| BRISTOL VR - THE BIG FIRM BUS
|2010 marks the centenary of the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, later to become better known as the Bristol Aeroplane Company and later still to become absorbed into the British Aircraft Corporation which went on to
However, Sir George White's original "flying machine factory" started off in a former bus depot and works at Filton and Bristol buses - more recently built at Brislington and often with Lowestoft built Eastern Counties bodywork (ECW) - were at one time seen all over Britain.
As a companion piece to the Dr Who themed article : "Michelle Ryan: The Girl with the Big Firm Bus", this feature focuses on the post World War II development of Bristol PSVs up to and including the double decked VR Marks II and III. It is illustrated with pictures of (mainly) Exclusive First Edition 4mm scale die cast models from the permanent collection of Ken Guest, although a number of Ken's Bristol Lodekka models are now for sale.
Starting the line up above on the extreme left is the single deck L5G : in this case Bath Services of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company fleet number 2296 - registration HW 8369 - forming the 59 service to Marshfield. Model reference 97860 also includes advertising for The Regency Ballroom, Bath, on its ECW body and similar L5Gs could also be seen around Gloucester in the 1950s. L5Gs were built between 1938 and 1954 with the actual 2296 serving from 1949 to 1963 before being scrapped in Barnsley in 1965.
Further information on Bristol L types can be found at http://www.bristolsu.co.uk/l/index.htm
to EFE 97860 is another Bristol Tramways vehicle with Eastern
Counties bodywork - double deck K6B with fleet number L4120 and
registration LHU 516. EFE model reference 97859 also includes
advertising for Genasprin pain relief medicine on the nearside and
Hovis bread on the offside. |
It is seen here forming the 421 service to Chalford, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, although very similar Bristol KSWs - designed in the 1930s and with Eastern Counties bodywork - were to find fame in the 1970s as the mechanical stars of ITV's "On The Buses".
The red "Town and Country" buses used in the highly popular comedy were ex Eastern National, including VNO 857 - the regular mount of heroes Stan Butler and Jack Harper - while alternative green "Luxton & District" Bristol Lodekkas were sourced from the same firm.
The open top double decker in the spin-off film "Holiday on the Buses" was 229 XFM, a Bristol LD new toCrosville Motor Services while the bus at the safari park in 'Mutiny on the Buses' was NRN 607, a Leyland Atlantean with Metro Cammell bodywork, new to Ribble Motor Services.
Programme makers London Weekend Television used Eastern National's Wood Green bus station in north London for some exterior shots although "Luxton" was supposed to be in Essex and one of the bus route terminii - Cemetery Gates - was played by the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery in Enfield, Middlesex. By an amazing coincidence, Enfield was also the home of Reg Varney, the actor playing Stan Butler, Michelle Ryan and - from 2002 - Exclusive First Editions! Another Gloucestershire link is that actor Bob Grant - who played bus conductor Jack Harper in On The Buses - lived at Twyning near Tewkesbury from 1995 until his death in 2003.
The Bristol Lodekka was first manufactured in 1949 as an attempt to produce a low-height double-deck bus without the 4-abreast seating / side gangway arrangement of the "Lowbridge" body invented by Leyland.
ECW had previously built "Lowbridge" bodies on Bristol K chassis. The Lodekka used a mechanically-complex drop-centre rear axle to enable a low gangway on the lower deck, allowing the ceiling and the upper deck floor to be lower. Thus the overall height of the Lodekka was the same as the "Lowbridge" type.
Unusually for a Bristol, but similar to the LS ( Lightweight Saloon ) which was developed at the same time, the Lodekka had a lightweight "chassis" which was more properly a perimeter frame. It did not reach its full strength until combined with the floor construction of the body. It was therefore classified as an integrally-constructed vehicle, although it was still possible for the chassis to be driven to Lowestoft for bodying.
There were a number of model changes over the years, incorporating refinements such as air suspension and air-over-hydraulic brakes. Later models (the F-series) were longer and had a modified frame permitting flat floors. Bodywork for the F-series could incorporate a front entrance if required, rather than the traditional rear entrance of the original design. The body received many detail changes over the years, one of the more noticeable being the change to cream rubber for mounting the windows in the early 1960s which also affected all other ECW bodies being built at the time.
EFE model reference 14004 ( above ) with the later type of Lodekka radiator is seen in the traditional red livery of Cheltenham District forming a number 3 service to Hesters Way with an advertisement for local newspaper the Gloucestershire Echo between the decks of its FLF Eastern Counties bodywork with CBC vents. The fleet number is 7221.
The topless Lodekka FS below meanwhile is in fact from Corgi's Original Omnibus range ( the ones screwed down to a base under a perspex five sided lid ). Reference OM40807 depicts 2052 - registration AAP 52D - of the Southdown fleet when part of the National Bus Company. It is forming a Number 17 seafront service to Portslade Station from Rottingdean, childhood home of actress Caroline Munro and one time location of the Brighton, Rottingdean and Seashore Electric Tramway, the rolling stock for which was built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited.
The VR was Bristol's rear-engined bus chassis, designed for single or double deck bodywork to compete with the Leyland Atlantean and Coventry built Daimler Fleetline and featured a longitudinal mounted engine set behind the rear offside wheels, rather than the more typical transverse layout.Originally intended to be designated the Bristol N-type, the chassis became known as the Bristol VR, an abbreviation for Vertical Rear, a reference to the layout of the engine. Two lengths were available, 32ft 9in and 36ft, and these were designated VRS and VRL respectively. A drop-centre rear axle and low frame were employed to keep the height of the vehicle down.
A choice of Gardner 6LX or 6LW engines or Leyland O.600 engine were to deliver torque through a semi-automatic Self-Changing Gears transmission.
Two prototypes were built in spring 1966, and were shown at the 1966 Earls Court Motor Show. This was the first show at which Bristol could exhibit since 1948, their products being available to the open market again. The prototypes had 80-seat ECW bodies and entered service with Central SMT and Bristol Omnibus.
In July 1967 Bristol introduced a new version, to be known as the VRT, with a more conventional transverse-engined layout. The chassis also became exclusively a double-decker. There was also a choice of two frame heights. The longitudinal mounted version remained, and became known as the VRL. However in July 1968 the British government introduced a grant intended to modernize the British bus fleets, and speed the introduction of one-man operation. The standard specification for the grant required a transverse rear-engined vehicle, with the result that few VRLs were produced
The first production vehicles entered service with Eastern Scottish, a member of the Scottish Bus Group, in December 1968. Almost immediately problems were experienced with the transmission and overheating of the engine, problems similar to those experienced by early versions of the Leyland Atlantean and Daimler Fleetline
Continued reliability issues resulted in 1973 in the exchange, on a one-to-one basis, of 91 Bristol VRTs from Central SMT, Eastern Scottish and Western SMT for front-engined bristol Lodekka FLF6Gs from theNational Bus Company.
A revision of the vehicle, the Series 2, was introduced in 1970, with changes including a the replacement of the single piece wrap around engine compartment door with a 3 piece version with a lift up rear section and swing out sides.
In 1974 the Series 3 was introduced, with the main changes being to the engine compartment to keep in line with new noise legislation, the most visible change being to move the ventilation grills from alongside the engine to higher up, just below the top deck windows, connected to the engine compartment by trunking, plus the removal of the grilles from the rear engine compartment door.
The short, lowheight version, became the standard vehicle for the National Bus Company. The VRT remained in production until 1981, by which time 4531 had been built. The succeeding Leyland Olympian shared many similarities to the series 3 VR, although with updates such as air suspension.Later versions of the VR proved reliable, and remain in service with many independent bus operators across the united Kingdom and abroad. First Devon and Cornwall, for instance, withdrew their VRs from service only in December 2006 although a few were retained for open top tourist services and special events.
Like most Bristol buses, the VR was typically built with an ECW body. However, examples exist that carried bodies byNorthern Counties, Alexander and East Lancashire. Willowbrook of Loughborough also bodied a few VRs, while Metro Cammell Weymann bodied 200 for the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive.
The ECW body was distinctive for its rounded rear upper deck, a feature carried over from the ECW bodywork on the Bristol Lodekka and having its roots in ECW's styling on the Bristol K-type in the 1940s. The vehicles were typically constructed in the two heights set in the bus grant standards, 13 ft 8 in (4.17 m) and 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m). Other versions were built, including 13 ft 5 in (4.09 m) for City of Oxford Motor Services, and the 14 ft 2 in (4.32 m) height allowed under later versions of the grant specification along with the 13 ft 10 in (4.22 m) convertible open-toppers for companies such as Hants and Dorset, Southdown and Devon General.
As can be seen from the image above of VR II 564 - registration GNJ 564 N - of the Southdown fleet in National Bus Company Days parked next to Eastern Counties VR III 294 - registration VEX 294 X - the Bristol VR II had a smaller radiator grille - with a "Bristol" badge - and a different head and indicator light array to the later VR III.
The chassis code of a Bristol VR is very logical, and reveals a lot of information regarding the vehicle. The format is VRw/xxx/yyy, where w is the engine orientation (T or L: transverse or longitudinal, respectively. The prototype chassis carried an X here, i.e. VRX), xxx reflects the chassis details, and yyy the engine, e.g. VRT/SL3/6LXB is a short, low, Series 3 with a transverse Gardner 6LXB engine. The VRT/SL3/6LXB with ECW bodywork is the most common variant of the VR.
The chassis types are as follows:LH Long/High; Series 1 (note: VRLs were only of the form VRL/LH)
LH2 Long/High; Series 2
LL Long/Low; Series 1; built primarily for Scottish Omnibus
LL2 Long/Low; Series 2; built primarily for Reading Transport.
LL3 Long/Low; Series 3
SL Short/Low; Series 1
SL2 Short/Low; Series 2
SL3 Short/Low; Series 3
Engines:6LXB Gardner 6LXB (Gearbox: Type RV90 5-speed semi-automatic)
501 Leyland 501
680 Leyland 0680
|BRISTOL VR II|
model reference 20302 ( above ) represents 5501 - registration HTC 727N
- one of the rare single door vehicles of the Bristol fleet when allied
to the National Bus Company. Devoid of advertising, the Bristol
VR II forms a 108 service to the Bournville Estate.|
|Eastern Counties Omnibus Company Limited was registered on the 14 July 1931 and was an amalgamation of four companies who covered the areas of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Ely and the Soke of Peterborough. Under Tilling management the fleet grew strongly, incorporating many standardised features, and - like other Tilling companies - an enthusiastic user of Bristol chassis for the majority of its vehicles. Surviving through Nationalisation, the Eastern Counties fleet name now prospers under the ownership of FirstBus. EFE model reference 18502 represents JNG 50N - fleet number OT 353 - on route F4 to the Felixstowe Ferry. Advertising on the front of thiscream, red and yellow topless Bristol VR II is for Kingpin bowling and Roller King skating rink.|
|EFE model reference 20303 continues the coastal destination theme of Bristol VR IIs with its depiction of Southdown (with NBC ownership white stripe between decks) fleet number 564 - registration GNJ 564N. The "Solenteer" livery of the X71 limited stop service to Southsea is more elaborately worded than most with side adverts proclaiming "Limited Stop Portsmouth - Solenteer - Limited Stop Southampton" (near side) and "Your Limited Stop service between Portsmouth Southampton" (off-side) and "Our service is direct between two great cities" on the off-side staircase panel|
|EFE model reference 18501 meanwhile uses an even more colourful palette for Southern
National fleet number 559 - registration ATA 559 L - on the 501 route
to Portland Bill, advertising both the 501 service itself and Dorset's
|In less sunny northern climes, closed top Bristol VR II UWY 64 L forms the West Yorkshire 320 service to Penny Pot Lane with a largely yellow between-decks advertisement for the Harrogate and District edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post contrasting with its red livery.|
|BRISTOL VR III|
model reference 20417GS depicts Bristol VR III registered as GGM 81W as
fleet number 611 of Aldershot & District Traction Company Limited
on service 444 to Aldershot. Between the decks is the legend "75 Years of Service."|
Long before Sir John Betjeman, Miss J. Hunter Dunn and Sugababe Amelle Berrabah, Aldershot's first buses arrived during 1906. They were operated by the Aldershot & Farnborough Motor Omnibus Company Ltd which ran a service between Aldershot and Farnborough using two second-hand Milnes-Daimler's acquired from Hastings.
New services were pioneered, and the fleet increased to five vehicles. Expansion was vital for the small operator and capital arrived when the British Electric Traction Company bought out Aldershot & Farnborough in 1912. A new company was formed and named the Aldershot & District Traction Co. Ltd.
The new company rapidly expanded its network of service in and around the Surrey and Hampshire borders and in 1914 'A&D' was trying to get a foothold in Guildford. They gained licences to run services in competition with Guildford & District, a company formed by bus manufacturers Dennis Bros and Walter Flexman-French, the influential bus pioneer.
The Guildford and District operations soon fell into the hands of Aldershot & District. Other small operators were acquired as the years passed by and the network of services expanded, with depots established at Haslemere and Alton, followed by new premises at Hindhead and Woking.
Aldershot's role as an army town during the 1939-1945 conflict put additional burdens on the company as services were curtailed while patronage increased. Replacing the worn out fleet of vehicles was almost impossible, with the war effort taking priority.
In the post war years however the company received new vehicles from their main supplier Dennis and services returned to pre-war levels by 1946. High capacity single-deck buses arrived in 1954 when the first AEC Reliance was delivered while double-deck orders remained with Dennis.
In 1969 the Government formed the National Bus Company and the end was in sight for the traditional green and cream of the Aldershot company. In 1972 the "Tracco' as it was known, merged with neighbouring company Thames Valley to form Alder Valley.
|The green and yellow livery of Badgerline was first released in the Exclusive First Editions range on this Bristol VR III, model reference 20401. On route 332 to Bristol, EWS 739W - Bath fleet number BH5531 - carries the company's badger character on a band down its sides.|
|EFE model reference 20429 represents
Solent Blue Line fleet number 123 registered as DBV 23 W, one of the
mainstays of the company in the 1990s. The diagonally striped
blue, white and yellow PSV is handling the 47 service to Southampton
via Chandlers Ford and Bassett. Well, it takes all sorts!
Just like Sian Adey-Jones and Seren Gibson, EFE's 18604 is another
attractive topless model to be found in North Wales, registered as WTU
467 W and OVG467 in the Crosville Cymru fleet. Carrying adverts for the Welsh Mountain
Zoo, driver recruitment and the White Rose Shopping Centre, the Happy Dragon is on route 101 to
Prestatyn Pontins. Crosville started its bus service in 1911 between Chester and Ellesmere Port.
Growing to serve more isolated districts in the North of Wales as well as the
Merseyside area, this popular fleet plays an important part in Britains
transport heritage and is a particular influence on The Mellor Brothers.|
prepared for the occasional inclement weather in Wales is EFE's model
reference 20407, another Bristol VR III in Crosville's bright green and
white post De Regulation livery and depicting fleet number DVG 477 -
registered as WTU 477 W. This was among the last Bristol VR IIIs
to be built and on route 51 to Denbigh advertises BBC Radio
Five, Persil washing up powder and a Volkswagen dealership with branches in Bangor and Abergele. |
|Walking off the train from Oxenholme at Windermere's terminus station, one of the lake-bound traveller's first sights is often a bus doing the job once performed by Bristol VR III UWV 620 S.
Depicted by EFE model reference 18606 as Cumberland fleet number
2038, the topless double decker carries advertising for a joint bus and
steamboat service between Windermere and its indicated destination,
the advent of De-Regulation came a host of new liveries for many
companies, Eastern Counties being no exception. Here, VEX 294X - as
represented by EFE model reference 20408 - can be seen in early
period FirstBus markings as fleet number VR294. Running a limited
stop service on route X74, the double decker carries adverts for Surf
washing powder, Churchill Insurance, Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach and
a local furnishers CMC.|
|A more modern First Group livery meanwhile is modelled by
EFE model reference 18605 representing Provincial fleet number 594 -
registration MOD 571 P. The topless Bristol VR III advertises its
own route 70 to Portsmouth Hard via such attractions as HMS Victory,
the sea front, Pyramids Fun Pool, Castle and the D-Day Museum.
|Continuing the theme of coastal destinations is Bristol VR III 5828 in the fleet of Maidstone & District Motor Services - registered as BRC 834 T - forming the 341 service to Sheerness. EFE model reference number 20416 - like the Badgerline and Solent Blue PSVs above - also carries no advertising.|
|Moving from a port to the original Georgian seaside destination we find Bristol VR III JWV 976 W - 276 in the Southdown fleet - celebrating 75 years of the company from 1915 to 1990. Otherwise carrying no advertising - but a makers plate unusualy in the middle of the radiator grille - EFE model reference 20140GS was originally supplied as part of Model Collector Magazine Gift Set 99912 - along with a Leyland National single decker - to celebrate thar final days of Southdown as an independent company. While 276 is shown on route 230 to BrightonOld Steine, Southdown's Leyland National 81 - registration YCD 81T - was shown on the same route to Worthing Pier.|
|On the Isle of Wight it is even harder for a bus to escape a trip to the seaside, and it is therefore no surprise that EFE reference number 20409 shows Bristol VR III DPX 683 W as Post De Regulation Southern Vectis fleet number 683 on route 16B to Ventnor. As is common with Southern Vectis vehicles, the advertisements carried are all of a local interest, including the local "Yellow Pages," shopping in Ventnor and the local newspaper.|
|More likely to encounter concrete cows than seacows, EFE model reference 20423 is Bristol VR III 878 - registration XNV 878 S - in the mainly white livery of Stagecoach United Counties on the 158 service to Milton Keynes. Advertising on the sides and rear promote Coachlinks Oxford to Cambridge express service via Northampton ( home of new Dr Who Matt Smith ), Bedford and St Neots.|
|The Bristol VR III Village Bus meanwhile is not driven by a cowboy or a construction worker but an employee of its parent company Southern Vectis - hence the similar green and cream markings. EFE model reference 18609 represents VDL 613S, fleet number 3, carrying visitors to the Isle of Wight - both enclosed and open to the breeze, on link route 44 to various beauty spots in Sandown and to Shanklin Esplanade and Town.|
|Founded in 1912 by Wallace Cunningham
and Arnold Crowe, the Wallace Arnold coaching business steadily grew until
1926 when the company was taken over by Robert Barr. Under the control of the Barr
family the company continued to build its reputation for quality service and in the
mid 1950's, with the increase in private motoring, the company began to diversify by
making use of its existing facilities to develop commercial dealerships
including - among others Vauxhall, Bedford and Scammell. The last change in
ownership came in 1997 when the company was sold to a management buy-out. The
Wallace Arnold name has grown to become recognised around the world for its
quality holiday and leisure activities.|
EFE model reference number 20418 - released in December 1998 - shows Bristol VR III registered as HAH 237 V and operated by Viscount Travel in full Wallace Arnold livery on route 7 to Welland Estate.
|Finally in this alphaetic selection by companies, EFE model reference 20425 represents Wilts and Dorset fleet number 4448 - registered as KRU 848 W - on route 3 to Stonehenge.|