Duple Bodywork on Bedford SB chassis 1950-1962
The work of the PSV Circle in maintaining fleet records for operators throughout the UK (and beyond) has been little less than magnificent, and most authors (myself included) owe the organisation a tremendous debt. However, being English, that doesn't prevent me from having one small gripe amid the general climate of praise. Many of the organisation's "roving reporters" had a tendency to provide all available information about the chassis of a vehicle but be rather less specific on details of the bodywork. I know that several of the organisation's long term leading lights acknowledge this regrettable oversight and wish that those out in the field in the pioneering days had been more curious about bodywork styles.
To give an example, a 1950 Leyland PS1 Tiger with a "Plaxton FC33F" body could be either a Plaxton Envoy or a Plaxton Crusader, very different beasts in terms of appearance and styling. Similarly, a 1952 Leyland PSU1/15 Royal Tiger described as carrying a "Windover C37C" body could be a Windover Kingsway (with rakish if controversial styling) or a Windover Queensway (which looked like an over-sized milk float).
Many enthusiasts and writers from a later age are similarly imprecise in their description of bodywork. My personal bugbear is the use of the term "Duple Vega" or "Duple Super Vega" to describe bodywork built on chassis other than the Bedford SB. Vauxhall Motors had an agreement with Duple to use "V" (for Vauxhall) as the initial letter for designs intended for Bedford chassis only. Thus the Vista (for Bedford O range vehicles), Vega/Super Vega (for the SB family) and later the New Vista/Super Vista (on Bedford C4/C5), Bella Vista (on the VAS), Vega Major (on the VAL14), Bella Vega (on the SB from 1963) and Bella Venture (on the VAM for 1966 only). In 1967 the agreement seems to have ended as Duple went on to make the Viceroy and Viscount models on Ford chassis as well as Bedford.
In my own writing I tend to describe Vega style bodies on chassis other than Bedford as "Vega Lookalikes" in order to maintain a narrative flow, but each lookalike has its own distinctive Duple model number and these are listed in this article alongside the genuine Bedford Vegas which they resembled. From 1946 onwards Duple used a series of "FS" numbers for its bodywork designs. The "FS" stood for "Full Size", although this appellation referred to the scale of the draughtsman's drawings rather than the physical size of the actual coach or bus (a point proven by the allocation of FS50 to the diminutive Sportsman design built for the Bedford OLAZ goods chassis).
The series began with the FS1 model for half-cab coaches, more popularly known by its marketing department name of "A type". Later and longer (and/or wider) "A types" had their own individual FS numbers as did those produced in bulk for specific customers such as the Southern/Western National fleets. By late 1949 the FS series had advanced to FS32 which was the designation given to a 33 seat metal-framed body for the new Bedford SB chassis.
The original Duple Vega had been intended to meet the (then) maximum legal dimensions of 27ft 6ins in length by 7ft 6ins in width, but before the new type could go into production the regulations were changed to allow a length of 30 feet. Another change meant that vehicles up to 8 feet in width could be used on all suitable roads rather than operators having to seek permission to use such vehicles on the mileage of each individual Road Service Licence. Duple was too far into the production process to take full advantage of the liberalised dimensions, but added a token inch to the Vega's length.
The model number FS32 (without a suffix) indicated a standard Bedford SB/Duple Vega, measuring 27ft 7ins by 7ft 6ins. The FS32/1 had the same body shell but with more basic seating and interior trim and was marketed as the Duple Mk VI service bus body. Few operators were tempted by it as the full coach version was only 7% more expensive, had the same number of seats, and could be used on a wider variety of work. The FS32/2 was the 8ft wide version of the Mk VI, while the designation FS32/3 referred to an 8ft wide Vega coach.
At this point the first "Lookalikes" enter the picture. Designations FS32/4 through to FS32/7 were allocated to a similar sequence of options for bodywork on Dennis Falcon chassis. Only four were built, but the few that did go into service were an inch shorter than the corresponding Vega for reasons which remain obscure. The Dennis examples were unnamed, although some internal documents described them as "Duple Falcons" to differentiate them from their Bedford kin.
This model, introduced during 1951, was externally identical to the FS32. The difference lay in the mode of construction. While the FS32 had a completely metal frame the FS42 reverted to more traditional composite (wood/metal) construction, a decision forced upon Duple by a mixture of industrial action and a shortage of skilled labour in the area around its Hendon premises. Suffix numbers remained identical to those of the FS32 range although only two FS42/5s were ever built on Dennis L6 Falcon chassis, taking the grand total to six.
The next chassis type to receive a "Vega Lookalike" body design was the Tilling-Stevens L4MA8 Express II. Designed to compete with the Bedford SB/Commer Avenger ranges, the Express II was suitable for 30ft long bodywork and Duple's FS44 design (which was metal framed like the FS32 Vega) took advantage of its slightly longer wheelbase to offer 37 seat coach and 39 seat bus versions. The latter used the same body-shell as the coach and (unlike its Mk VI equivalent on Bedford chassis) actually outsold the coach. As the figures were four and three respectively this was not quite as impressive as it might sound! They were rare enough in either version to make an enthusiast's day.
Hot on the heels of the FS44 for Tilling-Stevens chassis, Duple introduced a longer genuine Vega for the Bedford SB. The wheelbase of the SB remained the same, but a longer rear overhang enabled the FS46 model to carry 35/37 passengers in its 28ft 11¾ins length. The FS46 was a 7ft 6ins wide coach while FS46/1 indicated the 8ft wide model. The first deliveries took place during late 1952, and versions with a superior level of interior trim were available and marketed as the Super Vega. There were also Mk VI bus versions of the FS46 which could accommodate a maximum of 37 passengers. I've only ever noticed two of these but there may have been more. The FS46 was of composite construction as was the FS47 "lookalike" for Tilling-Stevens chassis which replaced the metal-framed FS44.
King George VI died in February 1952 and after a short period of mourning the popular press began to enthuse about the "New Elizabethan Age". In the spirit of this sentiment Duple produced an extremely luxurious version of the longer Vega body and referred to it as an Elizabethan. The single vehicle produced featured a toilet, a galley, wheel spats over the rear wheel arches, and a rather inelegant T-shaped motif in chrome which was super-imposed over the existing "Big Bedford" radiator cowling. A few externally similar vehicles (but without the toilet and galley) were produced during 1953 under the name of Coronation Vega, while the Elizabethan name would be re-used for a far more successful model on underfloor-engined chassis in 1954.
17/03/17 - 16:03
"of the Dennis Falcons were VPA 261/2 which entered service, new, with The Yellow Bus Co of Stoughton, Guildford in 1954.
VPA 261 worked YBS's last service at 10:35 pm on Sunday 15th June 1958.
They can both be seen on SCT61 on the day before closure.
This info is from Happy Family by N Hamshere and J Sutton
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Old Bus Photos from Saturday 25th April 2009 to Wednesday 26th April 2017