Back in 1881 the first Foden traction engine was built in Sandbach. Then in 1898 Edwin Richard Foden influenced future truck design by designing the first steam wagon running on steel tyre wheels which had a very successful production run up until 1913 when vulcanised solid rubber tyre development had advanced to the stage of allowing their fitment on heavy vehicles., Edwin introduced the first pneumatic-tyred Foden steam wagon, but as steam transport appeared to be going out of favour, Edwin turned his attention to the development of a 6-8 ton chassis fitted with new Gardner LW (Light Weight) high speed oil-engine.
At the beginning of the 1930’s, Britain’s industry was struggling to survive the worst recession in living memory and unemployment had broken through the two million barrier. At this time insurers were becoming increasingly reluctant to underwrite steam boilers. As a result Edwin believed the future of the lorry building industry lay in Diesel engine power. Unfortunately for him though, the Foden boardroom didn’t agree and he resigned along with his son Dennis. Few could have guessed though that at this time of economic strife, Edwin would make a comeback and form a company that would flourish as many others fell by the wayside.
With the help of his son Dennis and two former colleagues, including Ernest Sherratt who became Chief Engineer, Edwin was worked to build the very first ERF diesel lorry in 1933 and gave the very first chassis the number 63 which was Edwin’s age at the time. Right from the beginning the company only bought in the best components available,like engines from Gardner, gearboxes from David Brown and axles from Kirkstall Forge, rather than making everything in house This concept would serve ERF well throughout its existence. A new and striking cab was styled by Sandbach coachbuilder John Henry Jennings, who also provided initial factory space to assemble the new lorry.
Late in 1933 ‘E.R.Foden & Son Diesel’ made its debut with chassis number 63 at the motor show in Olympia. The new lorries were given the model designation C.I. standing for Compression Ignition, followed by the number of cylinders of the Gardner engine, followed by the number of wheels. So chassis number 63 had a 4LW Gardner engine and two axles, so it was identified as a C.I.4.4. The new lorries soon built up an excellant reputation for reliability with hauliers and production steadily increased as orders flowed in over the next six years. Due to the outbreak of war in 1939, Gardner diesel engines had to be prioritised for military uses including vehicles and searchlight generators. ERF still had a healthy order book for their Lorries so an alternative engine supplier had to be found. This came in the form of AEC with their 7.7 litre engine. The Lorries built with AEC engines carried the model designation D.I. to differentiate them from the Gardner powered C.I.
A lighter duty ERF was also added to the range powered by the smaller Gardner 4LK Diesel engine. These models were fitted with a revised Jennings built cab known as the ‘Streamline’ and carried the model designation 0E4 (Oil Engined 4 cylinder)
By the end of the war output had dipped to 237. Steel rationing was now accepted as a way of life for the foreseeable future, luckily ERF was now a well established name. 1948 saw the introduction of a new style of traditional cab, again built by Jennings and called the V Type. Later versions of this cab would be offered manufactured in steel by Willenhall. The V Type also feactured other chassis developments including the Lockheed constant pressure braking system, which ultimately did not prove a reliability success.
The death of Edwin in 1950 at the age of 80 meant the loss of an acute business brain and a leader who had nurtured the ERF’s family from the beginning. His son Dennis became Managing Director at the tender age of 30 years and the company went public in 1954. Dennis shared his father’s flair for design and sensed that a radical change was needed. At this time, Sandbach coachbuilder, J H Jennings employed a young designer by the name of Gerald Broadbent and between Gerald and the ERF Chief Engineer Ernest Sherratt the striking new Kleer Vue cab was born. The KV cab quickly became the epitome of 1950’s style, said to be futuristic and imaginative with its use of curved glass, one of the very first applications in a commercial vehicle and one which caused manufacturer Triplex many production difficulties.. Operators fell in love with its distinct rounded shape and the truck with its Gardner engine became a legend. A semi forward control version of the KV cab became available with the benefit of provision for three seats in the cab. These models proved popular with the likes of brewery operators and quickly gained the nickname ‘Sabrina’ due to the busty television personality of that name who’s real name was in fact Norma Sykes.
In 1958 a decision was taken to offer customers more engine choice in the form of Rolls Royce Diesel engines. This was a sign of things to come and in September 1961 the first American designed British built “Cummins Diesel” powered ERF was built. It was a KV cabbed eight wheeler, designated a model 68CU, registered ONH 567 and operated by C Butt of Northampton. Later other engines for example Perkins and orman were offered. Gardner engines were still in the vast majority of ERF chassis at this period but it did herald the very slow changeover to a Cummins dominated ERF range in later years.
By the end of the 1950’s, production had reached the 500 mark for the first ever time. If the 1950’s were years of consolidation, the 1960’s were years of technical advancement. Yet the decade began under a cloud with the death of Denis Foden. Peter Foden then only 30 years of age took over the business reins and set about a programme of change. Gerald Broadbent, by now Managing Director of Bowyer Bros (Boalloy) of Congleton was again consulted to design and produce another ground breaking and revolutionary new cab for ERF. He christened his new creation the Long Vue cab. The LV cab made its first appearance fitted to haulier and ERF distributor Frank Tucker’s eight wheel tipper in 1962 at the Earls Court Commerical Motor Show. It combined a stylish appearance with luxury internal fittings and a number of new and innovative features like a full width front access panel for maintenance, concealed door hinges, a large one piece windscreen and vertical push button door handles so that ropes thrown over the load did not snag up on them.
The cuts in rail lines during the 1960’s really worked in ERF’s favour as did the 1964 Construction and Use Regulations which permitted 32-tonne gross-weight articulated vehicles. This change in policy was one that ERF anticipated and were able to capitalise on fully. Buoyant export trade however matched growing domestic success, and although hauliers were still smarting from a 50 percent increase in road tax, ERF remained committed to technical improvement. The late 1960’s saw the retirement of Ernest Sherratt (although he did stay actively involved at ERF) as Chief Engineer and the appointment of some new and innovative people into engineering roles. Eric Green came in from Atkinson and Alan Turner from Chrysler Dodge. The need for a new, stronger and lighter weight chassis design was needed by 1970 to stay in line with fierce competition and the new engineers rose to the challenge with the new ‘A Series’ of chassis design. This incorporated lighter but stronger chassis rails of parallel depth, lightweight split cross members, longer outboard mounted rear springs, rear axle shock absorbers and the consolidation and rationalised grouping of components like air tanks. The New A Series chassis were a huge success helping ERF to record sales of 9.7 million. Despite sharing it’s redesigned 7LV cab with many rigid vehicles, the A Series was in fact only produced in numbers in tractor unit form. The old LV models, including LV tractor units, continued in production alongside the A Series until the announcement of the new B Series models in late 1974.
In 1970, ERF had tendered to buy competitor Atkinson. Ultimately the bid failed and Seddon were the successful buyers, the new company being called Seddon Atkinson. Many of the old Atkinson workforce did not like change and some moved across to ERF. One such key engineer was Jack Cooke who’s influence led to the development of another entirely new groundbreaking cab. The steel framed, fibreglass paneled SP (Steel / Plastics) as fitted on the B Series models.
At the end of 1979 ERF were building 16 trucks a day, in the depth of the recession it was just 16 a week. The bottom had fallen out of the market and by the end of 1983, the Sandbach workforce had been trimmed from 1,400 to just over 600, with the factory on a two day week. An ambitious plan for a Wrexham assembly plant had to be abandoned and the Fire Engineering Division put up for sale. What’s more, an agreement with Japanese truck maker Hino to manufacture 12 to 15 tonners at Sandbach was killed off by a change in the value of the Yen. ERF battled on through these difficult times. Some of the competitors were not so lucky.
1982 saw the introduction of a revised and updated range. The C Series. Although similar to the B Series in design and construction, the new range feactured an updated and better appointed SP3 cab, along with detail chassis improvements. Through the 1980’s ERF set up it’s own sales and marketing force and rationalised it’s product range, the result of which was the Common Parts CP Series which would prove highly popular with hauliers. By 1986 ERF had really bounced back and unveiled the E-Series tractor ranged fitted along with a more refined and aerodynamic SP4 cab. The E Series was another huge success and in 1988 ERF registered 3,740 trucks in the UK. The next big news was the signing of an agreement with Austrian truck maker Steyr, under which ERF would use Steyr’s all steel cab and it’s ES6 and ES8 trucks.
Stepping into the 1990’s and responding to developments and trends, ERF in May 1993 introduced the EC range. This coincided with the company’s diamond jubilee and used ‘Driving the Future’ as a theme. Again, the EC used the established SP technology with new styling, however, this was more than a revamp. After four years development and a £14 million investment, a new tractor and rigid truck range was produced. This EC range turned out to be ERF’s best ever selling product.
1996 saw the take over of ERF by Western Star Trucks Holdings based in British Columbia in Canadian reportedly for £27.4 million, many were surprised of this decision. ERF also started to diversify into the municipal market with two new products, the EM central steer cab and the EU. The year 2000 had seen many new beginnings for ERF, in the March, ERF was bought by German company MAN and in the summer of 2000 saw ERF launch not one but two new products, the ECS and ECX. For the first time ERF offered a steel cab to its customers. ERF started construction on a new factory in ERF Way, Middlewich, Cheshire, it is believed that £28 million was invested in the new factory and state of the art production and administration facility, this would bring the company under one roof for the first time in many years. In August 2000, a celebration was held ‘Coming Home – Moving Home’ when over 200 ERF’s gathered at Sun Works to cavalcade to the new facilities. Unfortunately in 2002, British ERF manufacturing ceased just a year before it would have celebrated its 70th anniversary.
The First Models
1933 – ERF C.I.4 chassis number 63 with Gardner 4LW engine
1939 – The range had grown to include 3 + 4 axle rigid models and the twin axle tractor unit. A sister 6 wheeler was also built (3 axle). During the war the D.I model some were fitted with AEC engines in place of the Gardener’s.
1948 – The new range designated the V Type was introduced just after the war.
1951 – The steel cab was offered on the V Type, built by Willenhall Motor Radiator Co.
1954 – The KV range was introduced with a modern oval grill with curved split screen.
1962 – The LV was introduced with a totally new cab designed by Gerald Broadbent and made first by Boalloy and then by J H Jennings. The old KV cab would remain available to order until 1966.
1967 – The LV models were fitted with Fail Safe spring brakes, ERF was the first British truck manufacturer to adopt spring brakes, all other manufacturers eventually followed suit. Spring brakes are stll fitted as an industry standard to HGV’s today.
1971 – The A Series came about after a new designer set about to produce a modular design for mass production. The 34 tonne gross A series tractor unit was offered with either a 6 cylinder Cummins or a 6 or 8 cylinder Gardner engine. A 38 tonne European version was built with a Motor Panels tilting cab.
The A Series did not replace the LV models as most seem to think. The A Series were nearly all tractor units (although a handful of 4 x 2 rigid vehicles were built for drawbar work) and were quickly identified by a 7LV cab (set back fromt axle and big square grille) and the rear axle springs mounted outboard of the chassis rails. The chassis frame is also of lighter construction, has chassis rails that are of parallel depth to the entire length of the vehicle and extend out through the front lower panel of the cab. The 7LV and the 8LV (cab over axle) cab with big grille was also fitted to a lot of LV’s right up to 1975 when the B Series started to appear in any number. There were never any eight wheeler or 6 wheeler rigid A Series built at all, except special experiment vehicles of which none are know to have survived. All these six and eight wheelers are LV’s as are four wheel rigid vehicles and all tractor units with underslung rear springs, despite sometimes sharing the 7LV cab with the A Series.
1972 – A new chassis number designation system was introduced on all ERF LV and A Series, replacing the previous 64GXB, 66R, 64CU etc type of model designation with a new LAC, LAR, LAG, LBC etc style of chassis identification.
1974 – The B Series was introduced with an SP (steel / plastic) cab. It was offered with Gardner, Cummins and Rolls Royce power units. This was the first production ERF to have a tilt cab for easy access to the engine. It was available in the usual day cab configeration or an optional sleeper cab.
There was also the smaller M Series rigid with the walkthrough cab design which looked like a larger B Series but had the headlamps in the bumper as opposed to just above. This was the lighter duty vehicle, some were fitted with the Dorman V8 diesel engine although this was a rare option.
1975 – The confusing LAC, LAR, LBC etc chassis designations were dropped circa chassis numbers 30,000 to a new simpler system of 28G, 32C, 17P etc style designations indicating gross vehicle weight and engine type fitted.
Late 1981 – Saw the launch of the C Series. It was a slightly revised B Series, but the main update was the SP3 cab. C40 refers to a tractor unit but there were also C32, C28 and other models but this designation badge was dropped from the cab doors in 1984 which was the year the CP range was launched. CP stands for ‘Common Parts’ not ‘Cummins Powered’ as some people think, although all CP’s were Cummins engined. The CP’s were all tractor units and all built to a standard set of specifications depending on what the customer wanted. You could have 10 or 14 litre Cummins engine, an Eaton Fuller 9 speed RTX11609A gearbox and Rockwell rear axles. They were all 4 x 2, 6 x 2 or 6 x 4 units with a choice of day or sleeper cabs.
No D Series was ever produced due to the popular Ford truck of the 1960′ and 70’s, hence why the E Series was the next generation.
The last Gardner engines were built up until the mid 90’s, but the last ERF’s to use them were the late 80’s E16 E Series.
The E Series was available with Cummins diesels and Rollls Royce diesels, who later became owned by Perkins Engines. It was then that the ERF logo was relocated to the upper left of the grill and a badge denoting the engine size was placed on the lower right of the grill. The models being E9, E10, E12, E14 etc meaning E series plus the number denoting the engine size. This idea stayed with the EC Series and the new style logo stayed until the very last ERF rolled out in 2007 albeit a rebadged MAN from Austria.
The EC Series was launched in 1993, it was the last true ERF design prior to being taken over by Western Star, they then sold out to MAN of Germany in 2000, this was when the EC Series production ceased and the company relocated to Middlewich in Cheshire.
ERF’s final model range consisted of the ECT, ECM, ECL & ECX built on MAN’s production line in Nuremburg. All of the most recent ERF trucks were based on MAN’s existing products, the only difference being that the ERF model came with the option of specifying the use of either the Cummins ISMe power plant as an alternative to MAN’s own D20 common rail power-plant.
The Middlewich factory closed in 2002 by MAN with the production of the ECT, ECM & ECL units moving to Salzburg, Austria.
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