The origins of the Associated Equipment Company Limited, better known by its initials as AEC, lie with the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC). The LGOC was set up in 1855 in order to amalgamate the plethora of horse-bus operators in London.
In July 1908 the LGOC merged with the London Omnibus Company (which, at the time, was operating a fleet of almost 400 motorbuses under the fleetname ‘Vanguard’), who had set up a subsidiary, Motor Omnibus Construction Limited, based in premises at Walthamstow, in order to assemble its own vehicles from parts manufactured elsewhere.
Shortly after the two Companies had merged, the Chief Engineer suggested that the LGOC design and manufacture its own chassis at the works in Walthamstow.
The suggestion found favour with the management and the first production model (named the X-type) combined many features found to be satisfactory among the various foreign chassis in the LGOC fleet.
By 1910 an improved version, the B-type, was in production. This proved to be very reliable and accelerated the replacement of the remaining horse-buses, which had disappeared by the end of 1911.
At the same time the LGOC was taken over by the Underground Electric Railways Company (UERC), who ran much of the London underground network.
In 1912 the UERC separated the chassis manufacturing section of the LGOC at Walthamstow from the parent company, creating the Associated Equipment Company as a wholly owned subsidiary of the UERC.
It was intended that AEC should be a stand-alone company, freely trading on the open market. However, a five-year agreement with Daimler as sole agents for AEC chassis sold to companies outside the UERC, somewhat restricted these ambitions.
The agreement came to a premature end in 1916 when AEC came under direct Government control for the duration of the war. By the end of the war the agreement had expired and AEC was able to trade freely once again.
The majority of vehicles up until 1925 were built for the LGOC, although some models were supplied to provincial customers, but in relatively small numbers.
Another alliance with Daimler in 1926 saw the formation of the Associated Daimler Company, with the intention that it was to be equally owned by both companies, but problems with the Daimler engines eventually led to the parting of the two companies in 1928.
In 1928, AEC engaged the services of George Rackham, the former Chief Engineer of Leyland Motors, whose design for a new engine opened the door for a new range of models. The first model, introduced at the end of 1928, was named the Reliance.
This was something of an interim measure based on an adapted chassis style while work on a completely new range of models progressed.
The Reliance, however, introduced the blue triangle background to the AEC bullseye logo, which, although modified later, remained a feature of future models.
By 1929 the first of the new models, a double-decker designated 661, was ready; it received the name Regent.
The rest of the initial range was introduced later that year; model 662, a single-deck version of the Regent named the Regal; models 663 and 664 were three-axle models (with short and long wheelbase respectively) named the Renown.
Rackham continued to produce advanced concepts in his designs. In 1932 he introduced the AEC ‘Q’, which had the engine positioned behind the offside front wheel.
The initial prototype was a single-deck vehicle, but the designer had conceived it as a double-deck vehicle, with the front axle set back to allow an entrance opposite the driver, much as today’s rear-engined vehicles.
Although the star of the 1933 Commercial Motor Show, the sales of the ‘Q’ were disappointing and only 23 double-deckers were sold.
The single-deck version did slightly better selling 316 (232 of which were for London Transport) in total, but not what the Company was hoping for and the model was dropped in 1937.
With the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, the AEC’s parent company the Underground Electric Railway Company was taken over as part of the unified London Transport system.
As a result the Associated Equipment Company was floated as a separate business and an agreement negotiated with the LPTB called for AEC to supply 90% of bus requirements for the next ten years.
In the decade to 1940 there was a surge in demand for trolleybuses, mainly as a consequence of tram replacement programmes. AEC had produced their first model in 1922 and had maintained a healthy, if somewhat small, orderbook.
In 1932, as sales of the six-wheel Renown tapered off, there was a rise in sales of the 664T (the three-axle trolleybus version of the Renown), which consequently became the best selling AEC trolleybus.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, AEC production turned to military vehicles and equipment, and, by 1945, production of bus chassis had ceased. AEC engines, however, continued to be supplied and several other manufacturers used them in their vehicles, including Daimler in the CWA6 model.
When the war ended there was an immediate demand for new buses and AEC produced a postwar range featuring the Regent II and Regal I chassis, superseded in 1946 by the Regent III and Regal III.
In 1948 two established manufacturers, Crossley Motors Ltd and Maudslay Motor Company Ltd, decided to sell out to the Associated Equipment Company, and so Associated Commercial Vehicles Ltd was born.
ACV acted as a holding company for the three amalgamated concerns, each of which traded for a time under its own name, but by 1950 both the Crossley and Maudslay names had disappeared. In 1949 Park Royal Vehicles Ltd (along with its subsidiary Roe) became part of the ACV group.
1953 saw the introduction of a medium-weight range of models, lighter than the existing range of AEC models. This re-introduced a name from the past in the Reliance, which continued in production until 1979.
The Regent V was introduced in 1954 as the successor to the Regent III, which continued to be built until 1956, the same year that the prototype Bridgemaster appeared at the Motor Show, but poor sales resulted in the model being dropped in 1962.
Probably the best known of all AEC buses was the Routemaster, developed in 1954 in conjunction with London Transport, the first prototype (RM1) was displayed at the 1954 Commercial Motor Show.
The Routemaster proved the mainstay of AEC production throughout the fifties and early sixties.
A proposal to merge ACV with Leyland Motors, in an effort to compete in the export market was put forward in 1962: the combined companies to be known as the Leyland Motor Corporation.
This effectively put AEC under the control of Leyland Motors and a rear-engined successor to the Routemaster was cancelled by Leyland management. All export models were badged as Leyland, although AEC badged vehicles were still produced for the home market.
By the early 70’s the group, now known as the British Leyland Motor Corporation was in financial difficulties, although AEC was still manufacturing substantial numbers of chassis at its Southall works and the commercial vehicle side of the group was in profit.
In 1974 the group was taken into state ownership to avoid the complete collapse of the group, in the main caused through the losses in the car manufacturing side of the business.
The output from the Southall site slowly diminished, as production was concentrated in the Leyland factories in the North of England, culminating in the decision to close the factory on 25th May 1979, thus ending 67 years of AEC as a major force in British transport.