Before anyone comments, I know they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth. In terms of surviving half cab buses, those retaining their Bristol AVW engines are comparatively few.
This sad looking Bristol KSW joined the Crosville heritage fleet in 2012, fitted with its original Bristol AVW engine. Sadly, it would not turn over and after stripping it down, the restorers decided that the damaged block could not be economically repaired.
If you know of the whereabouts of a redundant Bristol AVW engine, or indeed have one yourself, please let me know. It doesn’t have to be a runner or even be complete just as long as it can sacrifice a few components to allow this fine ex-Crosville bus to return to action powered by an AVW. It would be so sad (and would ironically reflect the situation in the 1960s/70s) if a Gardner 6LW unit had to be fitted just to get the bus on the road. The folks at Crosville are determined to make this restoration as thorough and authentic as possible so that means retaining the Bristol AVW if at all possible. A sensible price will be paid for a suitable item.
Please contact Crosville on 01934 635259, email them at email@example.com or just leave a comment here. Thank you!
It was one of those times when a day spent driving a halfcab bus is like a session at the gym. By the time I had parked the bus back at the depot in the late evening of Sunday November 10th, my arms felt like jelly. But it was so worth it!
I met my Simon, my conductor for the day, at the garage and we prepared the bus together. We had ex-Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (972EHW), the same vehicle that I’d driven on a wedding duty the previous day. Also being prepared was London Transport RTW29, a rare 8ft-wide Leyland-engined RT. Its bright red livery was being buffed to a shine by Jon, the MD of Crosville Motor Services, who was joining us at the Exeter Twilight event.
We set off as soon as we were ready and took the Lympsham road out of Weston-super-Mare. As I coaxed the bus up to a breathtaking maximum speed of 35mph, my conductor donned my conductor gear and settled down for the long journey to Exeter. I always feel rather vulnerable on the motorway with such a slow vehicle and kept checking my rearview mirror for traffic approaching from behind. Plan B: hit the hard shoulder!
Just before Taunton a familiar shape loomed up behind the bus, that of a green Bristol L. It passed us and slowly disappeared into the distance, probably doing 45mph or more. Taking a comfort break at Taunton Services, I was surprised to see the same single deck bus already in the coach park. I parked nearby and got chatting to the driver. The bus was in fact not a Bristol L but an earlier Bristol J (built 1934) but received a new body in 1955 along with a more up to date PV2 radiator. This made it look like a Bristol L.
A few days ago I was once again given the honour of driving an ex-Bristol Omnibus Lodekka through the city it served more than 50 years ago.
LC8518 (972EHW) belongs to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection and is on hire to Crosville Motor Services at the moment. It is in immaculate condition, having completed a thorough restoration about 3 years ago.
After doing my walkaround checks I brought the bus out of the darkness of the garage and into the daylight. My conductor arrived shortly afterwards and, after re-fuelling the bus at the newly-commissioned bowser (hooray, no more trips to Morrisons!) we set off up the A370 for Bristol. By coincidence, the pickup point for this private hire duty was just a stone’s throw from where my parents-in-law live, so I didn’t need to research the route at all! The weather was dull, cold and wet so I wiped the condensation off the cab windows while we waited for the bridal party to board.
The trip to St Aidan’s Church, St George was very light, with only the bride, her parents and bridemaids on board. This leg of the journey was mostly new territory for me so, once again, I had studied Google Maps and carried a bullet point list of directions in the cab just in case. When we arrived, Barry my conductor commented that he was impressed that I appeared to know my way around Bristol better than he did, and he was brought up there! I had to admit my reliance on Google and some previous knowledge due to family connections. I also had to admit that, in the event of a road closure somewhere on my planned route, I would have been a bit stuck! My PCV training taught me to always have a Plan B but I’m afraid I don’t often have one up my sleeve.
A particularly satisfying wedding duty came my way the other week when I was rostered to transport a wedding party to a reception venue in Bristol. Satisfying, because I was allocated a bus which ran in the city throughout most of its service life.
I had driven this bus only once before, on my assessment session back in 2011. It was unavailable for service for most of this season due to fuel system repairs and has only recently been declared fit again. I was looking forward to experiencing this bus on a ‘live’ duty and especially as I would be able to drive through the city streets where it was once a familiar sight.
LC8518 was built in 1959 for the Bristol Omnibus city services and has a Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine driving through a 4-speed gearbox. Top speed is about 33mph so the empty journey from Weston to Bristol gave me plenty of time to become accustomed to the bus. In most respects it was similar to drive to the other Lodekkas I have driven, the most significant difference lay in the AVW engine. This sounds quite different to a Gardner 6LW, more throaty I suppose. It delivers its power differently, too. When I press the loud pedal to accelerate there is a noticeable delay while the engine develops more power. It’s as if it’s girding up its loins for the task ahead! With a 6LW you get what you ask for almost instantly. Once I had allowed for this, driving LC8518 was a real pleasure.
Those of you who drive heritage buses may remember having that word yelled in your ear as you learned to use a crash gearbox. It’s all to do with judging how long to wait while the engine revs die away before selecting the next gear.
Yesterday it was my turn to do the yelling. I spent the day training four guys from Crosville Motor Services how to drive a Lodekka and it turned out to be more successful than I expected.
I was given an ex-Bristol Omnibus FLF to use as a training bus. This isn’t used in public service but shares the garage with the active fleet. It carries NBC Leaf Green livery and has a Bristol BVW engine driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox. It also has the glass missing from the little window in the corner of the cab, all of which made it an ideal vehicle to use.
I was interested to see that it displayed ‘Staple Hill’ as this was where my wife would have got off the bus on her way home from school in Bristol. It was odd to think that she might have ridden on this very bus!
My first two candidates observed me as I drove out to a nearby roundabout and back before we sat down and discussed the major differences between driving a modern coach or bus and driving a Lodekka. I had prepared some diagramatic visual aids to help explain the double-declutch technique, which is something of a dark art to most people.
Fortunately the Crosville garage is located on a sprawling trading estate which was once part of the Westland helicopter manufacturing base. We used an empty road at the far end of the site to begin our practice sessions, partly to avoid causing a hazard to other road users and partly to lessen the noise of gear teeth being torn off!