Associated Equipment Company (AEC) was a British vehicle manufacturer that built buses, motorcoaches and lorries from 1912 until 1979. The name “Associated Equipment Company” was hardly ever used; instead it traded under the AEC and ACLO brands.
While famously associated with London’s AEC Routemaster buses, AEC supplied commercial vehicles to many companies, both domestically and around the world.
The London General Omnibus Company, or LGOC, was founded in 1855 to amalgamate and regulate the horse-drawn omnibus services then operating in London. The company began producing motor omnibuses for its own use in 1909 with the X-type designed by its chief motor engineer, Frank Searle, at works in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow, London. The X-type was followed by Searle’s B-type design, considered to be one of the first mass-produced commercial vehicles.
1911 LGOC B-Type bus B340 London Transport Museum
In 1912, LGOC was taken over by the Underground Group of companies, which at that time owned most of the London Underground, and extensive tram operations. As part of the reorganisation following the takeover, a separate concern was set up for the bus manufacturing elements, and was named Associated Equipment Company, better-known as AEC.A 1921 AEC S-type Bus at the Heritage Motor Centre
AEC’s first commercial vehicle was a lorry based on the X-type bus chassis. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, AEC’s ability to produce large numbers of vehicles using assembly line methods became important in supplying the increasing need for army lorries. AEC began large-scale production of the 3-ton Y-type lorry, commenced in 1916, and continued beyond the end of the war. From then on, AEC became associated with both lorries and buses.
In 1926, AEC and Daimler formed the Associated Daimler Company (ADC), which was dissolved two years later. In 1927, AEC moved its manufacturing from Walthamstow to a new plant at Southall in Middlesex.AEC Southall Works from the south, 1973
AEC Southall Works from the north, 1973
G. J. Rackham was appointed Chief Engineer and Designer in 1928. He had previously worked for Leyland Motors. His ideas contributed significantly to AEC’s reputation for quality and reliability.1962-built AEC Mercury
From 1929, AEC produced new models: the names of lorries began with “M” (Majestic, Mammoth, Mercury, and so on), and those of buses began with “R” (Regent, Regal, Renown, and so on). These original “M-models” continued in production until the end of the Second World War. AEC introduced diesel engines across the range in the mid-1930s.
From 1931 to 1938, AEC and English Electric co-produced trolleybuses. AEC supplied the chassis, and EE the electric motors and control equipment.
In 1932, AEC took a controlling interest in the British subsidiary of the American Four Wheel Drive(FWD) company, and began to use more standard AEC components in those vehicles. To avoid confusion, these were marketed under the name Hardy. Production ceased about 1936.
Second World War
Non-military production stopped in 1941, from then until 1944 AEC produced nearly 10,000 vehicles for the war effort Road Transport Archives During the war, AEC produced their
10-ton 4×4 Matador artillery tractor (an adaptation of their commercial 4×2 Matador lorry that exploited AEC’s experience with the Hardy FWD venture).AEC 850 6 x 6 artillery tractor of 15 AA Battery towing a 3-inch AA gun on the cruciform travelling platform.
A 6×6 version was designated as the AEC Marshall but almost always called the Matador. To this they added theAEC Armoured Car Mk I
AEC Mk III Armoured Car
AEC Armoured Car in 1941. Other uses of the Matador chassis were the Deacon self-propelled anti-tank gun vehicle, used briefly in North Africa; and theAEC Armoured Command Vehicle, popularly known as the Dorchester.
AEC 6×6 Armoured Command Vehicle
In 1946 AEC and Leyland Motors formed British United Traction Ltd (BUT) as a joint venture to manufacture trolleybuses and traction equipment for diesel railcars since reduced demand would not require the existing capacity of both parents.
In 1946 AEC resumed civilian production with the 0661/20 Regent II and the 0662/20 Regal I. These were not new models but a recommencement of the most basic AEC 1939 specification bus models. The single-decker was going to be marketed as Regal II until somebody at Southall remembered the 1936-8 lightweight 0862 model of that name and as a result the name was corrected after the launch publicity had been printed. At the end of 1946 the postwar 0961 RT was in build and by 1948 Mammoth Major, Matador and Monarch Mk IIIs were in production, followed by the ‘provincial’ Regent III and the Regal III. Also in 1948 AEC acquired Crossley Motors and the Maudslay Motor Company and on 1 October 1948 AEC set up Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) Ltd. as the holding company for the newly acquired businesses and its own manufacturing firm, which was renamed AEC Ltd. The initials “AEC” remained on its vehicles, with the exception of some badge-engineered versions, such as the Crossley Regent bus (one example of which may be seen at the North West Museum of Road Transport). In 1949 ACV acquired the (bus) coachbuilding company Park Royal Vehicles, along with its subsidiary Charles H. Roe. Park Royal designed a new cab for the AEC Mercury in the mid-1950s, which appeared on all models across the range about this time.
In 1961 ACV acquired Transport Equipment (Thornycroft). Thornycroft’s name disappeared from all the vehicles except the specialist airport crash tenders, such as the Nubian, and the “Mighty” Antar off-road tractor unit. The AEC Dumptruk was transferred to Basingstoke, and the Thornycroft six-speed constant-mesh gearbox and later nine- and ten-speed range-change versions were fitted to AEC, Leyland and Albion buses and lorries.
The AEC engines were used in Finnish Vanaja lorries and buses in the 1960s.
Leyland Motors Ltd acquired ACV in 1962. AEC lorries were given the same “Ergomatic” cabs used across several Leyland marques (including Albion). In 1968, all AEC double-decker buses ceased production, and its last buses, motorcoaches and lorries were built in 1979. The AEC name actually disappeared from commercial vehicles in 1977, but the Leyland Marathon was built at the Southall plant until British Leyland (as the parent company was named by then) closed it in 1979.
ACLO (supposed to be the acronym of Associated Company Lorries and Omnibuses) was the brand name used by AEC in Latin American countries, including Brazil, and in Spain (but not in Portugal) to sell all their products.
It seems that there was no clear reason for this badge engineering operation, although a formal request from the German AEG industrial group, which was very active in the Spanish-speaking countries, has been suggested. This is quite likely as the AEC 422 NS type exported to BVOAG Berlin was also badged ACLO.
ACLOs were specially pervasive in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Particularly in Uruguay, there were two ACLO fleets. They were interesting buses, quite faster than Leyland Tiger in use by other fleets. It was said at the time (early ’60s) that the main reason was inter-urban gearing instead of purely urban gearing present in Leylands. An interesting feature was preselector gear-change, similar to those in Leyland buses, commanded by a smallish gated lever installed by the steering wheel, with a reversed gate, with first gear to the right and up, and fourth gear to the bottom and left.
In Spain, ACLOs could be seen mainly as double-deck buses in Barcelona, and as line coaches in ALSA fleet.
In Portugal, the AEC vehicles, mainly coaches and buses but also lorries, were assembled and bodied by União de Transportadores para Importação e Comércio, UTIC, a large coachbuilding firm based in Lisbon, and marketed under the UTIC-AEC badge, for many years.
From 1971-3 the Loughborough based dealer Moseley imported nine UTIC U2043 coaches which were marketed as the Moseley Continental Tagus. They were mechanically equivalent to a rear-engined Reliance or a coach version of the Swift 691 which AEC had planned but never marketed. They were expensive to buy new and the square sided styling looked dated to British eyes in the age of the Elite and Dominant coaches, thus they were slow selling. These were probably the only right hand drive coaches built by UTIC. At the time Moseley also marketed Salvador Caetano Coaches under its own name.
In the late fifties, Spanish government restrictions on imports reduced AEC sales in Spain to virtually nil. As a consequence, AEC approached a Spanish truck manufacturer, Barreiros Diesel, to jointly produce buses and coaches based on AEC designs. The venture started in 1961, used Barreiros AEC as brand name, disregarding ACLO, and seemed very promising; production of the AEC off-road dump trucks being planned too. Nevertheless, the Leyland takeover in 1962 soon undermined the agreement, as Leyland was partnering with Barreiros’s Spanish arch-rival, Pegaso; and eventually Barreiros looked for another collaborator in the bus arena, signing in 1967 an agreement with Belgian – Dutch company Van Hool.
A preserved AEC Renown, previously run by King Alfred Motor Services.
Lorries and other commercial vehicles
Mammoth Major Tanker
The 6 ton normal-control AEC Majestic (Model 666) was introduced in 1930.
The AEC Mammoth dates from the 1930s. This was a 7/8 ton lorry with a six-cylinder overhead valve engine developing 110 bhp (82 kW) on a wheelbase of 16 ft 7 in.
Later a distinction was made between the Mammoth Minor (6×2, with two front axles), the Mammoth Major 6 (6×4) and the Mammoth Major 8 (8×2 or 8×4), which appeared in 1934. The Mammoth Major Mk II was introduced in 1935; the eight-wheeler could carry 15-ton loads. It remained in production until 1948 when it was superseded by the Mk III, which was mechanically similar, but had the Park Royal cab.
Mammoth Minor:AEC MAMMOTH MINOR GXF70
GXF 70 HVD 318D
Mammoth Major 6:
1959-1966 AEC Mammoth Major 6 Mk V G6RA
Mammoth Major 8:
1939 AEC Mammoth Major 8 Mk II BEW605
- AEC Mandator MkV ( model G4 ) 9500
The AEC Mandator dates from the 1930s. The post-war Mk II was available as a lorry and a tractor unit and the name was used for tractor units built from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Pre-war 6×4 3ton lorry-There was a military version with various body styles- some were employed by the Royal Air Force as cranes (using the Coles Crane) See also: Matador
AEC Matador five-ton 4×2 commercial lorry was introduced in 1932. The name was most famously used for AEC’s 4×4 Matador artillery tractor, which were known by the nickname “Mat”. These vehicles exploited AEC’s experience with four-wheel drive that it had gained from its involvement in the British Four Wheel Drive vehicles marketed under the name Hardy.
The Matador name is very often used for the 6×6 military vehicles that are more properly designated the 0854. These were an extended Matador chassis, mated to a ‘Marshall’ double-drive bogie
AEC produced 9,620 artillery tractors; 514 6×6 bowsers for the Royal Air Force; 192 6×6 lorries (some of which had Coles Cranes mounted); and 185 similar vehicles, but 6×4, for mobile oxygen plants. Many military Matadors were adapted for post-war commercial use, especially as timber lorries and recovery vehicles.
There was a short run of the 0853 4×4 Matador in the early fifties, due to ongoing issues with the introduction of the replacement Leyland.
New civilian Matadors appeared after the war.
The AEC Mercury (Model 440) was first built in 1928. This was a forward-control lorry with a wheelbase of 14 ft (4.3 m) for 4 ton payloads. The Model 640 was introduced in 1930, with a four-cylinder petrol engine developing 65 bhp.
The name was resurrected for lorries built from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The AEC Militant – or “Milly” – was the 1952 replacement for the Matador, and continued in various forms until the 1970s. (The original Militant had been produced by Maudslay in the 1930s.)
The AEC Mogul was a normal-control tractor unit from the 1960s. The name had originally been used on Maudslay lorries.
The original AEC Monarch was built from 1931 to 1939 at AEC’s Southall works. The first version (Model 641) was superseded by the Mk II (Model 637) in 1933, with payload increased to 7½ tons. The Monarch was fitted with either an 85 hp (63 kW) four-cylinder 5.1-litre diesel engine or an 80 hp four-cylinder 5.1-litre petrol engine. This was a robust and well-designed lorry, popular with both drivers and operators. Later variants continued into the 1970s.
TL 3513 (1934) KYE 402 (1949)
The Monarch name was resurrected for export versions of the Mercury built from the 1950s to the 1970s.
- Model 201
- Model 428
- Model 501 & 506
- Model 701
- Y Type
AEC’s first purpose-built commercial vehicle was introduced in 1916. The improved YA Type appeared in 1917. More than ten thousand of these vehicles were supplied to the War Department by 1919. Many of these were acquired by civilian operators following the war. YB and YC Types continued in production until 1921.
2012 was the centenary of the founding of AEC Ltd, and to mark this, a number of events took place throughout the year. By far the biggest was hosted by The AEC Society, and was held over the weekend of 26 and 27 May 2012 at Newark Showground in Nottinghamshire. It was the biggest ever gathering of AEC’s, and over 225 AEC vehicles attended as well as over 350 vehicles of other marques. It was the biggest rally ever held by The AEC Society and as well as glorious weather all weekend, was closed by a BBMF flypast.
AEC (Associated Equipment Company).