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Original article by L. Busteed. Expanded using information supplied by Hans Ensing
The English truck-maker fated to join the Chrysler family started as Clayton and Company, in 1904. Three years later they started making Karrier cars; in 1920, they changed their name to Karrier Motors Ltd, quickly moving into the truck and bus chassis business.
Karrier’s early vehicles were tough, no-frills vehicles, with large load spaces, short length, and powerful engines for tackling Yorkshire hills. The first public service vehicle to climb Porlock Hill, Somerset, was a Karrier bus with 21 passengers and a 50 horsepower engine. Karrier’s main customers would be cities and towns.
Karrier, like Commer, produced trucks in World War I for the military — around 2,000 of them during the war. Afterwards, they built a new factory and created a new range of vehicles, by 1924 making 17 different models. In 1926, Karrier built its first purpose-built passenger chassis, which was progressively improved with pneumatic tires and weight reduction.
During the late 1920s, Karrier build numerous six-wheel chassis, two of which were the first vehicles to make a circuit of Australia — running on schedule for 22 weeks through 11,000 miles of harsh terrain.
In 1927, they launched the Super Safety Six Wheel Coach; in 1928, the Karrier-Clough Six Wheel Trolleybus followed. The KWF6, a rigid six-wheeler engineered for “the colonies” and for hard road work, had an eight-ton payload with single sets of wheels on each of three axles.
(Mechanical horses were lightweight, low-powered tractors usually used for local delivery. Their appearance could be similar to standard chassis-cab trucks, though many had three wheels.)
In 1930, Karrier produced a “mechanical horse” design, the Karrier Cob, engineered jointly with the London Midland & Scottish Railway for package delivery; it was powered by a two-cylinder Jowett engine, and could couple with horse-drawn trailers. The London and North Eastern Railway had the same idea, and turned to Scammell Lorries, which developed a similar concept but with an automatic couple/uncouple system for trailers; Scammell appears to have first used the term “mechanical horse,” in 1934 (they would later use Perkins diesels, followed by the same Leyland OE160 used by late Karrier Bantams).
The Colt, launched in 1931, was a similarly designed tractor version, a two-ton three-wheel tractor, also powered by the Jewett horizontally opposed flat two-cylinder engine, with the “Colt Major” providing four cylinders.
Karrier also created the “road railer,” which had one set of wheels for roads and another for railroad tracks, and later developed a two-ton truck called the Bantam, a good seller with parcel carriers. The Bantam started out with just 9 hp, later raised to 18 hp via a Humber engine; its coupling was compatible with the Scammell system.
After two takeover bids, Karrier was acquired by Rootes Group in 1934. In Rootes’ usual fashion, production was moved to a new plant in Luton, and Hudersfield was closed; the model range was slashed to avoid competition with Commer, and shared components phased in. Karrier was focused on the Cob and Colt three-wheel “mechanical horses” (just three are known to survive), the Bantam, and the CK3 and CK6 three and six ton chassis for municipal use.
By 1939, over 600 municipalities used Karrier vehicles; aftermarket body builders made garbage collectors, tower wagons, and gully emptiers. Two Karrier branded items actually based on Commer chassis were a left-hand-control road sweeper and an ambulance.
During World War II, there were separate designs for the two trucks; Karrier made cross-country four and six wheeled trucks. Overall, 10,000 Karrier trucks were used by the military during the war.
Around 1949, the Karrier Bantam switched to a cast aluminum radiator shell, replacing pressed metal. In 1952, the Bantam was updated with a new cab and Perkins diesel engine, and the CK3 was replaced by the Gamecock (seen above on a historic journey from South Africa to London); this had a new cab similar to Commer’s forward control cabs. The Karrier Bantam lasted through 1970, using a 3-ton coupling gear.
Bigger garbage trucks demanded bigger chassis, and Karrier supplied its Transport Loadmaster (based on the Commer QX). A new Rootes engine, the TS3, was launched in 1954, using three cylinders and six pistons; it was a military multi-fuel diesel engine, sold in relevant Karriers.
A major success was the Spacevan, launched in 1960 as the 1500, renamed PA, then renamed PB, and later given its final name. Sold as both a Commer and Karrier, the Spacevan had a diesel early on, with automatic transmissions coming in 1965 and a 1-ton payload version coming in 1962. The Spacevan was a major success, and was restyled in 1978.
In 1965, increased demand brought production to Dunstable, where Commer / Dodge and Karrier were all brought together; Luton was refitted as a transmission plant. Dodge badging was used more; by the mid-1970s, Rootes had been fully acquired by Chrysler, and the Dodge name was on all Commer and Karrier vehicles.
British subsidies in 1975/76 gave Dodge / Karrier / Commer a boost in developing a 3.5 to 7.5 tonne range of vehicles to help keep the UK truck building business on an even keel. The 50 series came out in 1979, badged as a Dodge but with a Karrier nameplate, just in time for Peugeot's acquisition of Chrysler Europe, which included Rootes and Simca.
In January 1980, all Commer / Karrier / Dodge vehicles officially became Talbot. Peugeot sold the concern on to Renault in 1981; but for 1980, the 50 series was still badged as a Dodge under the Talbot name. From 1983 to 1986, the 50 was sold as a Dodge under the Renault name; in 1987, the trucks were replaced by the New 50 series. British 50-series production finally ended in March 1993, and the line was taken out; the building became the UK distribution center for French-built tractor units. A Chinese group purchased the equipment, and presumably Dodge medium duty trucks were produced in China for some time afterwards. (For more details, see dodge50.co.uk.)
More on Chrysler in the UK / Rootes Group site —
See Historic Journey: From South Africa to London via Karrier Gamecock
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