The unpopularity of the Mark 6 and 7 Seagulls was not entirely responsible for the declining sales of coach bodywork at Burlingham. From 1951 onwards the company had offered a 36-41 seat design on Bedford SB and other front engined chassis types. Although visually very similar to the original Seagull, this design was never given an official name by Burlingham. There was also a shorter variant of this body style suitable for the modernisation of Bedford OB and OWBs, and this soon became known among its (mainly Scottish) customers as the “Baby Seagull”. Once again, this appellation was never an official one as far as Burlingham were concerned, although its use undoubtedly spread to some of the company’s rank and file workers.
Production of the so-called “Baby Seagull” came to an end in the mid 1950s but sales of the Bedford SB body (which gradually evolved to incorporate some of the features of the contemporary Seagull designs) continued throughout the decade. By 1958 sales of the SB body had outdistanced those of the Twilight Zone versions of the Seagull, so naturally Burlingham’s management thought that it would be a good idea to drastically redesign their offering for the SB. Note the element of sarcasm in that statement.
The gargoylish result of this “redesign” emerged in early 1959 and was an insult to the Bedford and Thames chassis which bore it. The front end of this abomination defied description (space helmet for a very fat sheep?) while its rear end shared the unpleasant “chopped off” look of the Seagull Mark 7. Less than 50 were sold, presumably to operators who didn’t care what their coaches looked like, and the type soon picked up a variety of unofficial names including “The Pig”, “The Sea-Cow”, and the “Burlingham Dodo”.
Sales figures for 1959 were astonishingly low in both the heavyweight and lightweight categories and at the end of the year Burlingham’s managers announced an entirely new range in a desperate attempt to save the company. For lightweight chassis (Bedford/Thames) the new design was to be known as the Seagull 60, the first time that the Seagull name had been officially applied to a design for front-engined vehicles. The “60” part referred to the year in which it would be delivered. The bodywork was a vast improvement over the grotesque 1959 design but still no beauty queen if compared to the offerings on similar chassis by Duple and Plaxton. On the positive side it was better looking than Harrington’s Crusader, but that was an easy target to reach.
Sales of the Seagull 60 were good, especially when compared to those of the 1959 body, but the type had its own fatal flaw. The design featured a raised Perspex section in the centre of the roof which ran all the way from front to rear. The idea was to increase the amount of natural light in the interior. It soon became evident that the Perspex part admitted rainwater as well as light due to inadequate rubber sealing around its edges and joints. The fault could be corrected, but at considerable expense to Burlingham both in terms of money and reputation.
For heavyweight underfloor engined chassis of AEC and Leyland manufacture the Seagull Mark 7 was replaced by the Seagull 70. As this too was introduced for delivery in 1960, the “70” part of the name was entirely meaningless. Like the Seagull 60, the Seagull 70 wasn’t an ugly vehicle, merely not that attractive when compared to its contemporaries –which in this case included the stunning Harrington Cavalier, an Esmeralda to the Crusader’s Quasimodo. Many observers found the Seagull 70’s front end particularly objectionable, but it wasn’t really that bad until you parked one next to a Cavalier. To the disappointment of Burlingham’s managers Ribble chose not to order the Seagull 70 and eventually bought the Harrington alternative. Most operators followed suit and sales of the Burlingham heavyweight design barely passed the 30 mark.
At this point it became obvious that Burlingham could no longer continue as an independent bodywork manufacturer, and in August 1960 the company was acquired by its London-based competitor Duple. Ten years earlier, as Burlingham had proudly displayed its original Seagull at Earls Court, the Duple stand at the same Commercial Motor Show had introduced the Vega design for the Bedford SB. Both the Seagull and the Vega had been enormous successes for their respective manufacturers, but while Duple had consistently offered improved versions of the Vega and slightly longer Super Vega, Burlingham had squandered all of its own goodwill by producing designs which became less attractive as the decade progressed. It was a dog-eat-dog industry and by 1960 Duple was still a healthy Rottweiler while Burlingham had become an incontinent old pug.
In the short term the Burlingham name remained in use for products made at the Blackpool factory. The Seagull 70 continued to be produced in penny numbers and the Seagull 60 metamorphosed into the Seagull 61 (with a revised roof design and lots of chrome work at the front end). For the 1962 season the Seagull 70 was still in the catalogue (although none were sold), the Seagull 61 magically became the Seagull 62 (the only change being its name), and an alternative body style for Bedford/Thames chassis (with the unfortunate name of the Burlingham Gannet) was offered for those who found the final Seagull range visually unacceptable. The Gannet sold in modest numbers (dozens rather than hundreds), but not as modestly as the Seagull 62 which didn’t even reach double figures.
By the start of the 1963 season the Burlingham name had disappeared and products made at the Blackpool premises were being marketed under the name of Duple (Northern). Burlingham’s final design, the Kestrel (a 41-seater intended to replace the Seagull 70 on heavyweight chassis) had never gone beyond the drawing-board stage, but two variations on the Kestrel theme with very similar styling did achieve production status.
The Duple (Northern) Dragonfly, a 49-seat 36-footer for AEC Reliance and Leyland Leopard chassis, was basically a lengthened Burlingham Kestrel and suffered from the same inexplicable handicap of a compulsory central entrance. Only six were sold and two of those went to Fishwick of Leyland at bargain basement prices. The Burlingham Seagull 62 and Gannet were replaced by the Kestrel-style Duple (Northern) Firefly on Albion, Bedford, and Thames chassis. It fared better than any Burlingham coach design had since 1958 but was still hardly a best-seller, moving less than 200 units in its four years of production. With the termination of Firefly production in 1966 the last link with genuine Burlingham designs was severed and from then on the Blackpool factory would produce purely Duple models such as the Viscount and Viceroy.
In 1950, when the original Seagull was built, there had been more than 50 companies producing coach bodywork in significant numbers for the British market. By the start of 1960 this figure had been reduced to five; Burlingham, Duple, Harrington, Plaxton, and Yeates. The Burlingham name disappeared at the end of 1962, Yeates at the beginning of 1964, and Harrington in 1966. These figures represented a terrible history of missed opportunities and the chapter covering Burlingham was possibly the saddest section of the entire book. Fortunately a dozen or so “real” Seagulls survive in preservation to remind us of happier times when a company based in Blackpool led the way in British coach design.
Neville Thanks so much for the flight of the Seagulls. Any chance of a PDF for me to file it safely? You didn't include the Duple Continental - which many sources site as the last design to come off the Burlingham drawing board.
As regards the Continental/Alpine Continental, my own understanding is that is was designed at Hendon but built at Blackpool. There is a certain amount of ambiguity, however, as the "new" design incorporated certain panels ordered by Blackpool in anticipation of a rather larger number of Dragonflys! I should probably have said this in the article.
Neville has given the OK to prepare a .pdf from the coding for the site which will include all the photos as well, so I will pull all three articles together into one and print out a .pdf for anyone who wants one.
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Old Bus Photos from 11:53 Saturday 25th April 2009 to 20:01 Monday 20th May 2013