Way back in sunny May I paid a return visit to Torbay and met up with my friends at English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. I spent the day driving their open top Leyland PD2 and also met their newest acquisition, a Dennis Toastrack Bus.
Needless to say, the folks there were delighted to have me back, if only for a day. Apparently my gentle driving style has been sorely missed! It was great to be in the driving seat of FFY403 once again and to hear the banter and gags of my tour guide ‘Wayne Champagne’ as we trundled around the tour route.
Since I last drove it, the PD2 had undergone some engine repairs, the fuel pump and injectors getting particular attention. Those with long memories will remember that my only disppointment with driving the PD2 was its excessively high idle speed. Usually a Leyland O.600 engine will tick over very slowly without doing any harm, sometimes with a little ‘hunting’ too. But on FFY the idle speed used to be so high that I had to de-clutch far sooner than normal when rolling to a stop. I seemed to have to coast for ages with my foot on the clutch before stopping.
Anyway, having refurbished the pump and replaced a split rubber diaphragm, the idle speed could be brought right down so driving it again this year brought great satisfaction. At long last I was able to hear the engine idling normally. Why couldn’t this work have been done when I was a regular driver?!
Wayne couldn’t resist bringing out one of his favourite gags in my honour as we passed through Paignton during the afternoon tour. As we approached Manor Corner on the return to Torquay, we were about to pass the Paignton Spiritualist Church. “I have some late breaking news for you, folks,” piped up Wayne. “This evening’s clairvoyance meeting at the Spiritualist Church has been cancelled,” he continued with barely suppressed giggles, “due to unforeseen circumstances!” Gales of laughter from the saloon behind me followed by “It’s not my fault, ladies and gentlemen, that one was especially for our driver John!” from Wayne. He knows that I’m a churchgoer (though not a Spiritualist) and likes to trot that one out for my benefit, although I doubt that Spiritualists can look into the future any more than I can.
After returning and parking up the PD2 in its space beside Torquay railway station, I was persuaded to stay awhile and sample the delights of the little Dennis toastrack bus . This is quite diminutive when parked next to the Bristol LH ‘charabanc’ conversion (TR6147). However, unlike the LH, the Dennis is entirely genuine and mostly original. Giving it a once-over, it seems presentable but tired. The seats need re-trimming and the paintwork could do with freshening up.
Ironically, it spent many years operating in Whitby alongside Sentinel Steam Bus ‘Elizabeth’, which is now owned by Jonathan Jones-Pratt. ‘Elizabeth’ has been mentioned many times in ‘Busman’s Holiday’ and I last saw it in steam in September.
The eventual purpose of the Dennis has yet to be decided but the owner thinks it would make an ideal vehicle to make short trips up the leafy lane to picturesque Cockington.
1929 Dennis GL (CC9424) carries a Roberts toastrack body and retains an original Dennis 4-cylinder petrol engine. It also retains the footpedal arrangement that was common in the 1930s, clutch on the left, accelerator in the middle and footbrake on the right. Both handbrake and gate-change gearstick are to the right of the pedals. I was invited to take the Dennis out for a spin and couldn’t resist the offer. Apart from taking particular care with the centre accelerator, it was quite easy to drive and my normal double de-clutch technique served me well. The petrol engine is a lot smaller and lighter than the Gardner lumps that I’m used to so the pause in between gear changes was not so long. With the proud owner beside me, we did a few laps of the seafront in Torquay, using the wonderful klaxon horn at appropriate moments! The only difficulty I found was that fourth gear was very worn and jumped into neutral as soon as I let go of the gearstick. Even if I held it in place with a fair amount of pressure it fell out again with a nasty grinding of its teeth when under load. Apart from that, it made a lovely noise and I would have loved to be its regular driver if I was still living in the area.
Well, that’s it for another year. Merry Christmas to all my readers and I hope that 2019 will be happy and peaceful.