I’m not known for running marathons but this week’s epic trip up to Yorkshire with ‘Bosworth’ the Bedford certainly felt like one.
I was offered the chance to drive Crosville SL71 (MFM39) from the present day Crosville garage in Weston-super-Mare up to Cobus, whose restoration premises are near Bridlington, Yorkshire. How could I refuse? The round trip would take 2 days so I packed a toothbrush and set off early on Monday.
I found the Bedford OB, which I had driven on wedding duties a couple of times before, parked up in the garage along with the rest of the heritage fleet. Unfortunately one of them, a Hants & Dorset FLF, was blocking the OB in so I climbed into the FLF’s cab to move it. Even more unfortunately it wouldn’t start. In fact there was no electrical power at all, the batteries having been run flat. Anyway, it took three of us leaning heavily on the front cowl to move it out of the way.
With a clear exit now, I drove the OB out of the garage where I completed my checks. The first stop of course was the filling station for petrol. I didn’t know how far I would get before needing to top up again but it was essential to leave with a full tank. I had taken the precaution of putting a handy piece of metal in the OB’s boot with which to dip the tank on the journey so I could see how much fuel was being used.
It was good to be driving the old girl (or is ‘Bosworth’ a boy?) again. I suppose it’s a bit like getting re-acquainted with an aged maiden aunt. The OB is a lot older than me and needs to be treated with plenty of respect! Together we headed out of town and onto the northbound M5.
Passing Bristol I began to notice a slight roughness in the engine note. My senses were heightened, listening out for any further signs of trouble. We motored on at just over 40mph. Meeting a long gradient in the Gloucester area caused the speed to drop away and I had to change down to 3rd gear. The roughness became a distinct misfire while climbing but evened out once we were on the level. I kept an eye on the water temperature and the oil pressure, the only 2 instruments that could alert me to any serious trouble beneath the shapely bonnet. The gauges showed normal readings, thankfully.
By the time we were passing Birmingham I was needing a break so we pulled into Tamworth Services. I allowed the engine to cool a bit while I ate some food and had a coffee. Taking one of the sides off the bonnet, I checked the plug leads. I could only reach the front three easily but they were firmly attached. I did spot a stray screw which had fallen onto the distributor cap and was jammed between two of the HT leads so I removed that in case it had been causing some shorting. Nothing else seemed to be visibly amiss so I put the side cover back on and we resumed our journey. The roughness was still there but I carried on northwards, prepared to pull over if it got worse.
Following my list of bullet-point directions, I continued on via the M42 and M18 to Doncaster, where I had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express, just a short distance from the M18. On the way I passed tourist signs for ‘The Battle of Bosworth’, which is an area in which the Bedford once operated after disposal by Crosville and from which the coach gets its nickname. After checking in I went for a walk, both to stretch my legs and to find some signal for my phone. There didn’t seem to be any within the hotel! I sent a message back to the garage alerting them to the misfiring engine and we agreed to ask the folks at Cobus to look into it while they were working on the vehicle.
After a hearty meal and a good rest I was up early the next morning to prepare the OB for the last leg of the trip. Wanting to give the mechanics as much info as possible I waited until the engine was reasonably warm and tried to indentify which cylinder was causing the trouble, hoping that it was one of the front three!
One by one I removed the spark plug leads, noting the change in engine sound. It seemed that No 1 cylinder was the poorly one as the engine note hardly changed at all when I removed its lead but I could hear the spark jumping the gap as I brought the sleeved connector near to the end of the sparking plug. By now it was obvious that I would have to nurse the OB along on 5 cylinders and that the fault was probably something like a stuck or burnt valve.
The weather was dull and foggy for the next 50 miles or so as we headed up towards York. Thankfully, much of this vast county is quite flat (apart from the Yorkshire Dales of course) so it was only once or twice that the poor OB got out of breath on a hill. I had dipped the fuel tank several times and it was getting low by the time we had passed York so, seeing signs for fuel and service facilities, I turned off the A64 and drove into Malton. I didn’t pass a petrol station on the way in so I stopped beside a council chap who was picking up litter, hauled on the big lever next to the handbrake to open the door and shouted to get his attention. He gave me directions to the town’s only filling station, which meant driving out of town and back in again along another road.
With a full tank once more I followed the signs for A64 Scarborough. Trouble is, one of them had been swung around on its post by one of the local wags, meaning that I went completely the wrong way. Curses! After consulting the map on my phone I eventually found the right road and completed the rest of the journey without incident.
Arriving in Hunmanby just after 12 noon, I parked the OB in the Cobus yard (see photo at the top of this post) and breathed a huge sigh of relief. My biggest worry, apart from possibly getting lost, was that the engine might suffer further damage due to the misfiring and expire altogether. Obviously the 3500cc Bedford unit is made of sterner stuff. I met the proprietor, Steve Waggitt and he kindly showed me round the various workshops. Cobus has an enviable reputation for restoring heritage buses and coaches to an extremely high standard so I was interested to see how they do it. There are a couple of very long term projects under way, one of them is a Bedford OB/Vista like the one I had been driving and the other is a rare Austin K2 coach. This is undergoing a wheels-up restoration, no expense spared. Although nowhere near finished, I could tell that it will be in mint condition when it’s done. Much of the metalwork, both inside and out, has been replaced. Cobus have their own shaping machinery in-house and the complex curves on the Austin were perfect.
Steve is understandably proud of the work his craftsmen carry out on these vehicles, ensuring that they are as structurally sound as the day they left the factory and with a quality of finish that would win the Concours prize at any motor show! I’m looking forward to seeing Bosworth again with his new paint job.
I was given a lift to Bridlington railway station by one of Steve’s joiners, a young chap who has forsaken the stress of bespoke kitchens to join the band of merry men who are giving historic passenger vehicles a new lease of life. I can understand why he finds it so rewarding!
A new adventure begins tomorrow as I start working for Greenway Ferry, driving their 1947 Leyland PS1 to Agatha Christie’s Greenway House.