The Associated Equipment Company was founded in England in 1912 although, it usually traded under the name AEC. Its origins go back to 1855 when the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) was formed. It however, did not start producing buses for its own use until 1909. In 1912 the LGOC was in turn taken over by the Underground Group which was responsible for most of London’s extensive underground tram operations. As part of that process a separate division was set up for bus manufacturing and this was named Associated Equipment Company (AEC). The advent of WWI saw AEC come under direct control of the British Government who used its assembly lines to mass produce army ‘lorries’ for the war effort. AEC produced 10,000 three and four ton Y models and 1300 buses converted to transport carriers for the Armed Forces during the war. From that point on, AEC became known for both truck and bus production and manufacture of both continued aggressively after the war.
In 1923, the company produced the first of what was considered a civilian goods model. The two ton 201 was powered with a 28 bhp petrol engine. Following this, there was a brief association with Daimler in 1926 which saw the business relocate to a new plant in Southall. London. This dissolved within a couple of years and in 1928 AEC entered into contractual arrangements with both Hardy Rail Motors Ltd and the English version of the Four Wheel Drive Motor Company (FWD) whereby AEC components would be used in all off-road or cross country models produced. Defence contracts and works were still a major part of AECs business in peace time Britain. Many felt a Second World War was imminent and this was the impetus for development of what is Australia’s rarest AEC truck; the 1934 government roadtrain housed at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs.
Upon relocation to Southall a new Chief Engineer was appointed. Mr. GJ Rackham, who had previously worked for Leyland Motors, took the business in a new direction of productivity particularly for the export market to other countries of the Commonwealth. From 1929, AEC produced many new models; the names of trucks began with "M" (Majestic, Mammoth, Mercury etc), and those of buses began with "R" (Regent, Regal, Renown). In 1933 AEC was floated as a separate business and the company went public before producing several very unusual products including a low loader type 8x4 rigid called the Crocodile and the 8x8 Overseas Tractor unit based on an earlier design by Hardy Motors Ltd. In .These original "M-models" continued in production until the end of the Second World War when a new range of diesel powered models was introduced. AEC’s first diesel engine, released in 1930, was a six cylinder 8.1 litre rated at 95 bhp. At this time, AEC also took a controlling interest in the UK subsidiary of the USA based Four Wheel Drive Company (FWD) introducing the use of AEC components into that range. These were marketed under the name Hardy to prevent confusion with the USA marquee of the same name.
Commercial production ceased in 1941 following the outbreak of WWII and all efforts were once again put to military needs. During this time AEC produced their 10 ton 4x4 Matador Artillery tractor and a 6x6 version (officially called the Marshall but usually referred to as a 6x6 Matador. The Matador was used extensively during WWII as both a gun tractor and an armoured version as a mobile battle headquarters or command posts.
At war’s end AEC acquired Crossley and Maudsay and resumed civilian production with the Mammoth Major, Matador and Monarch ranges. AEC changed its name to Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) Ltd., although it kept the initials "AEC" on most of its vehicles. ACV then acquired the bodybuilding company, Park Royal Vehicles, which went on to design a new cab for the AEC Mercury in the mid-1950s; this cab eventually appeared on all models across the range during this period. By 1961 AEC had also acquired Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) and effectively removed that name from the marketplace with the exception of the Nubian airport crash tender and the Mighty Antar roadtrain units best known for their work in Australia on the Snowy River Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. By the end of the 1950s AEC was experiencing rapid expansion introducing the Mk V range and the Mammoth Major 8 many of which were exported to Australia, South Africa, South America and other countries reliant on an efficient road transport industry for their own development.
A new era for AEC was heralded in 1962 when Leyland Motors acquired ACV in 1962 and Leyland cabs were used on most models. Demand for AEC/ Leyland vehicles from around the world continued well into the mid 1960s by which time European and American trucks were also being imported into Australia. By 1968 production of all double decker buses had ceased but the AEC name continued on some trucks and buses up until 1977. In 1979, following nationalisation in 1975 in an attempt to save the ailing organisation, the doors closed permanently on British Leyland’s (as it then had become) Southall plant and all production.
Many AEC models were sent to Australia over the years and for a time the big British built trucks were King of the Road in Australia. Many fine examples of early AEC trucks have been restored by enthusiasts around the country and are on display in museums or private collections. Several buses can be found at the Sydney Bus Museum including a 1963 Routemaster double decker and several Regent Omnibuses dated as early as 1947.
The Mammoth was a 7/8 ton truck with a110 bhp six cylinder overhead valve engine. It went on to have three versions: the Mammoth Minor 6x2, the Mammoth Major 6x4 and the Mammoth Major 8 x4 which could carry a 15 ton payload.
The AEC Mandator dates from the 1930s and post war production saw it available both as a tray and prime-mover units and was available up until the mid 1970s.
The AEC Matador was originally a 5 ton 4x2 commercial truck made famous for its use in WWII as an artillery tractor with the British Forces where it was given the nickname ‘Mat’. AEC had produced 9,620 of these during the war and adapted them afterwards for civilian use where they initially found popularity as recovery vehicles and in the timber industry. The Matador was distinctive with its flat front and curved cabin roof.
The AEC Mercury was a forward control truck first introduced in 1928. It had a wheelbase of 14ft and carrying capacity of 4 ton. In 1930 it became available with a 4 cylinder 65bhp petrol engine.
The AEC Militant, or “Milly” as it was known, became the replacement for the Matador in 1952 and its production continued in various forms up until the 1970s. The Militant was based on the design of a truck produced by Maudslay in 1930. The Militant was renowned for its good cross-country performance making it ideal for recovery work but because it had no power steering military drivers complained it was difficult to turn the wheel at slow speed and in difficult terrain. Interestingly, this model was also nick-named ‘Knocker’ because of the sound of its slow revving engine. In Australia the Militant was widely used on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme usually fitted with an 11.3 litre diesel engine and 5 speed gearbox with 2 speed transfer case.
The AEC Mogul was also based on the design of an earlier Maudslay model. It was available from the 1960s and was called a “normal control tractor unit”.
AEC Monarch were built from 1931 to 1939 having ceased production at the onset of WWII. Over the years it range varied considerably and it was available well into the 1970s.The Monarch was usually fitted with either a 85bhp four cylinder 5.1 litre diesel engine or a 80bhp four cylinder 5.1 litre petrol engine.
At Work in Australia
Trucks Restored in Australia
Featured Story - The AEC 8x8 Government Roadtrain
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