Prior to the Second World War, many organizations found themselves with a need to move everything from perishable goods to engine parts around over relatively short distances. Top speed didn’t matter a great deal, but economy and one-man operation certainly did. The list of tasks was impressive – moving 3 to 6 tons of engineering spares around a depot; undertaking doorstep deliveries of bottled milk around a small town; taking parcels from a railway goods yard to individual customers, and much more. All these tasks had been accomplished using horses as the motive power, but the age of the urban horse-drawn vehicle was passing.
Karrier Motors Ltd were first in the field with their ‘Colt/Cob’ (both ‘horse’ names) which they sold to towns and the London, Midland & Scottish Railway. Napier, a producer of luxury and sporting vehicles, toyed with the idea of producing an equivalent, but probably wary of damaging their ‘brand’, sold the rights to Scammell Lorries Ltd, of Watford. In 1934, having reworked the design considerably, Scammell launched the ‘Mechanical Horse’. This had a boxy, wooden cab, and was capable of turning in about the same turning circle as a horse-drawn cart – 19 ft in diameter. It also had one immense advantage, a Scammell-designed automatic ‘coupling and decoupling’ fixture behind the cab. This allowed a driver to reverse up to, say, a 3-ton capacity flat-bed trailer and automatically engage a secure towing hitch. When he wanted to drop the load, all he had to do was operate a ‘trailer release lever’ in the cab, and drive away! As you can imagine, this was a great boon in the busy goods depots of railway companies, and the large London & Northeastern Railway Company quickly invested in a fleet.
During World War Two, these ‘Mechanical Horses’ gave stirling service, not only to industry, but also in the Ordnance Depots of both the Royal Navy and the British Army. Post-war, Scammell’s recognized that there would have to be changes, and in 1948, they brought out a new model, the Scammell Scarab. There are those who maintain that the name Scarab was chosen because the rounded shape of the new all-metal cab resembles the wing-cases of the famous Egyptian beetle, however, the emblem on the front of this example in the RAF Museum, Hendon, gives the real reason. It shows the head of an Arab horse, and Scarab comes from the first two letters of Scammell, plus Arab! A nice play on words.
The Scammell-designed 4-cylinder side-valve engine, of 2,090cc, was built as an integral unit with the gearbox and rear axle, and set low in a steel framework, giving the vehicle a much lower centre of gravity than its predecessor, the Mechanical Horse. As well as the petrol engine, you could specify one of two Perkins Diesel engines, the 4.199 for the 3-ton model, and the bigger 4.203 for the 6-ton. The radiator was located at the rear of the cab, and cooling air was drawn in via a duct (you can see the grill in the photograph above, behind the cab door).
The Royal Air Force was impressed by the work done by the Mechanical Horse during WW2, and ordered a quantity of the new Scarab for use in their storage facilities, Maintenance Units and Ordnance Depots. They were fitted with a single windscreen wiper for the driver, dual blinkers and a single, central headlight, positioned above the plain sprung steel bumper. This Scarab Mk 6 is part of a batch ordered by the RAF in 1952, and was capable of hauling a 6-ton flatbed trailer. Powered by the Scammell 2,090cc petrol engine, it was capable of a top speed of around 20 mph. This unit was intended for use in the RAF’s Middle East Air Force, as it was finished in the standard Stone colour; those intended for use in temperate climates were painted in Mid Blue.
‘Number 62′ was found in a derelict state on the Mediterranean island of Malta in the late 1960s. It was completely restored on the island – the scene of some of the fiercest air battles of the whole of the Second World War – and finished in the correct markings. It bears an RAF roundel on the right hand side of the nose and the legend ‘RAF Luqa’ in a circle on the left. RAF Luqa was a famous air base on Malta, used heavily during the siege of the island, from 1941 to 1943, when Malta was under constant attack by Italian and German forces; it is now Malta International Airport. Production of the Scarab model ended in 1969, although there are reports of some being in regular use into the 1980s. Around 60 of these workhorses survive to this day.
The Scammell Scarab – an appropriate name for a tireless worker!