Information The D series Ford – a reverie

This is one of those barely noticed vehicles that handsomely repays study – a process that starts in the manner of a pebble dropped into a pond to produce ever widening ripples.

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On its debut in 1965, the appearance of the Ford D series would have been regarded as extremely bland, especially when the design was compared with the unmistakable front end of its predecessor, the Trader. Here was a medium to heavy commercial range with a modern, clean look but one easy to confuse with many of its competitors. Its mechanical pedigree, however, was positively Ford and the D series quickly won a devoted following, even if the engine options offered did not always fulfil expectations.

During its production run of some sixteen years, the D series was regularly updated, its adaptability being enhanced with every change. There is little need to recite the details of its well-known mechanical specification – and variants – here, the emphasis this time being on the milieu in which the D series, and one vehicle in particular, operated. And in this connection, the pictures reproduced this month are of more than usual significance.

By the time the D series appeared in any great numbers, the Irish Republic was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of 1916. Still some years away from EU (then EEC) membership, the Republic was an isolated, introspective and somewhat xenophobic society. Widespread industrialisation was in the future, protectionism the order of the day. A now almost forgotten constituent of that industrial landscape was motor assembly, several factories being devoted to building up imported components. This provided much-needed jobs but was clearly uneconomic with no long-term future in a European free trade environment.

In 1979, when I photographed the D series articulated car transporter (pictured left) outside the Buckley’s Motors plant in Santry, the assembly business was on its last legs. This particular tractor had a high spec version of the Custom cab offered on the D series. Registered in Wexford, home of so many car transporters today, its trailer would now be a museum piece, being very similar to those first seen in Britain two decades earlier. These were the inspiration for many of the toy trucks that gave so much joy to the generation now holding senior posts in the transport and allied industries. Echoes, perhaps, of a more peaceful version of Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”?

The D series certainly enjoyed its greatest moment of glory exactly twenty years to the day as this piece was being written. This was when a three-axled version was used as the basis of the Popemobile for the visit of John Paul II in September 1979.

Meanwhile, the cars seen on the transporter in the Shanowen Road picture were well on their inexorable way to the state of the vehicles being brought to the crusher on the D series photographed (overleaf) at John’s Road, near the Royal Hospital, in the summer of 1987. En route to the Hammond Lane scrap yard at Ringsend, at the Matt Talbot Bridge this Ford would have crossed with several car transporters bringing new cars from the docks. There is a parable about our modern society in there somewhere, and a picture I have so far failed to secure is one of the two types of vehicle side by side.

By the time it was replaced by the Cargo in 1981, the D series had appeared in a great variety of guises, some of them not so obvious. There are still several D type fire appliances throughout the country, and the two passenger versions of the chassis were to be found under a sizeable number of buses and coaches; some of these are still in service.

But it was in the goods carrying business and the public services that the D series will be best remembered. Along time ago, a D series Ford was included on the Transport Museum’s forward preservation list, copies of which routinely make their way into various places and organisations around the country.

When a fleet of D types used by the ESB was being replaced during the mid-1990s the Board’s officials at the Leopardstown Depot arranged for 159 TZL, a D1311, to be transferred to the Museum collection.

159 TZL is equipped with a crane, this being a further reminder of how far we have come since the days of the Trader. Then, if a mobile crane was not available, heavy items were loaded by means of planks, rollers and ropes.

This was a time-consuming and potentially dangerous operation and one, which could easily result in unnecessary back strain when staff were not as adequately instructed in safe work practices as they are today.

This also is surely the prompt to sing the praises of tail lifts, pallet trucks and the many other beneficial items available, but taken for granted nowadays.

When 159 TZL arrived in Howth in 1997, it carried an unusual extra gift from the ESB, and one whose origins would be unknown to most people.

It goes back to 1896 when Dublin’s first electric trams began working on the Dalkey line. The overhead wiring was supported by graceful traction poles, many of which still serve as lamp standards. When the ESB replaced those in Dun Laoghaire, one pole, complete with its decorative base, was put aside and brought to Howth. There, it will shortly be ceremonially erected in memory of the event – and of Sir Clifton Robinson, the genius whose achievement of over a century ago will be repeated when the first trams run to and from Tallaght a few years from now.

Who could ever have imagined that a D series Ford could conjure up so many connections?

Santry 1979, a D series articulated car transporter
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