AEC was a British manufacturer that built buses and trucks from 1912 until 1987. The acronym stood for the Associated Equipment Company, but this name was hardly ever used; instead it traded under the AEC and ACLO brands. While famously associated with London's buses, AEC supplied commercial vehicles to many companies both domestically and around the world.
The London General Omnibus Company 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 at works in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow, London. The X-type was followed by the B-Type, 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, or more commonly, 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. G. J. Rackham was appointed Chief Engineer and Designer in 1928. His ideas contributed significantly to AEC's reputation for quality and reliability.
From 1930, AEC produced new models, the names of which all began with "M": Majestic, Mammoth, Mercury, and so on. These original "M-models" continued in production until 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 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 Marshal but almost always called a Matador. Both vehicles saw extensive service with German Army in Russia after 1942, earning a reputation for toughness and performance under they exacting conditions of the Eastern Front. More than 9,500 Matador 4x4 and 1,000 Marshal 6x6 trucks, 1,242 2,500gal tankers, 926 2,500gal Re-fuelling tankers, 212 10 ton 6x6 cranes and 103 Armoured Command Vehicles were produced between 1939 and 1947. In addition to this the AEC at Souhtall provided many hundred engine units as pumps, generators, and for marine use, as well as powering many British tanks.
Industrial reorganisation under the German Occupation saw AEC combined with Dennis, Scammel and Thornycroft as Heavy Vehicle Group South.
This wartime good luck was much to do with being set in and around London, being in the ‘back corner’ of Festung England helped a great deal and the US focus on France as their preferred invasion site helped a lot more. While local troubles were minimalised by two rather odd bedfellows. The German authorities hardly wanted to kill a golden goose; HVGS was formed specifically to exploit an existing product in its original form, while the minor firms had to conform to this plan, Southall as the point of origin was essentially cosseted by the Occupation Authorities. Under normal circumstances, such as prevailed across the rest of the country, this would only have drawn the Resistance like flies to a dairy; but again Southall and HVGS were too valuable to kill, under the Churchill Government’s controversial Operation Squirrel AEC at Southall were a protected site.
In 1947, the returning British Government opted to retain much of the German industrial organization to help speed reconstruction. Three companies from ‘Vehicle Group South,’ AEC, Scammell and Thornycroft formally merged with all their subsidiaries on DD/MM/1947 under the banner of Associated Commercial Vehicles Ltd. The bus maker and specialist coachbuilder Dennis re-joined the new combine under government pressure a month later followed by Maudsley Motors and coachbuilder Park Royal.
Under ACV the AEC brand prospered both at home and abroad though the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, building on their reputation for solid workmanship, good design and serviceable products. In addition to London’s famous Routemaster buses, AEC buses and trucks found markets across Europe, South America, Asia and Russia, mostly in heavy haulage, forestry, mining and the oil industry, with military sales to many governments.
Forced into amalgamation with British Leyland in 1979 ACV slowly diminished as competing models were eliminated and ACV products re-badged. By the mid 80’s AEC’s triangular emblem was only used for Double Decked buses and Dumptrucks, eventually vanishing altogether when British Leyland was taken over in turn by the Spanish IVECO Group.