The Thornycroft Steam Wagon Company, established by J.I. Thornycroft, produced its first vehicle in 1898. There were several models including an articulated vehicle, the first one in Britain. In 1902 the Company moved into internal combustion engines and in 1905 the name of the Company changed to J.I Thornycroft Limited. The Company built trucks for use in World War One and introduced various models in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1933 the diesel engine was introduced and the Company changed its name to Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) Limited. Some of the model names included the Hathi (introduced in 1925), the Taurus (1933) the Trusty (l934), the Nubian (start of the Second World War), Antar (1950) and Big Ben in 1952. Big Ben was designed to carry payloads of 50 tons. Thornycroft was acquired by AEC in 1961, which was itself taken over by Leyland in 1969.
Thornycroft was a United Kingdom-based vehicle manufacturer which built coaches, buses, and trucks from 1896 until 1977.
Thornycroft steam wagon of 1905
Thornycroft started out with steam vans and lorries. John Isaac Thornycroft, the naval engineer, built his first steam lorry in 1896. Thornycroft's first petrol vehicle was built in 1902 and the company completed the move into internal combustion engine power in 1907.
Thereafter the vehicle building firm and the marine side (later to become Vosper Thornycroft) were separate companies.
From 1931, Thornycroft used names for their vehicle range - descriptive and colourful ones.
In 1948, the company name was changed to Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) Ltd to prevent confusion with the shipbuilding Thornycroft company. The company was well-known for providing fire-engine chassis, with multi-axle drive for uses such as airports.
They were taken over by AEC, by then Associated Commercial Vehicles Ltd, and production was limited to Nubians, Big Bens and Antars. ACV was then taken over by Leyland who already had a specialist vehicle unit in Scammell, another manufacturer of large haulage vehicles. Thornycroft's Basingstoke factory was closed in 1969 and specialist vehicles transferred to Scammell at Watford. The factory continued as an engineering works until the late 1980s when it was demolished to make way for a supermarket. The Milestones Museum is located a few hundred yards from the original site in Basingstoke and houses a collection of Thornycroft vehicles and other exhibits, mainly transport related.
Today, the Thornycroft name is used by a builder of marine diesel engines for private and light commercial use, the engines being based around small-capacity engines designed by Mitsubishi. Despite Thornycroft being effectively closed down by Leyland, the operation's parent company is now the main provider of spare parts for Leyland-built marine diesels, which for many years were highly popular for use in canal barges and narrowboats (now a market making increasing use of modern-day Thornycroft engines).
The Mighty Antar was a heavy-duty tractor unit built by Thornycroft from the 1940s onwards. For some decades it was the standard tank transporter of the British Army and was also used by other nations.
The civilian version of the Antar was developed in the late 1940s as an oilfield vehicle for transporting pipes over rough ground. They were of 6x4 layout (i.e. six wheels, four of them driven), with the front (steering) axle undriven and with twin wheels on both driven (rear) axles. The vehicle was designed from the outset for off-road use, like the earlier Scammell Pioneer and unlike the road-going Diamond T it was eventually to replace.
The engine, the Meteorite, was a cut-down V8 version of the V12 Rolls-Royce Meteor used in tanks, itself a non-aero version of the Merlin and made under licence by the Rover Co Ltd. Early Antars used the petrol version made by Rover and by the early 1950s the Rolls-Royce-manufactured diesel versions of the engine.
Choice of the "Mighty Antar" name
The name "Antar" was a reference to Antar Ibn Shadded, a pre-Islamic Arab poet-warrior. The intended lead customer for the "Mighty Antar" was the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, previously the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and this was a deliberate move to flatter the customer.
Introduction into Army service
In 1951, the first Antars entered British Army service. These were fixed-body steel-built ballast tractors and were given the design number FV 12001 and the designation Tractor 30-ton GS 6x4. They could haul the new 50-ton Dyson FV 3601 trailers that were being used to carry the new and heavier Centurion tanks. A 20-ton winch was fitted behind the cab, although just provided for loading the trailer rather than for recovery.
At this time, the intention was that the even heavier Conqueror tank would be transported by a whole new transporter of equally large capacity, the Leyland FV 1000. This was 2 feet (61 cm) wider than the Antar, as the Antar had in turn been 2 feet (61 cm) wider than the Diamond T. They were to be equipped with a semi-trailer of 60 tons capacity, given the design number FV 3301. This design was ungainly and top-heavy when loaded, being high at the rear to clear the wheels and sloping downwards towards the front to better place the weight of the load.
Partly inspired by this semi-trailer, a new FV 12002 version of the Antar was developed as a tractor unit to haul it. This was a graceful swan-neck design and had only a small hump over the rear wheels, making loading by the rear ramps simpler. The trackways on which the tank sat were carried outboard of the trailer frame itself, which rose up between them at the front to form the swan neck, sloping only gently to clear the tank's hull. This gave a stronger and yet more compact layout than the ungainly step of the FV 1000 project's. The first version of this was the 16-wheeled FV 3001 of 60 tons capacity. This was later refined as the FV 3005 with smaller wheels, then the 50-ton-capacity FV 3011 (when using the Taskers/Sankey trailer) for carrying the Centurion.
As the semi-trailer Antars entered service through 1953 to 1955, and after the abandonment of the FV 1000 project, they replaced the American Diamond T that had served during the Second World War as the British Army's main tank transporter.
The Antar tractor itself was heavier, at 20 tons, than any available recovery vehicle could lift for a suspended tow. There had been plans in the super-heavy FV 1000 and FV 1200 series for recovery vehicles, but these were cancelled with the rest of the project. As an ad hoc measure in 1952, an RASC officer devised a bolt-on recovery jib that could be fitted to one Antar to make it capable of the suspended towing of another, although this modification was never approved for mass production.
In the early 1960s the Mark 3 entered service, to support the increasing weight of later Centurion models and also future plans for the Chieftain tank. These were the last Antars in service, remaining until the mid-1980s. The Mark 3 is visually distinct from the earlier models, the use of an inline engine rather than the wide vee of the Meteorite allowing a much narrower bonnet.
The Mark 3 used either a 50- or 60-ton semi-trailer (numbered as FV 12004) or could be converted to the FV 12006 ballast tractor configuration for hauling the 50-ton Dyson full trailer.
By the late 1960s, it was clear that the Antar, even when re-engined, was an old design and replacement would be needed. There was also concern over the spares situation, as they were out of production and Thornycroft had been absorbed, via AEC, into the vast mass of Leyland. The Antar was replaced by the Scammell Commander in 1986.
Very few of these rigs came close in size or power to the massive Thornycroft Rover Mighty Antar prime-movers imported into Australia in 1953 for the construction of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme in NSW. Completed in 1974, the Snowy Mountains Scheme is without doubt, one of the world’s great feats of modem engineering.
The job would have been impossible had it not been for the grunt of the Mighty Antar trucks and the dedication and commitment of transport operators and engineers from the world over. Created to provide irrigation water to dry inland areas and power to the densely populated south eastern states, the Snowy River Hydro-electric scheme has played a vital role in improving the quality of life for millions of people. It is also true to say the Mighty Antar played a significant role in bringing this very important project to fruition.
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority was launched in 1949, at a time when Australia was suffering a shortage of skilled personnel, equipment and construction materials, a legacy of WW2. This led to an intensive recruitment campaign which ultimately resulted in over two thirds of the personnel employed on the site being brought in from over 30 countries of the world. Along with the skills and expertise of these people, came the best of construction plant and equipment from the world over, among which came three Mighty Antar prime-movers
The Mighty Antar, developed as a joint project between the Thornycroft and Rover companies in England in 1949, was originally designed for the Iraq Petroleum Co Ltd for hauling 93-foot oil pipes across the Iraqi and Syrian deserts. Originally designed for long straight hauls across endless deserts, the Mighty Antars found the going difficult on the steep torturous climbs and rugged bush tracks of the Snowy Mountains and the trucks had to undergo several modifications.
Bert Knowles, superintendent of the Authority’s workshops for the two decades the Mighty Antars were in use, worked hard to bring these vehicles to the standard required for Australian conditions. Many of the design changes and modifications devised in Australia by Knowles and his team were later adopted by Thornycroft as standard equipment in later models of the Mighty Antar.
The steep descents caused problems in keeping the oil supply to the differential bearings. With the assistance of British Petroleum, Bert devised a solution and the modification was adopted by Thornycroft. The Mighty Antars also experienced problems with the original Rover Meteorite V8 18 litre engines and in 1960, they were replaced with the latest Rolls Royce C6TFL units which produced 300 bph at 2,100 rpm compared to the Meteorite’s 250 bph at 2,000 rpm.
At a cost of £20,000 each, the purchase of the Mighty Antars was not a cheap process, but the 20 years of service the trucks gave to Australia repaid the initial outlay many times over, hauling over 20,000 tons of plant and equipment to otherwise inaccessible dam and power sites. Each truck pulled 13 tons of ballast and depending on the load and gradient, travelled at speeds ranging from four mph to 18 mph. The unladen weight of the roadtrain was 104 tons; fully loaded, it could weigh up to 226 tons.
The Mighty Antar roadtrain was indeed a spectacular sight and people from miles around came to see the massive rigs at work. Travelling individually, or hooked up in a train with the two prime-movers coupled together in front of the 120-ton transporter trailer, and sometimes with one truck each at the front and rear of the load, it was a transport phenomena as had never been seen in Australia before. The massive roadtrain was 125 feet long and over 10 feet wide.
In 1975, the Mighty Antar roadtrains were auctioned after travelling only 12,000 km for the Authority. It is, however, perhaps the most gruelling and dangerous 12,000 miles ever travelled by any trucks in Australia. The Mighty Antar proved its worth whether travelling steep gradients of up to 20 percent for long distances on narrow bush tracks with only inches to spare from a straight 500 metre drop to the bottom of a seemingly bottomless ravine, or travelling deep into the earth through a maze of tunnels to the underground power stations hauling huge loads such as transformers, rotors and generators weighing up to 120 tons.
Initially, it was hoped to sell the Mighty Antars to the Middle East for work on desert oilfields, but, with the traumas of war fresh on its mind, the Federal government stepped in and prevented the sale for de fence reasons. Two of the Mighty Antars were fitted with tipper bodies and worked for a time hauling overburden and slack coal at a coal washing bay in Sydney NSW. Sadly, the third truck was used to pro vide spare parts for the other two prime-movers. In 1987, the Mighty Antars were retired from work and their magnificent bodies sold off for scrap at $45 a tonne.
Today, not much remains to remind Australians of this mighty truck that gave so much to Australia. The Snowy Mountains Authority still holds a complete and comprehensive record of all works carried out by Bert Knowles, maintenance and instruction manuals and perhaps most importantly, someone in the organisation had the foresight to retain one of the Mighty Antar grille badges.