RACV rescues heritage vehicles

Selection of yellow heritage vehicles parked on the grass.

Michele Frankeni

Posted December 02, 2015

For almost 100 years, stranded motorists have been relieved at the sight of an approaching yellow vehicle. As times change, so do RACV’s rescue vehicles.

RACV’s emergency road service started in November 1924 with four mechanics on BSA motorcycles patrolling the main traffic routes of Melbourne. They carried a small toolkit, spare parts and first aid supplies in their box sidecars. As technologies and levels of assistance changed, so did the vehicles in which RACV responded.

Examples of some vintage and classic emergency roadside assistance vehicles used by RACV over the past century have been gradually added to the RACV Heritage Collection, which was established in 1990.

As well as a BSA motorcycle, the collection includes a 1928 Ford A Model; a 1937 Austin 7 coupe utility (RACV’s first little yellow van); a 1942 Chevrolet tow truck; 1946 Bedford K Model tow truck; 1950 Ford Prefect utility; various panel vans such as a 1955 Holden FJ; 1961 Holden FB, 1963 Holden EJ and 1980 Ford Escort; 1965 Ford Anglia; 1967 Morris Mini Deluxe; 1982 Holden Gemini; 1993 Holden Rodeo ute and a 2007 Ford Falcon spacecab – the latest and last Australian-made vehicle in the RACV patrol fleet.

RACV Heritage Vehicle Collection

The Heritage Vehicle Collection is part of the broader RACV Heritage Collection, which aims to stimulate an awareness and understanding of RACV’s rich heritage and collections, through acquisition, research, preservation and promotion.

The Collection consists of about 5000 items, of which there are: 16 historic vehicles (the 1906 Tarrant car, designed and produced by Foundation Member Harley Tarrant and a dozen ex-service vehicles, ranging from the late 1920s), more than 3000 photographs, about 1800 artefacts and more than 200 sets of documents.

Vehicles from the RACV Heritage Vehicle Collection are used in a wide variety of events, including car rallies, corporate events, festivals and displays/exhibitions. These include the RACV Australia Day Picnic and Parade, the Great Australian Rally, the Fly the Flag Rally, Anzac Day and Energy Breakthrough.

1927 B.S.A. sports motorcycle

Engine: Single cylinder
Horsepower: 3.5
Capacity: 93cc (0.5L)
Gearbox: 3 speed, with hand operated gear lever
Brakes: drum - lever operated front, foot operated rear

Motorcycles were used as patrol vehicles from 1924 through to 1937 when they were replaced by a fleet of Austin 7 coupe utilities and Morris A40 cars. A few BSA motorcycles were still used for special events up until the late 1940s. This motorcycle was purchased in 1979 and was restored by RACV mechanics. The sidecar frame was purchased from the RACV Depot in Wangaratta in 1980. The total restoration was completed in 1981.

1937 Austin 7 coupe utility

Engine: 4-cyl side valve
Horsepower: 7.8
Capacity: 747cc (3/4L)
Gearbox: Speed, floor shift
Brakes: Rum - mechanical (cable)
Performance: Best average speed 46.39mph
Petrol consumption: 45 miles per gallon

RACV’s first little yellow van was a 1937 Austin 7 coupe utility. It was made with a special body to suit RACV patrol requirements. The patrol’s tool kit was carried in the curved boot and a rear flap extended so it could be used as an ambulance. This van was one of five that spent 13 years in service from 1937 to 1950. After sitting idle for almost 50 years, RACV bought back the Austin from the late Norm Riddiford, the only other owner of the car. Twelve months of meticulous restoration involving RACV, Victoria’s Austin 7 Club and other groups brought the Austin back to life.

Now fully restored, the Austin is the sole survivor of RACV’s first car fleet.

1950 Ford Prefect 6.16 utility

Engine: 4-cyl side valve
Horsepower: 10
Capacity: 998cc (1L)
Gearbox: 4-spd floor shift
Brakes: Drum - mechanical (cable)
Petrol consumption: 28-33 miles per gallon

In 1950, RACV purchased a fleet of 30 Ford Prefect utilities to replace the Austin and Morris single seater coupes and jeeps used for road service during the war years. Two-way radio-telephones were installed in the fleet in March 1952 to improve communication between the patrols and headquarters. Instead of carrying a bag of pennies to call patrol headquarters from the nearest public telephone, patrols were able to take instruction on location after finishing each successive job, with members' waiting times reduced by half. This ute was purchased in Bendigo in 1983 and restored at RACV's Noble Park workshop. The restoration was completed in 1993.

1961 Holden FB Model panel van

Engine: 6-cyl, overhead valve in line
Horsepower: 22.5
Capacity: 2262cc (2.26L)
Gearbox: 3-spd column shift
Brakes: Drum

Holden panel vans were popular patrol cars during the 1960s. The FB Holden was introduced into the RACV fleet to replace earlier outdated models. FB Holdens were used for patrol work, on-site vehicle testing and sedans were used for RACV’s Driving School, first introduced in 1960. The FB had a one-piece wrap around windscreen for greater visibility. A heater was offered as an optional accessory. The FB Holden was the first Holden to use acrylic paint work (known as Magic Mirror) giving it an improved appearance over earlier models. RACV purchased this particular vehicle from a private owner in Ferntree Gully in 1991 and then fully restored it.

1965 Ford Anglia 105E sedan

Engine: 4-cyl, overhead valve
Horsepower: 16.2hp
Capacity: 997cc (1L)
Gearbox: 4-spd floor shift
Brakes: Drum brakes, front and rear

RACV used Ford Anglias for a number of services in the 1960s, namely on-site vehicle testing, the RACV Pilot Service and the RACV Traffic News Service. They were used by RACV pilots to escort interstate and country motorists through Melbourne. They were also driven by staff who reported on peak hour traffic conditions to radio station 3AK. RACV purchased this 1965 Ford Anglia from a private owner in Geelong in March 1999. The car was then fully restored by RACV mechanics and external specialist companies. The restoration was completed in August 1999.

1928 Ford A Model

Engine: 4-cyl, flat head, side valve
Horsepower: 24.03
Gearbox: 3spd
Brakes: Mechanical - front and rear
Petrol consumption: 25-30 miles per gallon (8 gallon tank)
Bore: 3 7/8 inch
Stroke: 4 ¼ inch

The Model A Ford utility was introduced into the patrol fleet in the late 1920s. It was driven by the Head Patrol who delivered spare parts to the patrols on motorcycles. This car was purchased from a collector in 1982 and was in original but poor condition. RACV Road Service mechanics and apprentices from the workshop restored it with assistance from some external specialist companies. The restoration was complete in 1991.

1942 Chevrolet Tow Truck

In the 1930s and 1940s, RACV provided towing for members’ vehicles in the Melbourne area with their own tow trucks. This model Chevrolet truck was used by RACV in the 1940s. It was purchased in 1991 from a farmer in Woosang (near Charlton in north-west Victoria). It had previously been used as a fire truck.

1946 Bedford K Model tow truck

Engine: 6-cyl
Horsepower: 27.34
Gearbox: 4spd
Brakes: Hydraulic
Stroke: 4 inch
Bore: 3.375 inch

Bedford tow trucks were used by RACV from 1946 to 1958. This tow truck has been restored to the same specifications of the two trucks of the era. RACV Road Service, workshop, apprentices and properties staff were prominent in this restoration. This vehicle was purchased new in 1946 by our Castlemaine service depot and converted from a tip truck for RACV towing in and around Castlemaine. RACV purchased the vehicle for restoration in 1988 and it was completed in September 1991.

1955 Holden FJ Model panel van

Engine: 6-cyl, overhead valve
Horsepower: 21.6hp
Capacity: 2160cc (2.2 litres)
Gearbox: 3-spd column shift
Brakes: Drum-hydraulic

In 1955, RACV purchased a fleet of FJ Holden panel vans to replace the Ford Prefects. They had a two-piece windscreen and provided greater security and wet weather protection. The Holden vans were larger and more reliable than the Prefects, making them a better choice for patrol vans. The small rear view window, however, made reversing difficult. This vehicle was originally a butcher’s van in Queensland and was purchased by RACV at Wagga Wagga, NSW, in 1989. The restoration was completed at the end of 1989.

1963 Holden EJ Model panel van

Engine: 6-cyl, overhead valve in line
Horsepower: 22.5
Capacity: 2262cc (2.26L)
Gearbox: 3spd column shift
Brakes: Drum - duo servo

EJ Holden panel vans were introduced into the RACV patrol fleet in December 1962. They were specially fitted with windows in the panel sides to give the patrols greater vision on the roads. It was the first Holden model to include standard safety belt fittings. This, along with better front suspension and improved braking, made the EJ a much safer and improved car. After completing its road service work in Melbourne, this particular EJ Holden was sold to the RACV Depot in Rutherglen, only to be bought back in the 1990s to complement the historic patrol fleet.

1967 Morris Mini Deluxe sedan

Engine: 4-cyl, overhead valve in line (East-West mounted)
Horsepower: 40bhp
Capacity: 998cc (1L)
Gearbox: 4-spd floor shift
Brakes: Drum brakes, front and rear
Suspension: Independent hydrolastic system
Petrol consumption: 38 miles per gallon

The popular Morris Minis were used by RACV in the 1960s as on-site testing vans, patrol vehicles and Pilot Service vehicles. They were considered to be economical and easy to navigate in traffic, with ‘float on fluid’ suspension. Morris Mini vans were used by RACV’s metropolitan Road Service from January 1966. Later that year, RACV purchased ‘distinctive yellow’ Morris Mini Deluxe sedans for the Pilot Service. Two cars were purchased to accommodate four ‘Pilot girls’, whose job was to assist country, interstate and international motorists around Melbourne. Each car was fitted with a two-way radio. This Mini was purchased from a private owner in Mt Waverley in 2006. With only two owners, it was in excellent condition for its age. The car was then restored in the livery of the RACV Pilot Service.

The latest acquisitions included a 1980 Ford Escort panel van, introduced to replace the larger, more cumbersome Holden panel vans, 1982 Holden Gemini and then 1993 Holden Rodeo utilities, where tools were kept hidden from view in the flat back compartments but easily accessible.

The 2007 Ford Falcon spacecab was the last Australian-made patrol vehicle in the RACV patrol fleet.