Shelf-sized classics of Commer and Karrier vans

Posted by Chris Graham on 30th June 2023

Mike Neale takes a look at some shelf-sized classics, this time with a very familiar Rootes product as his theme.

Shelf-sized classics

Shelf-sized classics: Corgi No. 428, Smith’s Karrier Mister Softee Ice Cream Van.

Rootes Group introduced the BF van (reckoned to denote Bantam Forward-control) in 1953, fitted with a 2,260cc four-cylinder petrol engine from the Humber Hawk, or a 2,260cc four-cylinder diesel option. It was sold under both Commer and Karrier marque names, but the BF designation was largely absent from period brochures.  

It had a steel body, four-speed synchromesh gearbox and telescopic hydraulic dampers. There was a ¾-ton (15cwt) van, a one-ton (20cwt) version with a 111in wheelbase and 280 cu. ft. load capacity, and a 1½-ton (30cwt) with a 123in wheelbase and 300cu.ft. load capacity. Sliding side doors allowed the driver to hop in and out easily when making deliveries. It was also available as a chassis and scuttle for special bodywork to be added. Although the Commer WalkThru van was launched in 1961, the BF soldiered on until 1966.

Shelf-sized classics

A Code 3 version of the Corgi ice cream van in Mr Whippy livery.

Corgi Toys
Perhaps the most popular model of one of these vans was Corgi No. 428, Smith’s Karrier Ice Cream van, made from 1963 to 1966 in Mister Softee cream and blue livery. The scale was around 1/50, or a little under. This had an ice cream cone cast in above the windscreen, and a light blue interior with a swivelling ice cream vendor dressed in white with a big white hat proffering a soft-whipped ice cream cone. Mister Softee ran a large fleet of these Commer-Karrier mobiles, built by Smith’s Delivery Vehicles of Gateshead on the BF 2011, 20cwt, 111in wheelbase chassis, all with petrol engines.

Shelf-sized classics

Corgi No. 359, US Army Field Kitchen.

It’s a shame that Corgi didn’t issue this model in other ice cream company liveries. For example, Mr Whippy used similar vans bodied by MTS of Feltham or Bonnalacks of Basildon, albeit on the longer (123in) wheelbase chassis and with different side trims and typically two ice cream cones (rather than one) above the windscreen, but I’m sure junior collectors of the 1960s would have forgiven these minor discrepancies. I have a Code 3 version in my collection in Mr Whippy’s pink and cream colour scheme.

Instead, in 1964, Corgi issued model No. 359, Army Field Kitchen. This was a slightly odd choice, with the ice cream cone removed from the casting above the windscreen. It was produced until 1966 in matt olive green with a light blue interior and a swivelling figure inside serving a pan of food (not an ice cream!). It had ‘US Army Field Kitchen’ decals and a US star on the roof. How many real Karrier vans the US Army used I have no idea…

Lion Toys/Lion Car
Commer vans sold well in Holland, with the BF being bought by Dutch National Railways, haulage company SAAN Transport and distribution firm Van Gend & Loos. Dutch model manufacturer Lion Toys (aka Lion Car) produced a diecast Commer 1½-ton BF in its range, model No. 28, introduced in around 1961, in 1/45-scale. Most were light grey with a white roof and rather generic silver, red or black wheels, with Sikkens logos, cast-in Van Gend & Loos letters picked out in black (as on my example), later with yellow and black Van Gend & Loos decals, or as a plain van without logos. The model captured the shape of the real van well.  

Shelf-sized classics

Lion Cars’ Commer BF Van Gend & Loos, from the early 1960s.

Later, I think in the 1990s, a couple of limited edition runs of these vans were produced. One livery was a re-issue of the Van Gend & Loos van, with yellow and black logos. The other, of more interest to British collectors, was in British Railways livery in Crimson lake and cream with a black roof; a limited edition of 250 pieces.

Lion Cars’ 1990s-issued Commer BF in British Railways livery.

Matchbox; Hong Kong plastic, Mertrade, Jay Toys and TAT/Telsalda
In 1959, Lesney introduced a small Commer BF van, No. 69, in Nestles livery in the Matchbox 1-75 range followed, in 1963, by a slightly larger Commer BF TV Service van, No. 62, in cream with a working rear roller shutter, a red plastic roof-mounted ladder, three red TV sets and either Rentaset or Radio Rentals logos, to approximately 1/76 scale. Also in 1963, Matchbox model No. 47, a Commer BF Ice Cream Van was introduced, initially in blue or metallic blue Lyons Maid livery, later in off-white Lyons Maid or Lord Nielsens Ice Cream liveries, again to around 1/76 scale.  

Small Matchbox Commer Lyons Maid Ice Cream Van.

Models in this scale usually fall outside the scope of these articles, but I include them here to explain the origin of a couple of larger-sized plastic Commer BF models produced in Hong Kong, which were clearly scaled-up copies of the Matchbox toys made, one presumes, entirely without Lesney’s approval.  

Mertrade issued a plastic Commer BF television van to approx 1/43 scale in off-white with a yellow plastic roof-mounted ladder, three yellow TV sets and TV Service Van logos (my example is sadly missing all these items). An ambulance version in white had a red roof-mounted beacon and red cross logos on the side. The TV Service van also appeared in red with large blue and white TV Service decals in Jay Toys branded boxes. Apart from the scale, the van differed from the Matchbox version in having hinged rear doors represented instead of the roller shutter. It also had friction-powered rear wheels. The domed wheel centres were actually a pretty good representation of the smooth domed hubcaps of the real vans.

Small Matchbox Commer BF Rentaset TV service van.

Bigger still was the plastic Commer BF Ice Cream van made by the unfortunately named TAT, distributed by Telsalda, again scaled-up from the Matchbox model to roughly 1/40 or 1/38 scale. These appeared in various colours, including pale blue, green, red and gold, with either clear or green-tinted windows, and wheels representing domed hubcaps or with a less realistic spoked effect. Generic ice cream-related decals were sometimes applied. It was friction-powered on the front wheels.

Also from Hong Kong, Century 21 issued a plastic copy of the Corgi Karrier ice cream van, at about 1/43 scale, in blue and white Mister Softee livery. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to track down one of these. There was additionally a very big plastic copy of the Corgi ice cream van by Veny Toys, with several versions available.

Best Choose
Staying in Hong Kong, more recently Best Choose issued a diecast Commer BF pick-up truck with a canopy roof, a typical delivery truck that could be seen in Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s. The model is to 1/50 scale (it also does a 1/76 scale version). The model features separate mirrors and wipers, and the cab doors open. An unusual but cute model!

Best Choose Commer BF Hong Kong delivery truck, 1/50 scale.


TAT Hong Kong plastic copy of Matchbox ice cream van, approx 1/38 scale.

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


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