Ten iconic buses for beginners – or anybody old enough to pay child fare without an iGo card
For many people, a bus is just a bus. A box on six wheels for 16 or 90 people. A way of getting home from school, or from home to the shops.
These boxes with windows and (in most cases) a front entrance come in different colours. Since the 1960s they have also been mobile adverts. Some of today’s buses look less like boxes and are rounded.
You might think that many buses look the same, no matter what colours they wear. If you look at one bus (an Enviro200) and another one (a Dennis Dart SLF) the differences are striking. Many Enviro200 buses look more rounded than a Dennis Dart SLF bus.
The Enviro200 is a newer model than the Dennis Dart SLF, which makes that bus the parent of the Enviro200. Both buses can trace their family ties to older models that our parents and grandparents boarded. Like the Leyland National, the Bristol RE, or the Leyland Lynx. With the Enviro200’s sister, the Enviro400’s predecessor lies in the Dennis Trident your older brother caught to college. Or the Dennis Dominator that your mum or dad caught to the Haçienda.
For our Not So Perfect Ten, we look at the Ten Most Iconic Buses that your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters may have caught. We also have the odd obscurity as well as familiar models.
- AEC Routemaster;
- Atkinson Double Decker;
- Leyland Atlantean;
- Leyland National;
- MCW Metrobus;
- Dennis Dominator;
- Leyland Olympian;
- Dennis Dart;
- Optare Solo;
1. AEC Routemaster
When you see an old bus, or any bus on the TV or on a poster, they are usually red buses. Did you know that the red bus you see most often is an AEC Routemaster? The AEC Routemaster used to be seen on London’s streets from the late 1950s up to the 2000s. In the late 1980s, you used to see them on the streets of Manchester (along Wilmslow Road on GM Buses’ 143 route) and Burnley (where they were called EastEnders). As they used to be London buses, the operator at the time, Burnley and Pendle Transport, named them after the BBC One TV programme. Each bus was also named after the programme’s characters like Dirty Den.
In blue, with a bit of white and red, you used to see them on the streets of Southend-on-Sea. Southend-on-Sea wasn’t the only seaside resort to use AEC Routemasters. You used to see them with more white than red in Blackpool.
Many AEC Routemasters have a back entrance. Many have no doors, which means you could hop-on or hop-off. To avoid being held up by the traffic lights, you could get off just before your bus stop near home. The stairs are at the back of the bus near the entrance.
Many people like the AEC Routemaster because it still looks good over 60 years after they were built. Some people think there are better buses because they had more features, or because they were the ones they caught to school. Especially in Greater Manchester.
2. Atkinson Double Decker
Once upon a time, the area that is called Tameside today had two local bus operators. One was Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation. They had blue and cream buses. The other one was the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley, and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board. They had green and cream buses. Before the 1940s, they used to run trams and you could get your electricity supply from them.
In the 1950s, the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley, and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board (or SHMD) had a different type of bus to the London bus. As well as front and back doors, they had buses with doors that were in the centre. The Atkinson double decker is one of them – and the only double decker they made. The stairs are next to the door.
SHMD also had other buses with centre doors. These included the Daimler CVG6, a double decker bus. Also the Daimler Freeline. This was a single decker bus. There was also buses and trams with centre doors in Blackpool.
UMA 370, the Atkinson double decker, is looked after by the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport. Your great-grandad might have caught this bus on the 4 to Top Mossley (part of today’s 343 route).
3. Leyland Atlantean
In Tameside, there was also buses run by Stockport Corporation, the North Western Road Car Company, Oldham Corporation, and Manchester Corporation. Oldham and Manchester corporations had Leyland Atlantean buses. Unlike London’s AEC Routemasters (and like SHMD’s Atkinson and Daimler buses), they have doors. You might be looking for the engine.
When the first Leyland Atlanteans were made, the newest thing they did was to move the engine. Instead of being at the front, the engine was moved to the back of the bus. This means you could have more people on the bus. With older buses you needed two people to run the bus: a driver and a conductor. The conductor (who was sometimes called the Guard in some places) sold tickets and put people on the bus.
After the first Leyland Atlanteans were made, the driver was able to do the conductor’s job. In 1965, Manchester Corporation decided to change its buses. In 1968, they started the trend of having buses looking like boxes with the Mancunian body style. It was designed by Ken Mortimer, whose boss was Ralph Bennett. In Manchester, it looked like something from the future. Later buses looked like Mancunian 1001 (seen above), and these included Daimler Fleetlines as well as Leyland Atlanteans.
With Mr Mortimer’s design, other companies bodied Manchester’s new buses. One was Metro-Cammell. Another was Roe, and one was Park Royal. When Manchester’s buses changed from Manchester Corporation to SELNEC, the city’s newer buses looked similar. Many had new colours – orange and white; then white, orange and brown after SELNEC changed to Greater Manchester Transport. More were bodied by Northern Counties who made bus bodies in Wigan.
Many more buses looked a bit like Manchester’s buses till the 1990s. When Leyland stopped making the Leyland Atlanteans in 1985, they had another double decker bus model called the Leyland Olympian. They also made a very popular single decker bus, and every one of these buses looked the same.
4. Leyland National
The Leyland National is nearly 50 years old. Your mum, dad, grandad, grandma or great-grandparent might have caught one of these to the shops. Your big sister or brother might have caught one to school. The Leyland National was made for the National Bus Company, a very big bus company for England and Wales. Each bus was either red with a white stripe or green with a white stripe. Some had a white top with green or red at the bottom.
As well as the National Bus Company, London Transport had Leyland Nationals. SELNEC had a few. Greater Manchester had Leyland National buses till the late 1990s. There was three kinds of Leyland Nationals which had some changes made. The first two had a heater pod on top of the roof. The third and final kind of Leyland National had a small heater pod on the side.
The Leyland National body was also seen on train tracks as well as bus routes. In 1984, some were used on trains. They became diesel railbuses called Pacers. The first Pacer unit was the Class 141. Then came the Class 142, 143 and 144 units. You might have been on a Pacer unit from Manchester to Stalybridge, or Wigan.
5. MCW Metrobus
In the 1970s, Leyland built a lot of buses with different kinds of body styles. One of the companies that made body styles was Metro-Cammell. As Metro Cammell Weymann (or MCW) they made their own buses. Another company, Scania, helped MCW to make the Metro-Scania single decker bus. Then they made a double decker bus called the MCW Metropolitan. As Metro Cammell Weymann, without Scania, they made the MCW Metrobus.
The MCW Metrobus was made from 1977 to 1989. Most early models looked exactly the same with the same body style. A bus that has the same body style and chassis is an Integral Bus. You used to see MCW Metrobuses in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow.
In the 1980s, some MCW Metrobuses starting looking different to models made earlier. Some had their own body style, like Greater Manchester Transport’s 1986 order. These had a body style made by Northern Counties. They were used on fast bus routes (express routes like the 400 Trans-Lancs Express) and had comfier seats. These MCW Metrobuses had ‘Express’ written on the side (this is called Route Branding).
Before the MCW Metrobus was made, Leyland made many of the UK’s buses in the 1970s. This changed in the 1980s.
6. Dennis Dominator
If your parents or grandparents lived in Sheffield or Doncaster in the middle of the 1970s, they used to have cheap buses. A bus fare from one part of Sheffield to another would be about 2p to 10p. At the same time, a journey from one part of Manchester to another would be about 6p to 30p.
Sheffield is a very hilly city. Some buses couldn’t go very fast or stopped working. In 1977, a company in Guildford called Dennis made its first double decker bus for ten years. With some help from South Yorkshire PTE, they made a bus that could work better in Sheffield, and called it the Dennis Dominator. It was given a more powerful engine which meant they could go from Gleadless Town End to Lodge Moor on the 51 without breaking down. It was tested on that bus route because it was very hilly.
You could see Dennis Dominator buses in Manchester. Your parents might have got one from Piccadilly Gardens to Wythenshawe. If your older brother or sister caught a Dennis Dominator bus to college or school, he or she might have caught the one seen in our photograph on the 141 route. Or on the 216 route to see Manchester City play football.
After the Dennis Dominator, Dennis made some more buses. One is a very popular single decker bus we shall mention later.
7. Leyland Olympian
In 1980, Leyland wanted to make a new bus instead of the Atlantean. Leyland was part of a very big company called British Leyland which had a few other companies that made buses and cars. One company was Bristol. They were based in the city of Bristol and made buses. One was the Bristol VR, a very popular double decker with a low roof.
One day, British Leyland wanted to get rid of Bristol. With it was a new kind of bus they wanted to make called the Olympian. The new bus became the Leyland Olympian. Some had a low roof like the Bristol VR. Some didn’t have a low roof, like the orange one in our photo. The Leyland Olympian was a very popular bus and they were made for thirteen years from 1980 to 1993.
You could see Leyland Olympian buses across the UK from Lands End to John O’Groats. The National Bus Company had them in their red and white and green and white colours. Greater Manchester Transport had white, orange and brown ones. Manchester’s first Leyland Olympian was in orange and white and had a weird black sticky-out bumper at the front.
In the 1990s, Leyland became part of Volvo, so the Leyland Olympian became the Volvo Olympian. Volvo made Olympian buses from 1993 to 2000. Your brother, sister, mum, dad, grandma, grandad, and great grandparents might have been on a Leyland Olympian. They might have caught one to the shops, to college, school, work, or the cinema.
8. Dennis Dart
By the late 1980s, our buses changed. They had more colours. Some were bigger, some were very small. There was new routes, but your family’s bus routes changed a lot more. Some were old as well as new. Some were scruffy. Sometimes you would see another bus in a different colour to one you saw two minutes earlier on your bus route. The new companies needed a bus that was cheap and easy to run.
In 1989, Dennis made a new bus called the Dennis Dart. It was fast. They were very popular and Dennis made for nineteen years. You can see Dennis Dart buses in many different body styles. The one seen above was bodied by Plaxton. They also came in eleven different lengths from 8.3m to 11.3m.
Before 1996, you needed to walk up two to three steps to get on your bus. From that year, the Dennis Dart changed that and got rid of the steps. The floor was lowered which means wheelchair users can catch the bus. You could put your baby brother’s pushchair on the bus.
The Dennis Dart SLF meant you didn’t need to fold up pushchairs and get your parents to carry your baby brother on to the bus. With this change, there was more and more low-floor buses. Every bus you see on the streets today is a low-floor one. Today, the new version of the Dennis Dart is called the Enviro200.
9. Optare Solo
In the late-1980s, minibuses started to be more popular. Instead of seeing one double decker bus an hour, you could see eight minibuses an hour. Early minibuses didn’t look as good as today’s models: they looked like vans. They had narrow entrances and you had to fold up your baby brother’s pushchair, if you could get a seat, or find a space for the pushchair.
Once upon a time, there was a company called Metro Cammell Weymann. In 1989, they stopped making buses. The MCW Metrobus model we talked about earlier was bought by a new company based near Leeds. That company is Optare. Later, they made the most popular low-floor minibus, called the Optare Solo.
With your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents, you might have been on an Optare Solo to the shops. You might have caught one to school on the 343 route to Oldham. The Optare Solo has been made since 1998. Including the newer Solo SR, these buses have been made for nearly 23 years. Like you did with the Leyland Olympians in the 1980s and 1990s, you can see them in towns, cities, and villages.
The Optare Solo bus is popular with big bus companies like Stagecoach, First and (as seen in our photo) Diamond Bus. It is also popular with small bus companies like Stott’s Tours in Oldham. It is fast, cheap to run, and they look good inside and outside.
After Dennis stopped making the Dennis Dominator, the next models they made were the Dennis Arrow and the Dennis Trident. Later, Dennis bought bodybuilder Alexander and changed the company name to Alexander Dennis. In 2005, the company started making the Enviro400 double decker bus.
In the photograph above, you will find that the bus looks less like a box. It has rounded bits at the front. Like the Dennis Trident that they made before, the Enviro400 is a low-floor bus. As the bodywork is made by the same company as the chassis, it is an integral bus like the Leyland National and MCW Metrobus buses we talked about before. Some Enviro400 buses were made with bodywork by other companies like East Lancashire and Optare.
In 2018, Alexander Dennis stopped making the first type of Enviro400 bus. The next type was the Enviro400MMC. This looks a bit different to the first type of Enviro400 bus. They can run on gas (CNG, Compressed Natural Gas), electric, diesel, or electric and diesel. A bus that uses electricity and diesel is called an Electric Hybrid Bus.
Another type of Enviro400 bus is the Enviro400 City. It looks less like a box than the first Enviro400s with a round roof. You can see them in London in red. Manchester has green ones which only run on electricity. Blackpool has grey and yellow ones which are called Palladium.
- Bodybuilder: the company that made the bus body itself. Sometimes it can be made by the same manufacturer as the chassis of the bus. Bodied means the bus bodywork has been made by another company, like Plaxton, Alexander or Northern Counties.
- Bodywork: the body of the bus itself. The bus bodywork can be made by a different company. For example: a Leyland Atlantean bus body could be made by Park Royal, Northern Counties, Roe or Metro Cammell.
- Chassis: the bottom of the bus. Holds the wheels and has room for the engine.
- Conductor: if a bus needs to be run by two people, the conductor sells tickets and helps people to get on and off the bus. If the bus doesn’t need a conductor, the driver also sells tickets and helps people to get on and off the bus.
- Express route: any bus route that does not call at all bus stops.
- Fleet: means more than one bus, if the operator has two or more buses. A fleet can mean 180 buses in one area, or 650 buses in a bigger area.
- Integral Bus: a bus whose body and chassis is made by the same company. One example is the Leyland National, and another one is the Optare Solo.
- Livery: the colours used on each bus. They might be changed for one bus route (this is called Route Branding).
- Order: means buses that each operator bought.
- PTE: Passenger Transport Executive. Passenger Transport Executives helped to keep buses, trams, and trains running in Birmingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Leeds. They are now called Integrated Transport Authorities and they do not run buses any more. One Integrated Transport Authority is TfGM – which stands for Transport for Greater Manchester.
- Route Branding: a different style of bus livery or colour that is use to advertise one or more than one bus route. One example is the Witch Way, which is the X43 route from Manchester to Burnley. Another one is the Orbits, which Go North West use for the 52 and 53 routes in Failsworth, North Manchester and Old Trafford.
Bye for now…
What is your favourite bus of the ten we talked about today? Do you have any other types of bus you would like to add to the list? You can tell me on here, or ask your mum or dad to tell me what your favourite bus is.
S.V., 17 February 2021.
Dennis Dominator image by Murgatroyd49, 20 April 1998. (Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike).