A visit to Cobus with a Bristol K6A

Last week I undertook another marathon journey to Yorkshire with a bus from the Crosville Motor Services heritage fleet. TD895 (HLJ44) is a 1949 Bristol K6A and she joined Crosville in 2013 but has not been used since then as it was felt she needed some considerable work done to bring her up to the standards required for regular use on private hire work.


So I turned up bright and early on Monday last week to take the K up to Cobus, the bus and coach restorers in Yorkshire where I took Bedford OB MFM39 last year. In the days preceding my journey, Crosville staff had been busy preparing the bus for the long trek north. The interior had been gutted some time before so all the seat frames, poles and panels had been stowed carefully inside. The 6-cylinder AEC engine had been partially rebuilt some months previously so a new set of batteries were fitted and some road tests completed.

The fuel tank had been topped up to the brim so all I needed to do was to carry out my walkaround checks. One curious aspect to this bus is that it has been kept in original condition, even down to the exterior lighting arrangements. While checking the brake lights I saw that there is a single, separate light near the offside tail lamp. When the indicator was checked I saw that there are no separate indicator lights – the tail lamp flashes and there are none at the front at all! Apparently, according to the Construction and Use Regulations, the bus is permitted to carry the lighting arrangements it was built with so it looks like I shall have to brush up on my hand signals just to be safe! Another aspect to this situation was to surface later in the journey but more on that later.

Apart from a short journey from Weston seafront back to the depot last summer, I haven’t driven a Bristol K before so I was looking forward to this journey very much. It soon became clear that it’s very much like a Bristol L to drive. Not surprising, as they have much in common. However, the AEC engine sounds very different and is probably the same unit as fitted to London Transport RT buses. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly to correct me! I soon felt right at home in the cab as I drove out of Weston and towards the M5 motorway. Despite its age, I found everything to be remarkably tight and rattle-free. Someone has done quite a lot of mechanical work I suspect. I found myself comparing the experience with Hants & Dorset 1220 (Bristol FLF DEL893C) which rattled and shook much more than this K which is 16 years older.

Owing to the partial engine rebuild I mentioned earlier I kept my speed under 35mph so that the engine could run-in adequately. I’m sure that, if opened up fully, she could probably do 40+. My progress, as you can imagine, felt painfully slow but I got used to it. I prepared myself to move into the hard shoulder if any artics left it late to pull out from behind me! As well as watching my mirrors like a hawk, I also watched the radiator filler cap in case she started to boil. I had no idea about the condition of the cooling system and how the bus would behave on a long journey but all was well. Apart from a few dribbles at the beginning (it had been filled to the brim) everything settled down nicely.

The miles passed by slowly until lunchtime, when I stopped at Tamworth Services for a break.

HLJ44-Tamworth-ServicesAs you can see, the place was virtually empty and the poor old K looked quite lonely on its own in the coach park! You’ll also see that the previous owner was EnsignBus (Purfleet) who used it occasionally on private hire and at rallies. It’s actually a very historic bus. When new in 1949 it was part of a batch of Bristol Ks ordered by Hants & Dorset but diverted on loan to London Transport to fill a gap in supplies of post war RT types. It stayed on loan for 12 months, during which time it carried a London Transport roundel on the radiator. In 1950 it began service with Hants & Dorset and by all accounts led a relatively ordinary life. It will continue to assume its LT identity as TD895 in Crosville service when the refurbishment is complete.

I topped up the oil and water from containers stored on the platform and dipped the fuel tank. I judged that there wouldn’t be enough to comfortably get me to Cobus so planned another stop later on for fuel. That done, I continued on up the M42, M1 and M18 at a stately 35mph. I always feel a bit vulnerable with a slow bus on the motorway and prefer A-roads if at all possible when en-route to a private hire job but today I had no option. The old Bristol K rumbled on without complaint. My only complaint was a chilly draught that whistled through the cab. The sliding window to my left refused to close completely so I had to sit there wrapped up in a heavy winter coat, flat cap and gloves! Perhaps during the refurbishment the window will be persuaded to close properly.

At Doncaster Services I joined a queue of HGVs at the diesel pumps and enjoyed a cheery conversation with the attendant who thought I was barmy for driving such an old vehicle such a long way north for a makeover! I told him the owner was keen to get some of the best people in the business to do the work and the long journey would be worth it in the end. Having seen at first hand the quality of work done at Cobus I had no doubt at all that this historic bus would get the makeover it deserved.

Confident now that I wouldn’t run out of fuel in the dark somewhere deep in the Yorkshire countryside, I climbed back into the cab for the last leg of the journey. Pretty soon the light faded and I switched on the lights. There was also a lot of salty spray on the road so the single wiper got a lot of use! Finally I left the motorway behind me and it was then that the fun started. With oncoming traffic passing much closer, the headlights glared more brightly through the salty muck so I pulled into a layby and, using a wet rag and a squeegee, cleared away the salty residue. A windscreen washer would have been handy but the bus isn’t fitted with one! The other challenge on the dark, rural roads was that my headlamps were about as powerful as a torch with flat batteries. The bus retains its original spec headlamps and proved that headlamp technology has improved vastly since TD895 was built. In fact I was glad to have traffic following me because I could see much further ahead then!

Something I hadn’t bargained on was that, in the darkness, I could no longer navigate using the route notes on my clipboard. After leaving the brightly lit motorway I had to rely on my memory of the map I’d studied the previous day and use the road signs. All seemed to be going to plan until I hit the outskirts of Bridlington. Turning left at a junction, I left the suburbs behind rather sooner than I expected. Not only that but a roundabout I expected to come to soon after leaving the town didn’t materialise. I became convinced that I’d turned too early and was on the wrong road. It went on for miles without any clues as to where I was and I fully expected to end up in Scarborough eventually. But all of a sudden the roundabout I had been expecting, curiously named ‘Dotterell Roundabout’, hove into view. I let out a huge sigh of relief and pressed on. A couple of minutes later I came to the turning for Hunmanby, just a mile or two from my destination.

At long last I drove my faithful green machine into the industrial estate where the proprietor of Cobus was waiting for me. We chewed the fat for a while over a cup of tea before I left TD895 in his charge. I wondered how long it would be before she would emerge, looking as good as new, ready for me to do the same journey in reverse. I didn’t spend too long wondering because my next task was to walk around the corner to my B&B and devour a huge dinner.

I never cease to be amazed at how rugged and dependable these old machines are. After spending endless months standing idle, TD895 gamely hitched up her skirts and completed a 260 mile trek as if she did it every day. Of course I should also pay tribute to the Crosville workshop staff who rebuilt the engine and prepared the bus so thoroughly. All I did was turn up and drive!

13 comments on “A visit to Cobus with a Bristol K6A

  1. Lee Wardle says:

    Hi! I stumbled across your blog during a monent of insomnia while looking for interior CAB photos of a Routemaster on google. I don’t have a particular interest in vintage busses but anything historical and oily is always interesting!

    Its now 02:24 and have spent a good two hours enjoying your writing. A day in the life made for fun reading as I live in North Devon and working as a field service engineer all over Devon I knew the route (and indeed the fearsome hills) very well.

    You write very well and your blog is a compelling read! I shall check back again very soon.

    All the best


    • busmanjohn says:

      Hello Lee and welcome! I’m glad you found your way here. Did my blog fix your insomnia?

      If you’re near the West Somerset Railway this summer you might see me at the wheel of a green vintage bus. The WSR has hired buses from Crosville in connection with their special events.

  2. MIKE DAN says:

    Great Story John. What an epic journey! Well done to undertake such a journey in wintertime!

  3. davemoore1 says:

    An AEC engine. I thought Bristols only came with Bristol or Gardiner engines.

  4. Roy Hawkes says:

    I bought HLJ 44 in late 1977 from Castlepoint Bus Co. I restored it, rebuilt most of the lower wooden frame and inserts, replaced all the lower panels, rebuilt the N/S indicator box above the platform. It was removed at one time. I fitted a new radiator, new head and side lights were fitted as well as new rear lights. Limited work was done to the interior. After many hours of work it made its debut at the Shillibeer Rally on 8th July 1979. The AEC 7.7 engine always performed well in my ownership and it would have done many miles. A trip to Yorkshire would have been no trouble at all. It would have done over 200 miles virtually each summer weekend going to rallies etc. I had it for 18 years, only selling it owing to cash flow problems at that time. No doubt this fine machine will outlive me.
    Roy Hawkes.

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thank you Roy for your very interesting comment. It’s always good to hear from a former owner so that we can fill in some blanks in the vehicle’s history. Once it has returned from Yorkshire you will no doubt be interested to see some photos of it. I will of course post some here if I’m asked to bring her back myself. Not sure where you live but maybe one day we can reunite you with the bus as you have been such an important part of its past.

      • roy Hawkes says:

        Hi John,
        Just been on this site once more albeit over a year. HLJ has and always will be part of my life, when I bought it in 1976 I spent many hours working on it, when I had its exterior finished I rallied it many times and it always created a lot of interest, especially the London Transport roundal which I made and fitted to the radiator.
        I was just over 13 years old when it was made, so I guess its going to outlive me.

      • busmanjohn says:

        Hello Roy and thanks for your comment. You will see if you look at my latest post that HLJ44 has just returned from re-restoration and looks stunning. It has been kept in its London Transport guise. It would be great to re-unite you with it one day. If you’re ever likely to be in Somerset, just let me know.

  5. Jonboy says:

    A good writer as well as a good driver.

  6. […] notes I always carry in the cab. On previous journeys I’ve delivered a 1950 Bedford OB and a 1949 Bristol K6A to the restoration premises of Cobus in […]

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