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WW1 Thornycroft restoration

Great War truck

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As I was not inclined to pay Photobucket the $1,000 a year ransom for my photos they have blurred and watermarked them all. I do have backups and will try to replace them but this will take me an awful long time to complete. I will start with the Peerless ones. A downside is that it is now impossible to get the captions to match up, but I am sure that you will all work this out. If you need to see any photo specifically please let me know and I will treat that one as a priority.



I have been intending to post these pictures up for a while, but have just never got around to it. Basically, it is Steve's "entry level" restoration project. After finishing University (which i think was in about 1988) he wanted to restore an old vehicle. Veteran cars were out of reach of his modest pocket so he started looking for a commercial vehicle. After a few false starts he found this WW1 Thornycroft J Type.

The story behind it was that it had been recovered by our friend "Jones the scrap" off of a Welsh mountain. It had been driven into a shed to run a water pump. The back of the truck did not fit in the shed so had been cut off and scrapped. The engine had expired to be replaced by a Studebaker (i think - steve will correct me).

The chassis had at some time been broken and repaired (however, as the back of the chassis was missing altogether this did not present too much of a concern).

The gearbox was a bit poorly too and the top of it had been smashed:

It did however have good front wheels and a canvas (although we think the canvas had come off a small trap).

Other plus points were that the gear change mechanism was there and so was the fuel tank (although this had a 3 foot hole in the bottom).

A price was agreed upon and the whole lot was taken to Devon. My Grandmother (rest her soul) saw it all just afer its arrival and utterred the imoral words "what a load of old rubbish". Not always inclined to agree with her views, i must admit that on this occasion i had trouble to disagree.

Twenty years down the line, where are we? Well, one thing is for sure Steves optimism has taken a little dent. "If i knew then what i know now I would never have bought it" and "buying them is always the easiest part" are two phrases that crop up in conversation when he talks about the Thornycroft. After doing some work to it the restoration was of course interrupted by the arrival of a more viable Autocar retoration, which was in turn followed by a procession of Peerless trucks, an FWD, another Autocar and the Dennis. Now however as the Dennis restoration approaches its completion (well maybe just another year or so to go) we ask ourselves which project next - Peerless or Thornycroft.

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Now however as the Dennis restoration approaches its completion (well maybe just another year or so to go) we ask ourselves which project next - Peerless or Thornycroft.





In the last 20 years, has Steve managed to find any more parts for the lorry, in order to make another start on it?

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Now however as the Dennis restoration approaches its completion (well maybe just another year or so to go) we ask ourselves which project next - Peerless or Thornycroft.


The Thornycroft is a great looking lorry and you're on something of a roll with quality south of England machines at the moment.


Are there any other survivors ?

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From my quick caluculation i think there are 10 survivors in the UK and some more in Australia and new Zealand.


Of the UK ones three are in a military configuration, probably the best known being the Duxford AA gun:




There is a War Department one at the Milestones museum:




This one at the East Anglia transport museum is another ex military J with the original body etc, but in a civilian livery:




There is another one, albeit postwar which was restored as military for film use. From the photos I have seen it now seems to be reverting back to a civilian livery.


Tim (too)

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In this country, I believe the survivors to be:


IWM Gun Lorry

WD GS Wagon at Milestones

1919 pantechnicon at Milestones

WD GS Wagon in red for Lowestoft Corporation at Carlton Colville Museum

WD wagon rebuilt with low-level radiator and now being civilianised. Originally from Warrington.

1919 Wethereds dray. Engine recently wrecked and the owner plans to install a Perkins diesel......

Flat bed wagon in civilian livery. Signwritten 'Pettifer' and last seen in Shaftesbury.

Portsmouth Corporation bus at Milestones.

Charabanc at Museum of Country Life at Sandy Bay

Kit of parts. Gosling collection, Axminster.

Kit of parts near Nottingham

Complete lorry in scrapyard in Taunton.


These are the ones we know of in the UK. I have been fortunate to see them all and have driven the Milestones GS wagon. It's quite an animal and I am looking forward to getting stuck into ours!



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Steve, I think I'm right in saying that the Country Life chara' was acquired in very original form complete with a tipper body, which was then removed so that the chara replica body could be added. Do you know what happened to the tipper body? It'll be shame if it's going to waste. WD Roads anyone?

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The original tipper lorry came from a scrapmans private collection in Taunton and was sold along with a number of other vehicles and steam rollers in the early 1990s. Also in the sale was a spare engine for which we were outbid by Hampshire County Museums Service. The tipper was professionally stripped and rebuilt as a charabanc at Midhurst in Sussex and the cab was passed on the The HCMS. They already had a chassis with differential which had come from under a house and they wished to build it into a full lorry. Using this chassis, the engine from Taunton and the cab, they built up their Southern Counties Agricultural Trading Society pantechnicon. (It is known as the SCATS lorry and I think that is what it stands for!). I believe their gearbox was a spare left over from the IWM gun lorry restoration. Back to the original question, I am not sure what became of the tipper body. HCMS may have the mechanism tucked away but the body was rotten.


Incidentally, Mr Tucker, the scrapman, had two J-Types and the second is still in his yard.


These stories get more convoluted by the minute!



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I guess the important thing is all the bits come together to create a whole.


Any way, a quick search on Flickr and various pictures turn up:


IWM AntiAircraft

Thornycroft J Type with 13pdr Ack Ack


IWM Duxford 0393 - WWI - British - Thornycroft J-Type Lorry 13 pdr Anti-Aircraft Gun - 1915

Thornycroft Anti Aircraft

Thornycroft lorry.



Milestones bus

Thornycroft bus

Thornycroft double decker

Street scene


Country Life charabanc

DS9751, Westpoint, 21/09/08

DS9751, Westpoint, 21/09/08


One from the southern hemisphere




Another from the southern hemisphere?


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  • 2 months later...

Right. I have finally dug out some photo albums and scanned some more pictures. One thing that is not apparent until you start looking at old photos is that with a digital camera you do take a lot more pictures than you would ever do with a film camera.


Anyway, once we got it home, the project looked a bit daunting and Steve did not have much in return for his investment:

Chassis and gearbox:

Front axle was good:

Front wheels and tyres were good, but fuel tank had a hole in it:

After making some phonecalls Steve found a guy who had scrapped a correct Thorny M4 engine the day before. However, with the sun shining on the righteous, Steve found most of a correct engine up in Lincoln (i think it was Lincoln -Steve will correct me). it was however missing both cylinder blocks.

With some more luck he turned up another front and back axle and the corresponding wheels:

The back axle was not bad, the rest was a bit poorly:

Then a real stroke of luck - a shed:

A shepherds hut in fact:

A really good find and purchase.

This will be the basis of the restoration.

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We knew of this Thornycroft chassis's existence from a friend, but it was on private land. Tony and friend went to go and have a look at it, but were confronted by an armed game keeper who thought they were poaching, which then required some explanation. Anyway, to cut a long story short they contacted the owner about the "old lorry" on his land and arranged to go and have a look at it. They were shown a Bedford OY tanker which is what the owner thought they wanted to buy and they had to explain about the shepherds hut and the chassis underneath. A deal was reached and the chassis purchased but the whole site had to be cleared and made good, which involved some extra work.


Although the chassis was in good condition, the springs had suffered over the years:

Steve had to do a temporary fix to keep the whole thing together for the jorney out of the woods:

The wheels had sunk in a little bit which required some digging:

Then the cladding had to be taken off the sides:

Looking a bit better now:

The plan was to get the whole lot to tip off and then collapse under its own weight:

sadly this did not go according to plan as it just ended up with a 45 degrees list:

Tony gave it a quick brush off so as not to scatter the motorway with lumps of wood and nails:

Then we hitched it up to the lorry and the lorry moved for the first time in goodness knows how many years:



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Shocking how that front spring had almost completely collapsed ! Whoever built the hut seems to have done a very good job, and at least it did provide some protection and provided a way to help preserve a chassis that other wise would have gone to the scrape yard long ago .

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Getting the Thornycroft out of the woods was a bit of a drag, but we got it on to the wagon in the end:








However, once we had it in place a problem was identified:




The chassis was just a little bit to long to get it safely on to the wagon. This sadly is what happened next:




We had to cut the last two feet off of the chassis. Heartbraking:




After an uneventful journey it arrived home:




Not anticipating the hurricane that was to hit the country in the near future, the Thornycroft was wrapped up against the weather:




This nice new tarpaulin was to be ripped to shreds in the storm while the elderly next door neigbour grappled with it in an attempt to secure it. Sadly without success, but luckily the neigbour did not get blown away. Not long later we decided to build a shed.

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Shocking how that front spring had almost completely collapsed ! Whoever built the hut seems to have done a very good job, and at least it did provide some protection and provided a way to help preserve a chassis that other wise would have gone to the scrape yard long ago .


Yes, very true. It looked to be a very professional job and certainly saved it from an otherwise early death. Interestingly, these old shepherds huts have become very collectable and lots of wealthy city people are buying them up, putting them in their back gardens and turning them into childrens play rooms, guest accomodation, studios etc. It used to be old gypsy caravans that everyone wanted but i guess they have become too expensive now. I saw one sell recently for about £60,000.


In fact there is a local company to me making new shepherd huts on old veteran truck chassis. If it saves a few more WW1 truck chassis from being scrapped that cant be a bad thing.

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Familar events to what we have undertaken here in NZ. A few years ago we picked up a Wichita chassis (c 1917) that had a hut built upon it and had provided protection to the chassis. The front axle was totally seperate, the bolts holding it to the springs having rusted through.

Getting the chassis out from were it lay took some effort from a large tractor with a set of 3 point linkage rear mounted forks, then towing it about a kilometre on to a loading bank. A rear wheel was locked up so rather than chew up a good solid rubber tyre the chassis was carried out. This involved placing the front of the chassis on the tail end of the deck of my Bedford J3 and carrying the rear of the chassis on the tractor forks, it then being driven backwards! At the loading back it was pushed on, chained down and safely made it home.

Progress to date is little, having located a suitable Waukesha 4 cylinder engine but no gear box to match to date.

Wichita was a major US manufacturer of trucks using brought in components.

There appears to only be a few early Wichita's remaining. Doug

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Yes, it was very difficult to get the Thorny chassis to move. Our friend the Game Keeper had a nice new Land Rover and he said that when we were ready, he would just tow the chassis up to the road with it. Not a chance! The L/R slipped in all directions and would not move the chassis one inch. But the Recovery Lorry had a winch - and that did the job easily.


As soon as we got the Thorny Chassis home, the end that had to be cut off was immediately welded back on - a nice job, so no lasting desecration there. It still awaits restoration but Tim will recount the rest of the tale and tell you of our progress with it over the years and what is to come next.............

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  • 4 weeks later...

The first part that Steve taclke with the gearbox. The intention was to get this completed and tucked away so when the chassis was ready, this could be just dropped in.

The gearbox was mostly all there and having been in a shed was not all that bad.

The lid had been smashed at some stage but from the surviving bits Steve was able to make a pattern to get a new one cast. The first step was to get the box all to bits:

After cleaning it, painting, getting replacment bearings we put the thing back together. Look at that hair! It will make jack ever so jealous:

Steves home made press worked very well:

First completed unit to go on the shelf ready for fitting.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Looking at the chassis, Steve was very pleased with his purchase. Apart from the springs it was all in good condition.




While working to free the apparently rotten springs, one of the clamps gave way, causing the leaves to fly apart, the chassis to jump and a bolt to fly a few inches past his head and embed itself in the tarmac. A useful safety lesson learned that day. Although the springs look rotten and are spreading, they still might be under great pressure.


The brake linkage was still all there and so was the steering box, although the end of the column had been cut off previously but that does not present any serious problem. All very good news.






The next step was to get the chassis welded up again. To do this we called upon our old friend Dave who is a dab hand at that sort of thing.






There we go. As good as new.




Dave is a great chap and was a coal miner during WW2. At the end of the war, he bought a surplus Jeep (which he tells me was actually 82nd Airborne), packed up all his belongings in to it (including a gas oven) and drove to Exeter where he set up a garage business. He later sold the Jeep (sadly, as a genuine Airborne Jeep would be something special, but of course no one would believe that the markings were original).

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Over a period of time Steve got some replacement parts made. New springs. A replacement rad and a half shaft. The springs are unphotogenically buried in the garage. The rad is hidden away in the attic. But here is the half shaft






Then Steve heard of a surviving rear axle with diff in it. The owner brought it over from Ireland. However, on arrival it was quickly realised that this was off a different Thorny and was too small.




A great shame, but it found a good home at Milestones museum where it was used in one of their restorations.


Then another front axle turned up. As you can see it had been butchered to make a trailer:






However, sometimes these things can yield some very useful parts and it is always amazing what good condition some of these parts might be in:






And we can always do with more Thornycroft hubcaps:



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Last lot of photos for now.

This is Father Christmas at his holiday cottage in New Zealand, packing up presents for good boys:

And sure enough, three Months later, this one has arrived for Steve. And he is looking very happy indeed:

Whatever might it be? It looks very interesting though:

Ahhh! One of those. A Thornycroft M4. We certainly needed that:

Lovely. Thanks to everyone involved for that. It is great to have such good friends.

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  • 8 months later...

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