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Matchbox Restorations: Restoring a Lesney No. 25 Bedford Dunlop Van

Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.

This worn and painted Matchbox Lesney No. 25 Van needs some TLC

This worn and painted Matchbox Lesney No. 25 Van needs some TLC

I found this old Lesney Matchbox car at a flea market for $1. It's worn and weathered, the Dunlop decals are long gone, the axels are bent and rusty, and the original blue is covered by red, yellow, and black paint.

The little van has been through a lot. The front tires don't spin, and the splotchy paint looks terrible. It deserves better. A good cleaning and some new paint will be a big improvement.

Restoring the van was a fun and rewarding project, and there were a few surprises along the way. I'll take the van apart, clean up the tires, strip off the offending paint, and spray on some new color.

This poor van was covered in red, yellow and black paint. The original color was blue, as you can see below.

This poor van was covered in red, yellow and black paint. The original color was blue, as you can see below.

An original Matchbox No. 25a Dunlop Van

An original Matchbox No. 25a Dunlop Van

The Lesney Matchbox No. 25a Dunlop Van

This little van was introduced by Lesney in 1956 and produced into 1960. It was always painted blue and included yellow or orange side decals with "Dunlop" lettered in black. The grill, head lights, and front bumper were painted silver.

The early releases rode on gray metal wheels before eventually changing over to plastic. Some of the last Dunlop vans produced had black plastic wheels; this is the rarest variation and considered the most desirable.

The Dunlop van is based on the British Bedford utility vehicle. Lesney used the Bedford casting for similar designs including the 29a Milk Van and the 42a Evening News Van.

Drill out the head of the rivet to remove the chassis from the body of the van

Drill out the head of the rivet to remove the chassis from the body of the van

Step 1: Separate the Body From the Chassis

The Bedford van is a very simple design, which makes the restoration process easy and straightforward. There aren't any opening or closing parts, no interior pieces, no plastic windshield, and no broken trailer hitch to contend with.

I started the restoration by separating the body from the chassis to prepare both pieces for paint. I also removed the tires and axels from the chassis for cleaning and to protect the pieces from the stripper and new paint.

The chassis is attached to the body by a tab on the rear, and it's held in place by a rivet up front. To separate the pieces, I drilled out the head of the rivet with a 5/16" drill bit. Using a small flat head screwdriver, I gently pried the chassis up and off the rivet post.

Carefully remove the axel nub to remove the wheels

Carefully remove the axel nub to remove the wheels

Step 2: Remove the Tires and Axels

The ends of the axels were formed to hold the tires in place. One end is a rounded head and the other end is crimped. I used a Dremel rotary tool fitted with a grinding stone to carefully remove just enough of the crimp to slide the tire off the axel.

The tires are metal and painted gray. After grinding off the crimps from one end of each axel and removing the pieces from the chassis, I dropped the wheels into a cup of soapy water for a thorough cleaning. A light scrubbing with an old toothbrush removed the bits of stubborn dirt and grime.

Emory paper quickly removes rust from the axels.

Emory paper quickly removes rust from the axels.

Step 3: Straighten and Shine the Axels

The axels rusted over the years, and one is bent slightly. The rust and bend combined to impede the front tires from spinning smoothly. A few light taps with a hammer straightened out the curve.

To remove the rust, I chucked the crimped end of the axel into a cordless drill. Pressing a strip of emory paper against the spinning axel quickly removed the rust and restored a lot of the original shine.

The stripper removed the red, yellow and black paint to reveal the original factory blue paint.

The stripper removed the red, yellow and black paint to reveal the original factory blue paint.

Step 4: Strip Off the Paint

I used a non-toxic and water soluble paint stripper to remove the paint from the body. Rather than brushing the thick gel on the body, I poured some of the stripper into a glass mason jar and dropped in the body. After about 10 minutes, I fished the body out of the jar and used another old toothbrush to gently scrub off the gel.

To my surprise, the stripper removed nearly all of the red, yellow and black paint but left the original blue securely bonded to the body. Though much of the factory paint is gone and there are patches of bare metal, I like the character and patina of the old van. Rather than continue stripping the rest of the paint away in preparation for a re-spray, I'll leave the remaining paint as is.

A simple jig makes it easy to secure the tires to the axel.

A simple jig makes it easy to secure the tires to the axel.

Step 5: Assemble the Chassis

The factory paint on the chassis is still in pretty good shape, so I decided to keep it original rather than going through the stripping and a repainting process. Besides, the minor chips and blemishes match the aged look of the body.

Putting the wheels and axels back together is quite easy. Slide a tire onto the axel and push it up against the factory-shaped end. Slip the axel through the loops in the chassis and put on the second tire.

The axel ends were factory-crimped to keep the tires in place. YouTuber Marty of Marty's Matchbox Makeovers describes how he uses a couple of finishing nails in a homemade jig for his drill press to form a small nub on the end of the axel. I made a similar jig to create just enough of a nub to retain the tire on the axel.

The process is repeated with the other axel and tires. I positioned the axels so both of the factory ends face the same side of the van.

A 2mm screw attaches the chassis to the body.

A 2mm screw attaches the chassis to the body.

Step 6: Attach the Chassis to the Body

To reattach the chassis to the body of the van, slip the tab at the back end of the chassis into the small slot a the rear of the body. Press the front end of the chassis over the post where the rivet used to be.

A tiny 2mm screw attaches the chassis to the body. A dab of silicon would also work, but the screw allows me to take the van apart easily again—just in case I decide to repaint the van in the future.

After drilling a 1/16" hole into the post, I used an Allen wrench the drive home the screw. Because the post is made of soft metal, tapping the hole wasn't necessary to thread in the screw.

Restored back to its original paint, the 25a Bedford Van looks pretty good.

Restored back to its original paint, the 25a Bedford Van looks pretty good.

TimeRider Restores the 25a Bedford Dunlop Van

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Anthony Altorenna

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