Your classics

Your Classics: Natasha Laws and her eighties Honda Acty ice cream van

by Charlotte Vowden
4 February 2022 5 min read
Your Classics: Natasha Laws and her eighties Honda Acty ice cream van
Photos: Natasha Laws

As a little girl, Natasha recalls constantly being on the lookout for an ice cream van when her family went to motor racing events, and when she won the eBay bid for a “quite battered and rusty” Ice Baby she had no ambition to make ice cream lady a full-time occupation.

Her van’s Dad’s Army theme tune is an unlikely choice of ditty for a dinky ice cream van’s chime, but instantly recognisable. Drifting from a wind-up mechanical music box, the jingly rendition begins melodically, but when the familiar beat drops all eyes are drawn to Ice Baby, Natasha Law’s 1982 Honda Acty conversion. 

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“I don’t arrive to events blaring it out unless I’m asked to, just in case I interrupt a special moment, a speech, or a couple saying their vows,” says Natasha, who bought Ice Baby fifteen years ago from a retiring ice cream vendor based in the Lake District. “It’s very loud and not what people expect, which can be really funny.” 

Often in transit with enough ice cream, cones, sprinkles and sweet sauce to serve 800 people, Natasha’s mobile pudding dispenser makes regular appearances at weddings, birthday parties, milestone events and other celebratory soirees in the Home Counties north of London. 

The best journeys, she says, are made on quiet “but not too small” country lanes where she can get up to 50mph out of Ice Baby on a straight run. “It’s quite bouncy,” says Natasha. In stop start traffic, things can start feeling a bit “strained”, but it’s on steep hills that the microvan, which weighs in at around 1145kg and is propelled by a 545cc engine, has to work its hardest: “sometimes we almost get to a standstill, but she’ll get there in the end.”

Natasha Laws ice cream van

Effective route planning, even if it involves taking on rush hour in the capital, has meant that Natasha and Ice Baby have arrived on time and in one piece to every event so far. Only once, a very long time ago, has it been on the back of a low loader.

“She serves me really well but sometimes things do just get worn out,” says Natasha, who learned to drive in her mum’s “quirky” yellow Citroën Dyane, a vehicle she shared with her sister, that developed a habit of discarding its bonnet en route. 

“It happened a couple of times so had to be tied down with bungee ropes,” laughs Natasha. “I love those cars, the gear stick is on the dashboard and the sun roof was just a piece of canvas that you’d roll back. We had loads of adventures and I suppose that must have been where my love of old and unusual cars began.”

At 5ft 1.5 inches, Natasha has a natural advantage for working in a small space and although Ice Baby was already set up as a roving ice cream parlour it took a few elbow knocks and head bumps for Natasha to establish the best way to organise and distribute her onboard supplies – a compartmentalised tray is key to preventing hundreds and thousands finding their way into every nook and cranny. 

With the capacity to hold up to 24 four-litre tubs of ice cream (that’s around 800 scoops) Ice Baby is equipped with a freezer that can keep its contents chilled for up to 18 hours on a single charge. Inherited from the previous owner, Natasha describes this retro piece of apparatus as very effective. Also, she adds, “you don’t have to have the engine on to run it which is such a good idea because you don’t get the noise and it’s better for the environment.” 

During her formative years as an ice cream lady, Natasha lived in a terraced house which didn’t permit her the luxury of having off-street parking, so in order to charge the freezer she would trail an extension lead from her upstairs bedroom, through the window, across the front garden, over a hedge and above the pavement. A setup that, retrospectively, she deems slightly ridiculous.

“It would be humming all night,” laughs Natasha. “I did it for years, but one morning as I drove the van down the road, I thought there’s something wrong. You know that feeling when you pull off with the handbrake on by mistake, when you can still drive but there’s a weird pulling feeling, it was like that. I then heard this crrrkkk crrrrkkkk. 

“Well, the extension lead was still plugged into the bedroom wall. Luckily I’d not got very far and the freezer was fine but the extension lead snapped. I didn’t make that mistake again.” Today, Natasha has her own driveway. 

From brides to Benedict Cumberbatch and Heston Blumenthal, Natasha, a mother of two, has served her fair share of VIPs and famous faces, but there’s a special few that have made her heart melt.

“I went to serve kids at an infant school for an end of term treat,” she explains. “The reception class came over first, so the children were four or five years old, and they were so excited. The teacher said ‘now children, what do you say to the ice cream lady?’ And this little boy shouts ‘I love you!’ It was just so cute.”

Her Honda is unusual in the world of ice cream vans. “You see a lot of vintage street food vans but I don’t think there are very many Acty’s which is what I think makes her stand out,” says Natasha. “Acty’s are usually converted into camper vans called Romahomes.”

Natasha Laws

During Ice Baby’s restoration, which has included two resprays (the first for cosmetic reasons and the second because it had to be stripped back to deal with rust) Natasha has preserved retro features, fixtures, fittings and finishes, including the brown floral interior walls. To futureproof Ice Baby, Natasha has considered going fully electric, but the cost and practicalities have forced her to park the idea for now.

To ensure Ice Baby is running sweetly before a busy event season kicks off, Natasha books her in for pre-season checks at Classic Car Solutions in Luton. She credits the workshop’s specialist mechanics for helping her to feel more confident about how to take care of Ice Baby. 

“I didn’t ask enough questions when I bought her, but I’ve had lots of help from the man who runs an Acty Club,” says Natasha. “He helped me with parts, gave me loads of advice and even though he’s retired now he still talks to the guys that work at the garage that looks after her now and they’re just brilliant. They love old cars which is exactly what I needed. They really enjoy working on it, it’s their passion and it’s so worth it because I can trust them. I do think of the van like a person and I feel guilty if it goes wrong. Just because something isn’t human doesn’t mean it doesn’t have personality or soul.”

As things tend to quieten down for Natasha during the winter months, if there are any surplus tubs of ice cream looking for a good home, she might sneak a few spoons for herself before donating them to a local pub who will host a gelato eating charity event. 

“It’s a nice thing to do before she goes away for hibernation during the winter, but I still take her out for drives and keep things going,” says Natasha. When Ice Baby wakes up next year she’ll be turning 40, and Natasha is currently planning ways to celebrate. The one certainty is that the party is going to involve ice cream.

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