Friday, 26 October 2007

7+2 Failures to Launch

We bring you Omnibuses2.0's recently posted FULL 7+2 buses that just might’ve changed the world, had they been given the chance, with comments, plus the important and new 7+2 BAMBI and BAMS, designs you may not recall at all. Scroll down

1. The Bedford JJL

General Motors must’ve kicked itself. If ever there was a product placed on the market at the *wrong* time, it was their Bedford JJL. The JJL was a good looking, rear engined, low frame early 20-29 seat midibus, appearing in prototype in 1978 and marketed from 1979. Quirky Maidstone Borough took delivery of the only JJLs ever made, all with Marshall bodywork. They later found service in Brighton and, yes, Bournemouth Transport. There's a picture of a Bournemouth JJL here. Note the deep passenger windows and a front with an almost American feel to it.

The reason for its failure was that the market wasn’t ready for this capable little bus. Now, had Bedford survived to launch the JJL ten years later, it may have toppled the Dennis Dart’s supremacy.

For it was only towards the end of the 1980s that operators were willing to accept the 20-30 seat midibus concept, to give a higher seating capacity, better passenger comfort and better ride quality required as the Gen 1 minibus boom began to end. Such a pity for Bedford and its JJL that this bus arrived too early.

Anonymous said...
Theres no excuse for arriving early and every excuse for arriving late :-)
19 October, 2007 22:18

2. Seddon RU

There once was a time when bus grant made new purchases a very attractive proposition. Any new vehicle would do. General shortages forced a reluctant Crosville Motor Services to accept an incredible 100 Seddon RU rear engined single decks with Penine bodywork, in 1971 & 1972. Click to see a typical Crosville Seddon, one of 50 with dual door 45 seat Pennine bodies. Crosville's RUs were over a third of the total production run, Lancashire United being the other major purchaser. A number of smaller, mainly northern municipals joined in. The RU got as far south as Southampton City Transport, too.

This was at a time when the Leyland National began to emerge. National Bus Company subsidiaries had no choice but to purchase Nationals. There was plenty of resentment among other operators who still had the choice, at what appeared to be a strong Leyland single deck monopoly. Just at the time Seddon might’ve offered a real alternative, it ceased production. It’s sad that structural issues associated with the design forced complicated and costly repairs. Disliking the RU, operators to a man withdrew then prematurely.

How different things might’ve been. On paper, the RU had much to offer. For one thing, it had a much-loved traditional chassis-body combination (compared to the National’s disliked integral design). For another, it used a trusted Gardner 6HLX engine (compared to the National’s unknown Leyland 501). The RU was in fact a Bristol RE clone, the RE being very popular with engineering and traffic departments alike. Had the RU been a product up to challenging the might of the Leyland National, it would’ve been National’s sole competitor.

Gene Hunt said...
Never heard of Penine bodywork... reminds me of a Atlantean that had been converted into a towing lorry by removing the top deck...
20 October, 2007 10:54

dlk said...
You say "The RU got as far south as Southampton City Transport, too." I think the RU get even further south, in Gosport, with Provincial.
20 October, 2007 16:45

busing / omnibuses said...
DLK, you raise an interesting point. The earlier Seddon/Penines at Provincial weren't RUs but Seddon 4s, with high rather than low frames.
21 October, 2007 09:25

3. Foden NC

Three issues coming to a head at around the same time persuaded Foden to re-enter the bus market. One was a call among Daimler Fleetline users for a Gardner engined Fleetline look-a-like, following a firm belief that of the three Leyland double deck chassis of the 1970s, the Fleetline would be the first to go. Another was a concern by bodybuilders that Leyland’s replacement B15 (Titan) decker would be an integral on the same lines as the National – dispensing with the traditionally manufactured bodybuilder. And a third was production and quality difficulties with later Fleetlines themselves.

Thus in 1975 Foden went to bed with Northern Counties, producing the semi-integral Foden NC, of which six were built (plus one bodied by East Lancs). There were trials at Derby City Transport, PMT and at three PTEs.

Uneconomic with fuel and financial difficulties at Foden finished the vehicle before it had really begun. Imagine what may have happened had this neo-Fleetline been successful, especially among Fleetline devotees. If you think a small chassis builder might find double deck competition with the bigger boys difficult, consider the Dennis Dominator. View the PMT Foden NC here.

Gene Hunt said...
I think it looks quite handsome compared to some modern buses...
21 October, 2007 11:05

4. Routemaster FRM1

It used 60 per cent of parts of the standard half-cab Routemaster but with a rear engine and front entrance. It’s widely believed that this prototype by AEC/Park Royal could’ve changed the course of the history of the rear engined double deck. It was well thought of both in and outside London. It was the only one of several designs to reach construction.

As well as in London, AEC as part of Leyland had plans to market the bus elsewhere but it fell victim to Leyland’s plans. Leyland, after all, already had more than enough rear-engined chassis in the Atlantean, Fleetline and VR.

It’s not hard to imagine what might’ve happened in London had the rear engined FRM succeeded. It may yet have saved London Transport from a succession of poor vehicle purchase decisions. There is still talk today of a modern successor to the erstwhile RM, a bus for London, though this is but a dream.

Gene Hunt said...
Leyland seems to have buggered up a lot of the bus industry.....first stopping the FRM, then splitting itself in two, and both parts were bought by seperate companies (DAF and Volvo) and always had to use unreliable engines in its products, e.g. Leyland National and the Daimler Fleetlines in London.
22 October, 2007 19:21

5. Bluebird

First Student hailed the architypal American Bluebird school bus as the saviour of British school transport. After all, it works in America. Had First been right, we would now see proportionately as many school buses in England as in the US, which alone has over 440,000 of them.

Bluebird is in fact America’s leading school bus manufacturer, employing 1,800 staff. As such, unit costs were low, making an attarctive proposition for First.

Yet, by British standards, the Bluebird as typified by the All American RE was perhaps a little rough and ready. Belt Up School Kids criticised the Bluebird because of a lack of R66 rollover standards. Its supporters pointed to the inherent strength at least equal to if not greater than R66. Also in Bluebird’s favour was its instant recognisability. Yet, accessibility, 60 rather than 70 seats, and price eventually put paid to the idea. The required UK modifications bumped up the cost. The hoped for initial 100 imports by First stopped at no. 20.

So, was Bluebird such a bad idea? Absolutely not. In a way, it already *has* changed the face of the UK school bus bsuiness. It ran a flag up a flag pole, stimulated interest in dedicated yellow buses and spawned Generation 2 products such as Scolarbus, then BMC, Autosan and heavyweights such as the Scania/Irizar Skoolbus. The idea of the dedicated accessible school bus then caught on, again via BMC and also ADL. But not Bluebird. But Bluebird did leave a legacy.

Anonymous said...
You could add to this post be saying when the Blue Bird arrived. I'd say about 1998 for Sussex, a little later for Cheshire and 2001 or 2002 for First. I was always amused by the pretend red "lights" above the windscreen. It seems First was unable to persuade the DFT to allow proper red lights on the FRONT of the Blue Birds. The rule in Britain is: no red lights on the front. At all. Of anything. Unlike is the USA where these red lamps flash when pupils are boarding and getting off.

23 October, 2007 12:10

Gene Hunt said...
There was one that they still use called EX1, no registration and has the red and amber lights above the windscreen...
23 October, 2007 12:45

Volvo bus driver said...
UniversityBus at Hatfield also used the Bluebird, and that is where I sampled one in public service (although West Sussex also used them on Market day sservices between their school commitments). The Cummins Allison driveline was familiar enough to UK operators, it was just their tank like appearence and unsuitability for anything other than school work which confined them to the other side of teh Atlantic.
25 October, 2007 15:51

Anonymous said...
Quoting Volvo Bus Driver "it was just their tank like appearence and unsuitability for anything other than school work which confined them to the other side of teh Atlantic." Are they really suitable for even school work?
25 October, 2007 18:49

6. Quest B

Who now recalls Telford manufacturer Quest Chassis Developments, noted infamously for the Quest 80 VM coach chassis, bought in some quantity with Plaxton bodywork by Excelsior of Bournemouth. ‘VM’ stood for Excelsior’s then MD, Vernon Maitland. The chassis was designed as a Ford clone at a time when Ford were disinterested in PSVs. It was unsuccessful and Excelsior cancelled its order after receiving only 17 of 25.

Quest’s potentially most interesting product, however, was the Quest B with Locomotor body. Seating 23, this was a square-looking minibus bought by Merseyside PTE in 1984/5 for its embryonic Merseylink accessible service. Never reliable and also somewhat difficult to drive, it nevertheless promised levels of passenger space well ahead of its time and accessibility way ahead.

It is only in the last two to three years that accessible vehicles of this size have come to maturity, with for example the Slimline ‘baby’ Solo 24 seater. Even the baby Solo is by far a bigger product. Smaller accessible of a similar frame to Quest B’s still remain a bit of a problem, even now.

One item of trivia. At deregulation on 26 October 2006, Crosville Motor Services was successful in winning the tender to operate Mersyelink, with PTE-owned Quests. A damaging strike at this time saw the Quests smuggled out of Crosville garages, along with other vehicle types.

7. Tecnobus

Like the Quest B, the Italian battery bus manufacturer Tecnobus was also confined to Merseyside in the UK, aside from two introduced but quickly withdrawn by Bristol council on park & ride duties. Merseyside still uses two types. One is the diminutive six-wheeler 11 seat Pantheons, the other the even more diminutive eight-seat four-wheeler Gullivers.

The original and smaller Gullivers used in Birkenhead have been nothing but trouble, were first operated by PMT in 1998 and subsequently now by Selwyn’s, from 2004. Selwyn’s St Helens Pantheons suffered from chassis problems but once sorted proved far better as quiet and quick accelerating local transport. They each formed part of demonstration projects designed to showcase alternative power sources. Sadly, they only seemed to demonstrate all that battery vehicles could managed was small-scale town centre shuttles, offering few seats and low range. They’ve been eclipsed by the possibilities of hybrids. Tecnobuses seem to fair far better in Italy.

7+2 BAMBI and BABS

Recognising that a larger minibus than the standard panel van 16 seat Gen 1 would be propitious, in 1984 the National Bus Company set about designing one. The engineers appeared to scavenge established parts bins and by using mainly proprietary units, it came up with the BAMBI or Build a Minibus Investigation. There were many interesting improvements. 20 rather than 16 seats, a lower floor height and Cummins engine were but three. The attractive and far from boxy bodywork bore a remarkable similarity to the later Metrorider.

There was one snag. NBC was being privatised and the project was shelved. Had the purpose built BAMBI reached the market, it could’ve been the industry’s minibus of choice. There may even have been a 27-33 seater.

Similarly, NBC’s Build a Bus Scheme or BABS from 1982 set out a single deck design to replace the Leyland National. NBC engineers sought interest from major manufacturers who would be invited to tender for its production. There was serious interest. With some 47-49 seats at 11m, the design was somewhat National-esk in style, even to the location of the heater at the rear, though inside rather than atop the roof. It, too, never left the drawing board. Minibuses put paid to the project. But what might’ve happened to the Lynx had the project come to fruition?

Though operators clearly work with manufacturers in designing products, these are manufacturer led. These days, even TfL would balk at designing its own bus.


RC169 said...

You say that the Seddon RU was a Bristol RE clone - and, insofar as it had a Gardner engine mounted at the rear, that is true. However, it differed in some important details, notably the gearbox was behind the rear axle, and not ahead of it, as on the RE; the RU also suffered from a narrow chassis frame, and there were problems with the alignment of the engine and propshaft. Perhaps it would have been more successful if it had been a true clone of the RE.

Anonymous said...

I was holding my breath to see a mention of the infamous/famous Ward Dalesman or Spartan...........

This has been by far the best of your 7+1s.

Norfolkboy said...

The Bluebird school bus is very much in the minority here in the US. The culture of the school bus is very different here. Buses and drivers are dedicated to school work and nothing else. The American school bus is very much suited to its job - safely transporting school kids.

ross said...

Re. Gene Hunt's comments on Leyland:

True, the 501/510 engines [the latter being fitted to the Mk1 National] weren't Leyland's most reliable engines, but the 680 or Gardner 6pots as fitted to the Fleetline were widely accepted engines within the industry; the failure of the Fleetline for London operations surely lies with LT rather than Leyland itself, given the success of the Fleetline out of London [non-DMS types] and the further success of the sold-on DMSs et al.

Gene Hunt said...

ahh...I see where you are coming from ross.
Did some research into it and it seems that a tiny number of mechanics were employed by LT due to the "take-it-apart-put-is-back-together-in-1-hour"
Routemaster, being easy to service.

Anonymous said...

would the guy wulfrunian have changed the world?