Front Wheel Drive Gilford

Front Wheel Drive Gilford

On Friday 2nd February I received the following photo and mail:-


From -
E-mail address -
Subject -
Re the 1931 D Type Gilford double decker see attached view of it under construction and also the contemporaneous single decker

Unfortunately as you can see there is no name or email address but it reads as if there should have been two shots.
Anyway the shot is too good not to go on site. I think it is the single deck version of the 1931 revolutionary front wheel drive Gilfords of which only two were built this and a double decker.
Your comments as usual most welcome.


09/02/13 - 15:22

Found history of company at and a plan of the bus is on this site on the Gilford Valiant Direct posting.

Ken Jones


As the plan is on this site I have brought Malcolm Thwaites drawing of the double deck version and his comment that came with the plan here.

The patent number for the D-type is (GB)353,902 and was applied for by the Gilford Motor Company Ltd and Edward Bert Horne on April 29th 1930 and accepted on July 29th 1931. The drawing shows a lower deck plan, with the engine protruding significantly into the lower saloon with two pairs of rearward facing seats to each side of it, and a vertical section through the bus showing the front wheel drive and Gruss springs

Malcolm Thwaite

09/02/13 - 17:09

Brendan Smith gives a highly informed description of this bus and its double deck sibling in his posting for the Vallient Direct Gilford 168OT. Perhaps it would be useful to reproduce that comprehensive note here.
I would add that the Gilford company intended to produce the horizontally opposed Junkers Jumo diesel under licence, but things never got that far. When exhibited at the 1931 Olympia show, the double decker had several engine components made of wood, and if that bus and its single deck version ever ran under their own power, this was not achieved with the Jumo engine, unless examples were imported from Germany. A bit more information may be found here:- Some details about the trolleybus version may be found on this site:-

Roger Cox

Brendans Comment

Gilford did build a low-height double-decker in 1931, and it was displayed at that year's Commercial Motor Show. It was a very advanced design incorporating front wheel drive, thus allowing a very low floorline, as the usual bulk of the rear axle and differential casing were dispensed with.
After delving into various books, all manner of things came to light. The bus was known as the 'D-type' (presumably for double-decker), and was of chassisless construction with an overall height of 12ft. 11ins, which was pretty impressive for a 'decker with central gangways on both decks. The engine was also unusual in being a German-built Junkers horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder two-stroke diesel unit. A four-speed constant mesh gearbox was mounted ahead of the engine, and the drive then went to the front wheels. As usual, Gilford had fitted Gruss air springs to the vehicle, and the front suspension was independent to boot!
The Wycombe 56-seat rear-entrance bodywork was of steel-framed construction, and was of a modern-looking full-fronted design. A Tilling-style three-piece front window arrangement was used on the upper deck, with the outer glasses curving round to meet the front side pillars. Unfortunately, no orders were forthcoming, and it was then converted to a trolleybus, and apparently saw service as such with Wolverhampton and Southend-on-Sea. A picture of the bus in its original form was shown in Buses Illustrated No.8, but I'm sure I've seen a picture of it elsewhere, and will keep looking!
Gilford chassis designations were generally straightforward. The numbers denoted the wheelbase (in feet and inches) and the letters described the driving position. So an SD was Standard Drive (meaning bonneted, or normal control), and an OT was Over Type (meaning driver alongside engine, or forward control).

Brendan Smith

10/02/13 - 07:57

The Junkers group of companies was in difficulty during the 1930-32 period. By November 1932 the original group had collapsed and Hugo Junkers engine patents were vested in Junkers Motoren-Patentstelle GmbH which it was planned would licence patents. Junkers Motorenbau, which had been in business since 1923, was one of a number of companies in the group separate from the aircraft company, and had been set up to build Jumo engines.
The rise of the Nazi Party in 1933 saw all Junkers patents seized and Hugo Junkers placed under house arrest.
Can anyone determine which Junkers engine was intended? Junkers aero engines were noisy so sound suppression, especially for the seats at the side of the engine would have been a problem - the sound/vibration being similar to a Commer TS.
Another point is the schematic seems to show there are 27 seats on the lower deck - though why the three offside longitudinal seats over the rear wheels aren't replicated on the nearside isn't clear. On that basis and using the scale of the schematic and the same seat pitch, the upper deck should have been capable of a capacity of 34 seats with a single seat at the top of the stairs and a three seater at the very rear over and to the nearside of the stair. This would give a seating capacity of 61, and a potential of 63 - a massive number in what was a two axle vehicle, presumably built within the 26 foot legal limit.

Phil Blinkhorn

10/02/13 - 07:59

A little more information from Peter Gould's and Commercial Motor websites give a little more information about bus, but mainly trolleybus.
The Gilford D started as a double deck motorbus, built in 1931 (registered as JD 1942).
It was converted to a trolleybus and was in service with Wolverhampton Corporation (in Wolverhampton livery) from 17th November to 31st December 1932, but never taken into stock. It was registered JW 2347 with Wycombe body H28/22R. At this stage, it was known as the Gilford-ECC FB, as it was a collaborative venture with the Electric Construction Co., of Wolverhampton.

Here it is in its later form of 1932 front-wheel drive Gilford TB1 Trolleybus. An apparent works photo with front wheels chocked. (Copyright unknown)

Chris Hebbron

10/02/13 - 08:03

The passenger capacity described in no way matches the schematic of the lower deck shown in the schematic which begs the question as to its provenance.
If anyone has a copy of CLASSIC BUS No 4 April-May 1993 it seems there is an article: "Class Blunderbus: Gilford's ultra-low-floor double decker Open Platform" which may well give more answers.

Phil Blinkhorn

10/02/13 - 09:12

Here is a couple of snippets from 'Buses and Trolleybuses 1919 to 1945' by David Kaye
'Both models were powered by Junkers 6 cylinder two stroke oil engine of 5.87 litre, with a bore of 77mm and a stroke of 210mm, all of which led to 120 b.h.p. at 2000 r.p.m. Apparently due to difficulties over manufacturing rights at Olympia the double decker had dummy wooden pistons fitted'
and this sad bit
'The single decker never even worked and when Gilfords were wound up in 1937 it was sold as scrap for £7 10s.'


10/02/13 - 09:50

Phil: As I understand it, the diagram is taken from the Patent application, and does not therefore represent the actual seating layout as built. Looking at it, with a 7'6" wide body, the idea of twin seats either side of the engine would have been wishful thinking. As shown, the engine is wider than the gangway, so the seats would have been narrower than the normal. Anyone who has ridden on a 7'6" wide vehicle will be aware that two well built passengers to a seat generally encroached into the gangway space! The overall capacity of 50 on the built version may seem low, but it should be remembered that the standard Birmingham COG5 of the late 1930s was built with a 48 seat body.

Alan Murray-Rust

10/02/13 - 12:22

I must say that I admire the lines of both Wycombe bodies, somewhat in advance of their time, which, of course, might even have worked against them as well, so cautious was the whole industry at the time.
The metal-framed double-decker, amazingly, had a four-bay body and the upper deck triple window style, a la art deco, looks more stylish than its contemporaries, especially the Tilling ST's!
The radiator/headlamp area is also well-designed, but the whole front at windscreen level seems messy, although it's difficult to get an accurate overview of the nearside corner. Does it have a full curved pane of glass, or is it in two pieces. Is the front compartment fully enclosed or not?

Chris Hebbron

10/02/13 - 13:23

Alan, the drawing looks to be to scale and, forming part of the patent application, has to be relevant and accurate to the final design - in this case the body.
Dimensioning the drawing as depicted as accurately as I can from a print from the screen and accepting that it is to scale, given its references to the patent, the overall dimensions are 7ft 6ins x 27ft 3ins. The seat squabs by the engine are 16ins wide (around 19ins is considered "adequate" today) the remainder 18ins. The engine width is 22.5ins inc cover which would have been more than adequate for an engine based on the very slim Junkers diesel aero engines, built for aerodynamic efficiency, though I can't find any reference to which specific Junkers engine would have been used. This would leave 1.25ins either side for body structure.
The aisle width thus comes in at 15ins, barely adequate for stage carriage work.
The tiny capacity of the trolleybus as used, compared to the patent drawing, may well have been due to licensing restraints (to do with the aisle width?) rather than available capacity. Certainly the drawing utilises an inventive layout which, when compared to the standard layouts for a lowbridge vehicle of the time (single or double upper deck aisle and single or double intrusion into the lower saloon headroom) would have offered a much greater capacity with some reduction in the inconvenience to passengers and crew and a vast improvement when collecting fares or entering/leaving a seat on the upper deck.

Phil Blinkhorn

10/02/13 - 13:23

A few dimensions from same book.
Double Decker Height 12ft 11ins - Upper Saloon height 5ft 8½ins
Single Decker Height 7ft 10ins

As you say Chris H it was originally registered JD 1942 it was in the livery of Hillmans of Romford and was their number 100 but apparently never used.


10/02/13 - 14:34

Phil: I take your point about patents, but I doubt if the precise seating layout forms part of the patent specification. I would expect the patent to cover the items which are specifically numbered on the drawing, which represent areas of innovation. The seating layout is not so numbered and does not represent a radically departure from existing practice, so could not reasonably be part of the patent; this is in contrast to the Leyland patent of the sunken side gangway upper deck layout for lowbridge buses, which was a radical concept. It is significant that no layout of the upper deck is included, apart from the indication on the vertical section that it includes the normal centre gangway layout.

Alan Murray-Rust

10/02/13 - 14:39

You are right Alan there is not much mention of the body in the patent it is mainly about the engine, gearbox and drive shafts and the position of them and that the drive and steering is through the front wheels.


10/02/13 - 17:55

I'm now a little confused. As Alan says, the seating layout does not appear to have any reference numbers for the patent. In that case why indicate what would, for the time, have been a radically different (and dense) seating pattern which would have, and still does, raise more questions than answers?
We are probably never going to have a real answer to a number of questions:
Was the idea of using the Junkers engine more of a pipe dream than reality as though drawings and patents existed for the aero diesels at the time, it wasn't until later that production got under way and there is scant acknowledgement of any other Junkers diesel application apart from small 2 strokes powering generators, pumps and small tractors. The aero engine designs, whilst having the dimensions required, were grossly overpowered for a bus so, if the idea was real, a great deal of redesign would have been called for.
Was the whole exercise just a large "what if" tease? Diesel engines for motive power on land were in their infancy and bus undertakings were firmly wedded to petrol. In a conservative industry one innovation at a time was hard to swallow. Add front wheel drive, low floor and a hint at large capacity and questions have to be asked about just how serious the project was.
Had this emanated from Southall or Leyland there would have been raised eyebrows, laughter may have been added had the idea come from Gorton but from a minor assembler of bought out components with little room for production, the seriousness of the project has to be brought into doubt.

Phil Blinkhorn

11/02/13 - 07:01

Peter says that the double decker bus was painted in Edward Hillman of Romford's livery and numbered 100. This is unsurprising, since, at London Transport's takeover of private London operators, 91 of the 122 Gilfords taken over came from Hillman. In fact, LPTB was the largest operator of Gilfords for some time. In 1931, it would seem a good ploy to paint the vehicle in the colours of such a large customer. Sadly, it all came to naught!

Chris Hebbron

11/02/13 - 07:02

Brilliant contributions.... nowadays we would call it a Concept Bus!


11/02/13 - 12:13

The only information that the article in Classic Bus #4 adds to the foregoing is at 12'11" it was the lowest overall height for a double decker until the advent of Barton's Loline and that post the 1931 CMS both the double decker and single decker test beds were fitted with Meadows petrol engines (type unspecified) prior to the rebuild of the double decker as a trolleybus.

Orla Nutting

11/02/13 - 13:49

The Meadows engine that was used might have been the established 4467 cc motor that also powered Lagonda cars. A history of the Meadows firm may be found at this site:-

Roger Cox

11/02/13 - 16:23

Whichever Meadows petrol engine was used, it would have been a good deal quieter than any of Hugo Junkers' diesels!

Phil Blinkhorn

12/02/13 - 14:03

In order to maximise seating space, perhaps the Junkers engine was chosen for its narrowness, which was its great virtue as an aero engine, but it was obviously very tall, with an upper set of pistons opposing the lower set. With 18 big ends and 12 little ends to look after it would have kept the fitters busy, though top-end maintenance looks nice an easy: whip out a couple of seats and you can get at everything!
Despite doubtless magnificent German engineering there must have been plenty of mechanical noise from 12 pistons and 18 connecting rods and the inevitable 2-stroke roar, and with such a low floor how did they accommodate a big enough silencer? No clatter from valves or tappets, though.
A four-stroke six with 120-degree cranks in mirror image can have almost perfect dynamic balance, but a two-stroke six with 60- degree cranks can't, though I believe vibration isn't a real problem with the Foden engine. To achieve good inlet and exhaust timing the rise and fall of each upper piston must be slightly out of phase with that of its lower counterpart, which in a single-cylinder engine of this layout would cause noticeable vibration, but perhaps with six pots it might not add materially to the general tumult. The quoted specific fuel consumption for the big Junkers Jumo 205 engine, of 6 times the cubic capacity of the one fitted to the Gilford, was only 0.35--0.37 lb/bhp-hr, which is almost unbelievably good for a two-stroke oiler. All the same, what a pity they didn't wait a few months for the Gardner 5LW to become available.
It looks as though the gearbox was a two-shaft all-indirect unit, foreshadowing the boxes fitted to the Lodekka and Loline 20-25 years later, so presumably it was a tailor-made job, all adding to the cost.
I wonder what the traction would have been like for hill-starts on a wet road?
The drawings suggest that there was no formally-defined rear platform, which may explain the choice of a single forward-facing seat by the n/s rear wheelarch.
Whatever the potential problems posed by so many untried features, I'm still full of admiration for this handsome and ingeniously-designed bus. I wish it had all led to something.

Ian Thompson

14/02/13 - 07:14

Ken Blacker wrote a series of five articles that were published in Buses Illustrated over the period February to June 1960 (issues 59 to 63). These articles comprehensively covered the history of the Gilford Motor Co and Wycombe Motor Bodies Ltd. The use of information from these articles is acknowledged in the PSV Circle's publication MM5 dealing with Gilford and Wycombe.
The front wheel drive Gilfords are covered in the third of the Buses Illustrated articles (April 1960). The article says that the two front wheel drive Gilfords were inspired by a flat floor chassisless single deck bus built by the American Car and Foundry Motors Company in 1925. The Gilfords had bodies built by Wycombe (the double decker being the only such venture by Wycombe). The main frame members consisted of open rectangular steel sections with roof members that were bolted together to form a series of hoops. The floor level of the lower deck was just over 13 inches above ground with five feet ten and a half inches headroom in the lower deck and five feet eight and a half inches headroom in the upper deck. Both floors were completely flat and the overall height of the double decker 12 feet 11 inches. The single decker's overall height was seven feet ten inches. Gruss air springs were used - four on the rear axle (of forged construction with what would see to be of 'dropped axle' configuration) and two on the front 'axle'. The engine was installed 'back to front' with the drive unit and gearbox ahead of the engine. The engine projected into the lower saloon by one foot and eleven inches with room for a single seat on either side of it. The rear wheels were singles and tyre size was 11.25 x 20 all round. The seat frames on the double decker were of tubular steel construction with two single seaters at the side of the rear wheel arches. Total seating capacity was 56 with the seating split being given as 31/25 by the PSV Circle.
On the question of engines the article gives these as Junkers diesel engines of six cylinder two stoke, horizontal, opposed piston, design (77mm bore by 210mm stroke developing 120 hp at 2,000 rpm)chosen for its compact size. However, the article has an illustration of the double decker's engine and gearbox/transmission unit and this shows a vertical engine. An appeal to readers is made in the article for any information on the engine and a letter on this subject appeared in the June 1960 issue (in which the fifth and final article also appears). The letter, from K H Brown of High Wycombe, says that the writer's uncle was a draughtsman with Gilford between 1927 and 1932. The uncle was able to answer the query about the engine by saying that the six cylinder opposed piston engine, built under licence, by implication by Gilford, was never completed and a Meadows engine installed by Gilford instead. The PSV Circle publication says that there were problems with the manufacturing rights and although a 'Junkers' engine was fitted when the double decker was on display at the 1931 Olympia Show it was not operational.
Both the double and single decker (principally the single decker) were subsequently seen on road test in the High Wycombe area but no orders were forthcoming and the double decker was converted to a trolleybus.

Michael Elliott

14/02/13 - 09:50

Thank you, Michael, for filling in some gaps. As for height, the downstairs floor height is very creditable, but ceiling heights, especially upstairs, seem somewhat 'pinched'! Does anyone know if these were the standard of the day? Would the vehicle have had a sunken gangway, I wonder? It certainly doesn't look so from the photo. And the additional engine information is interesting. Bearing in mind the other novel ideas incorporated in both vehicles, it's surprising that they chose such an unusual engine in the first place. But they must have done their research. All that wasted effort must have been very dispiriting for the company and employees. Incidentally, when you look at the double decker, you can see that the single balloon tyres must have been deemed sufficient for the rear.

Chris Hebbron

14/02/13 - 14:38

Thanks Michael for adding to the information. Interesting that the seating capacity is confirmed as a good deal less than the drawing would suggest and that only one seat was provided either side of the engine rather than the two indicated.
Presumably there must have been good reason for a drop centre rear axle. I just wonder why a beam axle was deemed necessary instead of two stub axles.
The height of the single is amazingly low and must have seemed incredibly futuristic compared to the high framed singles that were the predominant style of the time and away from which designers and manufacturers were only just taking the first steps.
The actual Junkers engine to be used seems to be elusive which makes me wonder just how far negotiations went with the Jumo works and how much of the "engine" exhibited was real.

Phil Blinkhorn

14/02/13 - 15:05

This is from the Patent Specification.

‘Since the front wheels function to carry out entirely the driving and steering of the vehicle the rear wheels can be mounted in any desired manner so long as they afford the necessary spring suspension and there is no need for them to be mounted on a common axle, nor for the provision of torque rods and the like. The rear wheels may be four in number, the two at each side being coupled to operate in the known compensating manner.’


16/02/13 - 07:09

Chris - There's no mention of a sunken gangway upstairs in the Buses Illustrated article covering the Front Wheel Drive Gilford. It does say that both lower and upper deck floors were 'level'. There were, as you say, legal minimum headroom specified in the Construction and Use Regulations and my recollection is that the headroom in the upper deck could be less than that in the lower deck. I have a note of these somewhere, but can't put my hands on them at the moment - in the proverbial 'safe place', no doubt.

Phil - I've re-read Mr Brown's letter (in Buses Illustrated of June 1960) and he says that his uncle recalls that the forged rear axle was fitted later on - around the time of conversion to a trolleybus, and that originally the rear wheels were independently mounted. This is consistent with Peter's posting from the patent specification.

Michael Elliott



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