Thornycroft (Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) Ltd)
Successor British Leyland Motor Corporation
Founder(s) John Isaac Thornycroft
Headquarters , United Kingdom
Products Engines, Trucks, Buses
Parent AEC
British Leyland Motor Corporation
Thornycroft Steam Van - in BCVM - 09 - IMG 3809

The Thornycroft Steam Van (reproduction) in the BCVM in Lancashire England.

Thornycroft lineup at Milestones - Hampshire RR 09 - IMG 4247

Line of Thornycroft vehicles outside the Milestones Museum after the Hampshire Road Run for Commercial Vehicles 2009

Thornycroft was a United Kingdom-based vehicle manufacturer which built coaches, buses, Military vehicles and trucks from 1896 until 1977. The company became part of the British Leyland Motor Corporation after being taken over by AEC before the brand was finally dropped in the 1970's.

Thornycroft reg SSU 998 based recovery truck at Boroughbridge CV 09 - IMG 8906

A Recovery truck based on a Thornycroft chassis on display at the Boroughbridge Classic Vehicle show in 2009

Thronycroft Antar

Thorycroft Antar Tractor Unit


Thornycroft started out with steam vans and lorries. John Isaac Thornycroft, the naval engineer, built his first steam lorry in 1896. This was a 1-ton steam Van, that looks like a cross between a rail guards van and a closed horse drawn wagon. Their first petrol vehicle was in 1902 and the company completed the move into internal combustion engine power in 1907. (In Germany, Daimler build a production Gasoline engined truck in 1896). [1]

The company built cars for a short period of time after the move to Basingstoke and claimed to rival Rolls Royce for build quality. A number of examples are in the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. Thornycroft built their own engines and all the other components used in there vehicles. 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 - often descriptive and colourful ones.

In 1946 as part of a plan to diversify following the end of War Works (building 20,000 trucks) they started to develop a Combine Harvester, and built a prototype in 1948. The design was by Eli Beavor, a local Agricultural engineer, rather than the firm's own designers. The machine had a 7 ft cut and a drum of virtual the same size. The machine was built from a lot of truck parts and had several design quirks as a result. They used a Thornycroft ER4 4-cylinder petrol engine of 65 hp (48 kW) mated to a 4 speed gear box and a truck axle, with the drum over the top thus making servicing a problem as well as being top heavy. They built approximately 6 prototypes before dropping the project. The machines were marketed as the "Beavercroft" combine in 1949, but then vanished.[2]

In 1948, the company name was changed to Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) Ltd to prevent confusion with the shipbuilding Thornycroft company. During the 1960s to the 1970s, the hit British sit com Dad's Army, a Thornycroft van was used as Jones the butcher's van.

They were taken over by Associated Equipment Company (AEC), by then Associated Commercial Vehicles Ltd and production was limited to the 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.

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 the modern-day Thornycroft engines). 


John Isaac Thornycroft, the naval engineer, also formed the Thornycroft Steam Carriage and Van Company which built its first steam van in 1896. This was exhibited at The Great Exhibition, and could carry a load of 1 ton. It was fitted with a Thornycroft marine launch-type boiler (Thornycroft announced a new boiler designed for their steam carriages in October 1897[1]). The engine was a twin-cylinder compound engine arranged so that high-pressure steam could be admitted to the low-pressure cylinder to give extra power for hill-climbing.[2] A modified version of the steam wagon with a 6-cubic-yard tipper body was developed for Chiswick council in 1896 and went into service as a very early self-propelled dust-cart. While the original 1896 wagon had front-wheel drive with rear-wheel steering, the tipper dust-cart had rear-wheel drive and front-wheel steering. The Thornycroft tipper was built by the Bristol Wagon and Carriage Company, though engined by Thornycroft.[3]

Thornycroft's first petrol vehicle was built in 1902,[4] 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.[5]

From 1931, Thornycroft used names for their vehicle range – descriptive and colourful ones. During World War II the company designed the Terrapin[6] and other war-related vehicles.

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. A limited number of 4x4 chassis were also provided to Worcester-based fire engine manufacturer, Carmichael for sale to civilian brigades in the 1950s.[citation needed]

They were taken over in 1961 by AEC parent Associated Commercial Vehicles Ltd,[7][8] and production was limited to Nubians, Big Bens and Antars, although the Thornycroft-designed six-speed constant mesh gearbox was used in AEC and later medium weight Leyland and Albion trucks. ACV was then taken over by Leyland in 1962. They already had a specialist vehicle unit in Scammell, another manufacturer of large haulage vehicles. Thornycroft's Basingstoke factory was closed in 1969[9] and specialist vehicles transferred to Scammell at Watford


John I. Thornycroft and Co of Basingstoke Hampshire

The company was a manufacturer of commercial vehicles from 1896 to 1960

1896 a vertical steam engine was fitted to a van at Chiswick. After this happened vehicle building was started - see Thornycroft Steam Wagon Co, which had works at Basingstoke.

1899 Details of their waggon. Built by the Steam Carriage and Waggon Co.

1900 Picture and details of a Steam Tipping Wagon built by the Thornycroft Steam Wagon Co

1902 A double-decker steam bus began operating in London.

1904 Acquired the Thornycroft Steam Wagon Co to provide more work for Thornycroft's Chiswick yard

1904 November. Details of the 25-hp heavy oil tractor.

1905 Midland Railway bought two Thornycrofts which were petrol-engined charabancs for summer runs.

1905 The company had a large range of petrol engines in Britain.

1905 Produced a 36-seat bus with a four-cylinder engine and sold for £900.

1905 March. Details of their 24-hp Double-Deck petrol omnibus. Also 5-Ton steam lorry and Military type.

1905 December. Details of industrial vehicles with 20-hp and 24-hp engines.

1908 Showed the new 30 hp chassis for buses

1913 The J type was produced and during the war 5,000 were built.

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices see the 1917 Red Book

WW1 produced the J-type lorries and these were used in civilian life afterward. Exhibit with 3-ton chassis. 

1915 Great North of Scotland Railway bought three models and fitted their own bodies.

1920 October. Exhibited at the Commercial Motor Exhibition at Olympia with four vehicles. A 30 hp 35-cwt box van; 40 hp charabanc to seat 28 passengers; 40 hp 3.5 ton tipping wagon and a 40 hp single-deck omnibus.

1924 The A1 was developed and it weighed one and half tonnes. 1,000 of these models went into service by 1925.

1927 A bigger chassis arrived - the Lightning Coach.

Features included 70bhp side-valve six-cylinder engine; the speed of the vehicle reached 50mph; it had normal-control layout and seated 26 passengers.

The Great Western Railway were the biggest buyers of Thornycrofts.

1931 Two new models were introduced - the Daring double-decker and the Cygnet single-decker.

1934 Thornycroft were offering their own diesel engine, a 7.88 litre six-cylinder direct injection unit.

Smaller models also existed in the 1930s, one being the Beautyride a 26-seater.

1939 The Beautyride was the only PSV listed.

WW2 Produced around 5,000 vehicles for the War Department including the 4x4 Nubian and Amazon models.

1944 Producing six-cylinder 7,883 cc (99 bhp at 1,800 rpm) and a four-cylinder 5,255 cc (62 bhp at 1,700 rpm) diesel engines

1944 Advert for road-vehicle and marine diesel engines

1946 to 1950 20-seater HF lorry chassis built for PSV use.

1947 Two double-decker chassis were made with their own 7.8 litre diesel engine.

1948 the company name was changed to Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) Ltd to prevent confusion with the shipbuilding Thornycroft company.

1948 Range included Nippy 3-ton, Sturdy 5/6-ton, Amazon 12-ton and Trusty 15-ton

1960 Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) Ltd taken over by Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) and production was limited to the NubiansBig Bens and Antars.

1961 Commercial vehicle, marine and industrial motor manufacturers. 

1962 Leyland Motors acquired Associated Commercial Vehicles

1969 Thornycroft's Basingstoke factory was closed in 1969 and specialist vehicles transferred to Scammell at Watford.

1972 The American Eaton Corporation bought Thornycroft's Basingstoke factory from British Leyland for £5M. It has added Thornycroft's heavy gearbox facility to its axle manufacturing capacity.

Original Thornycroft Road Models and VehiclesEdit


  • Beavercroft - 6 'Prototypes built with one known to have been sold.

Steam LorriesEdit

Thornycroft wagon no 39 (AD115) at carringhton 2015 - IMG 2749

Robert Crawford's 1900 Thornycroft wagon no.39 at Carrington Steam Rally in 2015.

  • 1896 1 - ton steam van
  • 1899 3 - ton Steam under type wagon
  • 1899 4 - ton Steam Wagon


AEC chassie with Coles crane

Coles crane mounted on AEC chassis

  • 1909 - Thornycroft Gun Tractor - won MOD trials - 4 cylinder Paraffin engine.[3]
  • 1909- chain drive up to 2 ton delivery vehicles. Engines two or four cylinder for different weight loadings and wheel base.
  • 1914 - J-type - 3-ton for war office 5000 built 4-cylinder 40 hp petrol engine.
  • 1920s - X-type - derivative of the J type.
  • 1923 - A-type 1 1/2 tonner with Pneumatic tyres and electric lights
four-wheel drive artillery tractor for the army
  • A1 RSW / A3 RSW, an off-road capable rigid six-wheeler to an army specification, 1926[4]
  • QC / Dreadnought, 1930
12 ton rigid six-wheel chassis.[5]

1931 switched to Naming the models;

  • 1935 - Bulldog - CE/GD4 - 4-ton petrol powered truck.
  • 1945 - Nippy - 3-tonner
  • 1949 - Sturdy - ZE/TR6 - 4/5/6 tonner 6-Cylinder diesel engine
  • 1953 - Trusty - forward control 4 or 6-cylinder engine
    • Trusty VF 4 wheeler - 8 tonner
    • Trusty RF 6 wheeler - 12 tonner
    • Trusty VF 8 wheeler - 14 tonner
    • 1956 - Trusty PK 8 wheeler - 130 hp. QR6MV diesel engine
  • 1960 - Trident - RG/CR6/1 - 12 tonner powered by a 6-cylinder diesel engine.
  • 1960 - Mastiff 4 or 6 wheeler
  •  ? - Strenuous
  •  ?- Tartar 6x4, both civilian & military versions
(see Thornycroft Bison for an unusual variant)
  • Amazon - 6x4 used for crane base
  • Big Ben
  • Bullfinch
  • Dandy
  • Hardy
  • Iron Duke
  • Jupiter - 6.5 ton
  • Mighty Antar Tank transporter, used by heavy haulage contractors, fitted with 18 ltr V8 'Rover Meteorite' Mk.101 engine of 250 hp.
    • 85-ton Hauler
    • 6 x 4 - 100 ton pipeline and tank transporter
  • Nubian
    • 3-ton vehicle.
    • Available as 4 x 4, 6 x 4, 6 x 6
  • Speedy 2 1/2 tonner
  • Stag 12 ton fitted with a 100 hp. 6-cylinder gasoline engine and 8-speed gearbox.
  • Strenuous
  • Taurus
  • Chassis carriers for mobile cranes (see photo)

Bus and coachEdit

  • Beautyride
  • Boudicea
  • Cygnet
  • Lightning
  • Patrician


Cars were built for a short period at the start of the 20th century 19?-19?, before the board dropped manufacture.

Military equipmentEdit

Thornycroft Nubian Major - Fire engine - TOV 511S - Kemble 2010 - IMG 1646

Retired Birmingham City airport fire/crash tender used for training at Kemble Airport 2010


Thornycroft 355 brochure

Thornycroft 355 tractor sold in India


One chain drive truck  (AM2) with a two cylinder motor exists in Australia. That vehicle is complete and operational.  Parts for a similar vehicle have been located in New Zealand 

Very few examples of early Thornycroft vehicles exist, but a few of the later interwar and ex-military vehicle do appear at shows.

  • a Recreation of the Thornycroft Steam Van exists in the British Commercial Vehicle Museum(BCVM) in Lancashire (was the Leyland Vehicles museum).
  • One Thornycroft Steam wagon exists in the private collection of Robert Crawford of Lincolnshire. This is steam wagon Thornycroft no. 39 - Dorothy of 1900.[6]
  • Thornycroft no. 115 is a steam wagon in the Milestones Museum collection.
  • Three model X known, one at Milestones Museum, one in Australia, and one in New Zealand
  • An early Thornycroft pre WWI Artillery Internal combustion engined tractor also exist in the BCVM.

See alsoEdit


Initial entry from wikipedia.

  1. The World Encyclopedia of Trucks , by Peter J. Davies, pub by Select Editions, ISBN 1-84309-201-8
  2. Old Tractor Magazine, issue 60, Sept. 2008
  3. Info pane with the example displayed at the BCVM collection
  4. "Type A1 RSW". Hants gov, Thornycroft.
  5. "Type QC lorry". Hants gov, Thornycroft.
  6. Steam Scenes has photos of this engine

External linksEdit

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