The Metalcraft Story 1946-1954 - Part One

The Metalcraft Story 1946-1954 - Part One

By 1945, after six years of warfare, the nation's bus and coach fleets were in desperate need of renewal or replacement. PSV production during the years of the conflict had been limited, by and large, to two types of vehicle - a double-decker available in highbridge or lowbridge forms (initially on Guy Arab chassis but later also offered on AEC, Bristol, and Daimler running units) and a 32-seat single-decker based on a simplified Bedford chassis known as the OWB. Both of these "utility" or "austerity" designs were as basic as they could be and featured wooden seats with no padding or upholstery. Most operators wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible or at the very least to fit them with new bodywork.

As might be imagined the coaching market encountered an unprecedented level of passenger demand after six years of travel restrictions as people resolved to have all the fun which had been denied to them during the war years. Coaching firms were ill-placed to meet this demand as no new luxury vehicles had been manufactured for six years and many of their better pre-war vehicles had been requisitioned by the government, some never to return and others given back to them in a poor condition after use as ambulances or worse.

Existing coach bodywork manufacturers such as Burlingham, Duple, Harrington, and Plaxton were deluged with potential orders far beyond the capacity of their factories, and it became obvious to many entrepreneurs that there was good money to be made by helping to meet the demand for new coaches. Some of the firms which became involved in this post-war coachbuilding boom were already in the automotive business. Companies such as Windover and Gurney Nutting had previously built the super-structures for luxury motor-cars and found it relatively easy to turn their hands to coach manufacture.

Others were brand new enterprises and dozens of them sprung up around the country in 1946-47. Nearly all had vanished within a decade (WS Yeates of Loughborough being the notable exception) as demand fell back to more normal levels and the big four reasserted their control over the coaching market. This is the story of one of those new enterprises and although Metalcraft (Staffordshire) Ltd lasted for a mere eight years and manufactured only slightly more than 100 coaches during that time, its stylish and durable products made an impression far beyond that which the numbers might suggest.

This magnificent creature is DUX 655, a 1947 Daimler CVD6 originally equipped with half-cab bodywork. It was barely two years old when rebodied with this elegant fully-fronted design by Metalcraft. Withdrawn from use in August 1966.the vehicle has been preserved in its original "Smith's Eagle" livery by the group of enthusiasts who now own it, and has become something of a celebrity on the West Midlands bus rally scene.
(B Mel Gough Collection)

The company was founded in early 1946 by three individuals (Messrs Clowes, Hewitt, and Kent) who had previously worked for Copestick & Farrell Ltd, a steel fabrication business based in the Potteries town of Fenton. The directors of the fledgling Metalcraft rented a small industrial unit in Newcastle-under-Lyme and assembled a team of craftsmen led by Roy Snape who had previously worked for the Cheshire-based bodywork manufacturer Lawton.

Lawton, it should be said, showed surprisingly little interest in servicing the post-war demand for coaches and continued to see themselves as a "bespoke" builder of bodywork for a small number of local clients. Very few Lawton products were ever sold outside of their South Cheshire/North Staffordshire heartland. Metalcraft's ambitions were almost limitless by comparison and it was probably this factor that persuaded Snape to leave the old-established Lawton and join the upstart newcomer across the border.

The very first Metalcraft PSV body was completed in early 1947 on a Tilling-Stevens K chassis and delivered to Peel of Maltby in Yorkshire. It was a 35-seater bus and was followed by a similar vehicle with slightly more luxurious dual-purpose seating for Bostock of Congleton. The fact that Metalcraft's first two bodies were built on the comparatively rare Tilling-Stevens chassis might reflect the reluctance of other bodywork manufacturers to adapt their designs to such uncommon types. Most T-S chassis of this period were bodied by Dutfield and offered to operators through a joint sales team (Dutfield's factory was close to that of Tilling-Stevens).

Having proven that they were capable of building perfectly acceptable bodywork and of offering it to operators with a very short delivery time, Metalcraft's order book began to expand. In 1948 five vehicles were bodied (three Fodens, a Leyland PS1 Tiger, and another Tilling-Stevens) and while the latter two vehicles were repeat orders from Peel of Maltby the Fodens were destined for operators in North Wales, Leeds, and London. Advanced orders for 1949 went through the roof and the company was obliged to abandon its relatively small workshop in Newcastle-under-Lyme and seek new premises in an aircraft hangar at Blythe Bridge aerodrome, to the south-east of Stoke-on-Trent.

Known output in 1949(a few bodies are still untraced) totalled 28, consisting of 4 Crossley SD42s, 2 Daimler CVD6s, 15 Foden PVSC6/PVFE6s, 2 Leyland PS2 Tigers, and 5 Maudslay Marathon IIIs. Perhaps the most interesting of the year's vehicles were the two Daimlers which had originally been delivered to TG Smith (Eagle Coachways) of Trench in Shropshire in 1947 and were then equipped with Associated Coach Builders C33F bodywork. After less than two years in service they were sent to Blythe Bridge, had their A.C.B. bodies removed, and were rebodied by Metalcraft. One remained as a half-cab while the other received a fully-fronted body and survives in preservation in this up-dated condition. The two A.C.B. bodies were then combined into a single unit and fitted to a pre-war Dennis Lancet of the same operator.

It should be noted that the PSV Circle publications PD5/2PD5 ("Independent Stage Carriage Operators of Shropshire") give a different version of this story which claims that the half-cab Daimler retained its A.C.B. body until the mid-1950s. Photographic evidence shows that this is clearly wrong and as the same publication describes the fully-fronted version as a half-cab throughout its life (and contains numerous other similar errors) it should be treated with great caution compared to most PSV Circle monographs.

Cooper of Oakengates liked Crossley SD42s and the vehicles accounted for more than half of their fleet in the 1950s, seeing daily service on their stage-carriage operations in the Wellington area of Shropshire. Most were bodied either by Junction Coachcraft of Manchester (to a fully-fronted design) or by Metalcraft of Blythe Bridge (to a traditional half-cab design as illustrated here). The body from this vehicle, GAW 380, was later transferred to another Crossley chassis in the Cooper fleet.
(Author's Collection)

PSV production for 1950 was actually slightly down on that for 1949, amounting to 23 known units. This figure included 5 Crossley SD42s, 13 Fodens (an assortment of PVSC6s, PVFE6s, and a solitary PVG6), a Leyland PS2 Tiger, 2 Leyland PSU1 Royal Tigers, and 2 Maudslay Marathons. The Fodens included two PVSC6s for Llandudno Corporation, fitted with "sprag" gears for the excessively steep ascent of The Great Orme headland, while the Royal Tigers (for Don Everall of Wolverhampton) were significant in being the first underfloor engined chassis to receive Metalcraft bodywork. Sadly no picture has been found of these two Royal Tigers, so you will have to accept on faith that they were among the ugliest coaches ever produced!

The drop in PSV numbers was made up for by other work, with Metalcraft producing sports car bodies for Alvis, van bodywork on Fordson chassis for a Wolverhampton distributor, several "trailer" units fitted out as mobile libraries, and prototypes for "motorised rickshaws" on three-wheel Reliant chassis. The latter were intended for use in countries such as India and Thailand, but no proof has been found that they were actually put into production at Blythe Bridge. Are there any rickshaw enthusiasts out there who can add to this intriguing part of the story?

After the brief attack of ugly disease with the first two Royal Tigers, Metalcraft went back to the drawing board and came up with two brand new designs for underfloor chassis for delivery from the start of the 1951 season. One was a fairly conventional "British" design with subdued but tasteful styling (the preserved Foden PVRF6 NTU 125 is of this variant), the other a "Continental" tourer with a straight waist-rail and no less than ten windows on each side (later reduced to eight). Both were well received by contemporary commentators and the first of the "Continental" design (fitted to a Foden PVRF6 demonstrator) made an extended tour of Europe to prove that its rear-mounted two-stroke engine was capable of traversing the Alps.

Harper Brothers of Heath Hayes, the well-known independent operator with services from Cannock and Lichfield to Birmingham, ran two Leyland Royal Tiger coaches with the "British" style of Metalcraft bodywork. At the time when this photograph of VRF 630 was taken Harpers were still using the fleet-name "Gloria-de-Luxe" on the side of their coaches. In 1960 the Metalcraft body on VRF 630 was removed and replaced by a home-made Harpers unit with bus seating and a high ugliness rating.
Photo: The late Arthur Hustwitt © NA3T

Known production for 1951 included 2 Regal IVs (which might have been the first AECs to receive Metalcraft bodywork, although it is possible that the "untraced" vehicles included Regal IIIs), the first Bedford SB to pass through Blythe Bridge, a Commer Avenger I, a Crossley SD42, 7 Foden PVRF6s, 3 Guy Wolf 24-seaters for Llandudno UDC (this time for the seafront service), 2 Guy Arab UFs, 6 Leyland Royal Tigers, and 3 Maudslay Marathons. This added up to at least 26 units.

Several of these bodies (including those on two Royal Tigers for Pye of Colwyn Bay and two 30-foot Maudslay Marathons for Churchbridge of Cannock) featured a new ventilation system which incorporated a "cock's comb" inlet centred above the front windscreens and an oval outlet above the rear end windows. The new variation looked quite attractive when viewed from the front but considerably less so when seen from the rear where the outlet looked as if it had been transplanted from an industrial heating system and ruined the lines of the vehicles in question. Once again, you will have to accept this on faith as no photographs of the back passage have been found. Perhaps most photographers preferred the pretty end!

Another Cannock area operator, Churchbridge Luxury Coaches, liked their Metalcraft bodies on Maudslay Marathon Mk III chassis. Two of them were 30-footers and the second of those, URF 842, is seen here at the operator's home base. Note the "cock's comb" intake in the centre of the front dome, an optional extra which found few takers.
(Author's Collection)

The totals for 1952 included 3 more AEC Regal IVs, 4 Daimler D650HS Freelines with the "Continental" style of bodywork for Don Everall, 2 Foden PVRs, a Guy Arab UF, 2 Royal Tigers, and a Marathon III for Churchbridge. The Marathon was a 1947 chassis originally fitted with a West-Nor C33F body which had failed to impress due to the use of poor quality timber framing by the London firm and the new Metalcraft body featured a full front in place of the original half-cab. This adds up to 13 known vehicles for the year, with part of the decline undoubtedly caused by the collapse in domestic demand for the Foden PVR chassis. Australians continued to buy the rear-engined Foden but fitted it with bodywork after export which didn't help Metalcraft.

Amongst other work undertaken during 1952 was "cut and shut" surgery on a batch of five pre-war Leyland TD5 Titan double-deckers for local operator PMT. The chassis were acquired from Ribble and their original Leyland bodywork (from the notoriously unstable first batch of Leyland metal-framed bodies) were removed and scrapped, being replaced with shorter Beadle units from ex Hants & Dorset Titans of an earlier vintage. Metalcraft made the two halves fit together by extending the Beadle bodies before fitting them to the TD5s.

If 1952 had been a poor year for Metalcraft, 1953 was little short of catastrophic as sales collapsed almost completely. The only two vehicles known to have been manufactured were a Bedford SB and a Guy Arab UF, and as the company disintegrated General Manager Roy Snape abandoned ship and swam back to Lawton. It seems certain that the words "we told you so" must have been mentioned upon his return. Any gloating would have been short-lived as Lawton themselves had given up PSV bodywork production within three years as demand for coach bodywork from smaller manufacturers all but disappeared.

Metalcraft placed itself into voluntary liquidation in early 1954, but a surprising number of its products survive in preservation. Best known among these are the previously mentioned Foden PVRF6 (NTU 125) and fully-fronted Daimler CVD6 rebody (DUX 655), both of which are a delight to behold at rallies, but there are at least three others still in existence awaiting their turns in the limelight. Metalcraft may be long gone, but their memory will live on for many a year while the majority of their contemporaries from the post-war boom will be no more than a footnote in a dusty archive.

Down the road from Cannock in Rugeley, Whieldon's "Green Bus" had long been enthusiastic about Fodens. The last of many was this rear-engined PVRF6 with Metalcraft's "British" coach body, XRF 128, delivered in 1952. The next batch of deliveries would be from Sentinel, but they vanished within a few years of their arrival while the Foden would last until 1965.
(R H G Simpson)

Neville Mercer

To read Part Two click here

What a delightful article on 'Metalcraft' - my congratulations to Neville Mercer - I eagerly await Part 2 !

Nigel Edwards

I agree, an absolutely fascinating article! Metalcraft obviously had a product which was superior to many of that time. I imagine that their coachwork was virtually hand built and perhaps better suited to individual orders but one does wonder what might have been if they had received a company order for ten or a dozen vehicles! Regarding the first two Royal Tigers, there is a photo of one in 'Buses & Coaches 1945-1965' by John Gillham (pub; Almark Publishing, New Malden) although this must be long out of print. The general outline is similar to the Churchbridge Maudslay Marathon (especially the front) but obviously with set back front wheels. It is registered HJW 871 and is pictured in 1959 working for Buckmaster Garages of Leighton Buzzard.

Chris Barker

Very interesting article, well-researched. Am I the only one who has noticed the highly unusual radiator shell on the Cooper Crossley SD42. It appears to be chrome 'a la' Leyland PD1 rather than aluminium, and has the centre strip like an AEC rad.

Chris Hebbron

Chris H is not the only one to notice the odd radiator on the Cooper Crossley. Has anyone else noticed the similarity between the "British" underfloor design and that of Trans United? There are detailed differences but they are similar in the way that the Roe Dalesman and Duple Elizabethan are similar. [Were similar or identical frames used by both manufacturers?]

PS. With the exception of the Burlingham Seagull, most early underfloor bodies were either unbalanced or plain ugly! In that context, the Metalcraft body is a rather attractive design.

David Oldfield

29/11/12 - 17:42

With regards Chris Barkers comment above with makes mention of HJW 871 you may be interested to know there is a video clip of this vehicle at the link below it is just before the two minute mark.

John McSparron

09/05/17 - 17:10

I was intrigued to spot this photo of a most attractive Metalcraft body on what is said to be a Crossley SD42. That it may be, but the radiator tells a different story to me. The resolution is too poor to see, but Maudslay or even pre-war SOS spring to mind. Perhaps the original became damaged and the bus got what was to hand at a time of austerity - anybody any ideas?

Jim Maxey

10/05/17 - 07:25

If Jim is referring to the Cooper's Crossley GAW 380 then this style of radiator shell was offered by Crossley as an alternative to the more common version in the later stages of production. These links should show some others of the same style.

John Stringer

12/05/17 - 06:51

Thanks for that answer, John and the links. It was GAW380 I was referring to. I'd never seen that style of Crossley radiatior before - you learn something every day!

Jim Maxey

12/05/17 - 10:39

The chromium plated radiator shell, sometimes with and sometimes without the central dividing strip, was offered as an option from around 1950, when AEC, having lost patience with Crossley over the abysmal HOE7 engine, came up with the downdraught cylinder head modification.

Roger Cox



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