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Vegas, Super Vegas, and Vega Lookalikes - Part Two

Duple Bodywork on Bedford SB chassis 1950-1962


FS56 VEGA/SUPER VEGA

The FS46 Vega had retained most of the styling of the original FS32 range albeit with slightly revised corner glazing at the front end. In October 1953 Duple did a more thorough re-design and came up with the FS56. The "Big Bedford" radiator cowling disappeared and was replaced by an oval radiator grille which led to it being nicknamed the "Fishmouth" Vega. The FS56/1 was the 8ft wide version and the Mk VI bus option was quietly dropped, to be replaced by a purpose-built bus body manufactured at Kegworth. Apart from the oval grille another distinguishing feature of the original FS56 model was a marginally increased seating capacity of 36/38.

This is the original FS56 Vega with the "fish-mouth" radiator grille. All such vehicles were built during 1954. At the time of this shot Bedford SBG HBW 306 was working for Williams of Wrockwardine Wood in Shropshire (Photographer unknown)

As the nickname "Fishmouth" might suggest, some operators were unimpressed by the new frontal design of the Vega and took their shillings to Scarborough for some far more attractive Plaxton Venturers. Duple rapidly admitted that the oval grille had been a mistake, and after a single year in production the vacuous goldfish look was replaced by a far more pleasing design. Introduced at the 1954 Commercial Motor Show, the new front end featured a butterfly shaped grille surmounted by a "feathered wings" motif. Otherwise it retained the dimensions and seating capacity of the original FS56. The butterfly grille models were given the designations FS56/2 (7ft 6ins) and FS56/3 (8ft).

Shropshire was a good place to find elderly Vega variants! This is Bedford SBG 111 CVX, new in 1955 and carrying an FS56/2 "butterfly grille" body. At the time of the photograph it was in service with Tulip Coaches of Hadley who also owned the Dennis L6 Falcon shown earlier in this feature.
(Roy Marshall via Author)

Model numbers from FS56/4 through to FS56/9 were allocated to "lookalikes"; /4 and /5 to Leyland's new forward control version of the Comet, /6 and/7 to bodies built on Commer Avenger III chassis, and /8-9 to a small number of Albion FT39 Victors. The next "true Vegas" came along in October 1955 and were the first to be a full 30ft long, a move made possible after Bedford extended the wheelbase of the SB chassis. The FS56/10 was the 7ft 6ins version and the FS56/11 the 8 footer, with both having alternative seating plans for either 37 or 41 passengers. These designations were retained for the slightly modified versions introduced at the October 1956 Commercial Motor Show which retained the butterfly grille but incorporated the "feathered wings" into the top edge of the butterfly shape to achieve a much more harmonious result. For the first time in three years Duple's design for the SB was more attractive than that of Plaxton which had ill-advisedly dropped the classic Venturer and replaced it with the fairly monstrous first version of the Consort range.

And here is the prettiest of them all, in this case an 8ft wide FS56/11 with the improved butterfly grille. Bedford SBG NUJ 313 was new to Whittle of Highley (in southern Shropshire) in 1956 but is seen here running for M&G Motors of Wem in the northern part of the county. (Photographer unknown)

This Commer T85A Avenger III with an FS56/6 lookalike body was delivered in the same year as the Bedford SBG above but retained the original butterfly grille as the floor-line was higher on the Avenger and the separate "feathered wings" motif helped to conceal the deeper front panel area between windscreen and radiator grille. We have not strayed very far from Shropshire as this machine, NUN 450, was new to EG Peters of Llanarmon-yn-Ial. Just across the Welsh border. (Photographer unknown)

Another of the classic "revised butterfly" design, but in this case a higher specification Super Vega mounted on a diesel-powered Bedford SBO. ODL 48 was new to state-owned Southern Vectis in 1957, and ten years later it left the Isle of Wight to join another Tilling group company, United Counties. Its stay there was brief and in 1968 it moved on to Smaller of Barton-on-Humber (Lincolnshire) and ended up in a scrapyard. Hulley's of Baslow bought it for spares in 1971, but two years later placed it into service as fleet number 9. (John Holmes)

The numbering system was becoming a bit of a shambles by 1956, a single designation covering a multitude of options made clear only by the suffix number. The FS56 series included not only genuine Vegas and "Vega Lookalikes" but also the Britannia/Britannic models designed for underfloor engined chassis such as AEC Reliances and Leyland Tiger Cubs. There was an obvious family resemblance between the Vega and the Britannia (the separate Britannic designation for centre-entrance versions had been dropped after one season), and the two designs had many common components, but the Britannia was surely deserving of its own place in the FS series. Instead the Britannia bodies received design numbers between FS56/21 and FS56/40 indicating chassis type, width, entrance position, and the special demands of the buyer.
Things became even more ridiculous in 1957 when the FS56 series jumped again for no apparent reason, designations FS56/57 and FS56/58 being allocated to "Vega Lookalike" bodies fitted to the new Ford 570E Thames Trader chassis. The /57 was the narrower of the two options. Ford were not keen on the butterfly grille and Duple came up with a rather chrome-heavy alternative which occupied the full width (and most of the depth) of the front end panels. The front windscreens were of a new two-piece design made possible by advances in curved glass technology. A relatively small number were built in 1957-58 before the Thames began to flood the market. The final numbers in the FS56 series were the FS56/59 and FS56/60, built on Bedford SB chassis to Vega specification but with extensive use of Perspex roof glazing aimed at the Continental touring market. The new variation was known as the Duple Alpine, but was very rare as most operators were not that keen on boiling their customers alive.
Two more designs related to the FS56 Vega family should also be mentioned in brief. Type number FS58 was allocated to a version of the Vega body tailored to suit front-engined heavyweight chassis built in 1946-1950, mostly as half-cab coaches. By 1956 the original bodywork on these vehicles had seen better days and Duple saw a market in making the mechanically sound chassis look as good as new for less than half the cost of a totally new vehicle. AEC Regals, Leyland Tigers, Crossley SD42s, and Daimler CVD6s were among the marques thus rebodied. Presumably each different chassis had a suffix number, but I have been unable to find a record of them.
The FS58 was shorter than a real Vega of its time, being to the 28ft 11¾ins length of the original FS56 of 1954 (and built on chassis originally designed for the 27ft 6ins legal limit), but the next number in the sequence, FS59, was given to an even more truncated version of the butterfly grille Vega design. This model was designed for the Bedford C4/C5 range of goods chassis, seating either 25 or 29 depending on the wheelbase of the particular chassis. It was originally known as the New Vista, but this was changed to Super Vista in 1959 when all Vegas became Super Vegas.


FS60 SUPER VEGA

Having perfected the FS56 Vega family Duple decided to take a lesson from Plaxton and replace their best-seller with something much less attractive. Introduced at the Commercial Motor Show in October 1958, the new FS60 range had a much more bulbous look and lacked the subtle lines of the butterfly grille model. The butterfly itself had vanished, replaced by an uninspiring full-width chrome unit originally used on the small batch of FS56 models fitted to Ford chassis in 1957-58. The two-piece curved front windscreen had also first been used on the early Fords, but the rear window arrangement was completely new and not particularly attractive to most observers. The kindest thing you could say was that it let more light in than earlier versions. Meanwhile Plaxton had undertaken several redesigns of the Consort and by the time the Consort IV emerged in late 1959 the ugly duckling had turned into a passable swan. Faced with the obese new Super Vega variant several well-known operators switched their allegiance to the Scarborough firm.

The FS60 Super Vega was several steps away from the elegance of the later FS56 versions. This is HCC 850, a 1960 Bedford SB3 (petrol engined) which was new to Purple Motors of Bethesda. Five years after delivery it was sold on to Williams of Llithfaen who used it on their stage service to Pwllheli as seen here. (Photographer unknown)

The original FS60 Super Vega was the 7ft 6ins version while the 8ft equivalent was the FS60/1. Next came the (unnamed) FS60/2 which was a similar body for the Commer Avenger IV, while design numbers FS60/3 to FS60/6 were Duple Britannias on underfloor engined chassis. The numbers FS60/7 and FS60/8 were the Super Vega lookalikes for Ford 570E chassis. These too were unnamed at this stage despite what you may have read elsewhere!
The 1960 Commercial Motor Show brought another partial redesign of the Super Vega, with a three-piece windscreen and a new (more stylish) radiator grille helping to improve its appearance. The design numbers had taken another unexplained leap, with the rehashed Super Vega becoming the FS60/18 (7ft 6ins) and FS60/19 (8ft) while the FS60/20 was the version for the Commer Avenger IV and (at Commer's suggestion apparently) was given the name Corinthian, the first of the "lookalikes" to aspire to such a status. The numbers from FS60/21 to FS60/24 were allocated to Duple Britannias, and FS60/25 (7ft 6ins) and FS60/26 (8ft) were given to bodies on Ford 570E Thames Traders. These too finally acquired a name, being branded as the Duple Yeoman. The Fords' radiators were slightly larger than those of Bedford SBs and Commer Avenger IVs, so the Yeoman of 1961-62 retained the original version of the FS60 radiator grille - itself first used on early Thames Traders - while the (Commer based) Corinthian used the same type of grille as the 1961-62 Super Vega.

The final 1961/1962 version of the FS60 was an improvement, but only if seen from the front. This 1962 example on a Bedford SB1 (diesel-powered) chassis, 631 UTD, started its life in Lancashire but by the time of this photograph had passed to Titterington of Blencowe in the Lake District.
(Photographer unknown)

In 1961 Duple began to design a new range of coach bodies for introduction in 1962/63, involving much squarer bodywork with straight waist-rails and the quirky "keynote" feature of a backward leaning window pillar above the rear wheel arch on each side. It was generally known as the"Bella" range but more accurately as the FS61 series. The first model to be launched was the 29 seat Bella Vista for the Bedford VAS, followed by the 52 seat Vega Major for the three axle Bedford VAL, and then by the 41 seat Bella Vega for the Bedford SB.
I will take a look at the entire FS61 range (which also included the Trooper for the Ford 570E, the Marauder and Mariner for Ford 676E Thames 36 chassis, the Commodore for 32ft underfloor engined designs, the Empress for the Ford R192, and the Bella Venture for the Bedford VAM) in a future article, but my next piece on coach bodywork will remain in the 1950s and cover Plaxton models from 1950 to 1959 under the working title "Venturers, Consorts, and Panoramas"

Neville Mercer
03/2017


30/03/17 - 07:16

Neville.
What an excellent Two Part Article.
A note you may be interested in part 1 is KWX 413 was purchased new to Kildare, Adwick-le-Street from Comberwell Motors dealership in 9-1951, in previous month 8/1951 KWX 412 was also purchased new by Kildare.

Alan Coulson


28/04/17 - 07:17

One of the delights of both this site and sct61 is how something written today can suddenly shed light on something that has been puzzling me for a long, long time. In this case it was a Ford/Duple coach operated in the 1960s by Claribel Coaches of Ardwick, Manchester, which looked at first sight like what I now know as an FS60, but in side view resembled the earlier butterfly grille Vega. Since I've never seen another one, or even a photograph, for 50 years I've assumed it must have been either a prototype or a dream. Now I know it was an FS56/57 or /58. Thank you very much!

Peter Williamson


28/04/17 - 16:47

Peter W, you're so right!! You mention CLARIBEL. I remember them from the mid to late fifties and early sixties when they used to visit Morecambe, though I can't remember what colours they applied or what vehicles they had.

Pete Davies


01/05/17 - 07:15

As far as I recall, Claribel of Ardwick (not to be confused with a Birmingham operator of the same name which seems to have been better known) had a livery of two shades of blue. As well as the Ford they had a Bedford OB, which in most places would be "yeah, right, who didn't?", but it's the only one I can ever recall seeing in Manchester in the 1960s.
Returning to the article, it isn't true that the FS60/25 and /26 Ford Yeoman retained the original FS60 grille. It had its own special version, as shown here at this link.

Peter Williamson


08/05/17 - 07:59

Peter and Pete, if you search OBP for 'claribel', you will find some comments about Claribel of Ardwick, including a partial fleet list I compiled a few years ago. I would imagine they also had other coaches purchased second hand.
Adding a little further information to the fleet list (the 'date in' and 'date new' have been transposed):-
2444 ND was new to A Howarth, Gorton;
CCB 150 was probably a unique vehicle, being a forward control conversion of a Bedford OB carrying a Trans-United full front body. New to Ribblesdale, Blackburn, a colour photograph of this coach whilst with Claribel appeared in Classic Bus 117 (Feb/March 2012), nicely illustrating the shades of blue used by Claribel;
JA 2459 was new to W Howe, Stockport and passed to North Western with that operator's business in 1935.

David Williamson


13/06/17 - 09:12

Something which adds weight to Neville's belief that the Duple Continental was not designed at Blackpool is that the prototype - which eventually became 6201ML - was built at Loughborough under Willowbrook order no. 61837. Intriguingly, order no. 61838 was cancelled and 61839 was an order of parts for Burlingham!

Peter Williamson

 


 

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