1970s Atkinson Borderer lorry wonderfully restored

Posted by Chris Graham on 18th October 2023

The Atkinson Borderer was a popular lorry in the early 1970s, and the Coxill family owns a fine example, as Bob Weir reports.

Atkinson Borderer

The lorry is in David Coxill’s colours, although it’s part of the whole family.

Alan Coxill runs a vehicle restoration business with son Mark in Knighton, Powys. He has lived in the area all his life and is a lorry driver to trade. “I started off in the workshop of contractors RM Woolley in nearby Bucknall,” he recalls. “I then drove a Borderer for J Pugh & Sons in Lydbury North, Shropshire.”

Alan worked for several local haulage companies including Roberts Transport in Knighton, before deciding to start his own business. “I opened my commercial vehicle restoration business in 2009,” he said. “The first lorry we restored was an ERF KV. My son Mark is involved in the business, and my other son David helps out when he is available. The jobs come through word of mouth, and we normally work on two lorries at the same time. It takes between 18 months and two years to do a complete strip down, depending on the customer’s requirements.”

Atkinson Borderer

The lorry in ‘as bought’ condition, back in August 2002.

According to Alan business is good, and he currently has plenty of work in the pipeline. “We’ve got about eight vehicles on the go, in various stages of refurbishment,” he said. “I get a lot of satisfaction from restoring old lorries, as most of them would probably end up on the scrap heap.”

Alan got the taste for restorations after helping David refurbish JVJ 904P. “The lorry was supplied new by dealers Praill’s of Hereford Ltd to GA Shephard Ltd, of Greenhill, Sheffield,” Alan explained. “The lorry operated from their depot at Sutton St Nicholas, near Hereford.”

Atkinson Borderer

Given the overall state of the lorry, the Cummins was in surprisingly good condition.

Atkinson & Co had been founded in Preston by two brothers Edward and Henry in 1907. The brothers built steam wagons in the early years, before the pendulum swung decisively in favour of the internal combustion engine. The firm was acquired by WG Allen in 1933 and named Atkinson Lorries.

The company concentrated on making low cost trucks using other companies’ components, mainly Gardner engines, David Brown gearboxes, and Kirkstall rear axles. At the end of the Second World War, a new factory was built at Walton-le-Dale.

Restoring the cab accounted for the lion’s share of the work.

Following a change in the Construction & Use Regulations in 1958 Atkinson started to offer glass fibre cabs using wrap around windscreens. Lorries of this period were fitted with a big ‘A’ on their radiator and ‘knight of the road’ badges. The latter was discarded in 1970 with the arrival of a new model line-up and merger with Seddon.

“In 1982, JVJ 904P was sold to MS Ellis Transport Ltd of Cambridge, Gloucester,” said Alan. “They used it for four years, then the vehicle was parked up. During this period the Atki was owned by Gloucester showman David Wynn. In 1998, it was then sold to Darren Counsell based in Oswestry.”

The Atki with its original cab.

David subsequently bought the lorry in 2002. By this stage, the Atki was down on its luck and needed a full rebuild. “The restoration took three years,” David explained. “The family did all the work apart from the sign-writing which was done by Les Price based at Craven Arms. The Borderer was stripped down to the chassis rails, shot blasted and rebuilt. The cab was restored with the timber frame renewed, and the work included a replacement floor and upper and lower rear cab panels.”

David is a tool-room machinist to trade and had little idea of the amount of work involved restoring the Borderer back to life. “I considered throwing in the towel on several occasions,” he recalls. “The previous owner Darren Counsell had come to the same conclusion so we can’t say we weren’t warned!”

Priming the chassis.

The major culprit was the Borderer’s glass fibre cab, which was in a sorry state. “When we originally acquired the lorry it started up OK and we were able to reverse it into the workshop, although it certainly wasn’t in a roadworthy condition,” said David. “Darren Counsell had already started to strip the lorry down, until he had second thoughts when he realised how much work was involved.

The dashboard will be a familiar sight to many veteran drivers.

“The timber frame had completely rotted away and there were pieces hanging everywhere. The top bit of the cab was even tied on with rope. I had to buy seasoned ash for the repair work, before carefully shaping the cab’s frame. The work was made even harder because the cab had been accidentally damaged during the early days of its working life.”

The cab was comfortable, by early 1970s standards.

David was particularly grateful to the Classic Atkinson Club, who supplied the wood. “This involved a trip down to Southampton, but it was worth it,” he said. But the wood was only part of it, although I must have used three or four coats of Linseed oil. The cab’s steel roof, floor and back panels all had to be replaced. Even smaller items like the air tank brackets had to be remade.”

David converted one of the fuel tanks into a battery container.

Fortunately, it was not all bad news and most of the cab’s glass fibre outer panels were reusable. “The only exception was a single door panel,” David recalls. “My brother Mark then resprayed the whole unit in DAF Wine Red.”

A few of the original components have survived to tell the tale, including the front mudguards and radiator cowling. David made the air intake vents himself from scratch, and had the chrome finished by a specialist company in Yate, Bristol. 

Atkinson Borderer

Alan Coxill still runs his own vehicle restoration business, even though he’s now in his early seventies.

“One of the few weaknesses of the Borderer’s structure was the wrap-round windscreens, which had a tendency to fall out,” he said. “I bought two new screens from a supplier near Southport. I had to cut back the wooden framework by 2mm and fabricate a pair of aluminium sleeves to bear the weight.”

Unlike most UK commercial vehicle manufacturers from the 1970s, Cummins engines are still going strong today.

There were other journeys to Whitby and Pen-y-Groes in North Wales to pick up essential parts like a new diesel fuel tank. “The brake lock actuator was a good find, as they were a rare item even at the time of restoration,” David recalls.

Atkinson Borderer

The cab accounted for the majority of the restoration work; a familiar story with GRP cabs.

By the time the Coxill family had acquired the Borderer a tachograph had been fitted to the dash, but David wanted to restore the lorry back to its original state. “I just wanted the original clocks and went to the trouble of making a new dash from scratch,” he recalls. “Fortunately, I was then able to locate a genuine dash made by Atkinson.”

Atkinson Borderer

Alan puts the Atki through its paces.

Having completed the cab, it was time to take the engine out of the Borderer. “I managed to borrow a JCB to lift the cab, so we could start the makeover on the engine,” said David. “Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of work to do, apart from replacing the cylinder head gaskets. We also repainted the engine in Cummins Desert Sand. While we were at it, we changed the axle from a Kirkstall unit to an Eaton unit.”

Time moves quickly when you are restoring an old lorry, and although the family were making progress there was still a list of jobs to be done. “We had to strip the drums and replace all the plastic piping in the braking system,” David explained. “We also needed to fabricate a new air cleaner, and I converted one of the fuel tanks into a battery container.”

Atkinson Borderer

David, Alan and Mark all had a hand to play in the Borderer’s restoration.

As might be expected for a job of this magnitude, there were a few unforeseen glitches along the way. “I was undercoating the back of the cab when I fell awkwardly on a tank bracket,” said Alan. “The result was a few cracked ribs and a broken bone in my hand, resulting in six weeks off work.”

Three years down the road and the big day finally dawned: time to put JVJ 904P through its MoT! “We were all a bit nervous, but the only black mark was an incorrect headlight alignment,” Alan recalls. “Not bad, considering all the work that had gone into restoring the lorry.”

The Borderer was the pick of Atkinson’s 1970s new range of lorries, and accounted for most of the sales.

Now the Coxill family was entering into the home stretch, there were still some odds and ends that needed finishing. The list included interior cab panels and fabricating an oak catwalk for the back of the chassis.

“Looking back David and Mark were quite pleased with the project, which had taken up several years of their lives,” said Alan. “The restored lorry was first shown at the Welland Steam Rally in 2005 and has been a regular on the vintage vehicle circuit ever since.”

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