Charlie the Charabanc goes to the Seaside

So, the cat is out of the bag. English Riviera Sightseeing Tours has acquired Bristol LH replica Charabanc TR6147.

TR6147-Torquay-Station

The deal was done back in April but, until the new Sightseeing Tours livery was applied, the vehicle was effectly ‘under wraps’ and news of its arrival was embargoed as far as Busman’s Holiday was concerned!

TR6147 was previously owned by Wheels of Nuneaton but its owner Ashley Wakelin wanted to scale down his operation and put the bus up for sale. It was delivered wearing its Midland Red livery, similar to several other vehicles in the erstwhile Wheels fleet.

TR6147-old-liveryThis photo was taken during the journey up to Exeter for repainting. This was my first attempt at driving the charabanc and it was a baptism of fire, I can tell you! But first we need to do a bit of digging into the history of this rather bizarre vehicle.

TR6147 actually began life with Hants & Dorset as a standard ECW-bodied Bristol LH6L bus, registered NLJ516M, in 1973. This photo of sister bus NLJ517M shows what it would have looked like shortly after delivery. After a comparatively short service life it was taken into the H&D workshops at Barton Park, Eastleigh (near Southampton) and rebuilt with a replica charabanc body, emerging in 1982. Legend has it that several parts from a 1929-built vehicle were incorporated. Certainly the registration number TR6147 was originally carried by a 1929 all-Leyland Lion PLSC3 but this bus is recorded as having been scrapped in 1943. Here is an interesting photo of the charabanc body being built at Eastleigh. All that remains of the Bristol LH is the chassis, including the Leyland O.401 6-cylinder diesel engine and 5-speed manual gearbox. The bus can carry 25 people, accommodated on deeply padded ‘leather’ seats.

The replica charabanc was used by Hants & Dorset at rallies and for private hire and subsequently passed through several owners including Shamrock & Rambler and Arriva before joining Ashley’s well known Midland Red Coaches/Wheels of Nuneaton fleet.

The journey to Exeter didn’t require me to use 1st (crawler) gear, which is just as well because engaging 1st or reverse is something of an art. Fortunately for us, Ashley Wakelin had kindly come down from Nuneaton at his own expense the day after it was delivered to show us around the bus and had demonstrated some of its quirks for us.

The driving position took some getting used to. I’m more familiar with the forward control position found in most half cab buses but in this bus it has been set back behind the front wheels. A huge expanse of bonnet stretches out in front of the driver which makes judging one’s position when in tight spaces a bit tricky. The driver now sits directly above the engine (still in its original position under the LH’s floor) and the experience is noisy! I was curious to see how fast it would go so, while motoring along on the A38 dual carriageway towards Exeter I put my foot down. The tacho showed around 55mph! That’s an undignified speed for a charabanc (it also led to a bout of overheating) so I eased off and completed the rest of the journey at a more reasonable 35mph or so.

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Big Shout-out for Rob Sly

Congratulations to Rob Sly, who has passed his PCV practical test in the last few days.

Rob is one of my blog readers but is far bigger in the bus world than I will ever be. He has a passion for all things Bristol, particularly of the LH, RE and VR varieties. In fact, he’s so enthusiastic about Bristol VRs that he owns one (JOU161P)! Now that he’s passed his test he can drive it with a full load if he wants to and I’m sure that he will as soon as possible!

I can highly recommend his long-established and highly regarded website, Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. There you’ll find details of every surviving Bristol Lodekka, RE, LH and VR, along with links to sites which specialise in other Bristol bus marques.

Have you ever driven up a gradient on a dual carriageway or motorway with your foot to the floor? And have you felt rather envious of other drivers whose cars sail past you as if they were going downhill? Well that’s how I feel now! Rob has overtaken me on the road to PCV status while I’m marking time, waiting for some colleagues to play catch-up.

I’m not bitter of course and I wish Rob all the best in his further adventures out on the road with historic, cherished vehicles.