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A 1922 Model T Ford with a mystery body – much more information

We received a superbly comprehensive response from David Grimstead to the mystery that we posted a few weeks ago as to the identity of the coachbuilder of this stylish body on a 1922 Ford Model T van. Although we cannot be absolutely certain of the coachbuilder, David’s reply gets us to some very likely candidates. His reply was so comprehensive that it deserves a new post. And so here it is.

What we knew before:

Let’s start with reminding ourselves of what we knew before: John French of the Manchester Historic Vehicle Club kindly sent us the photograph of a 1922 Ford Model T van. The photograph was sent to John by a good friend in Canada, the grandson of the original owner who bought it new on 13 August 1922 from Manchester Garages on Oxford Road. Grandfather owned a grocer’s shop, so it was obviously used to deliver groceries. Neither John nor Model T expert Neil Tuckett have ever seen a similar body – it is very streamlined for that period. Neil was however able to identify the wheels as Michelin disc wheels and to confirm that it was built in Trafford Park in Manchester.

Chris Barker of the Model T Register was not able to identify the coachbuilder but did add some more information:

“It appears to be a very well-built vehicle. It was fairly common for small businesses to have special bodies built onto T chassis for business use during the week and family on Sundays. Some companies even offered ‘lift off’ bodies or rear parts of bodies so that the Ford could be a 2-seat pick-up or a 4-seat tourer. Ellison & Smith of the Magnet works nearby advertised such conversions, but their products were less elegant than the one above. The same applies to Jennings of Sandbach. The Register has photos of other such vehicles […] I will hazard a guess that the car above [our headline picture] had a rear door, so it was an early estate car or hatchback that could be used for grocery deliveries. It has all the right bits for August 1922 – low black radiator, UK sidelamps and I would love those disc wheels on my T! Note that in 1922, the factory Ford vans had open-sided cabs, so this is up-market.”

David Grimstead’s response:

If this is what was known as an enclosed Traveller’s Brougham, sometimes a Traveller’s Saloon, built for dual use and featuring detachable seats and one or two back doors, perhaps the purchaser had seen the Manchester Garages, Ford Depot adverts, which appeared regularly in the Manchester Evening News in late 1921: “SPECIAL BODIES for FORDS. At reduced prices. Before ordering your special Van, Tipper, Traveller’s Brougham, or Chara body on a FORD chassis, let us quote you. We can do it at the right price either for cash or on deferred payments.”

Hence, perhaps, it’s a stylish version of a 5-7cwt traveller’s saloon made by their in-house coachwork department, if they had one as did other Lancashire garages or by a contract coachbuilder? A Preston coachbuilder advertised in November 1924: “In stock for Ford Chassis – Traveller’s Saloon, Van Bodies; Ton Flats, Open and enclo. fronts; Convertible Flats for Touring Cars – J. Banks and Co., Coachbuilders, Preston.” They were still selling Traveller’s Saloon bodies made to fit a standard Ford chassis for £65 in 1925; indeed, trying to sell them off cheap in June 1926.

In 1922, a Ford delivery van had been typically about £180 or £45 down and twelve months to pay; a bare car/small van chassis was £120. Worth noting, given the car-like exterior of this one, that closed sedans and coupes were £215-£240 so not many comforts inside. Many similarly described vehicles were sold new between 1918 and at least 1929, and then sold on second hand.

There is a dearth of Manchester Garages adverts in 1922 but in January 1923, they had: “FORD TRAVELLER’S VAN £140. Ford Van with Saloon Comfort and appearance; on latest improved low type Chassis; Dunlop Cord Balloon Tyres; plated radiator; all enclosed front, etc; £35 down on deferred terms. May we show you one?”

In August 1923, H. J. Quick Ltd. of Chester Road Old Trafford advertised “FORD – 1922. STANDARD CHASSIS. Electric lighting, self-starter, demountable rims, tyre fitted to spare rim. With English Coach-built Traveller’s Saloon. Licensed to the end of the year. In perfect condition: £140.”

Evidently a popular design copied, fitted to many makes of chassis and used nationally by 1924, a similar looking traveller’s saloon vehicle, known as the “Ideal,” was made and sold by the nearby Drakeson Motor Co. Ltd., of Wellington Road South, Stockport 1924 but not specifically for a small Ford chassis.

A used car advert from another Lancashire garage, almost describing the photo, appeared in November 1924: “THIS WEEK’S BARGAIN: 1921 FORD LIGHT CHASSIS, starter and lighting; Michelin disc wheels, with two spares complete; Autovac and tank at rear; fitted with very fine traveller’s brougham body; absolutely the last word for comfort and style; indistinguishable from new and ready for immediate use, YOURS FOR £159 10s. CASH; Or £45 down, Balance over 12 months. BRADSHAW’S MOTOR HOUSE, PRESTON.”

Note that adverts often described “saloon comfort and appearance/style;” terms unlikely to be used for a standard Ford flat-sided panel van of the period. There is an illustration of one quite similar at the end of an article about traveller’s vans in 1923 in the Commercial Motor Magazine’s archive: https://archive.commercialmotor.com/page/15th-may-1923/10

Also accessible in this archive are photographs of a similar but updated version on a 1927 Ford chassis made by J. H. Jennings and Sons, Ltd., of Sandbach, which “…designed and standardized a new type of body which, whilst providing all the necessary space for a traveller or salesman who may want to carry with him a certain amount of goods, etc., is also fitted up as an up-to-date saloon. The body is constructed with three doors, one on each side and one at the rear; sliding windows are fitted in both of the side doors.” See it here at: https://archive.commercialmotor.com/article/15th-march-1927/46/a-saloon-body-for-travellers-uses

Intriguing that in John French’s photo the nearside side window appears much shorter than its offside – very stylish for a cheap 1922 grocer’s delivery van; I wonder where Nissan got the idea for their 1998 CUBE…?

A painful parting story: in June 1926 a brand new Ford Traveller’s Brougham was being driven from Manchester to Taunton by Mr. Wade but he collided with Mrs. Bigg-Wither’s (yes, really) at-least four-year-old Clement-Bayard in Wells and overturned the van. She was unhurt and he was only “bruised and shaken” but the Ford…

And yet more from David…

Looking again at the photo of the 1927 Jennings-built Ford and its comment: “having the appearance of an ordinary saloon car… but equipped for a commercial traveller”, they do seem a good bet for the body builders and Chris Barker also mentioned them.

Here’s another humorous afterthought:

In the Commercial Motor Magazine on March 9, 1920, a caveat to having such a “mixed-use” vehicle was amusingly explained by “The Skotch” in his “Hints for Hauliers”  on Page 19. He wrote: “I have a letter this week from an energetic gentleman who possesses a Ford van, which he drives all the week, I understand, in the course of his business.  He desires to use it now and again, week-ends, and suchlike, to joy-ride (I hope that is not a split infinitive!) with his family.  Now, I have never had a Ford of my own, although I have heard a lot about them, but what I have heard would never have led me to believe that a man, having, from necessity, to ride in one during his working hours, would, of his own free will and pleasure, choose to continue the experience during his periods of leisure, as is evidently the case with this spartan individual… My optimistic correspondent wonders if he will need to notify the police, or other authority, of his proposed little game.  I should just think he will.”  After explaining at great length the strictures applying to commercial use and outlining the three financial benefits accruable at the time: purchase price rebates, tax reductions and fuel rebates, The Skotch mischievously added: “All of these advantages are lost so soon as the chassis is fitted with a couple of seats and is used for taking out your best girl, or even your wife.”


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