Desirable recovery lorries from years gone by

Posted by Chris Graham on 31st July 2023

Michael Marshall takes a nostalgic look at some classic and desirable recovery lorries from years gone by.

recovery lorries

Recovery lorries: This brightly-coloured AEC Matador type 0853 4×4 of indeterminate age looks to have been retired when I came across it parked on some ground in the small town of Comrie, in Perthshire, back in April 1991. It appeared to still have its original bodywork. Built as medium artillery tractors, a total of 8,612 were produced by AEC and many of these versatile vehicles later found work in civilian roles, such as timber loggers and on recovery work.

This article takes a look at recovery lorries; or wreckers or breakdown vehicles as they are also known; mostly at the heavy end, that I have encountered on my travels from years gone by. Few back then were built new as recovery lorries, unlike today with machines constructed purpose made to a high spec to conform to current legislation. Instead, most were based on former road haulage vehicles converted to perform the task.

recovery lorries

This AEC Mammoth Major Mk.V was new to HV Perry from Wareham in October 1961 as SFX 550, and was used on timber haulage until being replaced by an Ergomatic-cabbed Mammoth Major in 1973. It then passed to associate company Lee Line Commercials from Dorchester, and was converted for heavy recovery use. It was a very capable performer with its AV690 9.6-litre diesel being used to recover many motors involved in accidents. Seen here in its original, striking yellow livery, it was later repainted blue then, when it passed to AAH Group and later Baylis Distribution, it was refinished in grey and maroon and registered HSU 636. It has passed through a number of hands in the past 20 years.

Many former Army vehicles found their way into private hands when sold-on into commercial use from military service. These were ideal as they were already fitted-out as recovery vehicles and included the Leyland Martian 6×6 and AEC Militant Mk.V 6×6.

recovery lorries

This is an ex-British Army Leyland Martian FV1119 6×6 heavy recovery when it was with Heybeck Garage of Dewsbury, in West Yorkshire. These vehicles were fitted with the Rolls-Royce B81 Mk.5K eight-cylinder diesel (producing 195hp) and a hydraulic, power-operated crane to recover vehicles of up to 10 tons. They were still in-use with the Army into the 1980s. Q838 HCP, still in olive drab here, would appear to still exist as it’s currently on a SORN.

Some haulage contractors converted one of their former road transport vehicles when retired from revenue earning service to serve as their own company’s wrecker, sometimes with home-built recovery equipment, to be used on occasions to recover one of their own fleet. As these were (hopefully) not used on a regular basis they generally went-on to outlive their contemporaries, some having long working lives later going-on to be preserved.

recovery lorries

This delightful little LAD Dodge four-wheeled recovery belonged to Holders Haulage from north Somerset. It received the registration Q972 PWS in 1985, but was obviously much older. It was last taxed in July 1994 and, as far as I’m aware, was to be preserved. The last I heard, some years ago, it was in need of a new cab.

In years past, many bus and coach operators also maintained their own recovery lorry to serve their own fleet being used when needed to tow home a dead vehicle. Commercial vehicle breakers in many cases also had a recovery vehicle to haul-in scrappers. 

recovery lorries

Here’s a rather world weary-looking, Cummins-powered ERF 6.6CU six-wheeled recovery of Lix Toll Garage, near Killin, in Perthshire, photographed in April 1991. This ERF was retired in 1994, being replaced by a DAF 2800 and Volvo F6 four wheelers.

There were also firms and garages that provided a service to recover commercial vehicles for haulage and transport firms, etc. All provided an interesting extra attraction to the road transport scene in this country. Of course the tightening-up of regulations in recent years means that many of these older vehicles are no-longer suitable and have since been retired.

recovery lorries

The Alvis-Berliet TBU 15 CLD, 6×6 heavy wrecker was a rare beast indeed. This was one of only two known to have been brought into the UK in 1965 for trials with the British Army. It was fitted with a hydraulic crane with a maximum capacity of 10,000kg, which could be rotated through 270°, and a Berliet MK640 multi-fuel six-cylinder 200hp engine. It’s seen here in later life, in the ownership of Pasturefields Recovery Services from Stafford.

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.

recovery lorries

This 1965 Guy Warrior Light Eight recovery was still in-use with JL Cooper Ltd of Milton, Stoke-on-Trent, until 1997. It was originally registered FAT —C in Hull, and would have had an AEC AV470 diesel making it very underpowered for an eight-legger. Later a Gardner 150 with a six-speed Eaton Fuller gearbox with worm-and-wheel differentials were fitted, making it capable of towing 38 tonnes, but still painfully slowly!

So, let us turn the clock back and enjoy a nostalgic look at some glorious lorries from our road transport past.

This extremely tidy Guy Big J8 wrecker was owned by Mike Aven of West Wilts Trading Estate, in Westbury. It was fitted with Holmes 750 recovery gear and is seen at its home in 1986. Mike also had a K-Series Dodge six-wheeler wrecker.


This November 1969, Nottingham-registered Foden S36 eight-wheeler, STV 671H, had previously been a flat with Atlas crane mounted amidships on brick haulage for brick makers the Beacon Hill Group, from Corfe Mullen, Dorset. It was later shortened and converted to a wrecker as seen here with Van Allen Recovery, based in nearby Poole. It was last on the road in March 1993.


A rather unusual choice as a recovery with the Engineering Dept of Potteries Motor Traction in Hanley, was this early October 1971-registered Leyland Bison BN50.22 six-wheeler, RNU 812K. Fitted with Wreck-Master recovery equipment, the Leyland would have been fitted with the notorious Leyland fixed-head 500 (8.2-litre) six-cylinder diesel. The Bison was last licensed in April 1994.


LAD Leyland Bear, DMO 931K of April 1972 with Tayside Regional Council, looks rather knocked-about and scabby. I think on that registration that it might have been an ex-mixer chassis. The Leyland was last taxed in 1990, according to the DVLA.


In use with Tor Coaches from Somerset in the early 1990s was this very tidy and rare AEC Mandator V8 wrecker, which was chassis No. VTG4R 030, originally registered RKL 799G in April 1969. It had been new to Johnson Bros from Kent, who also had another V8, chassis No.024. It appears to have last been taxed in 1991. In the background is my old Opel Manta GTE coupe which served me well from 1986-1999. Ah, happy days!


Scammell Crusader 4×2 artic, RTT 630N, had been new to RWT Edworthy & Sons of Bow, in Devon, in August 1974. It had a Rolls-Royce 280 diesel and was fitted with a Torridge Lines sleeper conversion. After retirement from haulage duties, it was converted to serve as the firm’s recovery vehicle, as seen here, from which duties it was retired in 1996 and then scrapped.


The AEC Militant Mk.3 FV11044 6×6 medium recovery vehicle, with the AV760 six-cylinder diesel, was a very capable off-road performer used by the British Army. It was fitted with a hydraulic power-operated jib which could recover vehicles up to 10,000kg in weight. After disposal, many found homes with UK operators such as this example given an age-related No. VRY 503H, with Crouch’s from Leicester. It is seen at the Classic Commercial Motor Show then held at Crickstop, on the A5 near Rugby (note the TV masts in the background).


Bere Regis & District Motor Services was once the largest independent bus/coach operator in the country. In the firm’s latter years, they used this 1984 Luton-registered left-hand-drive Bedford TM daycab 4×2 recovery, B817 UBM, which is believed to have been passed-on to another Dorset operator in 1994, and was last licensed in 2001.


All photos by the author. Special thanks go to John Mollett for his assistance.


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



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