By Rod Ward
For many years Bedford was the biggest-selling brand among UK commercial vehicle manufacturers, yet it does not exist today. It is hard to understand how General Motors, the brand owners, could let this leading marque fade away from the market and eventually disappear completely. Bedford vehicles originally came from the same stem as Hendon-assembled Chevrolet trucks, production of which transferred to the Vauxhall factory in Luton, along with many GM Hendon staff. The Chevrolets were popular with UK buyers, but their all-British Bedford descendants proved to be even bigger sellers. In only eight years from the launch of the new brand to the outbreak of war in 1939, Bedford became a dominant force in commercial vehicle sales in Britain and the Empire. After the Second World War, in which Vauxhall and Bedford made an enormous contribution to the war effort, new products were continually developed. Great designs, from the ubiquitous OB buses and CA vans to the S-type Big Bedfords, and their RL 4×4 military versions led on to such iconic vehicles as the TK lorries and VAL buses. All commercial vehicle manufacturers struggled through a difficult period in the 1970s and a worldwide sales slump in the early 1980s, but Bedford seemed to suffer more than most. Their lightweight coaches stopped selling, and a military truck contract was lost. When their ambitious plan to turn Bedford into a narrowly-focused specialist 4×4 range had to be abandoned, General Motors apparently had no ‘Plan B’. They sold the ageing truck range and the Dunstable factory to AWD, but retained the Bedford brand. Without a broad range of trucks and buses carrying the Bedford badge, however, the name was meaningless when attached to a range of Japanese-designed light vans, which were re-badged as Vauxhalls. The story of the meteoric rise of the Bedford brand is told in this publication, along with its eventual sad demise.