Lorry Driver of the Year

Posted by Chris Graham on 24th January 2020

Mike Forbes offers a fascinating selection of archive photographs of vehicles taking part in the Lorry Driver of the Year competition, from the Chris Hodge ‘Stilltime’ Collection.

Lorry Driver of the Year

This Driver of the Year competition image illustrates perfectly how the event provided a big day out for everyone. While the drivers were working hard, going through the tests, there was a roundabout for the children and ‘Mr Whippy’ ice creams for the spectators. This photo was taken at a heat held at Coventry Airport and, under the watchful eyes of the judges and a couple of officers in uniform, an RAF driver is seen reversing his Austin K4 Loadstar into a ‘garage’. In the background, a Shellmex & BP driver manoeuvres his AEC Mercury artic tanker – sporting the new white, yellow and grey livery. There are lots of details to spot in the background, such as the Mayor’s Daimler limousine near the marquees, and the Shell-BP Racing trailer to the left

The Lorry Driver of the Year competition – LDOY to its friends – was a fixture on the transport industry calendar for many years. In these days when even running races at schools’ sports days isn’t always allowed to involve winners and losers, the idea of drivers competing in a series of tests to see who can score least faults, would probably seem a very strange idea. But during most of the next 30 years or so after 1950, just competing was a source of great pride to many drivers.

Many of the major companies involved in transport around the country, sent their drivers to take part in the LDOY – both hauliers and own account operators, plus organisations like the Post Office and the armed forces – so there was always a great cross-section of different vehicles being photographed, from light vans to the biggest artics of the day. Amazingly, some of the lorries actually took part complete with loads, ready for the working week after the weekend’s Lorry Driver of the Year activities.

At the heats and finals of the LDOY competition there could only be one winner but, of course, as far as we’re concerned, the lorries featured are all winners!

Lorry Driver of the Year

Here’s an RAF Austin K4 Loadstar, 78 AF 46, with its military-style tilt bodywork. Of note are the ‘Strictly No Lifts’ signs across the radiator grille; this Austin’s job must have been a bit ‘hush-hush’


Lorry Driver of the Year

Here we have a driver with a BMC works vehicle on Coventry trade plates – 1360 DU. Backing the Austin FG up to the board would have been made a bit easier, with the rearward-facing Angle Cab doors. In some Lorry Driver of the Year competitions, cab rear windows were blanked-off


Lorry Driver of the Year

Here a driver from the Rochester Branch of the Metal Box Company manoeuvres through posts. However, the stylish cab of his Seddon tractor unit, 661 WMX (Middlesex, 1960), wasn’t going to help him get it and the Carrimore trailer – with an early type of curtain-sided body – through the difficult exercise


Lorry Driver of the Year

Another manufacturer’s vehicle is this Commer QX – with the facelift cab – from around 1960, again running on Coventry tradeplates, 1322 DU. Until licensing changes in the 1980s, all sorts of ‘motor trade’ vehicles were un-registered and ran this way. With its step-frame box trailer, this Rootes of Coventry vehicle would have been used to distribute parts between the Group’s factories around the Midlands


Lorry Driver of the Year

Rain didn’t stop play at Lorry Driver of the Year events, with lots of spectators still braving the weather. Here we see a company driver in a demonstrator; a Commer C Type 7½-tonner, ‘with Rootes diesel engine’ – that would be the TS3, then. The Bedfordshire trade plates, 461 NM, suggest it had come from the Dunstable factory for the competition. The plywood boxing-in of the dropside body was presumably to make things fairer, when competing against box van drivers


Lorry Driver of the Year

This photo was also taken at Coventry Airport, but a few years earlier. The driver of an early, ‘Big’ Bedford S Type artic tanker, MXV 738 (London, 1953), of Shellmex & BP, can be seen hanging out of his window (probably not something he would do today!), as he reverses into the garage. Wall’s and Post Office vans can be seen waiting their turn in the background


Lorry Driver of the Year

Now for some photos taken at a heat held at an Express Dairy depot, believed to have been somewhere in West London. This was an AEC Mammoth Major 8 Mk V, DHX 170A, (Middlesex, where they started using the letter suffixes in 1963). The box body might have been insulated to keep the crates of bottled ‘black stuff’ cool, during runs to other breweries’ distribution depots. An eight-wheeler like this, without power steering, would have been quite a beast to manoeuvre in the driving tests. I was told by drivers with experience of driving vehicles like this at Vine Products in Kingston, that they had to stand up to turn the wheel when backing up with a load on!


Lorry Driver of the Year

Somehow this Atki eight-wheeler looks a lot lighter and easier to manoeuvre, although it probably wasn’t. Lucozade’s Gardner 150-powered Atkinson L1686, CMG 236A (also Middlesex, 1963), fitted with the short-lived, concealed radiator-style cab, looks as if it had just been put into service, or had it just been thoroughly ‘bulled-up’ for the competition?


Lorry Driver of the Year

A smaller vehicle backing into the same ‘garage’, beside the Express Dairy depot, was this Austin FFK box van, 519 EBY (Croydon, 1964). Another new-looking vehicle, from the fleet of John Dale Ltd, of New Southgate, London N11, a Metal Closures Group company. A similar lorry can be seen waiting its turn in the background. There weren’t so many spectators here. Was the dairyman in his boiler-suit and wellies impressed at the driving skill being displayed?


This photo was taken at another LDOY heat, held at Woolwich, again in the early 1960s. Revertex was a chemical company based just off Edinburgh Way, Harlow, bought by Synthomer, formerly known as Yule Catto, in 1980. Something tells me this Scammell Highwayman, with its matching Scammell frameless tank trailer, 945 DYO (London, 1963), would have been on contract from Thomas Allen or Crow Carrying Co, both of which had other lorries taking part in this heat


This photo was taken at a forerunner of the LDOY competition, the ‘Commercial Vehicle Rally Safety Trials’ held at Slough, in the early 1950s. Here we see a smaller vehicle taking part, a Seddon Diesel 25 cwt, 421 DME (Middlesex, early 1955), a rare chassis-cab with box van body


Moving on to another round held at Plymouth Hoe, it looks as if the Corporation had lent one of its double-deckers as a control vehicle, seen in the background. Making a start on the tests, in front of the crowds, we see a Leyland Super Comet four-wheeled rigid tanker, WYU 424 (London, 1959), in the livery of Power ‘Fuels for Industry’ (Power diesel was usually sold alongside National Benzole petrol, within the Shellmex & BP group), with a Smith’s Crisps Albion Chieftain box van waiting its turn


At Plymouth Hoe, with Smeaton’s Tower glimpsed in the background, we see another vehicle which would have been hard work to manoeuvre around the course; an Army Commer Superpoise-based 4×4, with an ‘office’ body, 40 BH 62, being backed into another ‘garage’ of posts and railings


It’s hardly surprising to see the Royal Navy taking part at Plymouth, with this smart-looking Scammell MU and matching low-loader trailer, 11 RN 14, of SNSQ, HM Dockyard, Devonport. We can see an AEC artic of another great LDOY supporter, Tate & Lyle, in the background


Again at Plymouth, the driver of this Shellmex & BP AEC Mercury artic, XYP 244 (London, 1960), with a modern-shaped tank trailer like the one glimpsed in the first picture at Coventry, had ‘jack-knifed’ the outfit, so he could see where the back end of the vehicle was going, but would this have made it easier to steer between the posts?


Now we’ve moved again, this time to a heat held in Leeds, where we see a LAD-cabbed Albion Chieftain, with a hopper-conveyor type body for deliveries, VKW 51 (Bradford, 1962), of coal merchant, Frank Obank Ltd


Another light vehicle taking part in the Leeds heat was this Commer BF diesel 1½-ton panel van, 6581 UB (Leeds, 1960), of the Yorkshire Electricity Board. Were there different rules for the smaller vehicles? I seem to rememberthat, in later years, all the contestants had to drive a range of vehicles, supplied by one of the manufacturers…


Also seen at Leeds was another British Oxygen Company vehicle, an Albion Chieftain, UXX 232 (London, 1958), fitted with one of those unusual tanks which BOC used to deliver Liquid Nitrogen in bulk


To finish, here’s one of those photographs I just can’t resist. All eyes are on the front corner of this Albion Claymore integral box van, YKA 553 (Liverpool, 1957), of Lewis’s Department Store. Were they all wondering how he would back out again, without hitting the fencing?

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