Monday, 29 March 2010

7+1 Modern Classics

Exactly thirty years ago, Gavin Booth included 16 buses spanning the years 1903-1973 in his “The Classic Buses” book. He started with the Milnes-Daimler and concluded with the Leyland National. Since 1980, proportionately there’s room for seven more groundbreaking ovr popular buses. What would Booth choose now? Let’s help him.

1. Leyland & Volvo Olympian (1980-2000)

They built over 10,000 Olympians, popular by any measure (though there really was little credible competition). Indeed, it sold as many as the Atlantean and VR combined. Very early Brislington-built Ollies were licensed as Bristols, as a successor to the VR and were popular among those who looked for a VR replacement. Its real antecedent was the problematic, London-focused Leyland B15 Titan, the Olympian capitalising on a post-Leyland National distrust of integrals. Groundbreaking? No. Uncomplicated workhorse? Yes.

2. Ford Transit (from 1985 as urban minibus)

Admittedly, not everyone’s idea of an urban bus, but no one can deny it was anything other than groundbreaking. The parcel van conversions penetrated areas other buses couldn’t reach and boosted frequencies to unheard of levels. Sceptical industry leaders soon became convinced. You can forgive its ride quality, noise and lack of space once you realise in its wake it brought a marketing revolution of 25 per cent passenger growth, or more.

3. Dennis Dart (1990-2006)

The rise of the midibus—particularly the Dart—was a post-1987 phenomenon. They took over where the Gen 1 Transit and its ilk left off. The Dart actually did more for the British bus industry than conventional singe decks such as the RE and National, becoming a reasonably priced, reliable midi-standard. Post-1995, the Dart enabled the mass conversion of routes to SLF operation, with its associated ridership increases.

4. Wrightbus Pathfinder (1993-1995)

Literally groundbreaking, from 1993. Built on another Dennis chassis, the Lance SLF, plus the Scania N113CRL, this was Britain’s first homegrown low floor bus body. Many went London’s way but some in the Provinces weren’t at all sceptical. The body design was decidedly un-boxlike (compared to the ubiquitous Plaxton Pointer Dart of the time) and, indeed, the frontal design was to last to 2007 on successor models such as the Cadet, Commander, Liberator, Fusion and even the interestingly named Renown. We might also mention the DAF DB250LF/Optare Spectra, the first SLF double deck (and not the Volvo B7TL as we first mentioned).

5. Optare Solo (1998 to date)

Ubiquity on wheels. This integral turned the minibus market on its head. From the front and passenger service door, it looked like a large bus. Inside, it felt like a large bus. Access was impeccable, with the lowest height in the industry.

6. Wrightbus “Nokia” (1999 to date)

Phew, what a scorcher! Wrightbus has various names for its modern single deck products. They masquerade under Eclipse, Solar, Meridian and Pulsar, each on Volvo, Scania, MAN and VDL low floor chassis. The hallmark of all is the deep-scooped, semi-circular, arced windscreen bottom edge that looked like a Nokia mobile phone of its time. It marks Wrightbus out for stylish design and one that’s less fussy and less gimmicky than its competitors. And this from a manufacturer having started life with a boxy, block-like product, the Handybus. From ugly duckling to graceful swan, no doubt. And well built, too.

7. Caetano Levante (2006 to date)

This is a striking though slightly inelegant product that from 2006 is something of a National Express standard. What marks it out as groundbreaking is the so-called “magic floor” lift, tucked away out of site at the front entrance. Others have followed but, before Levante, accessible coaches had clumsy cassettes or bodged side conversions. Mind you, you do need a deal of pavement space to operate the left mechanism.

7+1 Mercedes Citaro O350G Bendy Bus (2002-RIP)

More controversial than FTR, and certainly not London Mayor Johnson’s cup of tea, the London articulated Citaro has a knack of clearing loads faster than a Routemaster and offering considerable easy access, too. It’s rare indeed to find a bus that’s actually influenced an election and we have the Citaro to thank for bringing the bus to the fore everywhere in England, regardless of whether people lived in or visited London. Whenever the bendy turns up elsewhere, they’re always likened to Mayor Johnson’s cast-offs.

Booth’s buses at 1980: Milnes-Daimler double deck; LGOC B-type; Leyland Lion; Leyland Titan TD1; AEC Regal; Daimler CO; AEC Regent RT; Guy Arab; Bedford OB; Bristol Lodekka; Leyland Titan TD; underfloor-engined buses (here Booth cheats a little in naming several); AEC Routemaster; Leyland Atlantean; Bristol RE; Leyland National


Paul Harley said...

I think Gavin would have included the Metrobus in this list.

It was slow but solid. Whilst other buses might fall by the wayside, the Metrobus would keep plodding along (the Gardener/Voith combination was unbeatable for reliability).

It outnumbered/outlasted Leyland Titans in London and has lasted in the West Midlands until this year.

What should it replace? One of the Wrightbus products could come out - probably the "Nokia". We are talking about buses here, not just bodies!

Adam said...

I thought the Optare Spectra/DAF DB250LF was the first SLF decker produced, unless I'm mistaken?

RC169 said...

Adam said...

"I thought the Optare Spectra/DAF DB250LF was the first SLF decker produced, unless I'm mistaken?"

I think you're right, in the sense that the first SLF D/D to enter service was one of those. I think that Volvo were earlier in developing the B7TL, but it was originally conceived with a longitudinal engine. Volvo then had a rethink, and lost their lead while the transverse design was developed.

I am also inclined to agree with Paul Harley about the Wrightbus 'Nokia' coming out of the list. As far as the styling of the current generation of single deckers is concerned, I would suggest that the Mercedes Benz Citaro has been most influential - most of the others seem to be more or less an imitation of it. Since the artic version is already in the list, I guess that would leave room for the Metrobus, as Paul suggests.

Busing said...

I don't disagree that the Metrobus has played its part in the British bus industry. See my post on it, here.

My own view, though, is that reliable plodder (to summarise Paul's view) it may have been, but it never really penetrated fleets across England other than in London or Birmingham. Here were, what, just over 5,000 Metrobuses when compared to the Olympian at about double that number.

I would defend my inclusion of the Wrightbus Nokia in the same way that Gavin Booth might do so for inclusion of underfloor-engined buses of various manufacture (rather than on) within his original 16. Perhaps I ought to qualify Wrightbus Nokia by replacing it with the Volvo B7RLE/Wrighbus Eclipse.

Happy to be corrected on the first SLF double deck. Post amended.

Spaceman said...

Excellent list as ever..

I would also like to defend the Wrightbus "Nokia" vehicles, I think the bodies are equally as important as the "whole bus." The semi-circular windscreen design had never been seen anywhere in the UK (or elsewhere at the time..I wait to be corrected), and became a real trend-setter with builders like ADL and Optare taking this trend on with their bodies. The design really has stood the test of time, and whilst hundreds operate in the UK with various companies, each fleet still looks incredibly disctinctive. In my opinion, the "Nokia" design has evolved into something even more spectacular with the re-styled front- perhaps a new classic for a new generation?

But taking the "Modern Classics" Idea further- is a "Modern Classic" more something that defines a generation of, say bus building? If one were follow this line, then surely the Optare Spectra should get a mention- its smooth curved lines being far far removed from the "box-like" appearance of double deckers in the past, and led to all manner of new "curved lines" designs from other double-deck builders, such as the Palatine II, the Alexander Royale, and eventually onto the Wright Eclipse Gemini.

Looking through the list, I can't find anything I'd want to take out, but unfortunately, my list of additions would make it a 7+1+1+1+1 list

Anonymous said...

I would have included 3 other buses in that list:

Volvo Ailsa:
not as much some others, It did play its part in provide a new concept in bus design

Mercedes-Benz 709D Alexander Sprint:
It brought mini buses to the masses, and are still used to this day by many,

Alexander PS type: ( B10M single decker)
Which for anyone can understand was the backbone of stagecoach work for many years and still plays a part to this day.

All three have played a big part in bus design for many.