While famously associated with London's Routemaster buses, AEC supplied commercial vehicles to many companies both domestically and around the world.
The London General Omnibus Company, or LGOC, was founded in 1855 to amalgamate and regulate the horse-drawn omnibus services then operating in London. The company began producing motor omnibuses for its own use in 1909 with the X-type designed by its chief motor engineer, Frank Searle, at works in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow, London. The X-type was followed by Searle's B-type design, considered to be one of the first mass-produced commercial vehicles.
In 1912, LGOC was taken over by the Underground Group of companies, which at that time owned most of the London Underground, and extensive tram operations. As part of the reorganisation following the takeover, a separate concern was set up for the bus manufacturing elements, and was named Associated Equipment Company, better-known as AEC.
AEC's first commercial vehicle was a lorry based on the X-type bus chassis. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, AEC's ability to produce large numbers of vehicles using assembly line methods became important in supplying the increasing need for army lorries. AEC began large-scale production of the 3-ton Y-type lorry, commenced in 1916, and continued beyond the end of the war. From then on, AEC became associated with both lorries and buses.
In 1926, AEC and Daimler formed the Associated Daimler Company (ADC), which was dissolved two years later. In 1927, AEC moved its manufacturing from Walthamstow to a new plant at Southall in London.
From 1929, AEC produced new models: the names of lorries began with "M" (Majestic, Mammoth, Mercury, and so on), and those of buses began with "R" (Regent, Regal, Renown, and so on). These original "M-models" continued in production until the end of the Second World War. AEC introduced diesel engines across the range in the mid-1930s.
From 1931 to 1938, AEC and English Electric co-produced trolleybuses. AEC supplied the chassis, and EE the electric motors and control equipment.
In 1932, AEC took a controlling interest in the British subsidiary of the American Four Wheel Drive (FWD) company, and began to use more standard AEC components in those vehicles. To avoid confusion, these were marketed under the name Hardy. Production ceased about 1936.
Second World War
Non-military production stopped in 1941. During the war, AEC produced their 10 ton 4x4 Matador artillery tractor (an adaptation of their commercial 4x2 Matador lorry that exploited AEC's experience with the Hardy FWD venture). A 6x6 version was designated as the AEC Marshall but almost always called the Matador. To this they added the AEC Armoured Car in 1941.
In 1946, AEC and Leyland Motors formed British United Traction Ltd (BUT) as a joint venture to manufacture trolleybuses and traction equipment for diesel railcars since reduced demand would not require the existing capacity of both parents.
In 1948, AEC resumed civilian production with the Mammoth Major, Matador and Monarch. Also in 1948, AEC acquired Crossley Motors and Maudslay Motor Company. Soon after, AEC changed its name to Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) Ltd., although it kept the initials "AEC" on its vehicles — with the exception of some badge-engineered versions, such as the Crossley Regent bus (one example of which may be seen at the North West Museum of Road Transport). In 1949, ACV acquired a (bus) bodybuilding company, Park Royal Vehicles, along with its subsidiary Charles H. Roe. Park Royal designed a new cab for the AEC Mercury in the mid-1950s; this appeared on all models across the range about this time.
In 1961, AEC acquired Transport Equipment (Thornycroft). Thornycroft's name disappeared from all the vehicles except the specialist airport crash tenders, such as the Nubian, and the "Mighty" Antar off-road tractor unit.
Leyland Motors Ltd acquired ACV in 1962. AEC lorries were given the same "Ergomatic" cabs used across several Leyland marques (including Albion). In 1968, all AEC double-decker buses ceased production, and its last buses, motorcoaches and lorries were built in 1979. The AEC name actually disappeared from commercial vehicles in 1977, but the Leyland Marathon was built at the Southall plant until British Leyland (as the parent company was named by then) closed it in 1979.
ACLO (supposed to be the acronym of Associated Company Lorries and Omnibuses) was the brand name used by AEC in Latin American countries, including Brazil, and in Spain (but not in Portugal) to sell all their products.
It seems that there was no clear reason for this badge engineering operation, although a formal request from the German AEG industrial group, which was very active in the Spanish-speaking countries, has been suggested.
ACLOs were specially pervasive in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Particularly in Uruguay, there were two ACLO fleets. They were interesting buses, quite faster than Leyland Tiger in use by other fleets. It was said at the time (early '60s) that the main reason was inter-urban gearing instead of purely urban gearing present in Leylands. An interesting feature was preselector gear-change, similar to those in Leyland buses, commanded by a smallish gated lever installed by the steering wheel, with a reversed gate, with first gear to the right and up, and fourth gear to the bottom and left.
In Spain, ACLOs could be seen mainly as double-deck buses in Barcelona, and as line coaches in ALSA fleet.
In Portugal, the AEC vehicles, mainly coaches and buses but also lorries, were assembled and bodied by União de Transportadores para Importação e Comércio, UTIC, and marketed under the UTIC-AEC badge, for many years.
From 1971-3 the Loughborough based dealer Moseley imported nine UTIC U2043 coaches which were marketed as the Moseley Continental Tagus. They were mechanically equivalent to a rear-engined Reliance or a coach version of the Swift 691 which AEC had planned but never marketed. They were expensive to buy new and the square sided styling looked dated to British eyes in the age of the Elite and Dominant coaches, thus they were slow selling. These were probably the only right hand drive coaches built by UTIC. At the time Moseley also marketed Salvador Caetano Coaches under its own name.
In the late fifties, Spanish government restrictions to importations led AEC sales in Spain to became virtually nil. As a consequence, AEC approached a Spanish truck manufacturer, Barreiros Diesel, to jointly produce buses and coaches based on AEC designs. The venture started in 1961, used Barreiros AEC as brand name, disregarding ACLO, and seemed very promising; production of AEC off-road dump trucks being planned too. Nevertheless, the Leyland takeover in 1962 soon undermined the agreement, as Leyland was partnering with Barreiros Spanish arch-rival, Pegaso; and eventually Barreiros looked for another collaborator in the bus arena, signing in 1967 an agreement with Belgian Van Hool.
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