North Western Road Car Company 1958-1974 - Part One

North Western Road Car Company 1958-1974 - Part One

In 1958 North Western Road Car Company Ltd was part of British Electric Traction a company with roots in electric tramway systems (the last tram it owned ran in Gateshead in 1951) which owned many of the non-municipal and non-nationalised bus companies in the UK between 1948 and 1969.

At the time BET also owned a bus company in Jamaica and had spawned Rediffusion which used its power cables in towns where it supplied electricity to supply BBC radio, under licence, as early as the 1920s. It began early TV manufacture in the 1930s, was a TV broadcaster in the 1950s and, after the loss of its bus empire and TV franchise arrangements was absorbed with its partner, ABC, into Thames TV.

Initial Hygiene and Towel Systems was part of the group and BET owned 51% of Wembley Stadium. Eventually Rentokil, looking to purchase Initial, bought out the companies left operating as BET in 1996.

As the largest non-nationalised bus operator in the country, BET tried to standardise its fleet and exert purchasing power but compared to, say, the much smaller Manchester Corporation Transport Department it had mixed fortunes. This was partly due to the fiercely independent stance of many of the constituent companies and the wide variety of chassis and body builders' products its constituents had bought in the scramble to renew fleets in the early post war years - many of which had only just been withdrawn when the company sold its assets to the National Bus Company in 1967.

Of its constituents, North Western was one of the most independent as was indicated by its bid to introduce the Atkinson Alpha single decker on a large scale and there was resentment at Charles St, Stockport Head Office, still palpable in the early 1960s, that by not being nationalised, Bristols were denied to them.

The fleet in 1958 was a mixed stage carriage (double and single decker), dual purpose and coaching fleet (all single deckers) plus the fleets of Altrincham Coachways and Melba Motors which took vehicles from the main coach fleet and ran them in their own liveries until 1967.

Chassis types were:

Double deckers: Bristol, Guy and Leyland

Single deckers: AEC, Albion, Atkinson, Bristol and Leyland

Bodywork was a real mixture and there were many pre-war chassis in the fleet that had been rebodied in the late 1940s/early 1950s and a good number of body swaps had taken place on some of the Bristol single deckers.

Body types were:

Double deckers: ECW, Leyland, Weymann and Willowbrook

Single deckers: Brush, Burlingham, ECW, Leyland, MCW, Weymann, Willowbrook and Windover.

The fleet was too diverse to fully catalogue here. Most of the older single deck buses were half cab rear entrance Bristols with 35 or 38 seat bodies by Brush, Burlingham, ECW, Weymann and Willowbrook. The Atkinson Alphas had Weymann and Willowbrook bodies, the two Leyland Olympics had Weymann bodies but, from 1953, BET had managed to instil some order by imposing its standard Weymann Hermes single deck bodies on "acceptable" AEC Reliance and Leyland Royal Tiger and Tiger Cub chassis - although in 1957 six Albion MR11Ls lightweight chassis identical to those foisted on A F Neal at MCTD, appeared with the "regulation" Weymann body.

The Bristols were a diverse group and each body bestowed different ride qualities on the L5G chassis that North Western had specified from 1938 to 1948 (though the last weren't delivered until 1950). The Gardner engines were all fairly raucous but, within the confines of their speed limiters, could accelerate well and maintain a fair speed. The Atkinsons were smoother and quieter but looked old fashioned from the start as they were all rear entrance at a time when front entrance was taking over as the standard. The Royal Tigers and Tiger Cubs were much more modern but were quite bland - only the handful of AEC Reliances and the Albions offering any variation or interest. They had 44 seat bodies with a through aisle leading to an emergency door at the back, the window of which formed one of a set of three rear windows.

In amongst this standardisation, in 1955 Charles St had placed ten Reliances in service with Burlingham single deck front entrance bodies. Compared to the Weymanns, these had Burlingham's rounded window corners and had a tendency to rattle badly at tickover. They were disliked by most of the road and works staff.

1957 had seen the introduction of the first dual purpose single deckers since some post war Bristols delivered with Weymann bodies in 1950 - most of them had by 1958 become indistinguishable from the bus versions. The new arrivals were similar to vehicles delivered to Aldershot and District and East Kent. They were AEC Reliances with 42 seat bodies, an improved passenger seat, side emergency exit and a single rear window and were visually stunning with black upper parts, red lower parts and a cream band below the windows between the main colours. From the passengers' point of view in every respect they were an improvement on anything that had gone before - comfortable, quiet to ride on and fast away from stops, but most of the drivers and depot staff seemed to dislike them.

The coaching stock was almost as much of a mish-mash as the bus stock. The oldest vehicles in stock were front engined half cab Bristols and Leylands with forward entrance Windover bodies from 1949 and 1950. 1952 and 1953 saw deliveries of two batches of all Leyland centre entrance coaches on Royal Tiger chassis complete with superb interior trim, plenty of exterior chrome and excellent ride and performance characteristics - although the brakes left something to be desired, a fault which eventually led to almost every example having a unique frontal design!. All the Leylands and Bristols were coming to the end of their front line coaching life by 1958. 1954 had added Leyland Royal Tigers with Burlingham Seagull Mk1 bodies with a front entrance and 41 seats plus a solitary AEC Reliance with the prototype Weymann Fanfare body with a front entrance and equipped with 37 seats for long distance and Continental touring - though by 1958 it was doing as many school runs as tours!

1955 saw more Seagulls on Royal Tiger chassis and 1956 saw five more Fanfares, again on Reliance chassis. The Seagulls were the standard Burlingham front entrance version of the famous body which, with its curves, was one of the most recognised coaches of its day. The Fanfare, with an ovoid rear window and a curved rear profile with large unglazed rear corners looked heavy by comparison and had almost a stooped appearance from the rear.

1957 brought the last of the Seagulls, thirteen in total, twelve on Tiger Cub Chassis and one on AEC Reliance.

The double decker stock comprised rebodied prewar Bristols with Willowbrook bodies accompanied by wartime Guy Arabs similarly rebodied. The Bristols seemed far more brutish than the Guys - partly because of the style and position of the radiator which was not replaced by a post war version and was left in the high position whereas the Guys had lower bonnets and radiators. The Bristols were also much noisier, had a harder ride and were slower.

Post war deliveries had been entirely Leyland, twenty four in 1948 - a mix of ten PD1As with ECW and fourteen PD2/1s with Leyland bodies. A further fourteen PD2/1s arrived in 1949 with Leyland bodies, including six with manually operated rear doors for the Blackpool express service which, when used on stage carriage service in later life, were the bane of the conductors. The year also saw ten PD2/1s with Weymann bodies similar to those supplied to London Transport on AEC Regent chassis as the RLH class.

1952 brought a single all Leyland PD2/10. 1953 brought six Weymann bodied Leyland PD2/12s and the final deliveries were ten Weymann bodied PD2/21s with Orion lightweight bodies and rear doors in 1956.

The ECW PD1s were very much the standard Leyland/ECW combination many non municipal operators were taking at the time prior to the nationalisation of ECW. They were initially solid and reliable but, with the E181 engine and a heavy body, were by no means sparkling performers. However, they suffered from corrosion as they aged and were withdrawn early in 1961.

The all Leyland PD2s were much livelier and the odd ball one off of 1952 was built for an independent operator who cancelled, the interior being much better finished than the 1948/1949 batches. The Weymann bodies on the 1949 PD2s had roof ridges, flared lower panels and other touches that made them stand out but many were heavily rebuilt in the early 1960s, destroying their looks in different ways as all the rebuilt examples seemed to have different changes.

The 1956 PD2s were just appalling. Noisy, rattling, poorly finished and, like all the other double deckers, they were of lowbridge construction with an offside sunken footway and a platform with a four seat bench on the top deck. Bad enough under the best of conditions, hell on a cold, wet winter morning with the top deck riders carrying school bags, brief cases, not to mention in winter having colds as well as coughing and smoking.

So we come to 1958. The company is in the process of a colour scheme change for the bus fleet. Cream and red - applied in a similar way to Stockport's - is giving way to a more yellow shade of cream and a slightly deeper red. The red is overall, relieved by cream around the upper and lower deck windows on the double deckers and around the windows on the single deckers. There are many variations over the coming years, on new vehicles and re-sprays. All single deckers have red around the rear corner panels at window level - most have the rear window(s) outlined in cream.

Double deckers should have had cream around the whole of the lower deck at window level but many have the front bulkhead window surround above the bonnet in red. The rear upper deck corner pillars are always red but some vehicles have the rear upper deck emergency window surround in cream, some in red. The front corner pillars should be red with cream around the front and side windows. Some pillars are cream.

As we have seen, the dual purpose fleet - which hadn't had a distinctive scheme before - now had a classy black and red scheme, relieved by a cream dividing band. This first appeared on the 1957 Weymann bodied Reliances and, in 1958, appeared on some of the downgraded all Leyland coaches from 1952/53, though without the cream band and minus the backhand sloping fleet name with which the Reliances were delivered, the ex-coaches retaining the traditional underlined fleetname.

The coaching fleet which, in general, had had a mainly cream scheme relieved by varying amounts of red depending on the body style (from trim flashes on some bodies to the whole lower half of the body on some of the all Leyland coaches) continued to vary but an indicator of future standardisation for, at least, the express (as opposed to touring) fleet came amongst the delivery of the batch of Leyland Tiger Cubs with the latest BET style Willowbrook bodies. The body was very similar to the 1957 batch but had a more upright front profile with a set in, sloping, driver's windscreen. This design became a UK classic on Tiger Cub and Reliance chassis with many BET, municipal and independent fleets.

The first North Western batch of these bodies appeared as a mixture of dual purpose Reliances and Tiger Cubs followed by the Tiger Cub coaches in overall cream with a single red band below the windows and the fleetname in the sloping script (766-775). These were 41 seat vehicles and also appeared on stage carriage services but were really designed for some of the expanding express services - though the Tiger Cubs didn't have the larger fuel tanks which would be needed once the motorway network started to grow. The motorway network allowed North Western and its BET partners to offer a wide range of new services across the UK, so they only saw a few years in coaching service. None of the Reliances with this body style appeared in the coach scheme.

This batch carried LDB series registrations - North Western reserved LDB 701 - LDB 800 and used the allocation between mid 1957 and mid 1960 - by which time Stockport County Borough was issuing RDB.

Both the Reliances and Tiger Cubs were efficient and reliable performers though some of both batches had early problems with the air operated jack knife doors. Before they appeared, a batch of Reliances arrived from Weymann for the touring fleet, this time with 41 seats, being a final delivery of the Fanfare style of body (740-745).

1959 saw only four vehicles delivered - all Reliances, three with 41 seat bodies for the express coach fleet, one with 37 seats for the touring fleet. The bodies were from a supplier that hadn't been used for 21 years - Harrington - and were that company's final variant of the Wayfarer design.

Whilst 1959 saw a lack of deliveries it did see the start of an interesting experiment. 555 a 1953 PD2 with, for North Western, unique four bay Weymann bodies of handsome proportions was taken out of service and its O600 engine was replaced by a Ruston Hornsby air cooled engine. This entailed widening the bonnet and providing air inlets at the front which formed one of the ugliest, "tin fronts" ever designed. This was modified a couple of times with no improvement in looks. The engine was noisy and when the experiment was brought to an end and the original engine was put back where it belonged.

Phil Blinkhorn
05/2013

 

To view Part Two Click Here

 


 

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