For over 30 years Britain’s best-loved van magazine and its predecessor The Good Van Guide have chronicled the ups and downs of the light commercial vehicle business – a sector that has changed hugely since they first started reporting on it.
Pulling a volume off the archive shelf at random, the May 1989 issue of The Good Van Guide contained test reports on such long-vanished models as the Subaru Justy 4x4, the Yugo 45A, the Hyundai Pony, and Freight Rover’s wide-bodied Sherpa 300.
Move ahead to July 1996 and What Van? was reporting on the launch of the first incarnation of Citroen’s Berlingo and Peugeot’s Partner, and contained an interview with then Volkswagen UK boss Robin Woolcock.
Fast-forward to 2001 and Vauxhall’s Vivaro and Renault’s Trafic were driving away with our Van of the Year award. March 2003 discussed the recently introduced London Congestion Charge, while by April 2006 the publication was examining new rules designed to prevent van drivers from smoking in their cabs.
November 2006 saw a road test of the latest Transit, which received top marks for its performance, handling and the quality of its gear change. The same issue announced the arrival of a Land Rover Discovery van by the end of the year.
We could go on, but throughout it all one thing has remained constant: the magazine’s objective and accurate reporting on the light commercial industry and the products and people that inhabit it.
Over the years What Van? has become a journal of record through its chronicling of the huge changes that have occurred to light commercials.
Take safety, for example. Thirty years ago ABS was in its infancy so far as vans were concerned and features such as electronic stability programme, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist were unheard of. What Van? once road-tested a rear-engined Volkswagen Transporter with ABS fitted and reported that it made a sound rather like an old Hornby train set when activated.
Today, every light commercial comes with an alphabet soup of safety devices as standard, one or
two of which are mandated by legislation.Then there is the whole subject of driver comfort
Go back to the 1980s and the so-called ‘fleet special’ was commonplace with vinyl seat trim, no headrests, and no sun visor for the front passenger. There was model called a Vauxhall Astramax that was trimmed in a similar manner with the passenger seat removed so that the load bed could be extended.
Nowadays such vehicles are long gone. Many vans are fitted with air-conditioning and sophisticated touchscreen-based onboard entertainment and communications systems.
One thing has changed for the worse, however: the combined weight of all these goodies means that vans cannot shift as much cargo as they used to because their unladen weight has gone up. A 3.5-tonner of 30 years ago could carry as much as 300kg more than its counterpart of today. Safety and comfort are to be applauded, but they have meant light commercials have piled on the pounds.
What Van? has seen a lot of changes over the years, and is sure to see a great deal more over the next three decades