North Western Road Car Company 1958 -1974 - Part Two

North Western Road Car Company 1958 -1974 - Part Two

Not seen Part One Click Here

As the new decade dawned, North Western was again at odds with BET policy. Double deckers were a necessary part of the fleet, not only in the part of the operating area that fell within what was to become Greater Manchester but also in Macclesfield and Northwich. With low bridges on a good number of double decker routes, the height of the works at Charles St - which had been built in the 1930s when the company only had six low bridge double deckers in a fleet dominated by singles - and the need to move vehicles around the system, there was no alternative to the compromise that was the lowbridge double decker with all its inherent faults.

This need not have been the case by 1960 had the Conservative government, which had been in power for almost nine years at that juncture, not consented to the continuity of a number of nonsenses which, when in opposition in 1948, it had opposed. Had nationalisation of three essential services been conducted in an integrated manner, there would have been an excuse for Macmillan to preside over its continuation but there was no co-ordination - indeed there were areas of crazy duplication and competition within the overall organisation - the BTC.

The British Transport Commission was, in effect, an arm of government which oversaw the nationalised railways, bus operation and road haulage. The story of the railways under nationalisation is well known - and the ridiculous form of privatisation brought in by a later Tory government has little to recommend it. In vast areas of the country the Tilling Group bus companies that had been nationalised served many of the railway stations and their schedules could have been co-ordinated with train arrivals and departures. More often than not, they weren't - with trains scheduled to arrive minutes after the departure of an hourly bus service or buses arriving minutes after the departure of a twice a day train.

It sounds unbelievable but many commentators have stated that one outcome was the sweeping Beeching closures would not have been so widespread had bus and train services been integrated and complementary. As it was the bus companies were used to replace rail services, often with a timetable and fare structure designed to end not just the train service but the bus route as well.

In road haulage the BTC had British Road Services which competed on long haul deliveries against the private sector with its red fleet whilst its green parcel fleet competed on local drops. It also competed against itself as British Railways not only operated goods trains but a comprehensive delivery service in most towns with its well known Scammell three wheel tractors pulling articulated trailers.

To add to the nonsense the Bristol chassis making concern was nationalised as was Eastern Coachworks - both of which had supplied many BET companies and even some municipalities. As part of the nationalisation, sales to non nationalised companies were banned and Tilling companies were tied to ECW for bodies. This meant that the Brislington works produced chassis which then had to be driven clear across the country to Lowestoft to be bodied. Whilst Bristol did produce engines, its chassis frames, axles and wheels were generally powered by Gardner engines - though Leyland 0600 engines were specified by some operators - and the same situation existed when it came to building trucks for BRS, which it did extremely competently, with proportionately more of the trucks powered by Leyland than was the case with the buses. Interestingly BRS, unlike the bus companies, was permitted to buy any make of truck and did so in volume.

With by far the bulk of rural bus services under nationalised companies the need within those companies for a workable low height double decker became urgent. The Brislington engineers had been looking for a solution since the mid 1930s and came up with a complex arrangement known as a drop centre rear axle which appeared on a traditional rear entrance, front engined double decker in 1949 - the Lodekka. The early prototypes had traditional exposed radiators but production examples all had Bristol tin fronts which developed over the years into more refined shapes.

The Lodekka became the staple BTC double decker in 27 foot 6 inch, rear entrance (with and without doors), 30 foot forward entrance and even some 31 foot 6 inch long, coach standard, forward entrance vehicles before production ended in 1968. Allied to some excellently proportioned ECW bodies, the Bristol Lodekka was a tough, dependable and long lived workhorse. Non nationalised companies could only look on with envy as they had nothing to match and struggled - as did some municipals - with the cramped conditions of the traditional lowbridge design.

AEC, Daimler and Leyland were all looking at the same problem. Leyland, in its search for rear engine/front entrance double deck designs produced a rear engine powered version of a drop centre rear axle on both of its Lowloader concept vehicles but though this was perfected and incorporated into the first prototype Atlantean (a design much modified before production began) it was abandoned as too complex for production vehicles and early lowbridge Atlanteans had a raised floor at the back of the lower deck and the last three or four rows of the upper deck were on a raised platform with a sunken gangway. Real low height Atlanteans had to wait until Leyland acquired a license from Daimler in 1964 to use the Coventry company's gearbox (oddly from a design by the by then Leyland owned Self Changing Gears), to match with a drop centre rear axle designed for the Leyland owned Albion Lowlander, a front engined, front entrance double decker which was built between 1961 and 1967 and sold to a range of operators as an Albion in Scotland and a Leyland in England.

Basically a low height PD3, the type was seen by many BET companies as "the answer", Ribble and Yorkshire Woollen being among a number to order batches. But the Lowlander disappointed - especially when Leyland fitted air suspension - and North Western kept well clear. BET thought it had the answer as early as 1957 when AEC announced the Bridgemaster - a true low height double decker - part of the design work for which was carried out at the Crossley works at Errwood Rd, Stockport, indeed the prototypes were badged as Crossley Bridgemasters. BET encouraged its constituent companies to look closely at the type which could be ordered either as a low or full height vehicle.

North Western took a look and walked away. The bus looked and was modern - if a little top heavy in its definitive Park Royal bodied variant. What put North Western off was the fact that, whilst it was based on the well proven Regent V, it owed a great deal to the Routemaster, including its integral chassis-less construction using a Park Royal body, and Charles St had seen enough of chassis-less vehicles with its two single deck Olympics. North Western obviously got it right as the Bridgemaster, in both its forms, sold only a total of 179 and was deleted from the catalogue in 1961.

Daimler waited until the Fleetline to introduce its low height, stepless floor vehicle and provided BET companies, including North Western, with their long term answer. But in 1960 the Fleetline was in prototype form and North Western was looking to replace its prewar Bristols and wartime Guys sooner rather than later.

Down in Hampshire, Aldershot and District Motor Traction had been long term customers of Dennis, based in Guildford. Just as North Western wanted to specify Atkinson chassis, A and D wanted to continue buying Dennis - who were not volume bus chassis makers but were famous in the 1940s and 1950s for their fire engines which almost every British fire brigade bought. This put A and D at odds with BET policy but their persistence was to benefit North Western.

A and D were equally in need of low height double deckers and Dennis came up with the answer. Whilst Bristol could not sell complete chassis to non nationalised operators there was nothing to stop them licensing their designs. Dennis approached Bristol and came away with a license to build the Lodekka in its rear entrance form albeit 30 foot long which was not a Lodekka standard. The prototype appeared in 1957 and A and D bought thirty four Loline Mk1 chassis and sent them to Blackburn for bodying by East Lancashire - they were delivered in 1958.

North Western watched developments with interest and when Dennis said they would produce chassis frames suitable for forward entrance bodies, the Loline Mk 2, North Western presented their case and the A and D precedent to BET and received approval to order fifteen with East Lancs 71 seat forward sliding door entrance bodies with a mix of Gardner and Leyland engines for 1960 delivery. At last the double deck bus fleet had some modern vehicles and they were pressed into service on the #71 and #80 where they provided a smooth and blessed relief from the Bristols and, once they had proved themselves, they went further afield on the #28 to Hayfield and the #29 and #30 from Macclesfield to Manchester before eventually being seen across all the double deck routes.

With modern grey and white interior trim, quiet engines, smooth suspension, heaters, doors and normal access to upper deck seats, many Manchester and Stockport passengers intending to travel relatively short distances on routes along which the buses operated would time their journey to avoid a # 16, or a #40, a #89 or a #92 and board a #80, a #29 or a #28.

Back in Hampshire A and D needed more Lolines but wanted a beefed up version, They borrowed one of North Western's batch direct from the Blackburn body builders and, in return, sent one of their 1958 batch which spent much of its time on the #71 and #80 where its two shades of green and cream colours and its massive Aldershot and District Traction Company oval logo attracted much comment - as did the dark green upholstery and the five across rearward facing bench seat across the front of the bus behind the engine/driver's cab bulkhead, No doubt conductors who had had to cope with the manual platform doors on the old express PD2s were happy to see that the Loline l's sliding rear door was power operated. The outcome of the Aldershot trial with the North Western vehicle was the Loline 3 and we'll come to that.

Whilst all this was going on, two more batches of dual purpose Tiger Cub/Willowbrook dual purpose single deckers appeared with four similar Reliances, all registered in the 1957 batch of LDB registrations. Another eleven Reliances from the order being registered in the RDB series, of which the first was RDB 801 (801), the whole of RDB 801 - RDB 900 being allocated to North Western which took 19 months to use them.

The touring coach fleet was added to again in 1961 with the transfer of two AEC Reliance/Harrington Wayfarers delivered new to Altrincham Coachways as LDB 776 and LDB 777 in 1959. They took up fleet numbers 776 and 777 which had been left spare for them. At the same time two further Reliances transferred to the main fleet from Altrincham - 827 and 828 (RDB 827/828). These had rare Willowbrook Viscount 41 seat front entrance bodies.

The long distance express coach fleet was modernised in 1961. The adjoining BET company, Ribble, had been making headlines in the press with its Gay Hostess coaches (try that branding today!!) based on Atlanteans with Weymann coach seated bodies with toilets and snack catering on board. They operated under Standerwick titles.

They were capable of - and were timetabled to run - at sustained speeds of 65 mph on the M1. This speed was often exceeded. I vividly recall the suction and consequent "throw" when my father's Hillman Minx was passed on the M1 by one of Standerwick's finest passing us with the Minx's speedo - which went to 90 mph - well past the 75 mph mark.

The thought of that makes me cringe, although in the early 1960s with much less traffic, it was much safer. Midland Red timed its Birmingham - London service on sustained 70 mph running and 85 - 90 mph was often achieved with their superb, home made, BMMO turbo charged C5Ts, even though "officially" their top speed was 76 mph.

North Western's ambitions were more modest. They bought twenty AEC Reliances with front entrance 41 seat coach bodies with roof quarter lights along each side. Painted cream with one red band under the windows, they were bodied by yet another non standard maker - Walter Alexander of Falkirk. The coaches were employed on tours (for which they were suited) and express work where they struggled.

At the same time, the final batch of Willowbrook bodied Reliances (852-871) arrived in the dual purpose scheme. The big news of 1961 was the arrival of a large number of chassis with Gardner engines and a new style of tin front with Dennis badges which were stored around Charles St and left in dribs and drabs, returning with Alexander forward entrance 71 seat bodies in no particular order. The new tin front already offered a much more macho appearance than the Loline 2s and, when married to Alexander's then current balloon roof design, their frontal appearance was massive. Again equipped with sliding doors which in early service had a tendency to stick halfway if the driver tried to close them when climbing a hill - almost a daily occurrence around Stockport - they continued the interior theme of grey and white.

RDB872 - RDB 876 came first, with corresponding fleet numbers, though in no particular order. The year ended with RDB882 - RDB 891 arriving with no sign of RDB 877 - RDB 881.

The missing buses arrived in 1962 closely followed by 892-900. When 901 arrived it, and the remaining five were registered in the sequence VDB 901 - 906. These were the final Lolines, some of which had five speed gearboxes for inter-urban work.. The Lolines of both marks served the company extremely well and all passed to SELNEC or Crosville. They not only modernised the double deck fleet but also laid the foundations for the next stage in development.

North Western took no less than fifty Lolines out of a total production of two hundred and eight, one hundred and forty one going to Aldershot and District which ignored the rear engine way out of the problem and continued to buy Lolines until 1965 when it stopped buying double deckers.

In passing, the Lolines were often employed on the X60 Manchester - Blackpool turn, especially on summer weekends when numerous duplicates were run, not only from Lower Mosley St but also from suburban departure points. There were days when a line of X60s would include a variety of coaches, dual purpose singles, the rear door bodied PD2s (both Leyland and Orion bodies) and even Bristol K5Gs. The Lolines must have come as a welcome relief to both staff and passengers who had not been allocated a coach or dual purpose single.

The final delivery of 1962 was a true beefing up of the express coach fleet by the purchase of ten 36 foot long Leyland Leopards (907-916) which were capable of sustained 60 mph running, had large fuel tanks capable of taking the coaches over 250 miles at speed and went into service on the London and Glasgow routes. They had Alexander 49 seat bodies which were a stretched version of those supplied on the 1961 Reliances and included roof quarter lights and sliding ventilator windows which had a tendency to rattle - a pain on the overnight service if trying to sleep, though the last couple had sealed windows and forced air ventilation. As it turned out these were a stop gap vehicle but, for all of that, were excellent performers.

Phil Blinkhorn


To view Part Three Click Here



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