Debunking the most common old wives’ tales 1 IT WAS A TYPICAL 1950S VAN
The CA, launched in 1952, was rolling evidence that VauxhallBedford had listened to what operators actually wanted. The trend at the time was for similarlysized vans to be ‘forward-control’ – with the driver and passenger sitting on top of the engine at the very front of the vehicle. This was fine for ensuring that most of its space was given over to cargo, but it was uncomfortable and cumbersome for users, and terrible for mechanics, who found undercab engines difficult to work on. Most of the CA’s engine was ahead of the cab, and a short bonnet improved access for servicing.
2 IT OUTSOLD FORD
The Bedford CA became such a common sight on Britain’s roads in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s that its revolutionary nature was often overlooked. Indeed, it was a rare case of General Motors out-selling Ford in Britain. When the Dagenham rival launched its Thames 400E in 1957 to replace the old E83W model that had been around since 1938, it was yet another forward-control-format tin box, even if the independent front suspension was fairly advanced. Bedford CA sales shot ahead and would continue to do so until Ford copied the CA’s layout for its first Transit eight years later.
3 IT WAS VERSATILE
Actually, with its sliding side doors, the CA was brilliant for city streets. The 1.5-litre drivetrain was shared at first with the Vauxhall Wyvern, and later the contemporary Victor, with a three-speed and later a four-speed gearbox. The CA was especially notable for turning vans into leisure vehicles after coachbuilder Martin Walter launched two aftermarket conversions: the Tailrace estate car aimed at big families; and the Utilicon minibus. It then designed ‘Dormatic’ seats that turned into beds before, in 1957, launching the first complete CA Dormobile. This compact camper became the cornerstone of the rapidly growing British motorhome industry of the late ‘50s and 1960s, meaning that many an uncomplaining former car owner ended up driving a CA as an everyday set of wheels.