Commer was a British manufacturer of commercial vehicles from 1905 until 1979. Commer vehicles included car-derived vans, light vans, medium to heavy commercial trucks, military vehicles and buses. The company designed and built its own diesel engines for its heavy commercial vehicles.
The company was formed as the Commercial Car Company, and was initially based in small premises in Lavender Hill, South London. In order to go into volume production a site was bought at Biscot Road, Biscot, Luton, where production of the first truck, the 3-ton RC type started in 1907. In 1909 the first bus was made. With the outbreak of the First World War the factory turned to the manufacture of military vehicles for the British Army, and by 1919 more than 3000 had been made.
The Commer name was replaced by the Dodge name during the 1970s following the takeover of Rootes by Chrysler Europe. After Peugeot purchased Chrysler Europe in 1978, the Commer factory was run in partnership with the truck division of Renault, Renault Trucks. It continued to produce the Dodge commercial truck range for some time, with Renault badges and a small amount of product development, eventually these were cancelled in favour of mainstream Renault models and switching production at the factory to production of Renault truck and bus engines in the early 1990s.
Many Commer vans and lorries are notable for being fitted with the Rootes TS3 engine, a two-stroke diesel three-cylinder horizontally opposed piston engine, which came to be known as the “Commer Knocker” owing to the distinct noise it produced. Newer Commer vehicles had Perkins and Cummins diesel engines, and less commonly Mercedes diesel engines.
Main article: Karrier
Commer acquired the Karrier company as part of Rootes acquisition of Karrier in 1934. In the early 1960s production moved to Dunstable where Commer, Dodge (UK) and Karrier were all brought together.
The Karrier trademark is now owned by Peugeot.
Commer produced buses and is recorded as delivering four to Widnes in 1909. The Commando was released after the Second World War, and the Avenger on 28 February 1948, fitted with the TS3 engine from 1954.
Light commercial vehicles
Commer Light Pick-up
The Commer Light Pick-Up was a pickup truck based on the Hillman Minx saloon and produced by Commer during the 1950s; a similar Hillman-badged model was also produced. The Mark III was powered by a 1184 cc four-cylinder engine, the Mark VI by a 1265 cc unit and the Mark VIII by a 1390 cc engine. Production ended in about 1958.
Commer Express Delivery Van
The Commer Express Delivery Van was a light commercial vehicle produced by Commer during the 1950s, competing in the 8-10cwt van range. It was based on the Hillman Minx saloon and evolved in parallel with that model, with designations ranging from Mark III to Mark VIIIB. The 1957 model, which featured a load space of 100 cu ft (2.8 m3) and a payload of approximately 9 cwt, was powered by a 1390 cc four-cylinder Hillman engine and was fitted with a four-speed column-change gearbox.
The Commer Cob is a 7 cwt delivery van introduced in early 1956 based on the Hillman Husky, itself a derivative of the Hillman Minx Mark VIII. In 1958 new Cob and Husky models were introduced, based on the “Audax” Hillman Minx.
Commer Imp Van
The Commer Imp Van was introduced in September 1965 and was based on the Hillman Imp saloon. It was renamed as the Hillman Imp Van in October 1968, with total production reaching 18,194 units prior to it being phased out in July 1970. The Hillman Husky estate car, which was introduced in July 1967, was based on the Imp Van.
Many examples of these vans were coach-built as ice cream vans.
The Commer Walk-Thru was introduced in 1961 as a replacement for the Commer BF. The Walk-Thru was offered in 1½ ton, 2 ton and 3-ton van and cab-chassis variants with a choice of diesel or petrol engines.
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||Forward control panel van. Numerous conversions and adaptations to special purposes|
|Engine||1500 cc Straight-4
1725 cc Straight-4
4-speed manual + Laycock Overdrive (from 1973)
|Length||170 in (4,318 mm)|
|Width||75 in (1,905 mm)|
Commer became known in later years as a maker of vans for the British Post Office—particularly the Commer FC which was introduced in 1960 with many body styles, including a 1500 cc van. After engine and interior upgrades it was renamed the PB in 1967 and the SpaceVan in 1974. As noted above, it would be sold as a Dodge and Fargo model until 1976, when both Commer and Fargo names were dropped. These were rounded-front forward-control vans with narrow front track—a legacy of their Humber car-derived suspension. Utilising at first the Hillman-derived 1500 cc 4-cylinder engine in the PA series, then the larger 1600 cc, and from 1968 onwards the 1725 cc unit in the PB, only the cast-iron-head version of this engine were used. A Perkins 4108 diesel was also available.
The “1725 cc engine” (as it is known; it actually displaces 1724 cc) was available in the 1970s with a Borg Warner (BW) Model 35 3-speed automatic transmission with a dashboard-mounted selector. This was not a popular option and few were built.
An unusual feature of the model was that the handbrake operated on the front drum brakes.
One of the reasons that the van was less popular with fleet operators than the Bedford and Ford Transit models it sold against was that, as on the BMC J2 and J4 models the forward-control design restricted access to the engine and made engine changes labour intensive; the only way to remove the engine without dropping the suspension subframe was to remove the windscreen and crane the engine out through the passenger door. A 1974 road test of a motor caravan version fitted with the 1725 cc engine reported a maximum speed of 70 mph (113 km/h) and a 0–50 mph (km/h) time of 25 seconds, indicating a higher top speed but, in this form, slower acceleration than the BMC competitor. However, the testers reported that at 70 mph the van was “plainly at its absolute limit, screaming away in a most distressing fashion”; readers were advised to view 65 mph (105 km/h) as a more realistic absolute maximum.
Reportedly, one condition of the government bailout of Chrysler’s British operations in 1976 was a commitment to upgrade the Spacevan, which was praised for its brakes, cornering, and price, but criticized for its power, comforts, and top speed. A revised Spacevan was thus introduced in 1977, using the same mechanicals but with numerous cosmetic changes, conveniences, and a new interior. Although outdated by its demise in 1982, by which time Commer had been taken over by Peugeot, the Spacevan remained a familiar sight in the UK thanks to its role with Post Office Telephones—which was almost solely responsible for it remaining in production for so long and these vans and outstanding orders were inherited by British Telecom on its formation in October 1981. By this time, there were three engines: two 1.7 L petrol engines of 37 kW (with low compression) and 42 kW (with high compression), and a small diesel engine (31 kW), with a four-speed manual transmission and no automatic available. The last Spacevan was built in 1983.
Commer made a range of military vehicles for use during the Second World War, with the range still in use in the 1980s. While serving in the army, British humourist Frank Muir reported a broken-down vehicle over his radio with the words “The Commer has come to a full stop.”
Commer designed and manufactured its own diesel engines for its heavy commercial vehicles and buses. They were low-profile units designed to be deployed under the floor of the cab.
The TS3 engine was a two-stroke diesel unit with three cylinders each containing a pair of pistons arranged with the combustion chamber formed between the crown of the piston pair and the cylinder walls. It was designed specifically for the Commer range of trucks. The TS3 and derivative TS4 were unique in using rockers to deliver power to the single crankshaft.
The TS4 engine ran 1.2 million miles as a pre-production prototype. It was a 4-cylinder version of the TS3.