The Ford in Miniature – Thames 400E

By Dave Turner

“The Word’s Most Versatile Light Van”

Photographs and illustrations of some of the models discussed are shown after the text.

After producing the E83W 10 cwt van for no less than 19 years, Ford UK introduced their new 400E Thames van in November 1957. That old E83W featured the 10hp 1172cc side valve Ford engine that was mounted off-centre towards the passenger side allowing the vehicle to have a semi-forward control layout.

As carrying capacity in as short a vehicle as possible became increasingly important the new 400E Ford managed to provide 170 cu. ft. (183 with the passenger seat removed) by simply building the vehicle high enough to locate the 1703cc engine from the MkII Consul low between the seats. Built on a separate chassis the 400E was ideal for having a wide variety of aftermarket commercial bodies mounted behind the cab or even encompassing the drivers compartment while that big 4 cylinder engine was man enough for whatever was asked of it.

Initially Ford produced the plain van and a 8 seater estate car but the latter gave way to a 12 seater bus in September 1958, featuring longitudinal rather than transverse rear seating, although towards the end of 400E production in August 1965 the estate car returned in small numbers. From March 1962 the Perkins 4/99 1621cc diesel engine became an option while from January 1963 the later 1703cc engine from the new Zephyr 4 was fitted together with the option of a four speed gearbox.

400Es came as 10/12cwt or 15cwt capacity and from February 1961 a pick up employing much of the vans lower bodywork appeared. Various coach builders became well-known for their 400E conversions – Martin Walter for example produced the Utilabrake featuring wooden slatted rear seats as well as the Utilabus complying with PSA regulations having a raised roof etc. On the other hand Kenex offered the 12 seat Kenebus and 11 seat Kenecoach with drivers bulkhead in addition to the Kenebrake with upholstered seats and Yeoman with wood slat seating. Another unusual variation was the Powatruc for which a motor driven air compressor was mounted behind the cab, the engine for that being additionally connected to the rear wheels – the regular engine under the floor being omitted.

Very few visual changes can date an example of the 400E, the detail of the Thames badge at the rear was changed in April 1960, the Consul 204E hub caps gave way to the Anglia 105E pattern from December 1961 while the “Thames” badges gave way to “Ford” from March 1965.

As far as models are concerned, there seems to have been a re-awakening of the 400Es existence in the last year or so – Oxford have produced some superb models at realistic prices in two scales while AutoCult’s very nice offerings come at less attractive prices.

Starting with the latter, so far three variations have been recorded – a flatbed, a dropside and a Team Lotus variation on the flatbed. There are many illustrations of these both online and in MAROnline, and from these it would appear that the cab front is a bit flat as well as being too high. Team Lotus had more than one 400E at various times but the example that carried cars was an extensively modified vehicle with a much longer wheelbase than the standard 400E.

Corgi produced 902,000 examples of their Airborne 400E camper conversion between 1962-66. As well as being an excellent rendition of the van itself, the interior of the real camper was replicated in a well detailed plastic moulding, rather than the simple vac-formed interiors that had been the norm until then. Opening rear doors pivoted in prominent top hinges while the elevated roof section was a fixed part of the main casting.

While the Corgi scales out to 1:44, a Hong Kong made plastic copy by TAT/Telsalda works out to be just twice the size at 1:22. This replicates each and every detail on the Corgi, including the big rear door hinges and absence of rear lights, and was featured by John Hanson in MAR 131 (May 1999) In addition to Corgi’s features, the big plastic one comes with flywheel drive on the front axle, a roof section that can be raised and lowered and a set of retractable steps at the rear. The exact same plastic shell was also utilised to create a 12 seat minibus that boasts a completely different interior featuring seats, each with an uncomfortable eye-watering looking central upright spike onto which various seated figures can be located. A removable roof rack allows access to the interior in order to re-arrange the occupants.

Another familiar contemporary diecast came from Dinky Toys who made their 400E between 1963-9, and they chose a flatbed on which a big Atlas/Copco air compressor was mounted. This was not Fords Powatruc but a self contained separate compressor albeit cast in unit with the flatbed of the 400E in this case. Lifting side panels reveal a well detailed control panel and power unit etc. while the cab interior has a basic interior. Like the Corgi the Dinky has a form of suspension in addition to which a primitive form of steering was included. Like the Corgi, the Dinky Toy was copied and the result came in the shape of a dropside truck in which was mounted a working elevated platform. No identifying marks have been found anywhere on this unusual adaptation that scales out to be smaller than the TAT/Telsalda at 1:27.

Often remarked upon is the amazing value for money that Oxford manage to incorporate in their 1:43 models – unfortunately only the 400E and Anglia vans have so far been produced by them in this scale for us fans of the Blue Oval. In view of their value we must accept that the same interior has been provided for both the van and minibus even though some real vans will probably have been fitted out with seats in the rear. Attention to detail goes as far as the post April 1960 “Themes” badge at the rear and Anglia 105E type hub caps. The 1:43 models are correct for 0 Gauge model railways and Oxford have duplicated their 400E van and bus in 1:76 for us 00 Gauge modellers along with some more Ford subjects.

New Zealand was the source of the Fun Ho series of small toys, and was produced by the F Underwood Engineering Co to around HO scale. These were simple diecast castings, a few with moving parts such as the 400E van on which the rear doors could be opened. In order to provide a ‘hinge’ the top of the doors were very narrow. A 400E pick up was also part of the range and these two scaled out to 1:81 although HO is 1:87. A total of 81,900 of the little vans were made, along with 69,900 pick ups – the latter called Ford Thames Freighter in Fun Ho speak. The Fun H0 range was initially made by an Australian company called Streamlux until 1962, the Underwood company took over manufacture in 1964 and subsequently added many more subjects, including the 400Es. Production ended in 1982 as the easing of import restrictions brought in cheaper toys but some models were subsequently reproduced by the Fun H0 National Toy Museum Foundry including the 400E pick up. These featured the addition of glazed windows and were illustrated in MAR 104 (Aug-Sep 1996)

Despite the real 400E Estate car having turned into a minibus by late 1958, when Matchbox launched their diecast of the subject for 1960 they called it a Ford Thames Estate Car and retained that label. Initially it came without glazed windows, subsequently clear and green tinted vac forms were fitted. Whether it was intentionally made to 1:76 to match 00 gauge model railways is debatable but it leant itself to be the basis of a subsequent reproduction by the Creative Casting Company who offered a metal kit of the 400E for model railway use. The latter lost a bit of the real vehicles tall narrow character in the transition and while it featured a full width front seat but none in the back, it also had some extremely narrow metal wheels. Another rather different spin-off from the Matchbox came from Hong Kong in a range of cheap plastic copies of Matchbox subjects called Blue Box. Rather naughty was the illustration on the box of what looks like the original Matchbox item, although this was made of extremely flimsy plastic featuring a wheelbase that is much too short.

Triang produced a range of 1:76 plastic road vehicles in the late 1960s called Minix – related to the Minic range but the X denotes no mechanism. Intended for use with 00 gauge model railways these were extremely accurate in their detail and proportion, the 400E being listed as 15cwt and like the rest featured a plated plastic base that included bumpers and grille. Later examples may have had black base and wheels. A simple interior depicted the seats, steering wheel and rear flat floor. Of the total 10 million Minix models produced, a third were sold as loads on Triang/Hornby railway wagons.

More 400Es for 00 scale came in kit form from R Parker, Maz Woolley described in detail the kits and building them in MAR 198 (Dec 2005) and MAR 209 (Feb 2007) as well as including photos of the same. Another 1:76 range of kits from Roadscale included a 400E van and this was described by Tony Askwith in MAR 129 (March 1999) while SMTS offered 1:43 kits to create the Team Lotus 400E conversion that was sufficiently long to accommodate a racing car.

Back in 00 scale, yet another 400E van came from Weico in Australia in their Wizard range, described by John Roberts in MAR 188 (Dec 2004) and Maz Woolley in MAR 191 (April 2005). It was suggested in the latter that it may have been inspired by the Minix. Weico came to this columns notice many years ago by producing repros of the old Australian Micro Models, several of which were 1956 Fords of various types.

No doubt the ultimate miniature 400E was made by Shawcraft Models along with several others in 1:8 scale for showroom use at the time of the real vehicles. For many years around 14 of these desirable models were kept at Dagenham but are believed to have been sold off and change hands now for substantial four figure sums.

Ford Thames 400E Model Listing
Autocult China 2016 8001 Dropside 1:43 resin
Autocult China 2016 Flatbed 1:43 resin
Autocult China 2016 07005 Team Lotus Transporter 1:43 resin
Matchbox UK 1969 70 Estate Car 54mm 1:76 diecast
Blue Box Hong Kong 342 Estate Car copy 55mm 1:75 plastic
Creative Casting Co UK Minibus copy 53mm 1:77 metal kit
Corgi UK 1962-67 420 Airborne camper 94mm 1:44 diecast
TAT/Telsalda Hong Kong 714 Airborne camper copy 185mm 1:22 plastic
TAT/Telsalda Hong Kong 714 12 seater bus copy 185mm 1:22 plastic
Dinky Toy UK 1963-69 436 Atlas Copco compressor 89mm 1:46 diecast
Unknown Dropside with cherry picker copy 152mm 1:27 plastic
Fun H0! NZ 1960s 20 Van 51mm 1:81 diecast
Fun H0! NZ 1960s 26 Pick up 51mm 1:81 diecast
Oxford FDE 001 Van 54mm 1:76 diecast
Oxford FDE 002 12 seater bus 54mm 1:76 diecast
Oxford FDE 1 Van 96mm 1:43 diecast
Oxford FDE 2 12 seater bus 96mm 1:43 diecast
Minix UK 1966-71 13 15cwt van 53mm 1:76 plastic
Weico/Wizard Australia 2004 10 15cwt van copy 1:76 metal
Parker UK 35 Van 1:76 metal kit
Parker UK 36 Flatbed 1:76 metal kit
Parker UK 42 12 seater bus 1:76 metal kit
Roadscale UK THA 1 Van 1:76 metal kit
Shawcraft UK Estate car showroom model 1:8
SMTS UK Team Lotus transporter 1:43 metal kit


Illustrations: Ford Thames 400E

Corgi 1:44 diecast from UK: 420, Airborne camper

Dinky Toys 1:46 diecast from UK: 436 Flatbed with Atlas-Copco compressor

Oxford 1:43 diecast for UK: FDE 2, 12 seater bus British Railways.

Oxford 1:43 diecast for UK: FDE 1, van British Railways

Minix 1:76 plastic from UK:13, 15cwt van

Fun H0! 1:81 diecast from New Zealand: 20, Van

Fun H0! 1:81 diecast from New Zealand: 26, pick up.

Matchbox 1:76 diecast from UK: 70, Estate Car

Blue Box 1:75 plastic from Hong Kong: 342, Minibus copy of Matchbox.

Oxford 1:76 diecast for UK: FDE 1, van British Railways.

Creative Casting Company 1:76 metal kit from UK: Minibus, copy of Matchbox.

TAT/Telsalda 1:22 plastic from Hong Kong: 714, Airborne camper copy of Corgi

TAT/Telsalda 1:22 plastic from Hong Kong: 714 12 seater bus using Corgi copy body.

Unknown Make 1:27 plastic: Dropside with cherry picker, copy of Dinky Toy flatbed as base.

Shawcraft 1:8 made in UK:400E Estate Car as photographed by Ian Ingham in the Ford Museum

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