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The History of Scammell Lorries Limited
Scammell is, arguably, the greatest name in British commercial road transport.
One of the firm’s customers, the haulier Edward Rudd, had imported a ‘Knox Tractor’ from America and was so impressed with its high payload/low weight potential that it is believed he suggested to Scammell and Nephew that they build a similar vehicle for the UK.
The outbreak of war in 1914 presented itself as a turning point in the history of road transport. Mechanical transport was seen to work, proving its vast potential beyond doubt to such a forward-looking company as Scammell.
So when George’s great nephew, Lt Col Alfred George Scammell, was injured and invalided out of the army he was able to apply the practical experience gained during the war and set about developing the ‘Articulated Six-wheeler’ which went into production in 1920.
This vehicle, like the Knox, was articulated and its very low axle weight allowed it to carry its 7½ ton payload at 12 mph rather than being limited to 5 mph. Hence, Scammell’s first lorry advertisement, used at the 1920 Motor Show, carried the headline “7½ tons at 3 ton Speed and Cost”.
The following year, a test vehicle pulled a load of just under eight tons up West Hill in Highgate, in second gear, and reached 18 mph on the flat!
Orders for 150 lorries were rapidly taken and it was clear that the Fashion Street works could not cope, so, in 1921, Scammell & Nephew floated a new company, Scammell Lorries Ltd, with Col Scammell as Managing Director. The new firm acquired land in Tolpits Lane, Watford and built a new factory for the construction of the new Articulated Six-wheeler.
Whilst the Articulated Six-wheeler’s motive unit (MU) was relatively unchanged during the 1920s, the firm concentrated on a wide range of carriers for it to pull. An early and consistent customer was Shell-Mex, whose fleet No.1 was an early Articulated Six-wheeler.
This led to Scammell’s patent, in 1926, for the world’s first frameless tanker.
By 1927 Scammell had strengthened its position by launching its first cross-country vehicle, aptly named the Pioneer. This 6x4 rigid had a walking-beam bogie so that any of its 4 wheels could be raised two feet without the bogie losing traction. The Pioneer’s mobility could be further enhanced by adding a driven front axle. Whilst the Pioneer was popular overseas, its real success did not come until an articulated version was developed.
Two years later, in 1929, the Company introduced the world's largest lorry, the articulated “Hundred-Tonner” heavy haulage vehicle. Only two of these revolutionary lorries, designed by Oliver North, were ever made. They were initially built with the Scammell 7 litre petrol engine, which consumed a gallon of fuel every ¾ mile! After a couple of years they were rebuilt with the then new Gardner 6LW diesel engine, and consumption improved to 4.2 mpg. With a full 100 ton payload (the heaviest load one ever carried was 165 tons) the front axle weight was 10 tons, and there was no power steering. The drive axle comprised 4 separate solid-tyred wheels in line and carried 40 tons, the remaining 80 tons being on the 8-wheel steerable carrier bogie. Even though this bogie had brakes, they were controlled by the rear steersman, who, not surprisingly, had to have a telephone connection to the driver to tell him when to apply them! Fortunately the speed when laden was no more than 3 mph.
In 1933, Scammell was able to purchase a 3-wheel tractor design from the Napier Company and promptly turned it into the famous “Mechanical Horse”. Oliver North developed a new automatic coupling, and, with the ability of the tractor and trailer to turn in less than their own length, set new standards of versatility in road transport. Over 20,000 of these 3-ton and 6-ton tractors and their successors were built, together with more than 100,000 carriers.
The Articulated Six-wheeler and its brother the Articulated Eight-wheeler were developed into the ‘Lightweight’ range with Gardner 6LW and North’s famous 6-speed gearbox.
However, the lorries built by Scammell were top-of-the-range, expensive and, at that time, built in small quantities - and money was always tight. The depression affected the firm badly and it was in a poor financial position in 1934. Watford Council had helped out by ordering a pair of fire engines, but it was not enough, and it was left to Shell-Mex to inject much-needed capital - but in return they insisted on a management shake-out which deprived Col Scammell of his post.
In 1929, the firm, looking for new markets, had diversified into four- and six- wheel rigids. The ‘Rigid Six-wheeler’ found some success and, with its balloon tyres, at last permitted sustained high-speed long-distance road operation.
The Rigid 6 was joined by a new forward-control ‘Rigid Eight-wheeler’ in 1937, the first of a long line of Scammell Eights.
During World War II, Scammell made a massive contribution to the war effort, building large numbers of Pioneer tank transporters, gun tractors and heavy recovery vehicles as well as fire pumps and autocoupling conversions.
The first new post-war product was the famous ‘Showtrac’. Amazingly, of the 18 built, 17 still survive and, of those, seven were seen together at Dingles in 2007.
Apart from this, the company also found itself increasingly involved in such fields as heavy construction, oil drilling, mining and logging, as well as maintaining its military presence with vehicles such as the 6x6 Explorer, 4x4 Mountaineer and, by 1952, the Constructor in its various forms.
In the mid 1950s the Super Constructor - forerunner of today's cross-country heavies - with Rolls-Royce C6 turbocharged engine and semi-automatic gearbox was introduced.
Membership of the Leyland Group in 1955 provided ready access to Leyland engines, gearboxes and axles and was followed by the gradual replacement for the ‘Lightweight’ range by new models using Leyland engines. These were the bonneted 4x2 Highwayman motive unit, the forward control Routeman 8-wheeler and a new 4x2 forward control motive unit, the Handyman. This, and the Highwayman, could be configured as heavy haulage tractors for operation up to 50 tons or more, and were complemented by the full range of Scammell trailers made at the Moor Park works.
A new dumptruck range, comprising the 4x2 Sherpa and 6x4 Himalayan was launched.
Over the next few years, further designs were introduced, and in 1969 the 6x4 Crusader made its entry, initially as a high-power, high-speed motive unit with its modern steel cab. Many hundreds of a military version with the Rolls-Royce 305 engine were supplied to MoD as plant tractors and recovery vehicles. Pressure from UK hauliers, especially BRS who placed the first orders, soon resulted in development of 4x2 versions for premium operation, and so popular did these tractors with their Rolls-Royce 220 and 280 engines become that production was transferred to Guy Motors at Wolverhampton.
By this time, divisional reorganisation within the Leyland Group had resulted in the firm’s name becoming Scammell Motors, and the closure of Transport Equipment (Thornycroft) in 1972 had resulted in the transfer of their ‘Nubian’ range of 6x6 airfield crash tenders to Scammell, together with the LD55 6x4 dumptruck.
A surge of development in the late 1970s commenced with the Contractor Mk 2 heavy hauler with its 18 litre 425 hp Cummins KT450 engine and Allison automatic gearbox, and the build of the first Commander Tank Transporter for the British Army. This 100 ton+ GTW tractor, fitted with the Rolls Royce CV12TCE 26 litre, 48 valve dual-turbocharged 625 hp intercooled V12 diesel engine, semi-automatic gearbox and Scammell 40 ton bogie was required to have the same acceleration and braking performance as a contemporary 32 tonner! New braking, cab, bonnet and winching systems were devised, and the fleet entered service in 1983, having been built at the newly-opened moving line construction shop which at last gave Scammell a modern state-of-the-art factory.
In parallel with this development the ex-Thornycroft Nubian range was replaced by a completely new range of 4x4 and 6x6 rear-engine airfield crash tenders with engine powers up to 540 hp. To complement their automatic transmission, Scammell devised a family of high-power PTO systems to enable the foam discharge system to be operated at constant speed whilst also driving the vehicle.
The last new version of the Contractor was built in large quantities, including a 6x6 for heavy recovery in the Middle East.
Two developments by the parent company, Leyland Motors, at the end of the 1970s benefited Scammell. Leyland wished to develop two new heavy vehicle ranges, the overseas bonneted Landtrain and the UK forward control Roadtrain which would feature the new C40 tilt cab. In view of Scammell’s expertise the firm was tasked with development of the Landtrain and was able to use the same cab and bonnet for the replacement for the Contractor. This range, the S24, was available in 6x4 and 6x6 formats, with manual, automatic or torque converter/manual transmissions and a newly-developed transfer gearbox for 6x6 versions. The full weight range from 40 tonnes GVW to more than 200 tonnes GTW was covered, with the Cummins NT 350 or 400 engine, but the difficulty of providing a replacement for the Contractor’s coachbuilt cab was dealt with by specifying an American-type crew ‘pod’ behind the cab. To replace the Super Constructor oilfield flatbed vehicle a long-wheelbase S24 6x6 with the Constructor winch and body was produced.
Knowing Scammell’s pre-eminence in the field, Leyland entrusted the eight-wheeler version of the Roadtrain – called the ‘Constructor 8’ - to Scammell. This would at last give Scammell access to a modern tilt cab. To supplement the lower-powered Leyland Roadtrains, Scammell developed the S26 range using the same cab and eventually, as the 1980s progressed, a range of premium 4x2, 6x2 and 6x4 tractors with a full range of engine and transmission options was developed to replace the Crusader and ‘A’ range, with as much similarity with the S24 running gear as possible.
A military 6x6 version with Rolls-Royce 350 engine, ZF automatic gearbox and Kirkstall axles followed, and this was offered, in 8x6 form, to the British Army in 1986 for the hooklift-equipped DROPS vehicle requirement.
In February 1987 Scammell learned that its tender for 1522 such vehicles was successful - but also that the Leyland group had been purchased by DAF BV of Holland. DAF elected to build the DROPS and selected S26 vehicles at the Leyland plant, and to close the Watford factory.
Upon closure in July 1988 the S24 and the Nubian ranges, together with rights to the Crusader and Commander, were bought by Unipower Ltd who opened a new plant in West Watford.
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