Bus love comes to the fore…

I do. Which is odd as conversely, I hate public transport. The public bit primarily, though at the risk of sounding old, buses are all boring these days. Not like the good ol’ days!

That was driven home at the weekend when I visited the Llandudno Transport Festival. An imminent show report in Classic Car Weekly means I’m not going to talk about some aspects of the show, but as it isn’t Classic Bus Weekly, I shall indulge in a light spot of nostalgia and excitement based on shivering masses of metal and pantograph wipers.

As I drove into the site, I almost rear-ended a Mercedes-Benz 380SLC as I caught a glance of a West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE or wumpty) MCW Metrobus. In short, a Birmingham-built bus that along with many hundreds of siblings, formed a key part of my childhood. WMPTE (later West Midlands Travel, then after a multi-million pound rethink Travel West Midlands) built up a huge fleet of Metrobuses, built by Metro Cammell Weymann in Washwood Heath, Birmingham. WMT had 1100 of them in the end and these were the buses that I first saw as a child (along with Daimler Fleetlines and the occasional Volvo Ailsa or Leyland National). It was the bus that took me to secondary school, the bus that brought me home after a night out in Birmingham and the bus that took me to college. The thundering Gardner 6LXB engine, high-pitched transmission scream and the shriek of the gearbox retarder when slowing down became ingrained on my mind. I probably caught my last Metrobus in the mid-1990s, but incredibly they remained in service until 2010. Some of them have since found work elsewhere, so new generations of school children get to experience the same engineering concerto. I bet they don’t even notice it.

Anyway, the point is that the following made me feel all of a quiver.

West Midlands Travel buses

The bus of my youth, and the bus of the previous generation’s youth

Yes, a WMPTE MCW Metrobus! The last thing I expected to see at a North Wales seaside resort was a pair of Birmingham-based (then and now as they belong to the Transport Museum at Wythall near Birmingham) buses – or buzzes as the locals call them.

Best of all, this is a Mk1 Metrobus. In fact, it’s the last of five prototypes used by WMPTE to test for suitability. The Mk1 Metrobus has the unusual assymetrically-split windscreen. London Transport loved the Mk1 so much that MCW kept building them until 1985 just for them, even though the Mk2 had come along in 1982. This bus has been beautifully restored, complete with the vibrant orange seat material and floral interior trim.

West Midlands Travel orange bus seats

Vibrant, that’s for sure

Having had a nice chat with the drive of this bus while it worked its way to the front of the queue of heritage shuttle buses, I found myself first to find a seat. Naturally I headed to my favourite MCW Metrobus pew – the first raised seat on the nearside. You get to lord it over the ‘plebs’ in front of you, and you get quite a good view of what the driver is doing. Not that there’s much to do in an MCW Metrobus. The driver takes off the handbrake, which also puts the bus in gear. There is a button to press to go backwards and a steering wheel to make it change direction. That’s pretty much it.

Modern buses are far too clinical and quiet. A Metrobus vibrates so you feel the engine as much as hear it. It creates a vast range of noises which are all equally enchanting.

Anyway. I had a marvellous day riding around on the shuttle buses as well as compiling my report for a certain weekly classic car newspaper. Actually, after driving three hours north, spending nine hours gathering over 1000 photos and then driving three hours home, I was absolutely exhausted. It was  a worthwhile trip though, to a great event at a simply stunning location. If you’ve not been to Llandudno, you really must visit. Time it for the Llandudno Transport Festival and you can even enjoy a few free bus trips!


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