Atkinson had been founded initially as steam wagon manufacturers and repairs in Preston UK in 1907 by brothers Edward and Henry Atkinson with the assistance of their brother-in-law George Hunt. By 1920 the business was operating in new premises and had twenty employees although a smaller premise was maintained in Liverpool to service the huge volume of steam vehicles still working on the docks.
When WWI broke out The UK found itself struggling to cope with an inadequate railway network and road was called upon to supplement the need for local delivery. The Atkinsons decided the best way to capitolise on this demand by designing their own vehicle. Their six ton, four wheeled steam driven wagon was released in 1916 and was an instant success. As were several subsequent steam models. Henry Atkinson died in 1921 leaving the business to his brother Edward who favoured steam despite the fact that many other company’s were developing petrol and diesel engines for their product. With sales rapidly declining into the late 1920s Edward Atkinson entered into an agreement with Walkers who then engineered Uniflow engines for Atkinson trucks. This too was far from successful with only around 550 units manufactured. In 1932, following the death of Edward Atkinson, the business was acquired by WG Allen whose father had started the Nightingale Garage. The focus immediately changed to value for money affordable ‘lorries’ using a tried and true combination of Atkinson chassis powered by Gardner engines driving through a David Brown gearbox to rear Kirkstall axles.
During WWII the use of Gardner engines was reserved strictly for military applications and during this time Atkinson fitted AEC 7.7 litre to their civilian range. In the 1950s as roads improved and demand for a better road freight service increased operators called for more powerful engines than Gardner could supply. The biggest Gardner at the time was 120bhp. Atkinson responded by offering options of Daimler, Rolls Royce and Cummins engines as well as Gardner. By 1968 Gardner had released several engines up to a 240bhp.
In 1959 Atkinson also offered a fiberglass reinforced cab as opposed to its previous coachbuilt hardwood and metal standard cab. It featured twin fixed wrap around windscreens but still had the exposed radiator featuring the ‘Knight of the Road’ trademark on the radiator grille. During the 1960s these were marketed under the Knight name usually with a colour as a prefix eg: Black Knight or Silver Knight.
Several models were produced (some by Krupp) but operators preferred the exposed radiators with the Big A in a circle logo centred on it. Atkinson also entered the lucrative bus market with several options and were leaders in the development of the two pedal bus transmission.
The Atkinson nomenclature was simple in style and lasted from 1933 to 1975 despite the fact that Atkinson merged with Seddons of Oldham in 1970. The last true Atkinson off the production line was an 8 wheel rigid that was sold to G & B McReady of Newcastle-on-Lyme where it sat for many years deteriorating. Hopefully, an enthusiast has managed to resurrect the vehicle by now.
Atkinson was taken by American giant International Harvester in 1974 and in 1983 by the ENASA of Spain which made it a subsidiary of Pegaso. In 1992 it again changed hands when it became part of IVECO which continued to use the name for specialised vehicles throughout the United Kingdom. These are identifiable from other IVECO models because the still wear the companies former logo of an A within a circle on the radiator grille.
Atkinson range was also popular in Australia, particularly with those operators who required larger, more powerful engines in special applications. The fact that it could be ordered tailor-made to suit the customers requirements in engines, transmissions and axles ensured it had a ready market against its stablemate International range. In general, the Atkinson was more expensive to purchase than many of its competitors and this held it back in more conventional applications to some degree. In 1992 International Australia was taken over by European truck builders Iveco which belongs to the Fiat group, manufacturers of a full range of commercial vehicles. Never-the-less, International and Atkinson held large shares of the Australian truck market in their day with many of its models, such as the 400 hp F3870 Atkinson and the 525 hp Transtar 4700 Series, gaining a reputations for handling rugged applications.