Are you at all familiar with Britain’s Turner Manufacturing Company? Throughout its surprisingly long lifetime, Turner (which changed names slightly over the years, but always kept the “Turner” part of the name) operated in a number of different industries. Cars, machine tools, diesel engines, tractors, hydraulic systems, and truck gearboxes are just a few of the things Turner created. During World War II, it was a crucial supplier of both recovery winches and aircraft landing legs—both of which it produced straight through from the late 1920s/early 1930s until the late 1970s/early 1980s.
That’s just a little context about the company, though—and we’re not here to talk about any of that stuff. Instead, we’re here to talk about Turner’s attempts at Light Delivery Vehicles—or LDVs. Have you ever heard of the Turner By-Van or Tri-Van? They were both crafted during a time when fuel prices were only getting higher, and small businesses in England were especially feeling the pinch.
Since modern problems always require modern solutions, Turner wanted to combine the fuel efficiency and simplicity of a motorbike with a delivery van. It did this with two iterations: the two-wheeled By-Van, and the trike-styled Tri-Van back in the late 1940s.
Gallery: Turner By-Van
The initial By-Van and Tri-Van engine was the same one found in the Royal Enfield Flying Flea, mounted above the front wheel. The fuel tank was mounted on the handlebars, putting most of the vehicle’s unladen weight over the front wheel. This design might seem strange at first, but the thought was apparently to maximize carrying space for any items an LDV rider might want to deliver.
What kind of carrying capacity are we talking about? According to OEM brochures, the LDV By-Van boasted a carrying capacity of 1 ½ hundredweights, which is about 76 kilograms, or just under 168 pounds. Meanwhile, the LDV Tri-Van could manage to carry double the items, or about 3 hundredweights (152 kilograms, or just over 335 pounds). The By-Van, incidentally, had no frame—the massive underseat cargo area served as the underlying structure of the beast. A company brochure even described it as “the only chassis-less light delivery vehicle.”
Once Turner stopped using the Flying Flea engine, to what kind of powerplant did it entrust the responsibility of carrying all this weight around? The Turner Tiger 148cc engine was a little two-stroke air-cooled unit, with a bore and stroke of 2.205 inches x 2.375 inches, along with an Amal single-lever carburetor. Starting was done by way of a hand-crank on the left side of the engine. The By-Van featured a two-speed gearbox operated by your right hand, while the Tri-Van had a three-speed gearbox instead. Top speed was reportedly an absolutely scorching 30 miles per hour.
The pressed steel bodies on these vehicles were no doubt quite heavy, although Turner’s literature didn’t list any specific weights for either vehicle. We can tell you that the claimed size of the By-Van was approximately seven feet, three inches in length by three feet, six inches in height. It got a claimed 90 miles per gallon, which is good if true since the fuel tank could only hold approximately 1.5 gallons of fuel. It rolled on a set of 15-inch wheels, front and rear—and vanishingly small brakes. The By-Van came with a center stand, which Turner refers to in its brochure as “Foot ‘Snap-Jacks’”. A handlebar-mounted windshield was available for both the By-Van and Tri-Van as an option at an extra charge.
It’s not clear how many By-Vans or Tri-Vans Turner ever managed to sell. Only one Tri-Van is known to still exist in 2022, with at least two By-Vans (one of which is complete, and another of which is missing some parts) having made it this far along in the timeline.
There’s no way to look at something like this and not wonder what it was like to ride—though, with that brake situation, it seems like it could only have been nerve-wracking. Also, what’s with the idea of only supplying center stands on utility-minded two-wheelers? Especially in the case of something like this, where you have to straddle it rather than step through, that seems like an accident waiting to happen—particularly when your vehicle is laden down with an extra 168 pounds of stuff inside that capacious cargo area.