The Bedford SB was the successor to the ubiquitous OB. Launched at the 1950 Commercial Motor Show, it had big shoes to fill. It was Bedford’s largest PSV chassis yet, some 17’ 2” long, and possessed a four-speed synchromesh gearbox. Common at the time, but disappearing fast, it had vacuum brakes and a six-cylinder 4.9 litre petrol engine, developing 115bhp, more than the OB, but still modest for a much larger, heavier, vehicle.
It became a big seller in India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, as well as in the UK. The largest fleet of SB buses in the world belonged to New Zealand Railways Road Services, with 1280 SB buses, built between 1954 and 1981.
It proved versatile, too, being used as a basis for specialised vehicles, such as mobile libraries, even cinemas, plus civil defence control units.
The SB chassis, with all its variants, was the longest-produced PSV chassis Bedford’s built, maybe ever built, production not finally ceasing until 1987, 37 years in total.
Bedford’s commercial products were well regarded at the time by the Armed Forces and the SB chassis found favour, too. Willowbrook and Strachans built many of the bodies for military Bedfords, but here is a rarer example, sporting a Mulliner body, in the long-obsolete RAF blue-grey. It looks new here, with no roundels or insignia. Note the minute sidelights and the surprising amount of chrome ‘bling’ around the front of an otherwise utilitarian vehicle!
I recall these vehicles in my RAF National Service days, but their use was usually confined to ferrying personnel from married quarters to camp, RAF family events and sports-minded airmen to sports events on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays. I was neither married (no money) nor sport-minded (no talent)!
The usual mode of travel for us airmen was the rather less comfortable Bedford RL 3-tonners, sitting on fold-up longitudinal benches in the back! However, my sole trip in an SB, from RAF Stafford to RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, showed them to still posses some of the OB’s character – whining gearbox, plus under-powered, but willing, engine, even when lightly loaded. Strangely, though, I can’t recall anything of the interior, not even the seat coverings! Maybe someone can enlighten me?
Photograph and Copy contributed by Chriis Hebbron
18/09/11 – 11:30
This picture brought back many memories to me (not all pleasant) of my service in the RAF. Being one of the last National Servicemen; I reported to RAF Cardington (now a housing estate) on the 14th of August 1960.
After basic training at RAF Bridgenorth I was posted to RAF Wheeton for driver training and then ended up at a Thor missile base at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire.
Upon reporting to the motor transport safety officer (actually a corporal) he noted that I had served an apprenticeship at Vauxhall Motors. As this was the company that built Bedford buses he ordered me to jump into a handy SB and drive it around the airfield perimeter road. Although I had never driven a bus before I completed this task with ease.
Then he asked first for my RAF driving license and then if I had any interest in sport. I gave him the license and answered ‘no’ to his question. He then produced a rubber stamp and endorsed my license with the words "qualified bus driver".
That afternoon I collected a happy crowd of footballers and supporters from the camp gates and wondered if they would be quite so happy if they knew it was my first trip on the road behind the wheel of a bus! Luckily all went well and I continued to enjoy many happy hours behind the wheel of these and many other interesting vehicles.
19/09/11 – 07:05
I don’t know how to thank Chris H and John enough for this contribution as it details my own very happy experience considerably. I was on National Service from October 1954 -56 and these superb vehicles were entering RAF service in considerable numbers. I have been unsuccessfully seeking photos of them, and of their glorious OWB RAF predecessors, for decades and what a magnificent picture this is.
I joined up like John at RAF Cardington and was transported from Bedford station in an OWB – my delight at this conveyance was dispelled in seconds by a vicious "official" who left us in no doubt about the doom which was to be our fate for the next two years.
After radar training at No. 2 E & W School at Yatesbury in Wiltshire I was posted to RAF Patrington near Hull, where my long acquaintance with both types of Bedford was a daily delight. The Domestic Site was approximately five miles from the Technical Radar Site at Holmpton near Withernsea and all shift changes (24 hour operation) were "by Bedford."
The "PSV" fleet usually used consisted of two new SBs and a magnificent "War hero" OWB, the latter normally being expertly and lovingly driven by Sam, a civilian employee from Patrington village, who wore a chauffeur’s hat for the purpose. Chris H was treated to luxury indeed when he travelled in the "RL" three tonners of which we had a couple, but we normally screamed merrily and delightfully along the country roads in a "QL" with similar seating. The fabulous sounds emitted by the latter were a real joy to me, except when it was being "flown" by a twelve year regular SAC who was just finishing his time with us after several years assisting the population explosion in Hong Kong – or so he constantly and graphically boasted – but his driving was dangerous and abominable beyond description.
Enough digressing, sorry, and now to return to our "PSV" trio. My joy at the picture above will be apparent when I say that the bus is from the same batch as our first one at Patrington, so I doubt if I’ll ever see a more pertinent photo now. The vehicle was 29 AC 52 and its slightly newer twin was 30 AC 52. The OWB was 00 AC 62.
The interiors of the Mulliner bodies I can remember with utter clarity. They seated thirty passengers on very tidy and comfortable seats upholstered in attractive mid blue leatherette type material – the seats had "quick release" wing nut mountings for rapid conversion to ambulance use, for which purpose longitudinal rails were fitted in the ceilings – the ceilings being in pleasing cream gloss paint. Double hinged doors in the back of the bus enabled stretchers to be loaded and I seem to recall that either eight or sixteen could be accommodated.
As you entered the bus there was on one of the step risers the inevitable RAF descriptive brass plate describing the vehicle :- COACH SERVICE CONVERTIBLE TO AMBULANCE, BEDFORD 4 x 2, MULLINERS LTD. The wording may not be spot on, but near enough.
19/09/11 – 07:08
A nice shot, although I would query the seating configuration given in the heading (C29F) – most of these were B36F and weren’t anywhere near as rare as the text seems to imply. As well as the large number used by all three armed forces SB/Mulliner buses were also supplied to other government agencies such as the UKAEA. Some went to civilian owners after demobilisation and seemed to be particularly popular with operators on both sides of the Welsh border ranging from Mid-Wales Motorways to Primrose of Leominster. There was also an "airside" version with perimeter seating which was used at Heathrow and other airports. Can anybody come up with an estimate of how many of this design were produced in total?
19/09/11 – 07:10
I believe Mulliner became Marshall but were they always based at Cambridge Airfield – or was that just Marshall?
19/09/11 – 11:28
I could be wrong, but I think that Mulliner was a Birmingham area company, and that it was only the "basic bus" part of the business which was sold to Marshall – Mulliner also made specialist bodywork for cars (as hearses etc), ambulances, and the fire brigade sector. Their last attempt to gain a foothold in the mainstream PSV market came in 1958 when they produced a pair of futuristic coach bodies on Guy Warrior chassis, one of which was exhibited at that year’s Commercial Motor Show. "Spot On" later produced a 1/42 scale diecast model of this vehicle – the only coach in their range which made Dinky Toy’s choices of a Maudslay/Whitson observation coach, a Duple Roadmaster, and a BOAC Commer-Harrington Contender look relatively sane!
20/10/11 – 08:25
I’ve just realised that its 57 years today since, at Her Majesty’s command, I joined the RAF and reported to the still famous RAF Cardington with its airship hangars. In a little over three months I was to become an almost daily commuter on the beautiful Bedford SB/Mulliners – in some ways it seems like yesterday, and in others like centuries ago !!
21/10/11 – 06:42
I am just a shade too young to have been "eligible" for National Service, Chris, but I attended RAF Cardington as an ATC Cadet for one week’s Summer Camp in 1956. My main memories are, of course, the massive airship hangers, and also the flights we were given in de Havilland Chipmunks. Cardington has no airstrip, and we were flown from the football field. Bouncing over the rough surface at speed with every appearance until the last minute of taking off through the goalposts is an experience not easily forgotten.
22/10/11 – 17:41
The Spot-on Mulliner coach was a luxury version which was cat no 165
23/10/11 – 11:41
Well, fancy that Roger C – so the expertise gained during the Dambuster raids had peace time benefits too eh ??
24/10/11 – 07:38
Thank goodness, Roger C, you didn’t score an own goal!
24/10/11 – 07:41
For all you ex RAF types who seem to have many memories of both Bedford SB’s and RAF Cardington, I have just uploaded a video onto Youtube showing Cardington Camp as it now is. It is titled RAF Cardington 2011. You will hardly recognize the old place now!
24/10/11 – 11:59
Wonderful little film John, thank you very much. Incidentally I made that famous inward journey in a wartime RAF Bedford OWB bus, and you had the first letter right, but it was TERROR rather than trepidation. A week later the outward trip was in a brand new Bedford SB/Duple luxury coach of Worthingtons Tours – new bulging kitbags in the boot – to Number 11 School of Recruit Training, Hednesford – what a civilised sounding name for the Staffordshire hilltop Hell hole !!
Incidentally, what sort of vehicle was the film made in, as it made some rather pleasing transmission noises as you went along ??
25/10/11 – 06:50
Thank you for your kind words Chris concerning my film. You were lucky to leave Cardington Camp in the luxury of a coach! Were were marched across the fields at the rear of the camp to the now defunct Cardington village railway station. There we caught an ancient steam hauled train pulling clerestory roofed carriages adorned with dusty blue moquette seating and oval Victorian pictures of Bournemouth in its heyday. It took eight hours to reach Bridgenorth, another RAF hellhole but this time in Shropshire. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the inmates polishing the trees.
The car used for filming was my wife’s ancient Suzuki Ignis and yes the gears do whine that maybe has something to do with 70 000 miles plus on the clock. It can’t compare, however, with a TD1 in full chat!
25/10/11 – 10:57
Thanks indeed John for those further poignant and amusing views. I’m sure that my school friend Keith and I travelled from Bedford to Cardington in that very same ancient train. At least we were spared the polishing of trees at Hednesford, as nothing grew up there in November and December – ever since 1954 I’ve had a close affinity with the musical classic "In the steppes of Central Asia." Your good lady’s car makes most appealing sounds and, while I agree that it must come a close second to the TD1, there is a definite resemblance to the lovely effect used by the BBC in olden days when vehicles in radio plays were moving off – happy times now gone.
26/10/11 – 05:56
Ah yes – the BBC sound effects of a bus moving off. If memory serves me right, I read many years ago that the standard recording used by the BBC in the fifties / sixties was actually of a London Transport STD class of the Leyland TD7 utility version. From the crew’s viewpoint, this was the most unpopular of the various utility types that London Transport received during the war years. But I doubt that the BBC recording department were aware of that fact, and presumably just asked for a bus and driver they could use. I wonder if this recording is still available now?
26/10/11 – 15:29
Nobody travels in buses to school in plays any more. They are all running Millie to school etc etc in their MPV/4×4′s!
27/10/11 – 07:19
Although I didn’t serve in the Forces (although I did spend eight years with the ATC), I did enter another example of a parallel universe in 1960 when I joined London Transport in a clerical capacity. The absurdities of this organisation astonished me, especially the endless compilation of useless statistics and percentages. As an example – one had to explain why accidents to dogs had increased by 100% from one accounting period to the next. Answer – two dogs had been run over instead of one.
29/10/11 – 07:20
Michael’s comment about BBC sound effects puzzles me, because my recollection of BBC broadcasts during that period was that the standard bus sound effect was an RT, although I didn’t realise that at the time. Having only met Leylands, Daimlers and Bristols in the real world, I was intrigued as to how something that sounded to my childish ears like the engine of a tractor married to the gearbox of a vintage Bentley could possibly be a bus. It wasn’t until I spent a few weeks in RT-land in 1965 that all became clear. There was definitely no clutch judder, which there presumably would have been on a TD7.
02/11/11 – 07:04
Peter, thanks for your comment on the BBC recording. I only vaguely remember it myself, probably in Hancock’s Half Hour or similar. At that time I would not have known the difference between any of the bus types discussed here! However Buses Illustrated ran a series on the London STD class in the mid- to late sixties. The statement that the BBC recording was of an LT STD class TD7 was made either in the article itself, or in correspondence in later issues responding to that series. It may be that the BBC also used an RT recording at times, but my impression from the information in BI was that it was usually the TD7 which was brought on.
02/11/11 – 09:34
My observations – as a radio addict – are that the most common recording star was an RT (preselector) type of vehicle or something akin to a petrol Bedford SB. When they do the school bus/local bus on the Archers (they were doing it quite a bit a year or two back) I could not identify what they used. [Having driven most of what might be expected on rural/school routes, I think I should have recognised it - but do they make do with running a BBC van around the car park these days?] Whatever happened to Commers or Dennis Lancet IIIs?
07/11/11 – 07:45
David, I think I know the Archers recording you are referring to – the one where Will first met Nic on the bus? It must have been some sort of archive recording, as it was clearly underfloor-engined and semi-automatic. Someone elsewhere has suggested an AEC Reliance.
There seems to be a general problem with recordings of rear-engined buses, possibly in that the sounds are not recognisable out of context. So much so that even in British films and TV programmes, a recording that gives the impression of the engine being closer to the camera is often preferred. Most bizarrely I’ve seen a Bristol VR accelerating past the camera with a recording of what sounded like a Ford Transit! That may be why Hollywood seems to prefer rear views of buses accelerating away from the camera, which works much better (especially with a Detroit 2-stroke!).
24/11/11 – 14:30
I stumbled across this thread whilst Googling for the body builder of the RAF coaches.
As an ex-Brat (RAF Boy Entrant) I too have fond memories of these Mulliner bodied SBs, both in the UK and on detachment to Nicosia where they had cut away rear ends to prevent them grounding on some of the narrow mountain roads where the bends were lined with rocks.
Back in the late ’50s when EOKA were active, the road through the mountains from Kyrenia to Nicosia was one that I recall as "interesting". A couple of times we managed to hit the rocks with the back end so I guess our rear wheels must have been rather close to the edge!
From memory almost every UK RAF flying station had at least one Mulliner/SB and some had two. They were also to be found at RAF stations throughout the Middle East (Cyprus, Aden, El Adem, Arabian Peninsular etc.) as well as at civil Ministry of Aviation establishments such as Farnbrough and Pershore.
A photo (my copyright) of a Pershore operated example can be found at http://www.transportphotos.com/road/photo/JM12052 This differed from the RAF variant in that is did not have the rear doors but did have extra side mouldings below the windows as well as a destination display box.
Another variant with full height opening windows (suggesting an export to a hot climate) can be found at http://www.transportphotos.com/ This one was photographed at the Royal Group of Docks awaiting export in 1951.
Am I right in thinking that some police forces also used this combination?
23/04/12 – 05:55
Like many of you above I’m also an ex serviceman but Royal Navy. My first memory of these buses were three Bedfords, 2 x SBs and 1 x OWB in use at at HMS Mercury in 1958. I also subsequently came across and travelled daily on RN SBs in Malta during 1960 and 1961. For many years I have been attempting to establish the roof livery of the Malta based RN SBs? Was it dark blue as in the UK or a different colour? Despite in-depth research, no RN vehicle records appear to have been retained by MoD(N) or can be found elsewhere? Any help would be much appreciated?
21/05/12 – 17:47
I attach a view of a more modern version of the SB. 41AC54 was on duty at one of the early open days at RAF Fairford, on a sunny 16 August 1981. A few minutes earlier, I’d photographed a USAF International, of typical American "School Bus" outline (only in blue rather than "School Bus" yellow). Note the incredibly high level of security we had to endure in those far off days (Ha Ha!)
23/10/12 – 07:59
In reply to Mac Head I would imagine the roof livery to be white (to reflect the heat from the sun). This is my recollection of the SB at Kai Tak.
23/10/12 – 11:12
Finally, without any prompting, Phil has come up with recollections the same as myself – a white roof. All ex servicemen I had previously questioned appeared to think they were painted the same colour as the bodywork.
29/10/12 – 06:58
Reply to Mac Head, if you go onto airliners.net and key in Bristol Britannia on the search box a list of Brits will come up. On the first page scroll down to the 12th photo which should be xm 489. Now click on the white xm 489 text to the right of the photo and 4 images will appear, the last one will show what appears to be an R.A.F SB coach with a white roof at the side of the Brit. hope this is of help to you.
05/02/13 – 06:56
Ahh the RAF Bus!
My first ever trip in a RAF service vehicle was a Bedford SB (of the same type as the one seen in the picture at Fairford) in April 1979 when I was, with many other recruits picked up at Newark train station and then taken to my basic recruit training at RAF Swinderby situated on the A46 between Newark and Lincoln.
I seem to remember it was rather utilitarian, matt green and looking a bit run down, with green leathercloth seats, I remember they had taken out the two rear rows to allow room for all our baggage. My next personal encounter with one of these buses was a LHD version in Germany in 1981/82. Again tatty overall matt green but with RAF blue grey insides, this vehicle was used to take us Squadron Erks onto Harrier Force field deployments, which lasted until such time you were trained to drive, or became the designated passenger in one of the Squadron "Luxury?" Bedford RL trucks, (or as my Sargeant called them, " A Four and a half litre drophead coupe, with a capacious boot!") I remember these trucks were also RAF blue inside with a plate giving instructions on preparing the vehicle for air transport in Argosy aircraft! (By then long out of service).
I remember these SB’s were replaced in the early to mid eighties with Wadham Stringer bodied Bedford buses and plain looking 36ft long Marshall bodied buses, Leopards I think but I may be wrong on this. They were painted in various strange light blues whites and greens. I understand this was because a camouflage green bus was seen as an easy spot for a terrorist ambush by the IRA, and making them look like a civvie vehicle would reduce this risk.
05/02/13 – 09:30
Your assumption is right, Steve. I recall that (verified as February 1972) the IRA blew up a coach carrying soldiers on the M62 motorway, killing 9 of them, plus 2 civilians.
However, it was a civilian one and it would appear that it was specially commissioned to carry British Army and RAF personnel on leave with their families to several bases – including Catterick in North Yorkshire – during strike action on the trains. From this atrocity, I imagine that the MoD decided, poste haste, to (re)paint their own passenger vehicles in various colours for some years. My recollection was that they were keen on pastel shades. although pink was never used, to the troops’ relief, I suspect!
As for the Bedford RL’s description of being a " A four and a half litre drophead coupe, with a capacious boot!", in my time it was the ubiquitous (to RAF only)Standard Vanguard pickup seen HERE: www.flickr.com/photos/ As they rotted with the same speed as the Alfa Sud, it’s amazing one has survived!
05/02/13 – 10:10
Trivia from the "pen" of a crinkly. I know a lovely lady in Woking who recently retired as a physiotherapist at Headley Court. She was actually a squaddie who survived that M62 coach bombing. I think it influenced her choice of subsequent career.
05/02/13 – 13:52
During my time in the RAF (1954 – 6) the Service had large numbers of Standard Vanguard cars and vans, as well as the pickups. In view of the atrociously high fuel consumption and excessively luxurious ride of these vehicles it seems the strangest imaginable choice when, presumably, economic operation was desirable.
06/02/13 – 07:11
The mention of the M62 coach bombing reminds me that this Sunday[10/2/2013] there is to be a memorial service at Hartshead Moor Motorway Services for the victims. There has been a plaque there since 1975 and there is an annual service on the Sunday nearest to the actual date.
06/02/13 – 07:13
My family had the estate car version of the Phase 2 Vanguard. As Chris Y says, heavy on fuel, but very comfortable. It carried all our camping gear for a family of 5 and gave several years’ good service. It certainly didn’t suffer the ravages of the rust worm that Chris H mentions – perhaps this was due to the fact that the bodywork was provided by a proper coachbuilder, Mulliners.
07/02/13 – 06:36
And with mention of Mulliner’s, Alan, our meanderings come the full circle!
19/04/13 – 07:20
Just stumbled on this site looking at other Bedford buses. I have owned a Mulliner bodied one for around 20 years now. I also converted it to live in and have lived in it all this time. I have converted it to lpg and it runs lovely on it. Here is a link to a picture.
19/04/13 – 11:02
Thx for the posting, Pete. Your photo shows how sound these vehicles were – sixty years old and still going strong! Hopefully, you’ll find it a good resting place if you need to dispose of it at some time.
Any idea of the original registration?
26/04/13 – 07:41
The registration number carried will have been its original one, there was large batch of Government owned buses with RGX registrations-in fact all the London registration series RGX was allocated to the government starting in May 1955.
26/04/13 – 08:50
Thx for the info, David, which I didn’t know.