At last I can reveal the start of my next driving adventure and it involves this stunning 1929 Maudslay motorbus.
After many years spent lying dormant and away from public gaze, FJ6154 has been painstakingly restored and made its public debut at the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Rally at Westpoint last Sunday. Its long history is fascinating and the story of how it came within a hair’s breadth of being scrapped will have to wait for another time.
I’d had the WHOTT rally in my diary for some time and had offered my services as a driver – or indeed any task – for the day. Little did I know that, a few weeks afterwards, I would be given a job I would never have dreamed of in a million years.
Namely, I was invited to become the Maudslay’s official driver.
It seems that my experience with vintage buses of various sorts, especially those with crash gearboxes, over the past 2 years has not gone unnoticed. Two other factors came into the WHOTT Trustees’ decision; I have a current PCV licence and I’m a nimble, reasonably small person. The latter becomes an obvious benefit as soon as you open the cab door!
I had been following the progress of the Maudslay’s 2-year restoration within the pages of the WHOTT newsletter, as I prepare the artwork for this publication every quarter. No expense has been spared and the bus appears exactly as it would have done when it was new. Authenticity has been paramount and, in pursuit of this, I had even prepared a period advert for the interior, based on a newspaper advert which appeared in the Express & Echo the same week that the bus was delivered to Exeter Corporation.
Although I had seen photographs, I had not seen the bus ‘in the flesh’, so to speak, until last week. I travelled up to the WHOTT restoration base to take the Maudslay on its first tentative road run just two days after work on the engine had been completed. Before that, it hadn’t moved under its own power for nearly 40 years! That first run was very momentous and the significance of it was not lost on me.
After familiarising myself with the small and very spartan cab I shunted up and down in the yard to get a feel for the clutch and the behaviour of the engine. The bus has remarkably survived complete with its original Maudslay 4-cylinder petrol engine and coping with this alone is an adventure! Then, with the Chairman of WHOTT aboard, along with a Trustee and one of the restoration volunteers, I drove the 85 year old veteran up the farm track to the main road. Drawing heavily on my experience with crash box buses and interpreting the feedback I was getting from the bus, I managed to change successfully up to 3rd gear. After climbing uphill for a while we reached level ground and I changed up to 4th gear at which point emotion nearly got the better of me as the enormity of what I was doing hit me.
We turned the bus and stopped for a couple of photos before I brought the Maudslay back to the farm where it will continue to live for the time being. I will not forget that first journey for a very long time.