Classic recovery lorries from yesteryear

Posted by Chris Graham on 23rd August 2023

Michael Marshall takes a wander through the photo archives to focus on a fascinating selection recovery lorries from years gone by.

recovery lorries

Classic recovery lorries: Clarkes Transport, from Sutton Coldfield, was still using this delightful little Austin FFK recovery in the late 1980s. It continued to be powered by the BMC 5.1-litre diesel engine, which I bet sounded lovely when it was towing a dead motor. It was retired from service in 1989.

Following-on from my previous article on recovery lorries – or wreckers or breakdown vehicles, as they are also known – I thought that I would provide another selection of images from my archives. As before, this selection is taken from vehicles I have encountered on my travels down the years.

recovery lorries

In my first selection of recovery motors, I featured Lee Line Commercials of Dorchester’s very nice AEC Mammoth Major Mk.V. Here we see the company’s Bedford S-Type 4×2 fitted with some archaic-looking recovery gear in wintry conditions on the A35, between Bridport and Dorchester.

Also, like my previous article, it includes former Army vehicles which found their way into civilian hands when sold-on into commercial use from military service. It features a Scammell Explorer 6×6 dating from the early 1950s, which was still in Army use when I photographed it in 1982.

recovery lorries

This vehicle served in large numbers with the British Army during World War 2, on tank transporter work – the American Diamond T 980 tractor. Again, many of these found civilian roles after the war on heavy haulage work and recovery, such as this example with Melbury Motors from Shaftesbury, which has had a Rolls-Royce diesel fitted.

These photographs were taken by the author at various locations over the years, and it should be remembered that most of the photographs included here were taken a long time ago, so many of the lorries featured will have long since disappeared. However, I know that a few of the vehicles included here are still on a SORN so, hopefully, may well survive in some form.

recovery lorries

The forward control Mercedes LS 2624 6×4 recovery of WSM Motors, from Weston-Super-Mare, was a bit of an animal. This impressive looking outfit was used on recovery work for the firm which was Mercedes main dealers for Avon and Somerset. It was fitted with Holmes Twin-boom gear and air bag lifting equipment – quite modern for the time. WSM Motors and associated company AD Forsey meat haulage, were both part of the Vestey Group.

So I hope you enjoy the following selection as much as I did by dipping into my past. Let us now turn the clock back and enjoy another nostalgic look at some wonderful lorries from our road transport heritage. All photos by the author. Special thanks go to John Mollett for his assistance.

recovery lorries

A tidy looking AEC Mammoth Major 6×4 with Leyland-DAF distributors Channel Commercials PLC, outside its home base in Ashford, Kent. Again, the recovery equipment of choice is Holmes 750. It was last on-the-road in January 2001.


recovery lorries

This June 1967, Hampshire-registered Foden S21 ‘Mickey Mouse’ lwb 6×4 recovery was still in-use with Dalgetty Agriculture, at its mill at Avonmouth, in the late 1980s. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to have passed into preservation; it was last taxed in January, 1995.


recovery lorries

Photographed at its base at West Wilts Trading Estate in 1986, this Foden S39 rigid eight recovery was operated by animal feeds producer, Nitrovit Ltd. I should imagine the Foden was once part of its fleet as a bulk-blower, before retirement and conversion to a recovery. The Michelin Man is a nice touch, but wouldn’t help the aerodynamics!


Atkinson Mk.1 6×4 recovery of W Belben (Commercials) Ltd, of Ringwood Road, Parkstone, was fitted with Holmes 750 wrecker equipment. The firm also had a Park Royal-cabbed AEC Marshal chopped-down to a 4×2, and an Ergomatic Mammoth Major which was cut-down to a ‘Chinese-six’. The company was also dealers for Renault Trucks, but is no-longer trading. The Atki was last on-the-road in July, 1989.


Not too many Guy Invincibles found their way onto recovery duties, but this nice 6×4 example belonged to mid-Essex Gravel, and looks like it might have survived as it’s still on a SORN.


This early post-war years Scammell Explorer 6×6 10-ton recovery tractor FV11301 was still in use with the British Army in 1982. It was fitted with a power-operated jib winch with a capacity of 4.5 tons with two-fall reeving, ‘walking-beam’ rear suspension and had a top road speed of just 29mph. These vehicles were originally powered by a Meadows 181hp six-cylinder petrol engine, although whether this example still had that powerplant when photographed is unknown.


This August 1974, Blackburn-registered ERF A-Series recovery with sleeper pod extension appropriately belonged to Blackburn Transport Engineering. It had obviously started-out as a 4×2 tractor unit before conversion to a wrecker, and was last licensed in January, 1998.


This AEC Militant Mark.1 0859 6×4 recovery of Fareway Recovery Service from Liverpool, looks a bit of an animal! A former British Army artillery tractor, it has been re-cabbed and bodied, and made into a really smart outfit. It had once been blue before this striking yellow livery was adopted, and was last on-the-road in January, 1993.


Taylors ran a coaching and garage business alongside the A303, near Martock, in Somerset. It operated this genuine AEC Mammoth Minor TG6RF ‘Chinese-six’ wrecker – SKG 450H – registered in Cardiff during March 1970. In addition, the company also had an old Matador 4×4 on recovery work. With Holmes Wrecker gear, at the time of the photo the company’s name hadn’t yet been applied to the doors. It’s still on a SORN so, hopefully, has survived.


Outside Greendale Garage, of Elford, near Tamworth, is William Rowe & Sons Ltd’s smart looking Atkinson recovery in the company’s traditional colours of green with red chassis. Based on a former 6×6 gritter chassis and fitted with a Cummins diesel, MHV 512L was one of a number of these Greater London (Central) August 1972-registered Atkinsons. Sister vehicle MHV 522L is known to survive and, maybe this one as well, as it’s on a SORN.


Chalkers of Weymouth did removals and also had a commercial side which carried-out recovery work with this venerable Scammell Pioneer R100 6×4. Also known as ‘Coffeepot Scammells’ because of the shape to the radiator, these vehicles saw service in World War 2 as heavy artillery tractors. Many found civilian roles after the war in recovery work, but they must have been painfully slow given the 102hp Gardner 6LW six-cylinder under the bonnet.

This feature comes from the latest issue of Heritage Commercials, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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