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.
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.