Built in 1937 for the provision of telegraph, telephone and postal facilities at major shows and horseracing events like Ascot, GPO 2 is now the only surviving Mobile Post Office of its kind, having been in service till the mid-80's and once converted to wartime use as a recruitment centre, then a wireless transmitting station. Now held by the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) in its heritage collection, it was recently restored to virtually original specification by the Cartwright Group of Altrincham, leaders in the design and manufacture of commercial vehicle bodywork, using Postal Service red, gold and black high performance paints produced by HMG Paints of Manchester.
The largest vehicle in the BPMA collection, GPO 2 was the star of a special 'Moving The Mail' exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum and is likely to appear once again at summer events, sometime soon. Cartwright builds the majority of modern Royal Mail trailers and was invited by BPMA's Engineering Consultant, Dave Stone, to carry out the restoration work, the Cheshire company also generously contributing toward the cost of refurbishment. Such a rare and valued vehicle, described by Dave as 'priceless', demanded premium paintwork and HMG, a regular supplier of commercial transport coatings to Cartwright, provided a high performance, high solids system, comprising Acrythane XSC98 2K acrylic topcoat and AMC 2K polyurethane primer.
"Cartwright worked faithfully to my plans and the resulting refurbishment is absolutely fantastic," says Dave Stone. "They went to great lengths to obtain original parts and recruited one of their retired coachbuilders for the project, even having the engine overhauled and restoring it to working order. Unfortunately, we don't have the facilities at the BPMA to display GPO 2 to the public, but will be looking at opportunities to showcase it in the future, at museums and events."
GPO 1, one of the exclusive registrations allocated to the Post Office for special vehicles, was launched in 1936 as an 'office on wheels', fitted out with telephone cabinets, teleprinter, counter, stamp machines, letter chute and onboard generator.
Officially inaugurated by the Postmaster General and featured on Path© News, it was an instant success and a second Mobile Post Office, GPO 2, was approved the following year. Again based on a streamlined semi-trailer with Brockhouse chassis and Duple bodywork, it was powered by a Morris Commercial Leader tractor unit and, at 33ft long and 7ft 6ins wide, built to the maximum size then permitted on Britain's roads.
During the war, both vehicles were commandeered by the MoD, repainted green and used first as mobile recruitment offices, before serving as emergency transmitters high on the cliffs of Dover. Afterwards, they were restored to normal postal duties, a third MPO (GPO 3) was added to the fleet and, in 1957, all were equipped with new 5 litre diesel Seddon Atkinson tractor units, their rear wheels concealed by panelling decorated with distinctive wing emblems.
The introduction of permanent telephone kiosks at racecourses and showgrounds, together with a new type of MPO-cum-exhibition unit unveiled in 1984, eventually led to their decommissioning and sale. Sadly, GPO 1 was damaged beyond repair and GPO 3 destroyed in a fire, leaving GPO 2 as the sole surviving example, although it too had been left unattended and was damaged by vandals.
In 1994, it was acquired for the BPMA's heritage vehicle collection and, latterly, funds were raised for its complete restoration. "It had been badly vandalised and was full of rubbish," says Bill Potts, Cartwright's Works Manager who oversaw the refurbishment project. "Many original items like the windscreen, headlights, front bumper, locks and internal fittings were missing, while the internal panelling was in poor condition. Still, we managed to obtain most replacement parts through eBay and other sources, then repanelled the trailer in oak. The only item we couldn't find was the original split windscreen and it would have cost thousands to have new glass screens made, so we replaced them for now in Perspex."
A skilled ex-coachbuilder was brought back from retirement to repair the bodywork, the cab seats were reupholstered in leather, a new headlining fitted and replacement crests were laser cut, using original photographs as guides. The engine was stripped clean and overhauled by local firm Frank Warburton's of Lymm and the vehicle awning was recreated, using green canvas of exactly the same type featured on the survival tent famously vacated by Scott of the Antarctic.
HMG Paints, whose own origins pre-date GPO 2 by just seven years, supplied a suitably premium paint system for protecting and enhancing the vehicle. AMC Polykote Primer has excellent anti-corrosive properties, offers tough residual resistance to scratches and stonechips, and its superior flatting provides lasting gloss hold-out. HMG's Acrythane XSC98 ultra high solids topcoat is widely used for top quality CV applications, delivers outstanding gloss levels and long term durability, and is fully compliant with EPA PGC/34.
The main paintwork colour was precisely matched to BS539 Postal Service Red, an earlier standard slightly darker than the current Royal Mail shade, with black used for the wings and trailer roof, and gold for the coachlines, signwriting and crests; all told, a superlative finish, expertly applied by Cartwright's skilled painters, that should help preserve this magnificent, historic vehicle for many more years to come.
Further enquiries to:
Telephone 0161 205 7631
The Cartwright Group
Telephone 0161 928 0966