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Volunteers’ Week: The Tale of the lonely Matador

26 May 2023

The COVID 19 pandemic left many of us isolated from friends and family: lockdown and workplace restrictions understandably excluded us all from our workplaces for several months.

So spare a thought for some of the Dockyard’s venerable exhibits – they too were left to fend for themselves in the wind and the rain during that time – including our lonely Matador.

One of only 200 left in existence out of 9,000 AEC Matadors originally built, ‘0853’ is the Dockyard’s sole ‘artillery, winch and searchlight tractor’, used by the Royal Navy, Army and RAF between 1939 and 1953 across a variety of roles.

An ageing warrior

Built in 1953, our Matador (77 AE 09) lorry left its service with the forces in 1971, and entered civilian life as MFF 631, being bequeathed to the museum in 1985 where, among other things, it was used as a temporary stage for the inaugural ‘Salute to the 40’s’ events.

After a thorough restoration and some new warpaint in 2005, the Matador went on show in Slip 3, with occasional outings for events. But by 2019, its wooden cab and flatbed were rotten in places, and its steel chassis and panels were continuing to rust in the salty air.

Time for a makeover

The team from the Chatham Historic Dockyard Volunteer Service (CHDVS) started dismantling the lorry once more in late 2019, removing the top, sides and the main load-carrying flatbed. But other restoration priorities meant that its cab and chassis had to live outside the workshop, temporarily open to the weather. And then came lockdown, where understandably staff and volunteer welfare was the priority. So there it stayed.

Wind, snow and rain battered our lonely Matador as it sat outside in the elements, even depriving it of the tarpaulins originally tied around it, until the volunteers returned mid 2020. The lorry was so bedraggled that we found an artist painting a picture of ‘that wreck by the shed’ one Wednesday morning!

A huge amount of welding (thanks Frank Foreman) and steel fabrication has once more given our Matador a stable and robust flatbed, the intake and cooling system has been overhauled and complete rewiring commenced, courtesy of Mick Mannington. Kevin Mapley and Andrew Pincott have wielded paint brushes, fitted windows and installed new decking.

Nearly show time

Now nearing the end of what has become a much-interrupted four-year restoration, work needs to continue apace on the cab doors, welding to its drop-sides, repairing the steering rack and further electrical rewiring, before the Matador (more formerly known as an AEC Matador) needs to be ready for this year’s ‘Salute to the 40’s’.

Not only will it be once again (we hope) be acting as a backdrop for the ‘40’s singers and dancers – but in October 2023 we will be celebrating its 70th birthday.

We’d better get our sleeves rolled up…..


With thanks to Andrew Pincott from Chatham Dockyard Voluntary Service for writing this blog.

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