City of Oxford Motor Services

The City of Oxford company originated in 1879 as the City of Oxford and District Tramways Company Limited, which began operating its first horse drawn tramway route on 1 December 1881. By the turn of the twentieth century, tramway systems throughout Britain were being converted to electric operation, but, even so long ago, local environmental objections to the erection of unsightly overhead cabling in the historic city streets ensured that the Oxford system remained horse drawn. The National Electric Construction Company took over the system in 1907 with a remit to pursue the provision of an electric tramway by means of an alternative method that obviated unsightly overhead cables. A ground level system of supplying electrical power by means of metal studs in the roadway was investigated but rejected on safety grounds. However, it is noteworthy that modern tramway systems in Bordeaux, Reims, Angers and Dubai all use such a ground level current collection method today, but back in the early years of the 20th century, doubts about the safety aspects of the system saw the Oxford tramways persisting with horse motive power. The frustrated company approached the city council for permission to operate motor buses, but the council prevaricated. The local motor magnate, William Morris, saw an opportunity, and started running a competing bus service in December 1913. This provoked the city council into yielding and the tramway company itself began motor bus services just three weeks later. Morris quickly accepted the realities of the situation, and sold his bus fleet to City of Oxford in 1914. The onset of war caused severe reductions in service provision as vehicles were requisitioned and petrol supplies became severely restricted. Once victory had been attained, expansion resumed in earnest. The 1930 Road Traffic Act led to many small operators selling out to the Oxford company, which became 49% owned by the Great Western Railway in that year. In 1931 the National Electric Construction Company and its 51% holding was taken over by British Electric Traction. The nationalisation of the railways in 1948 saw COMS become partly owned by the government, which also gained complete control of the Tilling group in that same year. In 1968 BET itself sold its UK transport interests to the nation, and COMS found itself subject to the tender mercies of the newly created National Bus Company. At first, few changes were evident, though the magnificent red, maroon and duck egg green livery underwent some simplification, to the voluble distress of enthusiasts, but far worse was to come. With the appointment of Freddie Wood as NBC chairman in 1972, mediocrity arrived in poppy red, together with absolute central control and initiative stifling uniformity.
COMS became an early devotee of the AEC brand by the 1920s when the firm was still the short lived Associated Daimler Company.Thereafter, AEC models became the preferred option, though the company was obliged to take utility Guy Arabs during WW2 and the Daimler Fleetline became favoured from 1968 . From the 1970s, NBC vehicle standardisation progressively took over.

Roger Cox

1938 AEC Regal FWL 643, a former coach converted to a tree lopper/tower wagon. Can anyone identify the original bodywork?

1948 AEC Regent III 9612A MWL 989 with Northern Coachbuilders L27/28R body, originally fleet no. L355, renumbered to L131 in 1952. This was one of nine such buses that followed a batch of five similarly bodied O961 Regents with epicyclic gearboxes. (COMS had sampled preselector gearboxes in ten petrol Regents delivered in the early 1930s.) The preselector transmission quickly fell out of favour with economy concious BET group companies, so AEC came up with the 9612A version of the Regent III chassis. This 26ft long model of the Regent had vacuum brakes and the A208 9.6 litre engine coupled with the old D124 four speed crash gearbox that dated back to 1930. In practice, the D124 box could barely cope with the torque of the 9.6 litre engine, and premature failures were not uncommon. AEC designed a stronger, wider toothed version of the gearbox, the D162, and later 9.6 litre Regents so fitted became the 9613A model.

1949 AEC Regent III 9612A OFC 392 with Weymann H30/26R body, delivered as fleet no. H392 but renumbered to H891 in 1952.

1957 AEC Regent V MD3RV, 193 BFC (L193) with the gaunt Weymann Orion L30/28RD bodywork. Until the advent of the 1958 xxx CWL batch, City of Oxford's first Regent Vs were all equipped with exposed radiators.

1958 AEC Regent V LD3RA 965 CWL (H965) with Weymann Orion H37/28R bodywork. With these, the City of Oxford company finally yielded and accepted the 'new look' AEC front end. The splendid Oxford livery did much to disguise the truly insipid outline of the Orion body. There were eight in this batch, which were 30ft long with AV 590 engines and synchromesh gearboxes.

1958 AEC Regent V LD3RA 972 CWL (H972) with Park Royal H37/28R bodywork. These buses, eight in total, and decidedly superior in quality, appearance and finish, followed the the mechanically identical Weymann bodied batch shown above.

Another Park Royal bodied 1958 AEC Regent V LD3RA 976 CWL (H976).

1960 AEC Regent V MD3RV, 982 HFC (H982) with Willowbrook H37/26F bodywork. After buying air braked thirty footers, City of Oxford went back to these vacuum braked 27ft 6ins long buses with AV 470 engines, which were the last to be given the 'H' prefix to the fleet number. I found this style of Willowbrook double deck body to be decidedly utiltarian and ugly, the sharp inward taper of the upper deck sides clashing visually with the rectangular front windows.

The handsome original aluminium structured Crossley bodied Bridgemaster did not meet with the approval of the BET group, a major potential customer, so a redesign with a Park Royal steel framed body emerged as the ungainly beast that entered production. At first, only the B3RA version was offered for rear entrance bodywork, so, in 1960, COMS dipped its toe into uncharted waters (for Oxford) by turning to the Dennis Loline Mk II, but specified a variant that was 27ft 6ins long and powered by the AEC AV470 engine of 7.68 litres (chassis designation YF7). Here are two views of 303 KFC (303) with East Lancashire H35/28F bodywork. AEC besotted COMS bought five if these machines before (inevitably) going over to the Bridgemaster when the front entrance 2B3RA version became available. In 1961/63, City of Oxford took a total of twenty three examples of the Bridgemaster before taking its successor, the Renown. I doubt that BET central purchasing decisions had anything to do with the reversion to Southall preferences, but, to my mind, the Loline was a much better bus than either the Bridgemaster or the Renown.

1963 AEC Reliance 2MU3RV 782 PJO (782) with Marshall B44F body.

1963 AEC Renown 3B3RA 330 RJO (330) with Park Royal H38/27F bodywork.

Another Renown is seen against the backdrop of Magdalene College. The Renowns were the last AEC double deckers to enter the Oxford fleet.

1966 AEC Swift MP2R DFC627D (627) with Willowbrook B53F body, one of a batch of eight. A following batch of eleven Swifts with Marshall B47F bodies comprised the last AEC vehicles to enter the fleet. Alongside no. 627 is 1962 AEC Reliance 2MU3RV 766 NJO (766) with Marshall B44F body that, together with its ten fellows, allegedly had the capacity increased to B53F. If true, they must have been decidedly cramped within after the conversion.

1968 Daimler Fleetline CRG6LX KFC 374G (374) with Northern Counties H41/31 bodywork. This first batch had front entrances, but all succeeding examples had dual doorways.

1970 Bristol VRT/SL6LX OFC 902H (902) with Eastern Coachworks H39/31 body, seen when nearly new on the occasion of the 1970 Brighton HCVC Rally. It is wearing the 'non maroon' simplified livery that distressed enthusiasts. Little did we then know what horrors lay in store for us. This bus, together with nos. 901 and 903 had the taller version of the bodywork giving greater saloon headroom, and all three being originally ordered by Southern Vectis.

Finally, the joker in the pack. Aldershot and District was one of several operators - East Kent was another - that leapt to the assistance of COMS during the late 1960s/early 1970s when the Oxford company suffered serious engineering difficulties. These arose primarily from the attractive pay rates being offered at the Cowley car manufacturing plant, which bled COMS of its qualified engineering personnel, a problem that persists to this day. East Lancs H37/31RD bodied Dennis Loline Mk I SOU 445, A&D 337, carrying temporary Oxford number A9, is seen here with the ungainly outline of a Bridgemaster behind it. A&D supplied and maintained these buses on a rotational basis. Unlike the Mk III, examples of which were originally sent to assist in Oxford, the Loline Mk I employed the same gearbox as the Mk II, so some degree of familiarity would have been offered to the Oxford drivers, though COMS last experienced Gardner engines in its Guy utilities.



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