Great Non-GMT Standard Double Deckers: The Not So Perfect Ten

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…

  1. Leeds City Transport: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1974 ‘Jumbo Atlantean’ – ‘Tommy Lords’);
  2. Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board: Daimler Fleetline (dual door, 1967);
  3. City of Southampton Transport Department: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1982);
  4. Sheffield Transport: Leyland Atlantean/Daimler Fleetline (long wheelbase version, 1968 – 74);
  5. Tyneside/Tyne and Wear PTE: Leyland Fleetline (dual door, 1970s);
  6. London Transport: Daimler Fleetline DMS-class (1970);
  7. Scottish Bus Group/various others: Volvo Ailsa B55 (1973- 1985);
  8. National Bus Company/various others: Bristol VRT (1968 – 1982);
  9. Stagecoach Holdings: Leyland Olympian (1988 – 1993)/Volvo Olympian (1993 – 1998);
  10. FirstGroup plc: Volvo B9TL (2004 – to date).

*                                   *                                  *

1. Leeds City Transport: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1974 orders):

Leeds City 591
Seen in 2009, SUG 591M, the last Roe-bodied Leyland Atlantean delivered to Leeds City Transport. It is seen in the care of its current owners, who are restoring this vehicle. Image by HesterJenna (Creative Commons License – Some Rights Reserved)

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.

*                                   *                                  *

2. Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board: Daimler Fleetline (dual door, 1967)

New Road, Bromsgrove - crossing the A38 - old blue bus - Garage -  116
Sadly, not one of S.H.M.D’s examples, but one of the Walsall Corporation vehicles which inspired Tame Street garage. Picture by Elliott Brown (Creative Commons License – Some Rights Reserved)

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.

*                                   *                                  *

3. City of Southampton Transport Department: Leyland Atlantean (1970 – 1982)

First Hampshire Leyland Atlantean
The last of Southampton’s Leyland Atlanteans, seen near the Etihad Stadium at a Greater Manchester Museum of Transport event – three months after its last revenue earning journeys on First Hampshire’s 8 service.

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.

*                                   *                                  *

4. Sheffield Transport: Leyland Atlantean/Daimler Fleetline (long wheelbase version, 1968 – 1974)

Sheffield Transport Daimler Fleetline
WWJ 754M, a Park Royal bodied Daimler Fleetline: the last new bus to have been delivered to Sheffield Transport, in 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’.

*                                   *                                  *

5. Tyneside/Tyne and Wear PTE: Leyland Fleetline (dual door, 1970s)

Tyne and Wear PTE Atlantean
Unique: the nearside stairway of Tyneside PTE’s vehicles, epitomised by this Leyland Atlantean.

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.

*                                   *                                  *

6. London Transport: Daimler Fleetline DMS-class (1970 – 1978)

DMS73 in Barnet, JUL80
Seen in Barnet, July 1980: the DMS Class Daimler Fleetline, designed during Ralph Bennett’s tenure at London Transport. Picture by Martin Addison (Creative Commons License – Some Rights Reserved-Non Commercial).

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.

*                                   *                                  *

7. Scottish Bus Group/various others: Volvo Ailsa B55 (1973 – 1985)

West Midlands PTE, Volvo Ailsa, JOV 738P
West Midlands PTE was one of a number of Passenger Transport Executives to order Volvo Ailsas as seen here, in its restored form.

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.

*                                   *                                  *

8. National Bus Company/various others: Bristol VRT (1968 – 1982):

408 Bristol VRT AJA 408L, Selnec Cheshire
Rare: a SELNEC PTE/Greater Manchester Transport Bristol VRT.

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.

*                                   *                                  *

9. Stagecoach Holdings: Leyland Olympian (1988 – 1993)/Volvo Olympian (1993 – 1998)

Volvo Olympian (open top), N329 NPN, Stagecoach in Skye, Portree bus stance
Topless, also glorious in green: N329 NPN seen at Portree bus stance on an open top route.

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.

*                                   *                                  *

10. FirstGroup plc: Volvo B9TL (2004 – to date).

First Greater Manchester, Volvo B9TL, Wright Gemini Eclipse, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
The trusty Volvo B9TL: spotted at Ashton-under-Lyne bus station on the 348 service to Carrbrook.

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.

*                                   *                                  *

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.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Great Non-GMT Standard Double Deckers: The Not So Perfect Ten

Add yours

  1. Its funny you say that about a B9TL with the E400 trim and leg room, there is a 12-reg B9TL at Oldham exactly as you described usually on the 83

    Like

    1. Hi Aaron,

      Rumbled!

      Long time no see on these parts.

      What I was meant to say, was a Volvo B9TL with the same moquette, though the legroom of an Enviro400. Needless to say, I have experienced the B9TL with the Enviro400’s leather seats – also on the 83 service as you said!

      Also, not the first B9TLs to have leather seats: Bury depot used to have a handful around 2008 for its X35 Limited Stop service. The seats were pretty hard and nowhere near as plush as the leather seats on today’s Enviro200s, Enviro400s and Wright StreetLites.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

      1. Between 1966 and 1988, Nottingham City Transport specified its own design of bodywork on double-decker buses from several different manufacturers, like this Northern Counties bodied Leyland Atlantean and East Lancashire bodied Volvo B10M

        Copied from wikipedia

        Like

      2. I must be travelling on the wrong E400s. I find the “e-plastic” seats rock hard, and had to constantly change positions of the 36 I caught to the Bolton Open Day last month. In contrast, I found the 373xx -series Geminis used on the X35 (or in my experience, 8s or 17s) quite comfortable. Not Crosville ENL or Fylde S-reg Atlantean/NC class, obviously – but quite tolerable by modern spine breaking standards.

        Like

  2. Hi Buspilot,

    I had the Nottingham City Transport vehicles in mind for a possible second part. Or, for a Wonders of Northern Counties article along with SHMD’s NCME bodied Bristol REs.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

    Like

  3. Hi Phil,

    The Metal Rear Factor on FGM’s Enviro400s is pretty grim, and the 36 of all routes – demands buses with plusher cushions. This is where I feel Stagecoach Manchester trumps First Greater Manchester with their Enviro400s.

    The worst seat of all on the FGM Enviro400s is one of the two in front of the stair rails at the front. With the cushions being pretty thin, a right ordeal between Ashton to Oldham on the 409, let alone the full 36 service. As for the backrests, almost as bad as the infamous Merseytravel PTE specification Pacer units.

    I would still maintain that the ultimate bus seats were the dual-purpose ones on the NCME bodied MCW Metrobuses, seen on the 400 Trans-Lancs Express and other limited stop services of the 1980s.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: