saloon was discontinued in November 1970, the van, along with the Traveller and pick-up, continued for another year – the commercials being the last made. It says a lot for the importance of the GPO contract that the very last Minors made were Royal Mail vans. As Jon Pressnell says in his book, Morris Minor – The Official Photo Album; “GPO records confirm that on 1 January 1972 at least 794 vans were still to be delivered to the Post Office, although the final GPO chassis is dated December 1971.”

Total production of all model Minors exceeded 1.6 million, with 326,869 being commercials. Of those, over 50,000 were Post Office vans, of which around 20,000 are believed to have been Royal Mail vans – the other 30,000 or so presumably being the telephone engineers vans.

It has been suggested that although so many GPO vans existed, they possibly had the highest-percentage of write-offs. This helps explain why there are so few around today. While some of the Series II and 1098cc vans are occasionally seen at shows or come up for sale, it is believed there is only a handful, perhaps as few as four or five, of the early split-window vans that survive today.

One of these is our feature car, which remarkably is in Australia, owned by father and son Minor enthusiasts Bill and Richard McKellar – whose Minor Million we featured in Issue 1.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 2 of The BMC Experience through this website, or subscribe today.

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