Nick Larkin samples a mighty 1943 Diamond T that’s been painstakingly restored as an exact replica of a family-owned example from the 1950s.
It might look immaculate in the vivid red and yellow livery of owners Statham’s Recovery, and would deserve a prize at any show, but this 1943 Diamond T 969 wrecker is rather more than it seems.
Apart from being an exact replica of a long-lost vehicle, the 6×6 Diamond T is ready for use in the fleet of its Dunstable, Bedfordshire-based owners. “It is excellent for many duties, especially getting stranded artics off the road,” said Statham’s managing director John Statham. “People are surprised when the Diamond rolls up, but most of them love it when they see its capabilities!”
Statham’s is one of the largest, family-owned recovery firms in the South East, with a fleet of 18 vehicles, and will rescue anything from a Mini to fully-laden heavy haulage vehicle. Accident repairs and vehicle maintenance are among the other services offered, and the company can even build recovery trucks.
The firm is also well-known for transporting historic vehicles, with customers including the London Transport Museum – a World War One B-Type ‘battle bus’ replica having recently been taken to shows across France and Belgium.
In the beginning
Such excitement was far in the future when, in 1948, Sid Statham – John’s grandad who had served as an engineer in the Desert Rats – set up a small business carrying out car repairs and charging accumulators.
His original premises were based in a pub car park at Redbourn, just over the border into Hertfordshire, before he moved into a former abbatoir and then an ex-bakery. The opening of the Markyate bypass in 1955 contributed to recovery being an increasingly important part of the business.
A Crossley recovery vehicle had been bought, along with a GMC that had been a chicken shed, and a converted Leyland Comet. But, in 1956, a Diamond T was bought from a military sale in Doncaster. These were highly desirable vehicles that would grace the forecourt of local garages and larger concerns for decades.
With a 10-ton carrying capacity from two five-ton winches behind the cab, plus a front-mounted winch, the Diamond T was much in demand, especially after the new M1 opened in 1959. Twin booms allowed the vehicle to be used by swinging one sideways and positioning the other as a stabiliser.
The business continued to expand, and included a petrol station. A contract with Esso to recover vehicles across a wide area, saw the recovery side of the business increase further – to around seven vehicles – as the 1970s began. The Diamond T had continued to give excellent service, and was something of a local, vehicular celebrity before eventually being withdrawn in the mid-1970s then, to the regret of many, it was eventually scrapped.
John recalls: “I grew up with the business, and well remember the Diamond T. It made such a wonderful sound and I loved it. I always wanted another one.”
T number two
Much petrol flowed through the Hercules engines of surviving Diamond Ts before, some 40 years after the original left the fleet, a replacement arrived. “The Diamond T was in military guise, but I knew it would make a great replacement the vehicle we once owned,” said John. The cab was separated from the chassis, which was thoroughly prepared and repainted using two-pack paint. Work was needed on the bottom of the doors and cab.
With a new carburettor fitted, the 131hp 8.6-litre Hercules petrol engine ran well, and turned out to be in excellent condition. The transfer box, which John says gives 24 gears, also works well, and both the Holmes and Garwood winches worked as they should. He added: “The brakes worked so well. We looked at them and looked at them, but still couldn’t find anything wrong.” All this work was done in house, with the result being one, immaculate Diamond T. “We’re absolutely delighted with the results,’ said John. “A final touch was naming the Diamond T after my grandmother, Florence.”
On the road
A trip in the Diamond T to photograph the vehicle outside Statham’s former Redbourn premises – now flats – was an unforgettable experience, particularly on one of the hottest days of the year when sitting not a million miles from a yowling Hercules engine – thankfully something of a breeze emanated through the opening windows, at least when the vehicle was in motion.
The jaws of many people dropped as the mighty beast rolled by, and there was almost the sense that some motorists were scattering from the scene. John made a fine job of applying just the right amount of choke and hand throttle to get the engine running smoothly, and to tackle the crash gearbox with ease. Certainly not a job for the feint-hearted!
Despite the lack of power steering, the Diamond T is relatively easy to manoeuvre, and will bowl along happily at 35mph. The seats are in careworn condition, reflecting all those years of use. Everything in the cab works as it should – the instrumentation is surprisingly thorough, down to an ammeter plus oil pressure and temperature gauges.
What a machine! It’s mighty and fit for purpose, despite nearing its 80th birthday. Just imagine breaking down on a foggy night, and having the Diamond T suddenly emerge from the mire, lights blazing, to rescue you like a ghostly behemoth saviour?
Who wouldn’t count themselves lucky?
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