utilitarian success story

The Minor van, or as it was officially known, the Morris 5-cwt van was a best-seller among the Minor variants, second only in sales terms to the s.w.b. saloons. Over the five-year period covered by this article Morris Motors sold 9847 van units, 1300 more than their Minor l.w.b. saloons and 1500 greater than the combined sales of the Semi-Sports and S.V. Two-seater. It is an almost forgotten model, with most motoring historians failing to mention the 5-cwt van at all when telling the story of the pre-war Morris Minor. This, despite its proven long-term sales success.

Conceived in 1929 and launched for the 1930 season, the prototype 5-cwt van (the 5-cwt being its notional load carrying capacity) originally sported the ‘Snubnose’ radiator as found on the 1929 season 78 cubic feet capacity Morris Light Van, this also necessitated the use of a non-Minor bonnet. However, when production commenced in September 1929, all 5 cwt vehicles were fitted with the Minor car radiator and short bonnet as seen on the 29-31 OHC scuttle tank car range.

Introduced for the 1930 season and selling for £135, the first 38 cubic feet capacity 5-cwt van was well equipped throughout and included a spare wheel and a full set of tools. Its powerplant was the 8 HP (19.5 bhp) OHC engine while its running gear was almost identical* to that on the Minor car range upon which it was based, although being supplied to customers simply painted in ‘shop grey’. Whimsically, the position of the spare wheel appears to have altered from time to time, hanging on both nearside and offside doors during the original van’s five-year production run.

For 1931 the price of the van was reduced to just £125 and for this sum an opening front screen was included, while all other features remained as for the 1930 season model. In the run-up to Christmas 1930 the £100 S.V. (Side Valve) Minor Two-seater was launched to sell alongside the OHC vehicles. Further side-valve models followed throughout the winter and spring, a van being the last to join the range with little or no fanfare in April 1931 at a price of just £110. This undercut the current OHC van by a significant £15. The side valve vans were de-featured by the fitting of three-lamp Lucas lighting sets in place of the five-lamp sets of the OHC vehicle and the removal of brightwork. This chrome work was replaced on the S.V. version by the application of black paint. However, the two versions were not in competition for long, as OHC van production ceased at the end of July 1931.

For 1932 and 1933 the S.V. van continued virtually unchanged, retaining the scuttle fuel tank although re-gaining the chrome on its radiator and screen surrounds. In 1933 the van also gained Magna type wheels while the price remained constant at £110 throughout that period.

For the 1934 season the van underwent an extensive facelift. The new ‘Eddyfree’ enlarged body now had the fuel tank to the rear and could be supplied in a choice of three colours as well as the standard ‘shop grey’. As a result of the body change the van’s carrying capacity was increased to 51 cubic feet, while its running gear was also updated with the introduction of hydraulic shock absorbers. An optional four-speed synchromesh gearbox was also available if required. Surprisingly the brakes remained cable operated. These standard innovations carried a £5 price premium and the 1934 van sold for £115 (reduced by £2-10s-0d within the season).

Perhaps the most significant orders for the vehicle came in 1932. The state-owned General Post Office (G.P.O.) placed an initial order for 12 vans for their Royal Mail division which was then followed by further orders from their Post Office Telephones arm. Over the course of the next eight years Morris Motors were to supply many hundreds of 5cwt vans to the G.P.O. of both this early Minor type and the later hybrid-Minor van, this version sharing some components with the 1934 onward Morris Eight, including the engine. Some of these hybrid vans remained in service with the Post Office until the late forties. Perhaps the most unusual 5-cwt van to appear was the Post Office Telephones Linesman’s vehicle as seen here. The clear screen in the cab’s roof was there to enable the P.O. engineer to inspect the telephone poles and adjoining cables without the need to leave the vehicle.

Today, very few original 5-cwt vans survive, perhaps less than 20 in total. Their survival rate is appalling when compared to the open models and this is almost certainly due to their original unglamourous role. They led a tough life as work horses and invariably covered high mileages, as of course do all commercial vehicles. Their timber framed bodies will have no doubt been subject to the stresses associated with constant overloading and would eventually fall apart. A notable few original van chassis now ‘wear’ open two-seater bodies while one former two-seater is now a 5-cwt van replica!

  • The 5-cwt van was supplied with additional leaves to its springs to improve its handling under heavy loads, while others were fitted with 5-stud hubs and strengthened wheels.

Chris Lambert – January 2022

Morris 5-cwt van production notes:

Season Nos. produced Price £’s Spare wheel Other notes
1930 OHC 1253 135 Nearside Shop grey only
1931 OHC 871 125 Offside Opening Screen
1931 SV 852 110 Offside Painted bright work
1932 SV 2450 110 Offside Chrome bright work
1933 SV 2248 110 Nearside Magna wheels
1934 SV 2173 115 Nearside Rear fuel tank
1932 Morris Light Transport LeafletMarmaduke - The tale of a 'special' Minor van1931 Morris Minor 5 cwt Van leaflet