Information A memorable Matador

One of the most famous military vehicles of the Second World War, the AEC Matador went on to serve bus companies and fairground kings for many years after. Here we chart the history of one that made it to these shores.

Museum tokens
Why preserve
Back from the wars; ZL 1257 has been completely rebuilt and is presented with pride alongside other military vehicles at the Transport Museum
The collection
About the museum
A Few people realise how much the development of reliable commercial vehicles owes to military involvement, going back to the earliest period of manufacture. The primitive and temperamental motor lorries available in the first decade of the twentieth century were regarded by many people as a passing novelty incapable of ever ousting the horse. During those same years, when most army commanders thought in terms of lancers and cavalry charges, some officers saw the military potential of improved motor vehicles and persuaded their superiors to take them seriously.

In Britain, the result was War Office trials following which approved types were chosen for use by the Forces. These were called subsidy types, commercial purchasers being given grants on condition that in the event of hostilities, their vehicles would be surrendered promptly and in good order to the authorities. Once the First World War began, these lorry types were built in even greater numbers for the armed forces, serving satisfactorily under the most gruelling conditions.

In addition to British marques, the Allies had large numbers of excellent American, French and Italian vehicles, while the Central Powers relied on lorries made in countries within their sphere of influence.

Despite hopes that wars were now history, military vehicle development continued in the twenties. FWD, a British offshoot of the U.S. Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, began using AEC components in 1929. In 1931 Harvey Motors took over production which they concentrated at the AEC Works at Southall, Middlesex. Their most important model was a 4x4 four-tonner, initially petrol-powered. During the thirties it evolved into the AEC Matador, one of the most famous military vehicles of the Second World War. Rated in some publications as a ten-tonner, the Matador was best known as an artillery tractor. A total of 8,612 was produced in 1939-45, plus 400 for the RAF.

All AEC lorry models had names beginning with the letter M: Mercury, Monarch, Mammoth and many others still rekindle vivid memories for older operators and drivers. The Matador name was one of the few shared by separate military and civilian models and has great importance in Ireland, the first large fleet of standardised diesel lorries to work here being the two hundred 4x2 civilian Matadors placed in service by CIE in 1946-47. Regrettably, there is no survivor.

Civilian or military, the Matador was powered by a 7.7-litre six-cylinder diesel engine (95bhp at 1,780rpm); the 4x4 had eight forward and two reverse gears.

The military version continued in production up to 1959 and eight, ZL 1251-1258, were bought by the Defence Forces in 1953 for general service. The military version continued in production up to 1959 and eight, ZL 1251-1258, were bought by the Defence Forces in 1953 for general service. Model O853, these Matadors were the Army's first fleet of diesel lorries.

Supplied as chassis and scuttles, they had cabs built at Clancy Barracks in Dublin. They gave good service for over 25 years, their most prominent role being to carry the coffins at the funerals of the soldiers so tragically killed in the 1961 Niemba ambush.

Following demobilisation by the British authorities, innumerable Matadors were sold into civilian service after the war, being especially sought after for specialist uses. Showmen were among the satisfied customers, using brightly painted Matadors to haul trains of trailers. Many of these vehicles carried electricity generating sets, often driven by trusty Gardner engines. More mundane was the employment of demobbed Matadors as recovery vehicles, some bus companies building very impressive combined cabs and workshops on their chassis.

Matador ZL 1257 (Army Fleet No. 2462) became a military recovery vehicle, fitted with a Harvey Frost crane. On withdrawal ZL 1257 was earmarked for preservation but was badly vandalised, the cab being burnt out. In 1986/87 it was faithfully restored by FÁS trainees at Broombridge with considerable help from the Supply and Transport Corps at Clancy Barracks. Mechanical overhaul was by Museum members.

ZL 1257 is painted grey as were most Irish Army vehicles until the standard international drab olive was adopted in the sixties. This Matador is one of several military vehicles in our care; there are also several other AEC models in the collection, including a Mandator of 1956, a vehicle very similar in appearance to the CIE Matadors.

Many Matadors were used as recovery vehicles, often being fitted with complete workshops on their chassis
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