Classics for sale: 1960 Austin 152 Omnibus
There was a time when vans were new, cool and predominantly British. Next time you need to transport a bunch of your mates somewhere, ditch the LDV Convoy and get this instead
There's a very small number of vans that have broken into the public imagination, most of which have featured in film or television. Vans often have a bad reputation but, just like cars, there is a huge variation in size and styles, and there are some real classics available to buy.
In the 1950s, the British Motor Corporation supplied a small van called the J-Type, which was used for a variety of purposes, including the postal service and ice cream vendors, and later featured in the television series ‘Thomas & Friends’ and became the face of Cadbury’s chocolate down under. It was followed by the larger J2, which also was sold under several names including the Austin 152 Omnibus, an example of which is in our classifieds.
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A 1.5-litre straight-four engine, a staple of BMC’s production line-up, featured in the van, and sat directly beneath the middle passenger at the front of the vehicle, separated by just a sheet of metal and the cushion seat. A hot bottom was a given after just a few minutes of driving, though with typical British weather, that's perhaps a desirable side-effect instead of a design flaw.
There were four variants of the vehicle: a pick-up, a minibus, chassis cab and the traditional panel van shape. It marked the first time BMC had used a monocoque in one of their automobiles, though innovation didn't reach the hotbox located behind the middle passenger, the engine cranking out only 42bhp.
Sliding and traditionally hinged front doors were available, and entertainment was provided by internal lights, allowing passengers to read whatever 'publications' had been left on the tray running the width of the vehicle’s front.
Though not stated outright in its listing, this particular 152 Omnibus appears to be the 13 seat version, giving plenty of space to trundle around with a group of friends. Be warned, though, given the era it derives from, there's no seat-belts, so any additions to the 42,000 miles already covered by previous two owners are probably best done on B roads.
Only front styling distinguished the Austin from the identical Morris models, another example of BMC's extensive rebadging exercises of the era. it proved to be reasonably popular, getting an upgraded engine from and being used as an ambulance in some areas of the UK. It was replaced by the smaller J4 in the 1960s, but its market share shrank in 1965 when a certain Ford Transit came along.
For some reason we can't quite fathom, the market for vans where the driver sat inches above the engine and behind the front window declined thereafter. Yes, the Transit might be 'safer', but your bum won't be quite as toasty. And nobody will dare call you a 'white van man' in one of these, either. So for the next time you need to shift a group of people around, head to our classifieds and give this thing a look.