A brief history

The Scammell company originally built up its wheelwrights and coach builders business in London's Spitalfields late in the Victorian era. However Scammell Lorries as we know it didn't come about until 1921 when the company exhibited its first articulated combination with a 7.5 ton payload rating. The new truck quickly attracted sales and Scammell moved to its new works at Tolpits Lane, Watford, to allow for increased production. Scammell Lorries Ltd was formed on I July 1922, nine months after its prototype articulated combination had been displayed at the Olympia Motor Show.

Articulated and rigid eight-wheeled lorries continued to make up a substantial proportion of Scammell's output for nearly 40 years. In 1927 however, Scammell introduced the rugged six-wheeled Pioneer (WWII British Army 30 ton tank transporter pictured above), an off-highway heavy haulage tractor with, even today, an astonishing cross-country performance derived from a rocking-type front axle, and 2ft of vertical movement at each rear wheel (see below).

Period footage showing two Scammell employees (?) demonstrating the huge axle articulation available from Scammell's walking-beam rear suspension design. Here it is shown on an Explorer although the arrangement was identical on the earlier Pioneer.

(210k GIF animation)

At first the Pioneer found a ready market amongst operators in the oil fields and logging forests but was soon to be adopted by the British armed forces.

A new generation of diesel-engined maximum payload general cargo vehicles had also begun their progress from the drawing board in this period, and although some new models had already been introduced, the outbreak of WWII interrupted the development process. Therefore wartime vehicle production at Watford was confined to Pioneer variants (Recovery, tank transporter and artillery tractor) and the mechanical horse (introduced in the mid-1930s as a urban delivery and service vehicle). Pioneer's wartime reputation for rugged reliability lead to a higher degree of specialization in the heavy haulage and off-highway sectors at the war's end.

In its production mainstream Scammell often blazed a innovative trail. Both the Michelotti-designed glass-fibre cab, and the Crusader tractors were in many respects well ahead of their time, but in the end Scammell's future was determined by the policy of its Leyland parent (another sad story of British vehicle manufacturing). The UK domestic truck market was in danger of being swamped by a tide of European imports such as Volvo and Scania. Inevitably there were casualties within British truck building. AEC, Thornycroft, and Guy amongst others all slipped from view as their traditional markets were eroded. By contrast, Scammell, with profitable markets for its military and specialist vehicles continued under Leyland. Unlike some of its luckless partners the Watford concern survived for another twenty years, a name to reckon with in its chosen areas of specialization, and famous for its reliability whenever the going was tough.

The Scammell company finally closed its doors in 1988. The Tolpits Lane factory was redeveloped into housing. However the regard held by enthusiasts such as myself for the Watford built vehicles remains as high as ever.

For a more detailed history of Scammell and its vehicles please click here for further reading.

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