by John Harrison Nick
Sorting out my bookshelves recently I rediscovered a couple of copies of “Car Mechanics” from June and July 1960 featuring a two-part article, “This Modern Estate Car – You can built if for £250”. To the contemporary reader this might have sounded too good to be true – when it was introduced in 1959 a new Mini cost £497. I had put these magazines aside with a view to doing something more with them and now I have got round to doing this.
In the 1950s and 1960s there was a practice of building “specials”. This involved taking an old Austin 7 or side-valve Ford, removing the body and fitting a new glassfibre sports one to make your very own sportscar. This “modern estate car” was a “special” but of a utilitarian rather than sporting nature which most 1950s/60s specials were. These estate bodies were produced by Conversion Car Bodies Ltd (CCB) who were based at Naco Works, Lindsey Street, Epping (now the site of Brian Shilton’s coachworks, 73 Lindsey Street). Although the company was called CCB and their address was Naco Works, in the course of my researches I have heard the vehicles referred to as Nacos sometimes. The company was formed by Laurie Salmon in 1959. Laurie had been manager of Falcon Shells from 1957. Ashley Laminates had been set up in 1955 by Keith Waddington and Peter Peladine originally operating in a garage that then existed adjacent to the Robin Hood, Epping New Road, Loughton but subsequently in Upshire and then Harlow. In 1957 the partners separated and Peter Peladine established Falcon Shells with premises at 23 High Bridge Street, Waltham Abbey and a showroom at 52 High Street, Epping. They later moved to Hatfield. It will be seen that there is almost a “family tree” of body building companies, though Ashley and Falcon produced sports car bodies. I am not sure when CCB ceased trading, but I doubt it lasted long into the 1960s as changes to purchase tax rules meant special building ceased to be worthwhile.
“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” runs the maxim and in this case the £250 estate car might look modern on the outside underneath would have been the chassis and me
The donor chassis for the CCB estate was a side-valve Ford one, ranging from a 1937 Ford 8 or 10 to the Ford Popular last made in 1959, basically what would be described as a “sit -up-and-beg” Ford. In the course of my researches, however, I have learnt of CCB estate bodies being mounted on Standard 10 and Buckler chassis. Buckler were another firm making specials which traded from 1947 to 1965 and was based in the Reading area. Although a CCB conversion was not really a bargain car, if one had the time and necessary skills to accomplish the task, it presumably was a way to get your own vehicle at a reasonable price. The article costed the work:
Bodyshell £156 Donor car (though this term would not have been used at the time) £25 Reconditioning mechanical parts and making the interior good £50 Boxing in chassis and softening road springs £10-12
The project required the chassis to be boxed in to make it more rigid as the fibre glass body was more flexible than a steel one and lengthened to accommodate the body. The original Ford radiator would have been set too high to fit inside the new body and in the “Car Mechanics” build this was replaced with one from a crashed Morris Minor 1000. The writer of the articles, John Mills, seemed to advocate finding any replacement parts required for the job from scrapyards. Fitting the body needed a friend to help lift it on and careful measurement was needed to ensure it was correctly aligned. The seats from the donor car were to be reused or, if they were in poor condition, replacements could, of course, be obtained from a scrapyard. To me a prerequisite of an estate car is a folding rear seat, but seats of a Ford Popular or similar did not fold. The advice for lining the interior seems somewhat amazing. This “is a matter for the individual, but quite the easiest way of doing the job is to rub any protruding nibs of plastic down with ordinary wire wool, then cover the sides with sheets of Fablon of whatever colour appeals most.” Fablon is also referred to as “sticky backed plastic” in case you were a “Blue Peter” watcher!
It is advisable to search the net when writing articles these days and there I have managed to find copies of contemporary advertisements for CCB’s products (Contemporary motoring magazines regularly featured advertisements for bodies and other products supplied by special builders and indeed a CCB advert appeared in the July 1960 “Car Mechanics”). Some of these features the car converted in the “Car Mechanics” article, EYT 657, a number issued by London around July 1938 showing how old donor vehicles could be. Fitting a new body onto an existing chassis did not require the reregistration of the vehicle. The adverts also feature a saloon version of the body with a design echoing the style of the Ford Anglia 105E and Triumph Herald of that era. CCB initially produced the estate car and the saloon followed later. The moulds for these two bodies were identical except the estate was squared off at the rear whereas the saloon had a conventional boot. Interestingly a saloon in one of the adverts also sports the number plate EYT 657, so one wonders whether the original chassis bore two different bodies (well actually three if you include the Ford body it had when new) or for some reason the number plates were switched from one car to another for the photoshoot. I suspect the former was the case as, once a conversion had taken place, switching bodies would have been relatively easy. The company seemed to have a kind of “open house” on Saturdays and Sundays between 10am and 1pm when an example of a converted vehicle (one suspects one of the incarnations of EYT 657) could be inspected. One advert directs “Irish inquiries” to Easy-Built Cars Ltd of Belfast.
As a child I remember seeing a “mystery estate car” a couple of times. It did not match anything featuring in the incredibly comprehensive “Observer’s Book of Automobiles” then available. My car-spotting friend, Howard, suggested it might have been an Israeli Autocar, but I think that would have been most unlikely on the Cheshire lanes where I saw it, especially with British number plates. With hindsight I strongly suspect it was a vehicle with one of these Car Conversion Bodies estates but I will never be sure.
My searches on the internet revealed something completely remarkable – one of these estate car conversions still survives! As far as the Ford Sidevalve Owners Club (FSOC) is aware, no saloons remain. The surviving estate is registered DMP 10 (a Middlesex number) and is still taxed. It was first registered in October 1939, so would have been actually registered during the Second World War. Through the FSOC I was able to contact the owner who has helpfully given me much useful information about the car. The car is nicknamed “Dump” because of its registration. As an estate car it has had just three owners all who have used it for hillclimb trialling. This is a form of motorsport where the objective is to get the vehicle as far as possible up a steep and normally muddy incline with points being awarded on the basis how far the driver gets up the hill. The car was converted by David Hilliard of Cornwall in the early 1960s. The owner describes him as “a meticulous aeronautical engineer”. Following David’s death it was sold to Mike Furze and the present owner (who wishes to remain anonymous incidentally) acquired it 21 years ago.
The car now has a Ford sidevalve 1172cc engine from a Ford 10 or newer Ford with a gearbox from a Wolseley Hornet, though originally it would have had a 933cc engine. Twin carburettors have been fitted. Before the present engine was fitted it had an unusual one, with a Ford 1172cc block and an Alta overhead engine inside it – Alta was a company that made engines for racing cars. The present owner writes, “The engines were apparently very similar dimensionally and with a degree of ingenuity they could be made to fit.” This would seem to demonstrate the engineering abilities of David Hilliard, who built the car. Like the “Car Mechanics” conversion, DMP 10 was fitted with a radiator form a Morris Minor. The cooling system seems to have required vents in the side of the wings to improve airflow, an item not seen on other CCB vehicles I have seen photos of.
The owner had to carry out major repairs to the car a few years ago as otherwise it would have had to be scrapped. He writes, “I used the car until about 2010 when it was getting difficult to get it through the MOT because of chassis rot on the boxed chassis. It was not possible to weld it properly with the glassfibre body in situ because the heat would cause it to distort and I was left with option of either scrapping the car or replacing the chassis. I bought a second-hand chassis and very carefully removed the old one by supporting the body and dropping the chassis from it. I was very wary of doing this as I did not know how flexible the body was – in fact it is surprisingly stiff and it did not deflect significantly. When I inspected the old chassis I realised that it was not realistically possible to replicate and get it to fit the body as there was already a degree of twist. I decided to mend the original chassis which was blasted and welded as necessary. This was done and the car reassembled without too much trouble…..The body is surprisingly strong but I do not think ever very well finished. At some time in it life it appears that the car was left partially outside and the driver’s side has deformed causing the door to misfit, the door is fine, the body is slightly distorted. Realistically it cannot be straightened, but in practice it does not really matter.”
When the present owner acquired the car it had front seats from a 1950s Volkswagen Beetle, but he has replaced them. The rear seats do fold down – he describes them as “wellmade homemade ones.”
In one advertisement Car Conversion Bodies described themselves as “The ‘Four Seater’ Specialists”. As I have said, most builders of 1950s/60s specials produced sports car bodies, so this company did have a niche market. One website suggests these conversions would need “flexible passengers who had to get out at steep hills”. I suspect this is rather unfair, especially as the one surviving example has a long history of trialling. The conversion involved replacing the car’s original steel body with a lighter fibreglass one so they would have had reasonable power. The 933cc 8hp version would not have been particularly quick, but the 1172cc version would have had reasonable performance. An advertisement describes the estate as “Large enough to carry four adults, yet light enough to give a sporty performance.” Nevertheless, the vehicle was designed to be a carthorse rather than a racehorse.
My thanks are due to Ian Woodrow and David Heard of the FSOC and the owner of DMP 10 (who has provided the photo[s] of his car) for help with this article.