Bedford takes its the name from the county town of Bedfordshire where Vauxhalls plant was located
Bedford used the Griffin logo of Vauxhall Motors which had been derived from the heraldic crest of Fulk le Briante, who was granted the Manor of Luton by King John. Through his marriage, he had acquired property in London, known as Fulk's Hall, which over time, came to be the Vauxhall, the original home of Vauxhall Motors.
Bedfords origins can be traced back to the turn of last century when General Motors was formed in 1908 as a holding company for Buick by Charles Mott who eventually became the sole stockholder. Buick, which was then managed by William Durant, was known as a leading manufacturer of horse drawn vehicles. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions GM ended up with Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Reliance, Rapid (predecessor of GMC) and several others. This put GM in a huge amount of debt and Durant lost control to his bankers in 1910. Je started Chevrolet the very next year and caused mayhem when he secretly purchased shares in GM and took control over the company again. In 1916 he incorporated the business into the General Motors Corporation but, with the collapse of the new vehicle market he lost control again soon after. Alfred P Sloan took charge and led the company to its post war global dominance
Vauxhall had been founded in Vauxhall, London by Alexander Wilson in 1857 and was originally called Alex Wilson and Company. Originally an iron works, they didn’t produce their first car until 1903; it was a crude 5hp model using a tiller for steering. They did go on to better things and Vauxhall was soon characterized by its sporting models. Much of Vauxhall's early success was due to. Laurence Pomeroy who had joined Vauxhall in 1906 as an assistant draughtsman, at the age of twenty-two. His first design, the Y-Type Y1, had outstanding success. Vauxhall made large numbers of the D-type automobile during WWI primarily for use as staff cars for the British forces. Times were tough after the war and Vauxhall actively looked for a major strategic partner. In 1925 it was acquired by GM for US$2.5 million.
The company's image and target market were quickly changed heralding the introduction in 1931 of the first Bedford truck which was based on Chevrolet models. The subsidiary of Bedford Vehicles had been formed in 1930 specifically to produce commercial vehicles. This was a direct result of the Stockmarket crash of 1929 which had made the importation of American trucks financially unviable. During WWII the company built around 250,000 lorries for the war effort and 5,600 Churchill Tanks. Bedford Vehicles became a leading international truck manufacturer, with substantial export sales of light, medium, and heavy trucks throughout the world including Australia.
Until 1925 General Motors had manufactured trucks in Canada and assembled them in Brazil which allowed them to import into Britain under the Imperial Preference Policy which reduced import duties on products from the British Empire. As such, these trucks were marketed as ‘British Chevrolet’. After GM took ownership of Vauxhall Motors, production was transferred toVauxhall's headquarters with production commencing there in 1929. Some vehicles were marketed as Chevrolet Bedford for a short period but the ‘Chevrolet’ name dropped with the production and release of a two ton truck model in 1931.
Part of Bedford's huge success in the UK and British Empire markets can be attributed to its overhead valve (OHV) six cylinder inline Chevrolet engine, today known as Chevrolet Stove Bolt Six. It was considered to be well ahead of its time and was the basis of Bedford and Vauxhall petrol engines almost until the marque ceased.
Many changes and versions of Bedford were created in the years following including the WT series in 1933 and the K, M, MS, ML, O and Q series vehicles prior to and during WWII. Many of these were requisitioned for the war effort primarily in civil defence roles but certainly some found their way to the war front where nterestingly the German forces were using the Opel Blitz which was also part of the GM empire. Thousands of Bedfords were also supplied to the Soviet Union in WWII. One radical departure from Bedford's traditional design came with the development of their QL 4WD forward control lorry which was almost immediately nicknamed the "Queen Lizzie". The British War Office at the time designated 15cwt vehicles as trucks and anything larger as lorries but in Australia they were all simply trucks. Civilian production resumed in 1945 with the QL forward control cab foreshadowing post war truck design.
The CA van was a huge seller both at home and in overseas markets. Known affectionately as the ‘Tilley’, the CA remained in production, as did the RL, until 1969. It was replaced by the CF which didn’t enjoy such a big success thanks to the Ford Transit van.
The 1950s heralded the arrival of the Big Bedfords including the popular S series which brought Bedford into the seven ton range, although in Australia, the tyranny of distance usually meant they carried much heavier loads. Likewise, the SB bus which was also a big seller for Bedford in Australia. The Bedford TK range replaced the S type in 1959 and was also popular in Australia. The 'T' designation meant ‘truck, but the range is generally referred to as the A series with the numbers 2, 3, 4 and identifing the weight rating. A factory-fitted diesel Perkins engine was optional. The TA (A) series was updated in 1957 eventually becoming the TJ, or J series in the early 1980s but they did not enjoy the success of its predecessors despie being available with payloads of up to 42 ton. The C series of 1957 was a forward control derivative of the S models. The Bedford KM was very similar to the TK but with a slightly restyled front end and was marketed for heavier duty applications generally for loads of 16 tons and over. The company also made a number of bus chassis, its low price catering for the cheaper end of the coach market.
In 1986, the Bedford van factory was set up as a joint venture with Isuzu becoming Isuzu Bedford Company (IBC) Vehicles. After producing the Frontera, and a range sold under the Vauxhall and Opel labels the Bedford name was dropped completely with exception of the Midi which was sold for a few years as the Bedford Seta.