When a friend asks you if you could help move an assortment of heritage buses between two locations and you haven’t driven a half-cab bus for several months, what would you say?
Well, ‘yes’, of course! And so I did, with barely concealed excitement. A couple of days ago I spent a happy afternoon driving and shunting a variety of buses (and one coach) in preparation for what we all hope is a busy few months with private hire jobs for Crosville Vintage.
As I arrived at the location where some of the buses are stored I saw a Bristol L coach on a low-loader so I spent a few minutes inspecting it. A recent acquisition by private collector Jonathan Jones-Pratt, LTA895 (1266 in the Southern National/Royal Blue fleet) is a 1951 Bristol LL6B with a shapely Duple 37-seat body. Although complete, the brush-painted bodywork looks rather tired so it is going off for a thorough re-restoration. I was unable to view the interior but I suspect that it too will need some TLC. As the designation LL6B suggests, this elegant coach retains its Bristol 6-cylinder engine and I look forward to driving it one day. I’m rather fond of the melodious Bristol gearbox fitted to 6-cylinder engines. The ‘box fitted to Gardner 5-cylinder engines is not so tuneful, in my opinion.
But my first drive was a Leyland PD2, added to the Crosville fleet last year along with a PS1, of which more later. I’m quite familiar with the PD2 marque, having driven one regularly on sightseeing tours for several seasons in Torbay. This one, a 1967-built PD2/40 with Neepsend bodywork, was originally No 65 in the Stockport Corporation fleet in whose livery it remains today.
For many years it was a mainstay of the Quantock Motor Services heritage fleet but has now moved to Weston-super-Mare and is now one of four heritage vehicles in the active private hire fleet of Crosville Vintage.
Once in the cab, it felt a very familiar place and the slow tickover sound of the Leyland O.600 diesel engine next to me was very comforting. The 7-mile drive to the Crosville operating base, just outside Weston-super-Mare, was long enough for me to reacquaint myself with the 50/50 gearbox. By that I mean that it’s a manual 4-speed ‘box with synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears but not on 1st and 2nd. So, to move between 1st and second, as well as down from 3rd, I had to use my trusty-but-rusty double-declutch technique.
Manoevering into the industrial unit which serves as an operational base for the private hire fleet was tiring. The steering on a PD2 is normally heavier than its Bristol counterparts but this was compounded by the fact that my arms are not as fit as they used to be. Several years of power-assisted coach driving has spoiled me!
Next up was Bedford OB coach MFM39, formerly Crosville SL71. This 1951 coach has 29-seat Duple ‘A’ bodywork, almost standard for this chassis. I last drove this coach in September 2019 when the 3-litre 6-cylinder petrol engine was rather poorly. No work has been done on it thus far so I wasn’t relishing this particular journey due to its reluctance to idle properly. Once it was running I had to keep the choke out (remember those?) for quite a while otherwise the engine just spluttered and died. Recalling an earlier occasion when it did this on a roundabout and refused to start again due to low battery charge, I fought to keep it going throughout the journey by jiggling the choke and blipping the throttle. Even so, it died a couple of times but restarted OK. Dealing with the crash gearbox was the least of my worries so, as you can imagine, I was mightily relieved when the OB was safely parked at journey’s end!
Fortunately this coach won’t be used for private hire duties in its current state. The engine is basically OK – it just needs tuning. The ignition timing needs to be checked and adjusted and the fuel/air mixture also. Well, that’s my theory anyway!
To fit the aforementioned vehicles into the shed we had to move a couple of current residents out of the way, hence the photo at the top of this page. Crosville DFG81 (1961 Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) has featured on these pages many times before but, as you can see, it has recently benefitted from a repaint and a thorough mechanical overhaul. I particularly like the period advertising.
Parked behind the FSF in the top photo is RM1001 (1CLT), unmistakeably a London Transport Routemaster. This shunting exercise was actually my first drive of an RM and I wondered how it would compare with the RTs that I’ve already driven. My first impression was how light the steering was, thanks to power assistance. This was revolutionary when the type was introduced in 1956 and, to someone like me who has never had such a luxury in a half cab bus, is still revolutionary! The gearchange unit is on the steering column like its predecessor the RT but, whereas the RT has a pre-selective gearbox, the RM has a semi-automatic gearbox and fluid flywheel similar to that in a Leyland Atlantean or Bristol VRT. I only used first and reverse on this occasion so I look forward to driving this iconic bus on a decent journey. The quiet but purposeful rumble of the AEC AV590 9.6 litre engine was very evocative of the RM – I could listen to it all day long!
After being ferried back across town, my final drive of the day was LFM320, a Leyland Tiger PS1/1 single deck bus with a Weymann body and delivered new to Crosville Motor Services as its fleet no KA244 in 1950. This received its current livery in 2015 and still looks very smart. It needed a little persuasion to start from the booster pack after many months of inactivity but the Leyland E181 engine soon settled down to its charactistic slow idle. I was pleased to note that there was very little of the hunting (gently occillating rhythm) often associated with Leyland diesel engines when idling.
The PS1 has a full crash gearbox so I tested my double-declutch skills as I drove through the residential areas of Weston-super-Mare. It was actually a delight to drive and, to begin with anyway, I enjoyed the short trip. Until, that is, I noticed the owner following directly behind me in his pickup! On my other two trips he had followed me, but a few minutes later. It’s funny how one’s attention to detail goes up a gear when you have other drivers on board or, in this case, the owner of the bus studying your roadcraft from a few feet away! The photo was taken by Ben Beaver in Minehead a couple of years ago and is used here with permission.
By the time the PS1 was parked up and the garage door closed it was getting on for 18:00, a good afternoon’s work!
In other news, I’ve had no other driving work during the school Easter break because Bakers Dolphin, in common with most other coach operators in the UK, cannot yet restart its programme of tours and excursions. I go back to school routes on Monday 19th April. Other than that, there is a rumour that I might be delivering/collecting heritage buses up north in a few days time.
Thanks for reading!