So, the cat is out of the bag. English Riviera Sightseeing Tours has acquired Bristol LH replica Charabanc TR6147.
The deal was done back in April but, until the new Sightseeing Tours livery was applied, the vehicle was effectly ‘under wraps’ and news of its arrival was embargoed as far as Busman’s Holiday was concerned!
TR6147 was previously owned by Wheels of Nuneaton but its owner Ashley Wakelin wanted to scale down his operation and put the bus up for sale. It was delivered wearing its Midland Red livery, similar to several other vehicles in the erstwhile Wheels fleet.
This photo was taken during the journey up to Exeter for repainting. This was my first attempt at driving the charabanc and it was a baptism of fire, I can tell you! But first we need to do a bit of digging into the history of this rather bizarre vehicle.
TR6147 actually began life with Hants & Dorset as a standard ECW-bodied Bristol LH6L bus, registered NLJ516M, in 1973. This photo of sister bus NLJ517M shows what it would have looked like shortly after delivery. After a comparatively short service life it was taken into the H&D workshops at Barton Park, Eastleigh (near Southampton) and rebuilt with a replica charabanc body, emerging in 1982. Legend has it that several parts from a 1929-built vehicle were incorporated. Certainly the registration number TR6147 was originally carried by a 1929 all-Leyland Lion PLSC3 but this bus is recorded as having been scrapped in 1943. Here is an interesting photo of the charabanc body being built at Eastleigh. All that remains of the Bristol LH is the chassis, including the Leyland O.401 6-cylinder diesel engine and 5-speed manual gearbox. The bus can carry 25 people, accommodated on deeply padded ‘leather’ seats.
The replica charabanc was used by Hants & Dorset at rallies and for private hire and subsequently passed through several owners including Shamrock & Rambler and Arriva before joining Ashley’s well known Midland Red Coaches/Wheels of Nuneaton fleet.
The journey to Exeter didn’t require me to use 1st (crawler) gear, which is just as well because engaging 1st or reverse is something of an art. Fortunately for us, Ashley Wakelin had kindly come down from Nuneaton at his own expense the day after it was delivered to show us around the bus and had demonstrated some of its quirks for us.
The driving position took some getting used to. I’m more familiar with the forward control position found in most half cab buses but in this bus it has been set back behind the front wheels. A huge expanse of bonnet stretches out in front of the driver which makes judging one’s position when in tight spaces a bit tricky. The driver now sits directly above the engine (still in its original position under the LH’s floor) and the experience is noisy! I was curious to see how fast it would go so, while motoring along on the A38 dual carriageway towards Exeter I put my foot down. The tacho showed around 55mph! That’s an undignified speed for a charabanc (it also led to a bout of overheating) so I eased off and completed the rest of the journey at a more reasonable 35mph or so.
After several weeks in the paintshop, during which all previous paint layers were removed and all dents and dinks filled, TR6147 emerged resplendent in Sightseeing Tours livery of maroon, mustard and cream to match the company’s 1947 Leyland PD2/3. I had earlier sat with the new owner at my computer and designed the new livery and I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out.
Finally, last week the fleetnames and legal lettering were added before the bus was taken for a thorough clean. This photo was taken beside the Princess Theatre, Torquay on the day that signwriting was completed.
All that remains to be done before Charlie (not my doing, the name came with the bus) can come out to play is to make some changes to the PA system so that our Tour Guides can deliver their commentaries.
Initially the charabanc will run occasional tours from Torquay harbourside in place of the PD2 but there are also plans for it to run its own tours from Torbay Road, Paignton.
It will be interesting to see how it copes with a full load on Torquay’s notorious hills so a future post on Busman’s Holiday will bring news of its first outing with paying passengers. It has already attracted many admiring glances and even private hire bookings and I’m quite sure that it will be a hit with holidaymakers in Torbay. It may not be my favourite bus to look at (I’m a bit of a purist at heart) or to drive (a Bristol LH was not especially popular with drivers, even when new) but it will be fun all the same!