A round-up of some of the greatest non-SELNEC/Greater Manchester Transport double deckers ever to grace the Earth
Regular readers on East of the M60 would be familiar with any of the references to Ralph Bennett (particularly the distinctive Bolton and Manchester Leyland Atlanteans), or the GMT standard double deckers. For this month’s Not So Perfect Ten, we are spreading our wings a little and focusing on groundbreaking vehicles from other parts of the United Kingdom. Both aesthetically and functionally.
In other words, some great examples from West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, pre-SELNEC constituents or independent concerns. For your delectation…
- Leeds City Transport: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1974 ‘Jumbo Atlantean’ – ‘Tommy Lords’);
- Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board: Daimler Fleetline (dual door, 1967);
- City of Southampton Transport Department: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1982);
- Sheffield Transport: Leyland Atlantean/Daimler Fleetline (long wheelbase version, 1968 – 74);
- Tyneside/Tyne and Wear PTE: Leyland Fleetline (dual door, 1970s);
- London Transport: Daimler Fleetline DMS-class (1970);
- Scottish Bus Group/various others: Volvo Ailsa B55 (1973- 1985);
- National Bus Company/various others: Bristol VRT (1968 – 1982);
- Stagecoach Holdings: Leyland Olympian (1988 – 1993)/Volvo Olympian (1993 – 1998);
- FirstGroup plc: Volvo B9TL (2004 – to date).
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1. Leeds City Transport: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1974 orders):
Though Atlanteans have formed part of the Leeds City Transport fleet, their 1970 order would be a break from the norm. They had dual doors and panoramic windows, seating 78 passengers. Its last example, SUG 591M (seen above), entered service in March 1974 – a month before LCT’s absorption by Metro West Yorkshire. Some continued in service till the mid-1980s, with a handful in revenue earning service in the early 1990s, such as Pennine Blue’s example, SUG 574M. I had the joy of boarding her in 1993 on the 346, and she made light work of the ascent up Crescent Road.
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2. Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board: Daimler Fleetline (dual door, 1967)
Scaling Crescent Road, Dukinfield many a time on the 11/11A services would have been one of ten of SHMD’s dual door Daimler Fleetlines. Augmenting their 1965 order, their 1967 orders were inspired by Edgley Cox’s examples seen at Walsall Corporation. Whilst conductor operated, the centre sliding door would be opened by the conductor, with the jack knife styled front door – awkwardly single width – its exit. As a one-man-operated vehicle, access was gained via its front door.
At an era when bus undertakings opted for longer vehicles with higher capacities, SHMD stuck with 30 feet long vehicles. Probably a good move given the hilly terrain of its routes, particularly the 4/4A services. The ten vehicles continued in service with SELNEC and Greater Manchester Transport before withdrawal in 1981. Sadly, none of the ten unique vehicles were preserved.
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3. City of Southampton Transport Department: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1982)
For similar reasons to Greater Manchester’s operators, and countless others (thanks also to the Bus Grant), One Man Operation was a way forward, economically. In 1970, the Leyland Atlantean became City of Southampton Transport Department’s OPO bus of choice. Smartly turned out in red and cream, they were bodied by East Lancashire and pretty similar in appearance to Ralph Bennett’s Bolton Atlanteans. By 1982, Southampton TD’s subsequent orders were Dennis Dominators and Leyland Olympians. Its last Atlantean, FTR 270X, ceased operations on the 05 February 2005.
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4. Sheffield Transport: Leyland Atlantean/Daimler Fleetline (long wheelbase version, 1968 – 1974)
Just as impressive as Leeds’ high capacity Atlanteans was Sheffield Corporation Transport’s Park Royal bodied Leyland Atlanteans and Daimler Fleetlines. Their state of the art dual door vehicles exuded the modern face of Sheffield: the prosperous modern Steel City on seven hills. It eschewed the domes of its 1965 brethren, opting for a more boxy design. This example seen above was Sheffield Transport’s last new bus, prior to the arrival of South Yorkshire PTE. There is reference to the short lived self-service Videmat fare system with separate doors for ‘driver service’ and ‘self service’.
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5. Tyneside/Tyne and Wear PTE: Leyland Fleetline (dual door, 1970s)
Whereas domes were on the wane in Sheffield, they were pretty much in vogue on Tyneside, during the early 1970s. Tyneside PTE’s Leyland Atlanteans had their roots in Tyneside Omnibus Company’s and Newcastle-upon-Tyne Corporation’s domed Alexander bodied examples. With the arrival of twin-door double deckers came one idea: a changed position for the stairway, from the usual offside to the nearside. This unusual layout was a feature of Tyneside PTE’s buses till 1978, when the stairs reverted to their usual position.
Even so, the domes and panoramic windows remained a feature of Tyne and Wear PTE’s Atlanteans. Northern Counties’ and Willowbrook’s bodied examples would complement Alexander’s and see regular service till the end of the 1980s.
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6. London Transport: Daimler Fleetline DMS-class (1970 – 1978)
On taking his position at London Transport, Ralph Bennett helped to introduce a new OPO bus for Greater London. Known as the Londoner, the DMS class of Daimler Fleetlines would adopt the same modern approach as his Mancunian style double deckers. 400 Londoners would enter service, making the London Passenger Transport Board the largest operator of Daimler Fleetlines. As well as dual doors, its features included a self-service fares machine (passengers would enter via the yellow door of the entrance doors) and a turnstile.
As well as reliability problems, the ‘not invented here’ attitudes saw the start of its withdrawal in 1979. The turnstiles were counterproductive to fast loading and – if seen in today’s vehicles – would be done for a multitude of crimes against the Disability Discrimination Act. Post-London, the DMS class buses fared much outside the capital. Prominent operators included National Bus Company’s Midland Red subsidiary, Stevensons of Uttoxeter.
In Greater Manchester – ironically the area where Ralph Bennett’s vehicles are much lauded – they were a most reliable servant for Mayne of Manchester. My experience was often trouble free, even on hilly routes. They were part of their fleet from 1983 to 2000, some of which seeing further service on school contracts in their second base in Warrington.
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7. Scottish Bus Group/various others: Volvo Ailsa B55 (1973 – 1985)
Challenging Leyland’s market share in the 1970s would be Volvo’s Ailsa B55, a solid front engined double decker. Launched in 1973, it was well received and won plaudits north of the border, with the vehicle being built at Volvo’s Irvine plant. They would become a familiar sight among Scotland’s bus users, particularly in Dundee, and often be combined with Alexander bodywork. South of the border, they would attract the attention of West Midlands PTE (who favoured the Alexander bodied Ailsas), Greater Manchester Transport (Northern Counties bodied, of course), Derby Borough Transport, and South Yorkshire PTE (in the unusual Van Hool McArdle bodywork).
In the post-DMS era, LPTB would flirt with the Volvo Ailsa. Their models, the V1, V2 and V3, would be dual doored. The V1 and V2 Ailsas would have its twin doors in the usual positions, whereas the V3 had its second door at the rear – and a second set of stairs. This idea was far from original as Midland Red’s BMMO B10 double deckers adopted a similar layout with a narrow rear door. The reason for this would allow one-person-operation and conductor operation. V3, after service with Black Prince, Morley, entered the preservation with its original layout reinstated. The hybrid approach has since been adopted by today’s Borismasters.
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8. National Bus Company/various others: Bristol VRT (1968 – 1982):
Any round-up of The Greatest Non-GMT Standard buses is far from complete without the Bristol VRT. Only a generation or so ago, the Bristol VRT was pretty ubiquitous. Launched in 1968, they would become National Bus Company’s de facto standard double decker. By bus deregulation, they would form part of many an independent operator’s bus fleet. Those bodied by Eastern Coach Works would form the majority, though Merseyside PTE flirted with East Lancashire bodied VRTs. Reading Corporation’s Jumbo Buses would be Northern Counties bodied VRTs, some of which later acquired by Morley’s of Whittlesey.
In Greater Manchester, they were often overshadowed by the GMT standards, even with NBC subsidiaries operating some services into GMPTE boundaries. GMT’s examples, inherited from SELNEC, were part of an outstanding order, and continued in service till 1986. Mayne of Manchester had Bristol VRTs from 1978 to 1991 with their earliest examples seen on the 209 Lumb Link in Droylsden. They would also make an appearance on Blackpool excursions.
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9. Stagecoach Holdings: Leyland Olympian (1988 – 1993)/Volvo Olympian (1993 – 1998)
If you were to think of one vehicle that best epitomised the Gloag’s 35 years of bus operations, I would say that more than anything, it’ll be the Alexander bodied Olympian. Before Enviro400s assumed this mantle, it was their Alexander bodied Leyland/Volvo Olympians which was Stagecoach Holdings’ double decker of choice. Much as I like the GMT standard Leyland Olympians (and FirstGroup’s elderly examples sometimes seen in my backyard), the interiors are bright, the ride quality is pretty decent, and the legroom is spot on. I especially like the front seat upstairs on the right hand side.
When I first saw them in Greater Manchester, it was at the Ewing School through the First Group’s window facing Palatine Road. In 1989, shortly after their takeover of Ribble Motor Services. With the Starsky and Hutch livery. By 1997, with an increased presence in Greater Manchester, I immediately thought ‘now that’s a proper modern day double decker’. Not least the fact they were vaguely reminiscent of the former Grampian ones which Mayne of Manchester purchased in 1994.
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10. FirstGroup plc: Volvo B9TL (2004 – to date).
Remaining in Scotland, we focus on the Aberdonian bus giant’s de facto standard double decker. Though starting to be supplanted by Enviro400s in some areas, the Volvo B9TL for me is FirstGroup’s equivalent to Stagecoach’s Olympians. Firstly it established the company’s relationship with Wright, as seen with the Wright StreetLite. By 2009, they would replace Greater Manchester’s GMT standards and a hotch potch of secondhand vehicles from other subsidiaries.
Given the choice of FirstGroup’s Enviro400s or Volvo B9TLs, the latter any day. I can forgive them for the dwarf-tastic legroom at the front seat on the top deck in front of the stairs, but the ride quality on the Volvos is superior to the Enviro400s. Now, a Volvo B9TL with the same trim and the improved legroom of the Enviro400s, that would be a fantastic bus.
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Any More Suggestions?
As always, feel free to add to the list, or comment on the ten examples. Was the DMS class Fleetline a fiasco? Or do you wish SHMD’s dual door Fleetlines were saved for the nation? Opine articulately.
S.V., 04 August 2014.