A photographic journey of the many variations of FirstBus/FirstGroup liveries in Greater Manchester
Though the last week has seen First Manchester being reprimanded by Beverley Bell, the timing of FirstGroup’s new livery may be seen by some critics as a way to bury bad news. In the last week, I have seen one example in Ashton bus station on the 409 route. In my eyes, it was no great change on the ubiquitous Barbie livery, apart from the fact that 45˚ angle lines replaced the curved lines.
Prior to the introduction of the outgoing Barbie livery (which we shall be seeing for some time on our older vehicles), there was a number of regional liveries. In West Yorkshire, Huddersfield, Halifax, Bradford and Leeds sections of Yorkshire Rider had separate liveries and were known as Kingfisher, Calderline, Bradford Traveller and Leeds City Bus. In Greater Manchester, some vehicles had the FirstBus/FirstGroup logo though maintained the GM Buses North liveries. Pennine’s buses retained PMT’s yellow and red livery till October 2000.
The Barbie livery, and its variations has been with us for over 15 years. That is longer than the SELNEC and first Greater Manchester Transport liveries combined. Also longer than Ralph Bennett’s livery on Manchester City Transport’s Leyland Panthers and Atlanteans. Owing to its longevity, we will see generations who haven’t seen a First vehicle in a localised livery. At least till now…
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1996 – 2004: First Manchester ‘Tomato Soup’ livery
No round-up of Greater Manchester’s FirstBus/FirstGroup liveries is complete without the infamous Tomato Soup of First Manchester. When I first saw the livery, the first thing I noticed was ‘what have you done to the lovely orange of GM Buses North?’. Though the livery looked well on modern vehicles, particularly the R-reg low floor Darts, unkempt middle aged vehicles looked shabbier than they would have done in the previous livery. The tomato soup livery was quite a common sight in Halifax on the 562 service, where they were seen on Northern Counties bodied dual purpose MCW Metrobuses.
1996: First Manchester Tomato Soup Prototype
Prior to arrival of this livery, there was a short lived experimental version with tomato soup broken by a broad diagonal line of Metropolitan Orange. The line filled half of the bus and had the ‘Greater Manchester’ lettering and FirstBus logo in tomato soup red. The early incarnation lacked the dark blue lines. Now, both the Metrobuses which employed that livery and the colour scheme itself are a thing of the past.
1996 – 1998: Gold Service livery
Prior to the launch of the Barbie livery which we know and love (or loathe), the only national livery FirstBus had was a cream livery for its Gold Service routes. The Gold Service concept, and its livery, was influenced by practices within Grampian Regional Transport and the GRT Group. Popular services would be given the Gold Service treatment with first pick of the new buses and dedicated branding. In 1998, the mainly cream livery was discontinued, though the Gold Service concept continued into the 21st century. These subsequently formed part of the Overground concept launched in 2001.
1996 – 2001: First Calderline livery
Right up to the start of the 21st century the blue and yellow relief on First Calderline’s mainly white livery was a regular feature in Oldham and Rochdale on the 562, 528, 589 and 590 routes. What Calderline made up for in lacking new buses was enthusiast appeal, given the number of ex-GMT standards that moved across the Pennines. Then there was TJ Walsh’s minibus fleet and some of Skircoat Lane’s finest cast-off minibuses (appeasing Bread Vanophiles as well as lovers of proper buses).
1996 – 2001: First Kingfisher/First Huddersfield livery
Just to confuse the spotter, or the passenger further, there was more than one variant of late 1990s First Kingfisher/First Huddersfield livery. One harked back to the Rider Group’s version of the livery. The other was FirstBus’ take on the Rider Group livery. The top picture shows FirstBus’ version. Seen below is the Rider Group’s livery, still seen on some vehicles up to the 21st century.
Spot the difference: with the above picture, there is greater use of lighter green vinyls.
1999: First Manchester Easylink livery
As of now, competition in Wigan was between the successors of a former PTE concern and a former National Bus Company subsidiary. Historically, there was competition between Merseybus and GM Buses. Furthermore, North Western (Mark 2) competed with GM Buses and Warrington Borough Transport between Chorley and Warrington.
British Bus, later Arriva, had – and still has – a fair presence in Wigan. In 1996 – 98, there was Leigh Line and numerous other local brands adopted by British Bus. First Manchester, successors to GM Buses North, responded to this with EasyLink.
1996 – 2000: Potteries Motor Traction/First Pennine livery:
The yellow and red of Potteries Motor Traction was a common feature among Tameside and Stockport bus users as much as it was in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Pennine’s buses were repainted in PMT livery by 1994 following Badgerline’s acquisition of the one time independent. The rear of each bus had a cartoon style badger’s head on the sides. When I first saw the livery in 1994, it looked well on its then newly acquired Dennis Darts. At the time it had the red dotted arrow logo with ‘Pennine’ written in yellow on the arrow.
2001 – 2009: Faded Barbie Livery
In 2001, FirstGroup considered the idea of two different versions of the Barbie livery. New buses would display the original Barbie livery whereas older buses would have a different version as seen here. Vinyls were used to achieve the fade effect seen at the bottom. On the first year of introduction, some vehicles were repainted into the Barbie 2 livery minus vinyls making for an austere and half hearted look.
1998 – to date: Standard Barbie livery
Destined to be with us for some time on older buses, this is being phased out on more modern vehicles. The livery has been with us for over 15 years and stood its ground against the cow horns of Arriva and the swirls of Stagecoach. Given the poor weathering conditions of the Barbie 2 livery, this was later adopted on older vehicles, hence:
There is a subtle difference in that indigo relief is applied below the windscreen.
2003: West Coast Main Line rail replacement buses
Mention the three words ‘rail replacement bus’ and be very surprised to hear anything complimentary. The very name conjures up images of life expired buses even though some coaches tend to surpass the rail based rolling stock (especially so in Greater Manchester) in terms of comfort and quality.
Owing to the scale of engineering works on the West Coast Main Line, FirstGroup won the contract to supply rail replacement buses. Instead of the standard Barbie livery, a modified version with greater use of indigo was adopted. On completion, these attractive vehicles would later see service on the 26 route to Leigh.
2011: Hybrid Barbie livery
Mattel’s favourite anatomically challenged doll had her conscience pricked when she found Ken couldn’t drive to Kendal Milne for his suit. Living in Alkrington Garden Village (yeah right), they were a short walk away from the 17 route, operated with hybrid buses. Barbie showed Ken this silver machine, though they wanted £9.00 for the privilege (two FirstDay tickets by the way).
The latest version of the outgoing Barbie livery seems to be a half way house between the old order and the new order being introduced this year. These hybrid vehicles eschew the white in favour of silver. Indigo is relegated to a swirl with the skirt painted in shocking pink.
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And the new livery…?
FirstGroup’s new livery has taken us full circle towards 1996, when popular liveries had to have – it seemed – one diagonal go faster stripe from the roof to the wheelbase. Paradoxically, swirled liveries were designed to suit the more curvaceous buses of the future, yet were applied on more boxy looking vehicles (like the GMT standard double decker). The Denim Barbie livery (my name, owing to its greater emphasis on the faded indigo) is being applied to curvy buses. Therefore, on that note, will the bus of the future opt for sharper angles as seen here with this mock up of a Nottingham City Transport vehicle?
S.V., 12 February 2012.
All copyrights retained by the original photographers where stated herein.