|The best of Bedford
From their establishment in 1931, Bedford - the Luton-based British arm of General Motors - swept the boards with a series of simple, rugged and reliable lorries and buses. They were all powered by a development of the Chevrolet six-cylinder petrol engine, known as the Cast-iron Wonder. McCairns Motors, assemblers and distributors of Bedfords in the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) for over forty years, successfully promoted the marque, selling them to virtually every sector of business and the public services.
IO 6263 was originally owned by an Athy fuel merchant before being beautifully restored (right) by Transport Museum member, John Wheatley. Here (below) it is made up as an Army Lorry for film work.
|The main competition for Bedford came from the American Ford and its British Fordson cousins, but in what would today be regarded as the lightweight division (up to five tons) there were at least ten other makes available in Ireland during the thirties and forties.
Introduced in 1939 with the rather dated cab of its predecessor, the OS (short wheelbase) and OL (long wheelbase) series was soon afterwards offered with a more streamlined cab, fronted by a short bonnet and distinctive grill which gave it the "bull-nosed" sobriquet.
The O type Bedford had a 3.5-litre engine, four-speed gearbox, spiral bevel rear axle and hydraulic brakes; there were several variations of the basic specification. During the Second World War, a military (OY) version with a flat panel incorporating the radiator grille and headlamps, was built; a similar vehicle, the OW, was later available for vital civilian war work, continuing in production until 1945. The early CIE fleet included several OWs.
"O" models reverted to their original frontal appearance from 1945 and continued in production until replaced by the TA model in 1953.
During that period, replacements for pre-war vehicles and the many new businesses starting up in the Irish Republic saw hordes of O type Bedfords taking to our roads. There was scarcely a large operator who did not have at least one example and there were several beautifully liveried fleets; the erstwhile Irish Press group immediately comes to mind. Bedfords were, literally, everywhere and many of these vehicles put in more than twenty years' work.
Already recognised as a classic, in 1974 a 1946 Bedford OL which had been dry-stored for several years was purchased by Transport Museum member John Wheatley. With the registration number IO 6263, this Bedford had been bought new by an Athy fuel merchant and fitted with a creel-sided bodywork as a turf lorry - a type of vehicle so familiar in the Ireland of yesterday. Its owner unfortunately died within a few years and the lorry was left in a shed until its 1974 sale.
The body, which may have been transferred from an older vehicle, was not in good condition and was rebuilt as a platform or flat. IO 6263 was initially painted red and left unlettered but was later repainted green and sign-written for John Wheatley's coach-building business; he also has a pre-war Reo and a Guinness Vulcan.
The Bedford's first outing following its restoration was for a good cause when it appeared in the 1976 St. Patrick's Day parade as the basis of a float for Women's Aid. It afterwards attended several rallies and in 1987 was offered on loan to the Transport Museum where it has since been on display.
The Bedford is the only vehicle in Howth not vested in the Society, which explains its having an identification letter (A) instead of the usual Transport Museum fleet reference number. Standing near the entrance of the museum, this Bedford is one of the first vehicles a visitor sees and it always creates a great impression: it is especially popular as the background for visitors' family photographs.
To those who knew them in service, Bedford Os still look modern, and it is hard to believe that their immediate successors, the S types (1950) have also vanished.
The S and its military equivalent were the chassis under the immortal Green Goddess fire appliances, of which the museum has an example. The S was superseded by the TK, produced from 1960 to 1979 and seemingly indestructible. A Telecom Éireann TK features in the Utilities section of this publication.
A final O type memory is that of the bus in the range, one of the best liked small buses ever produced. There were both coach and bus versions and the Museum is indeed fortunate in having one of the latter.