Some vehicles lead an impossibly hard life, and as such, their ability to survive is often limited. Race cars, anything owned by a seventeen year-old, taxis, and of course, vehicles belonging to the emergency services. The odd Police car might slip through and find its way into the public domain, but by and large, vehicles with blue lights on top seldom live past their service life. And we’re talking about modern stuff here, not classics. So imagine our utter delight when we were asked to list this Commer Cob for auction. From 1965, it stands today in near immaculate condition. A genuine ‘blue light’ vehicle, this Commer Cob has done its time with the Fire Brigade and has lived to tell the tale many, many decades on. But how?
Before we get into that, let’s look at the origins of CWT32C, a 1965 Commer Cob 7cwt van. A vehicle which, let’s face it, is not the first thing that pops into your head when you think of things that firefighters drive. However, fighting fires is a team sport, one with many moving parts. For every big engine, a gaggle of firefighters and miles of hoses, there is a vehicle to support it. That was the Commer’s role. It was bought, along with five others, to serve as a BACV. That’s a Breathing Apparatus Control Vehicle to us civilians. The wee Commer would appear on the scene of an emergency, and from it, a Sub Officer would monitor the actions of the firefighters. He would ensure everyone had oxygen, he would ensure no one firefighter was spending too long in the flames, and he would ensure the overall safety of the crew. This Commer’s role was just as vital as that of the bigger fire engines.
The Commer was used in other situations from road traffic collisions through to floods and everything in between. It was, make no mistake, a handy little thing for the Fire Brigade to have. This is why they had it from 1965 through to 1977. This particular Commer was first at Bromley, but was no doubt used by other stations over the course of its life. Sold only due to its age, the Commer went into private hands where it became a builder’s van. A somewhat undignified career change for the little red firefighter, truth be told.
However, all was not lost. The builder in question was obviously the careful and considerate type, as the van survived the rigors of the trade and was once again sold on, this time to an enthusiast who wanted an old van to restore. Unaware of the Commer’s past, the new owner started sanding the van down only to uncover the painted ‘London Fire Brigade’ livery on the side. Very exciting indeed, and more than enough to take the restoration in a different direction. The direction of originality, of course. So, with newfound motivation, the work carried on. The front end of the Commer had been attacked by rust, so this was cut out and replaced with fresh metal. The back of the van was actually in good condition, so not much work was needed there. It was all coming together nicely, until, well, it didn’t. The restoration was abandoned and once again, the future for the little van looked uncertain.
Enter another player into the Cob game. Originally looking for a Morris Minor to convert into a period correct fire vehicle. However, when he got wind of the genuine fire-related history of the Commer, his plans changed. On acquiring the Cob, he set about a full restoration to how it would have been in 1965. Including a full complement of equipment in the back such as uniforms, helmets, first aid kit, charts, maps, two-way radio, radiation kit and more. It took years to track it all down from enthusiasts and specialists, but he did indeed get it all.
The van was repainted, the higher power 1,494cc engine (standard Cobs had a 1,390cc engine, but the Fire Brigade needed more grunt) was overhauled and the whole lot was built back up resulting in the van you see here. And what a van it is. A perfect time capsule of period originality serving as a reminder of how the Fire Brigade once was. It is perfect in every detail, from the blue beacon through to the period two-way radio mounted to the dash. The kit is all there, as is more paperwork than you could possibly imagine. If you could take it back in time to the ’60s, nobody would question it – even the new tyres are period correct. The attention to detail is off the scale.
So what’s next for the the little Commer? Well, it’s with Car & Classic Auctions now, meaning that with a few clicks of the mouse, it could be yours. And we would encourage you to have a go. This isn’t a pastiche or homage. This is the real deal. Of the six ordered in 1965, DYK32C is believed to be the only one that has survived. That alone makes it worth owning. But more importantly, owning this will not only mean owning a piece of automotive history, you will also own a piece of social history. This van, while small in stature, is big on historical importance. It can be enjoyed, of course, but it can also be used to teach, to inform and to remind. And those are wonderful things.