Historic Truck Brands
In 1916, Atkinson was the UK distributor of Sentinel-brand steam lorries, until that company decided to do its own sales and servicing. Based on its familiarity with steam power, Atkinson began production of its own steam lorries.
Steam had advantages over early petrol lorries that were seriously underpowered and, by 1923, Atkinson had a range of lorries with payloads from 2.5 tones to an articulated combination that could carry12 tons.
In 1924, fresh capital was injected into the business that was renamed Atkinson-Walker Waggons Ltd. However, by 1928 petrol- and diesel-powered trucks were taking over the market and the joint company went into receivership.
Back in its original premises in Preston, Lancashire, a reborn Atkinson began designing and producing diesel-powered trucks. By 1933 Atkinson Lorries Ltd was formed and the company moved to a new production facility.
Pre World War Two production was modest, with fewer than 60 vehicles produced across the model range from 7.5- to 15-tonners. Power came from Gardner diesels, via David Brown gearboxes to Kirkstall axles. Some wartime trucks had 7.7-litre AEC diesel power.
After the War Atkinson developed its own transmission and the range broadened to include a double-deck bus chassis; off-road 100-tonne dumpers and 6×6 models.
A FRP cab was introduced in 1958 and mechanical changes included Rolls Royce, Cummins and Detroit Diesel engine options, as well las Fuller and ZF transmissions. Twin-steer trucks were introduced in 1966.
In 1970, Atkinson rejected takeover bids by ERF and Foden, but eventually fell to Seddon Diesel Vehicles Ltd.
Atkinson Down Under
Atkinson had already started up in Australia in 1965, taking over the local companies: Diesel Industries P/L, Diesel Services P/L and Diesel and Electrical P/L and setting up production at Clayton, Victoria.
The UK’s wooden-framed FRP cab with curved screens was replaced by an all-fibreglass, double-skinned cab with flat screens that had several iterations until 1974. The early cabs had recessed sharp-edged mouldings on the front and an external radiator with filler cap. Later ones had curved fronts and a grille, with radiator and engine access via a tilt-cab. A sleeper extension was also available.
Atkinson’s twin-steer availability and a choice of engines up to 340hp made the truck suitable for heavy rigid and road train applications.
In 1974, International Harvester Corporation bought out the UK parent company and from 1974 to 1976 Atkinson Vehicles Australsia P/L continued business as usual, but the factory’s proximity to the IH plant at Dandenong made rationalisation obvious.
In late 1977 the Clayton plant was closed and assembly moved to the Dandenong plant. While a number of product improvements were introduced and the marketing of this quite different vehicle through International’s distribution network expanded sales, it’s custom-build was not a compatible fit in a series-production factory.
Inter’s solution was to make a top-shelf Atkinson version of International’s T-Line that was to go into production at Dandenong in 1979 and we’re indebted to Colin McKenzie, retired IHA engineer, for the following detail.
The major changes to the T-Line – itself a derivative of the venerable ACCO – included increasing the length of the cab by 400mm to provide larger sleeper accommodation; a distinctive grille with the Atkinson logo prominently located in the centre; a full width exterior sun visor; unique styled front fenders; an extra step for easier cab access; a full set of marker lights and twin horns; velour trim, high-back ISRI seats; a wardrobe; CB and AM/FM radio and electric sockets to round out the package.
Detroit Diesel engine options, not offered in the T-Line, were also available. Longer, front variable-rate springs with Aeon rubber helper springs provided superior ride to the T-Line’s. The model was designated the Atkinson F4870 Series.
The F4870 was promoted as a ‘custom-built’ truck that could be tailored to suit the customers specific requirements. While the differences were more than just a badge, many customers were not easily swayed by the premium features, seeing it a just a ‘tarted up’ T-Line.
In 1983, International Harvester Corporation sold Seddon Atkinson to the Pegaso Group in Spain, who then became part of the Iveco group in 1990.
The Atkinson name soldiered on Down Under for some time, until the F4870 was discontinued in 1989.