OMG bus excitement!

I had a nice day yesterday, full of lovely bus action. Here follows my report. EDIT – video now at the end!

I arrived at Wythall in good time, thanks to the hurtling capabilities of the S-MX. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate Transport Museum Wythall’s commemoration of the day the buses of Brum passed from WMPTE – the West Midlands Passenger Transport Excutive – to West Midlands Travel 30 years ago. After all, I was just a child back then, and this would be one of the biggest gatherings of the buses from my childhood ever seen. Not just seen of course, but also heard and experienced, as many of them would be out doing trips. Wow.

You know it’s going to be a good day when the car park looks like this. A Rover 75 in my favourite colour, next to a beige Morris Ital.

Rover 75 and Morris Ital

Rover 75 and Morris Ital – not a bad start!

I used to work in that large office block in the background, about 16 years ago. It wasn’t just the buses that formed part of this nostalgia trip, but also the location – just a mile or so from where I went to secondary school.

First bus, a fitting Fleetline.

First bus, a fitting Fleetline.

I ignored a waiting Optare Spectra, because it didn’t relate to my nostalgia trip. They came into service after I had my first car, so didn’t really figure on my radar. No, better to wait for something a bit more suitable. This Daimler Fleetline certainly delivered! Birmingham City Transport built up a huge fleet of (ahem) Fleetlines, fitting most with near-identical bodywork by the local Metro-Cammell Works or Park Royal. Things got muddied a little later in the Fleetline’s life, with some badged as Leyland, at the same time as Leyland’s own Atlantean. BCT took both in the end, with the last Fleetline only coming out of service in 1997 – not bad for buses approaching 20 years old.

I hopped aboard and grabbed my favourite pew – right above the passenger front wheel. I loved sitting here as a child, as it gave a perfect view of the driver. How I delighted in watching the snick of the semi-automatic transmission’s gearlever and the frantic wheel twirling for bends. My mother liked this seat rather less, as it left her feet dangling in the air…

Best view ever.

Best view ever.

Things were pretty special on arrival too, with a pair of MCW Metrobuses greeting visitors.

A pair of West Midlands Travel Metrobuses.

A pair of West Midlands Travel Metrobuses.

If anything, the Metrobus is even more the bus of my childhood than the Fleetlines. The first West Midlands Metrobus went into service in 1978, the year of my birth – WDA on the right here is one of those first five prototypes. These Mk1s were always my favourite, as I loved the asymmetric windscreen. So did London Transport, who specified this style well into 1985. Not WMPTE though, who moved to the MkII specification (left) in 1982.

I remember seeing this very often as a child.

I remember seeing this recovery truck very often as a child. Now in defunct North Birmingham Busways trim.

This recovery truck is another reminder of my childhood, as I often saw it parked up at the Digbeth depot. The poor thing never seemed to move, though I assume it did when needed. It’s actually an AEC Matador, new in 1943, became a recovery truck in the Midlands in 1947, but was rebodied with bus leftovers in 1962 – courtesy of BMMO, Midland Red’s own in-house bus company. It had many stints at Digbeth over the years, before passing to North Birmingham Busways in 1997 – whose colours it still wears. I like North Birmingham Busways as, before they ceased operations, they let me drive their Atlantean and National 2. When they stopped trading, the Matador passed into preversation. I’m glad it survives.

Back to the buses.

Cor! What a line-up!

Cor! What a line-up!

Yes, that’s TWO Volvo Ailsas, as well as a mixed bag of Fleetlines and a Metrobus. The Volvo Ailsa was a bit of an oddity on the WMPTE fleet, with its unusual Alexander bodywork and even more unusual layout. A 6.7-litre turbocharged engine is squeezed between the driver and the passengers, so it’s a flat-fronted, front-engined bus. On the left is TOE, which is the original prototype demonstrator. JOV is one of the batch of 50 that WMPTE bought in 1976. I have a distinct memory of catching one of these as a small child in the 1980s, but it wasn’t a bus I encountered very much. They left WMT service in 1987.

What really marks out the Ailsa is the fantastic noise they make. An ususual belt layout means they shriek in a most ridiculous manner! When TOE rolled out for its first run, there was a huge queue waiting! I was glad to be able to get on board. There will be video footage at some point.

A rather different scale - Transit bus.

A rather different scale – Transit bus.

I don’t remember seeing these Transits as a child, but always loved this ‘parcel van’ style, with its enormous wipers. It doesn’t seem an ideal choice of bus, but remained in service for a good ten years it seems.

The beast! Legendary 56.

The beast! Legendary 56.

And now for something completely different! Walsall 56 is a quite remarkable Daimler Fleetline, built to the most bizarre specification. It has a V6 Cummins engine, mounted immediately behind the offside rear wheel. Its 36-foot long body (by Northern Counties) seats 86, even with two staircases and two doors – front and rear. The noise it makes is quite ridiculous, and it was apparently notoriously unreliable in service. Walsall Corporation had always gone its own way, but that came to an end after this bus, as the corporation was drawn into WMPTE. By 1975, this 1969 bus had been sold on. It only returned to the road last year after a lengthy overhaul. The time had come to indulge in more rides out. Here’s a nice moment.

Stepping back into the past!

Stepping back into the past!

That’s a Foden recovery truck passing MCW Metrobus 3057. This beautifully restored Metrobus is painted as it would have been originally, in WMT’s rare silver over blue. It was only in use for a couple of years, before being redesigned along the lines of what you see on the Foden – more blue, and a larger red stripe. The Metrobus is one of the Mk3 specification, delivered (I think) on E, F and G plates. The stand-out features were larger wiper blades, a larger desination box at the front, an orange section on the grab handle by the doors, and an enclosed rear number plate. I think the upper emergency exit was a larger design too.

These were the last Metrobuses of WMT’s considerable fleet. What replaced them around my way was the Scania N113, with Alexander bodywork. I would have liked to see one at this event, but it was not to be. Nor was there a Leyland Lynx – I remember these thundering past my house on the 18 route.

Where did the upper deck go?

Where did the upper deck go?

Here’s an unusual single-decker though, one that began life as a double-decker. This Fleetline was new in 1978, and so one of the last. In 1994, it had the upper deck removed and was converted to single-deck format, complete with aerodynamic appendages! It was done to investigate whether converting these buses could save money – the drivers could be paid less. At £25,000 for the conversion, it would have needed a lot of saving! It seems wage changes also rendered this a magnificent white elephant – note that the lights were converted to these standardised items at the same time.

I first saw this bus not long after passing my test, so probably 1995-1996, at Robin Hood roundabout in Hall Green. I did a proper double-take!

Ah, the lovely National.

Ah, the lovely National.

Leyland Nationals are another key bus from my youth, as they are for many people. They were everywhere! I’d often catch a Midland Red West National on my way to school. How nice it was to ride on a bus from that time, on the same road – with the cackling engine and crashy ride. Giovanni Michelotti blessed the National with some actual style, and I always loved the pod on top of the roof at the back – not visible in this shot. Caves Buses, who also transported me to and from school, built up quite a fleet of Nationals, and the buses that took me home from school would later be taking me home from nightclubs, with the same poor drivers!

Next generation National

Next generation National

I can’t recall riding much on National 2s, but I definitely remember the much gruffer engine note they had. I enjoyed my ride on this one very much indeed. You can see the rear pod clearly on this one, and the notably longer nose, which now houses the radiator.

There were many other delicious bus moments, but I should probably stop there before you all go to sleep. So, I had one last brew and then hopped aboard the Spectra.


Last ride, aboard the Optare Specta

As R1 NEG entered service in 1998, it was well into my car-owning years. To think, just one year separated this bus from the Daimler Fleetlines in operation with (what was now) Travel West Midlands! The Spectra used DAF underpinnings, and it truly is a world away from the Fleetlines in terms of comfort, noise and pace. It has genuine low-floor capability too, the first double decker in the UK to offer such a feature (though this was not quite the first Spectra so-equipped to enter service). There was just time for one more photo before I headed home. What a fantastic day out.

S-MX and Fleetline. Hometime!

S-MX and Fleetline. Hometime!

3 thoughts on “OMG bus excitement!

  1. Thanks for an interesting article Ian. That single decker Fleetline really is bizarre. This brought back memories as for five years during the eighties I was a bus driver in London and Surrey. The Metrobus was a bit of a handful to drive smoothly with its rather strange and unpredictable brakes, the Atlantean on the other hand had really wayward steering and an awful ride. The National was a bit like some modern cars with its very firm ride. The engine was truly raucous. I also drove mid-engined Volvos but the newer Citibuses and 40 foot long B10M”s which were superb, with a comfortable driving position, a level ride and plenty of power although as you noted, the engine made a lot of noise right behind you. I don’t know whether you had Leyland Olympians in Birmingham but in semi-automatic form, they were my favourites. Smooth, comfortable and with great handling for such a big vehicle. More modern buses seem to be less comfortable, with lurching brakes, jerkey gearchanges and less character.

    • We never had Olympians, just the one Titan – which was there yesterday. There will be some footage of that in my video of the day once I manage to edit that together.

  2. iirc R1 & R2NEG were demonstators (that stayed) and were lower than the spectras that actually entered sevice in birminghamshire
    there is also a fleetline that was made as a single which looks a bit more cohesive than that one- one of them is nicknamed Hovis!

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