WNO480 goes to Torquay

1953 Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480 is now enjoying a new career down on the sunny English Riviera. Or is it?

After its sale by the owner of Crosville Motor Services I recently drove this bus down to Torquay which, until last year, was my home patch. In many ways WNO is more suited to English Riviera Sightseeing Tours than it was to its former Weston-super-Mare owner, where it never really found any proper work to do.

The bus arrived needing work done to its dynamo and this was duly carried out last year. Accident damage to the front nearside mudguard was also fettled but, after a brief appearance at the Crosville bus rally in September, it remained idle in the garage. Crosville already has two other active open top buses (both visible in the photo above) and there just wasn’t enough work to sustain yet another, albeit more historic, open top bus. Hence the decision to sell.

In the photo above WNO480 is seen being prepared for the journey south with trade plates displayed and carrying a generous supply of water under the stairs! To the left of the KSW is ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P. It was also being prepared for a long journey, this time northwards for MOT work. Unusually, the KSW has a 12 volt electrical system with just one enormous 12 volt battery under the floor instead of the usual two. The battery had been on charge the previous day as months of idleness had taken their toll.

Mrs Busman John had decided to follow me on this occasion, not only to transport me home to Weston later but also to visit some friends before we left. True to form, she had to hold back as we drove out of the estate. WNO, in common with most Gardner-powered vehicles, was emitting clouds of blue/white smoke from the exhaust but this cleared as the 5-cylinder engine warmed up. This particular 5LW engine sounds rather nasal and raucous due to having large mesh gauze covering the ports where an air filter would normally be fitted. I don’t know why this was done – a previous owner is responsible for this modification!

I had forgotten how juddery the clutch was. Normal practice is to start away in 2nd gear but I soon began to use 1st gear, quickly snatch-changing up to 2nd. It was also apparent that there was not much wear left on the clutch plate as the bite point was very near the top of the pedal travel.

The journey south was sedate. With four forward gears at my disposal WNO just managed 35mph on the motorway, flat out. We stopped at Taunton Services, partly for a break from the racket in the cab but also to check the radiator. I topped it up from the large can under the stairs but only managed to put a couple of litres in, if that. No leaks then!

Only the steep and testing ascent of Telegraph Hill caused WNO to break into a sweat. Crawling up in 2nd gear the engine began to get hot and steam started to escape from the radiator cap. At the top, when the engine revs fell as I changed up to 3rd, the wisps of steam turned briefly into a cascade of boiling water before calming down again with higher revs and increasing forward speed. From there on it was plain sailing and pretty soon we were back in familiar territory. I’m used to driving an open top bus in Torquay but it was still a bit odd to be driving a crash box Bristol.

My old Sightseeing Tour colleagues were on hand to welcome the new arrival and to catch up with me, their much missed lead driver (apparently). After a spot of lunch I offered to take the new owner, who had bought the bus unseen, for a spin round the block. He admitted I made it look easy, especially when he had had a go himself while I was eating lunch and played a jolly tune with the gears instead of meshing them nicely! Later on I did the same but with one of the other drivers on board.

My final task was to drive WNO out of town to a remote storage location where it would remain until the sightseeing season began. In a strange deja vu moment, I was confronted by not one but two of my former steeds; the Sightseeing Tours 1947 Leyland PD2/3 FFY403 (needing extensive upper deck floor repairs and a new clutch) and also the Greenway Ferry 1947 Leyland PS1 AHL694, at one time the regular tourist bus to Agatha Christie’s Greenway House, still awaiting a new owner.

Postscript

Less than a week after delivery to Torquay, WNO480 was up for sale again. You might well ask why. I haven’t heard directly but, reading between the lines of the “change of business plans” official statement I think I can see “crash gearbox” written very small.

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14 comments on “WNO480 goes to Torquay

  1. John Walker says:

    Fascinating reading. Most old accounts I’ve read about K types say they were very pleasant vehicles to drive, apart from heavy steering. 5 cylinder engined buses seem to have been the choice of operators with relatively flat operating territories, and they were virtually unheard of here in Scotland where 6 cylinder engines were standard.

    Worked with a guy who drove Bristol engined (6 cylinder) Lodekkas with United Counties, and remembered K types in the days before they decided the village of Milton Keynes was to be promoted to a “city”.

    With regard to clutches I’ve heard of Lodekkas routinely requiring clutch replacement after about 6 weeks, or even less, when they were used exclusively in urban areas such as ours were. Never had one boiling up, but one or two guys had the misfortune to stop the batch of 5 speed Lodekkas we got from United Automobile when the bus was in “booster” 5th gear, as it was called in Scotland. They thought the bus was in 3rd, and the only cure was to get a tow with the breakdown truck until sufficient road speed was obtained for 5th to be de-selected. Great fun. Most drivers used the technique of holding the gear lever in 4th position with their left knees. Problem was most of our Lodekkas were 4 speed, and it was easy to forget.

    35 mph was about normal for our 4 speed Lodekkas, all of which had Gardner 6 cylinder engines. The 5 speed models with the same engines got near to 40 mph, but not quite.

    Love all this nostalgic stuff. Keep it up!

  2. Alan says:

    As time goes on the number of drivers who can use a crash box correctly will decline.I passed my test orginally on an RMA but then on an LD to get a manual licence. I’d had a few goes on a Guy Arab belonging to Verwood Transport and then on the LD. After that driving Devon General Regent III and IV’s was easy peasy and the only manual Bristol I ever drove again was an LL5G but also numerous semi RE’s and even a semi auto FLF.
    I love your reference to Telegraph Hill; I have driven a few Reliances and Regent V’s up there; wow does it feel steep when when u have a 470 alongisde!
    Keep up your great blogs and I hope you can find plenty of driving to do; all I get in Hertfordshire is the occasional RML or RF or more recently Vario’s………………….nuff said

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thank you for your comment Alan. Yes, it was odd to be driving back in Torquay again, knowing that I don’t live there any more!

      Plenty more driving in the pipeline fortunately. The wedding season is just starting and I’ll be out and about with Lodekkas and Bristol L buses most weekends.

  3. David Gibbs says:

    Hi John

    I’ve been interested to stumble upon your posts and share your experiences. Shame Crosville closed after making the upheaval but I hope the vintage side remains successful.

    That is in part why I’m getting in touch. I’ve driven for some years as a (very occasional) casual driver, including at some rallies in Bristol area. Last year I did the daft thing and bought myself a Bristol VR which I wanted to save because it was one of only two remaining which have a Leyland 0.680 block at the back.

    All was fine until a month or so when horrible noises started and I limped back to the depot. The bad news is the the gearbox mountings have failed, not an inconsiderable job, but worse still I’m having problems finding anyone who can take it on.

    I’ve tried David Hoare at Chepstow Classic and whilst he thinks he can do it technically he’s not in a position to look at it any time soon. So I read with interest that your open top vr had been sent away for pre MOT work and I wonder if you’d be kind enough to tell me where she went in case this might be a lead worth following?

    I’m also trying to get redundancy after 32 years with the same firm and if I was successful I’d love to do some casual vintage bus driving. I passed on a queen Mary PD3many moons ago..

    Regards

    David Gibbs

    Sent from my iPad

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thanks for your comment David. You could try Martyn Hearson at Reliance Bus Works in Stoke-on-Trent. He works on several of our buses, including the VR.

      I am always looking for part time heritage drivers so please do let me know if you want to come down and have a go.

  4. Ken Jones says:

    WNO 480 was relisted on Ebay at a reduced price and the one bid didn’t meet the reserve price. However I understand that it now has been sold privately

  5. Ray Bounsall says:

    Hi John,
    I trust all is well with you and Crosville. It’s unlike you, but a private email to you has gone unanswered.
    Also missing your terrific blog!
    Cheers
    Ray (Melbourne)

    • busmanjohn says:

      Hello Ray, all is well thanks although I’m mega busy with driving duties. However, there have been big changes. You’ll have to wait for the details!

      I’m also having internet problems which is another reason why it’s gone quiet this end. Cheers, John.

  6. Ken Jones says:

    Hi John – I understand you are to be the new MD of the Crosville Heritage Fleet as well as transport manager – that’s a lot of responsibility and we all wish you every success

    • busmanjohn says:

      No, I’m afraid that’s incorrect. I was never Transport Manager, I just looked after the heritage fleet operations.

      Now that Crosville has ceased trading I’m not even that anymore!

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