History of Truckman
Since 1987, Truckman has developed into the world's most iconic brand of hardtops. In 1982, Derek Murray designed and engineered the Truckman Classic Hardtop to be bespoke to each individual vehicle. Murray also pioneered the fibreglass gel coat that is still used to manufacture Truckman hardtops today in the West Midlands.
B. Walker Was Fundamental To The UK Pickup Landscape
By trade B. Walker and Son were a Coachbuilders who would receive rolling chassis from vehicle manufacturers, comprising: chassis, drivetrain, suspension, steering system and the radiator and would integrate their personal body designs. Since the 1950's B. Walker were producing large numbers of steel pick-up bodies for Bedford J0 and J2 chassis / cabs which were being exported around the world, so successfully that Bedford parent company General Motors ordered Bedford to cease exporting as they were outselling the USA equivalent Chevrolet Pickup.
Throughout the 1970s B. Walker had enjoyed a prominent position within the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) market; with products based on all the popular chassis and vans of the day making approximately 10,000 coaches for Ford and Bedford per year.
In 1976, the F-series became the best-selling truck in America, a position it has continued to hold since and one of the most popular vehicles on the road. Walker had identified through the closeness of the cultures between the two countries that there would be a viable market for UK based one ton pickups. One of their product ranges was 'all steel welded pickup bodies' for the Ford, Bedford and Commer one ton chassis cabs of the period.
Suntrekker Camper Shell Canopy
In the 1976 a company called ICP Ltd approached Walker to supply pick-up bodies for Transit and CF chassis onto which they were fitting demountable motorhome units called 'Suntrekkers'.
UK Vehicle Manufacturer Crisis
Unfortunately, in 1978 UK production of chassis dried up following the industrial unrest and strikes within the UK vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers. Vehicle buyers were becoming increasingly impatient and shifted their consumption towards Japanese imports. B. Walker at this time adapted to provide pick-up bodies for Mazda vehicles. ICP Ltd became frustrated with imposed delays by chassis manufacturers and offered Walkers their Suntrekker business.
Continued Growth Of Motorhome Industry
Walkers watched the substantial growth of the motorhome industry and produced a prototype motorhome based on their 'Fineline' coachbuilt van from a few years earlier and made a smaller one for the Austin/Morris Marina, the UKs only car derived half ton pickup. This model was to be launched at Earls Court caravan show.
Complementary to this Walker wished to offer some sort of hard top, like American pickup's tops, for use when the suntrekker was parked up. Walker tracked down a crude GRP farmers top with a sheep-mesh grille instead of a rear door which was then replaced with a more secure rear door adapted from a caravan.
Mazda B Series And Further Japanese Imports
Mazda was the first Japanese pick-up manufacturer to import to the UK. A Suntrekker was made very quickly for this three-quarter ton vehicle. A hard top was sourced from south wales based Terakat Ltd using an American design, marketed as "Toppers", after a year walker acquired the business.
By late 1981, Toyota, Daihatsu and Colt had began importing pickups to the UK.
In 1982 Ford decided to import the 1 Ton Ford P100 from south Africa (Cortina front end). Ford needed to attack with all guns blazing so offered an official 'hard top' from day one. At this point Walker were redesigning their "Topper" range but switched emphasis on completing the entire range to fully concentrate efforts on the Ford, ready for vehicle launch.
The Walker design team and GRP moulding technicians were facing some interesting challenges:
To design a production efficient set of moulding tools capable of maximising common elements to cover a variety of pickup makes and sizes now available and at the same time make the P100 top with a distinctive and unique design. This would require to use the GRP process in its most sophisticated form.
The Truckman Name
B. Walker's Managing Director Christopher Praat took a trip to sail across the Atlantic over this time he jotted down names that suited the product, the name he kept coming back to was Truckman and the name was born; the Truckman name was then branded on the glass inside the hardtop and gave incredibly quick brand recognition.
The original name for the finished product would have been "Pop-top", an adopted name used by a major fleet customer of B. Walker. However, the name did not suit the product and an existing trademark was in place "a device, component or accessory on the top of a vehicle which could be taken off".
Why People Bought Truckman
The Truckman product cost considerably more to produce so it needed to command a premium price, in order to do so the Truckman product had to justify that price with its features and robustness.
Continuing Success Of Ford P100
Ford was now trading P100s by the boat load. 500 Truckman tops were being sold every three to four months, with production running six days a week. It was Ford styling for a Ford product. Walker employed 150 people, of which less than 12 were working on Truckman. This was making 20% of the business turnover.
Continued Product Development
Throughout the mid 1980s B. Walker and Son's Design Development Manager Derek Murray was one of the pioneers in the design of the Truckman top, it was his vision to produce the Classic High-Roof canopies under the Truckman brand bespoke for every one of the UK pick-ups. Although the styles of the vehicles changed over the years it was always ensured that the conceptual design of the Classic stayed the same, Strength, Space, Security. Derek also pioneered the introduction of the glass fibre (white) gel finish you see today.
Towards the end of the 1980s more and more Truckman canopies were seen on the road and the iconic status of the Truckman hardtop became legendary.