Sandstone Heritage Trust - News
Bedwas & Machen Fleet No. 7 Bodywork by Bruce Coachworks,Cardiff.
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The AEC Regal III recently donated by John Allen to Sandstone Heritage Trust is a direct descendant of the first AEC’s manufactured in 1909.
To go back in history, AEC which is short for Associated Equipment Co., began as a bus making subsidiary of the London General Omnibus Company and its first major product was the famous LGOC “B” type , double decker bus with open top and open rear staircase. It was similar in design to the horse buses it was destined to replace. It had a 4 cylinder petrol engine and a few thousand were built including a few single deck versions.
Some of these buses became famous as troop carriers in the First World War of 1914 – 1918. Seating on the top deck was knife-board, oblong seated benches with no weather protection for the driver and passengers. Many of the B type buses were later converted to lorries as they became out dated. In those days a bus’s useful life would be between 5 and 8 years. The “B” models were produced from 1912 onwards.
After the 1918 war AEC became a separate company from the LGOC but always maintained a very close relationship with LGOC and later London Transport. Its advertising stated “Makers of London’s Buses” The last buses AEC made for London were the famous Routemasters, some of which are now over 40 years old and still in London service today.
In 1929 AEC produced two brand new single deck and double deck business. The single deck was named REGAL and the double deck REGENT. These chassis were in direct competition with the recently introduced Leyland Tiger and Leyland Titan.
The AECs ( and Leylands) were an immediate success. They had 6 cyclinder petrol engines, were capable of speeds up to 60 m.p.h (highly illegal at the time) and were smooth running. Like most petrol engines of this period, unless nurtured, they were capable of some impressive back firing. The markets these buses served were the main bus operating private concerns and the municipalities and were sold worldwide. The double deck Regent was by far the largest seller as double deck buses were favoured due to a 56 seat capacity as opposed to a 32-35 seat capacity and were therefore more economical to run. Single deck Regals were used where low bridges caused a problem and on lightly populated rural routes. However an exception to this was the coach operating business and majority of AEC Regals were sold as coaches. In 1931 after various improvements and adjustments the Regals settled down. One improvement was the braking, which instead of a single servo unit became a triple servo system with three air activated brake pistons using a vacuum exhauster system. This is totally different from an air brake system using compressors.
The AEC Regal at Sandstone has this same chassis design as was perpetrated in 1932 and the same crash gearbox. The engine however is different from these early Regals.
The next development was the option of having a diesel (always classified by AEC as an oil engine). The first experimental units were fitted in 1930 to double deck Regents and the earliest Regal fitted with an oil engine was March 1931. These engines were 8.1 litre 6 cylinder indirect injection developing 95 BHP. Because they were longer than the petrol engine the radiator had to be set forward by 4 _ inches. The standard petrol engine AEC Regal sold for £1050 in 1932, the diesel version cost £300 more.
By the mid thirties diesel models were beginning to outsell petrol engines chassis and as this trend continued AEC settled on a 7.7 litre oil engine model A172. These engines were fitted to the double deck Regent as well, a larger 8.7 litre engine was later offered.
In 1937 the pre-selective gearbox was introduced and was an immediate success. At first the gear stick was floor mounted until later being incorporated on the steering column. Most of the coaches were fitted with pre selective gearboxes, being much simpler to handle than the crash or constant mesh gear boxes. The Regal at Sandstone has the old fashioned crash gearbox and it takes a lot of practice to get used to it. Misuse results in terrible grinding noises.
During the Second World War bus production at AEC virtually ceased at the Company concentrated on engines for tanks, and lorry chassis, turning out the famous AEC Matador gun tractor used so successfully in the desert war campaigns. At AEC lorry chassis were always given names beginning with M such as Mammoth, Matador, Marvel etc, whilst bus chassis were labelled with an R such as Regal, Regent, Renown, Reliance, Ranger, etc.
It was in 1946 when the Regal III appeared, pre-war models were Regal I and II. The Regal II was not a very successful model with a lower powered 4 cylinder oil engine.
The basic Regal III was now powered by a 9.6 litre engine with direct injection developing 125 B.H.P. It had a pre selector gearbox controlled through an air pressure system with air operated brakes. The maximum allowed length of a British bus was still 27’ 6” long and 7’ 6” wide. Export Regals were available at 30 feet long. Coding numbers were changed. The crash box gearbox models were 9621A and the pre selector gear models were 9621E. The crash box model was not the standard but was offered as an alternative and mainly went to small fleets, used to these gearboxes. Other variations of Regal III, were a left hand drive model for export with engine and cab reversed, and a smaller 7.7 litre engine model. Most Regal III exported to South Africa had the larger engine and pre-select gearbox.
These were the final developments of the Regal III. In 1949 the new Regal IV was announced to compete with the Leyland Tiger PSU Model. These were totally different vehicles with the engine now fitted underneath the vehicle on the side. The death knell of the Regal III and Leyland half cab models was in sight and the last Regal III’s for the home market were built in 1954. Export sales continued until 1957, and even longer for the Leyland.
Under floor engine business were not popular in South Africa due to dirt roads and cooling problems and the AEC bus chassis chosen by SA operators was the AEC Kudu. This was basically a front engine model based on the AEC Mercury goods chassis. Many hundreds of these were sold in South Africa, but that is another story.
No. 7, the bus at Sandstone was first licensed in January 1951 and was one of two identical Regal III’s ordered by one of Britain’s smallest municipal fleets Bedwas and Machen in South Wales. Its twin was no 6 in the fleet. There were only 7 buses in the fleet.
The others being four AEC Regents and an Albion, all of which are double deckers. Bedwas and Machen is or was a coal mining area with light industry at Treherbert. The Bedwas colliery has long closed and the Bedwas fleet is no more, having been absorbed by its larger neighbouring town Caerphilly (famous for cheese). Towns served by the fleet were Cardiff, Newport and Caerphilly. The two Regals were used on the colliery and industrial area routes, school services and to local housing estates, the main one being Graig-y-rhacca which was on a steeply graded road. No. 6 was withdrawn a couple of years before No. 7 and was broken up at a scrap yard in Newport, Moumouthshire. No. 7 was withdrawn in June 1971 and was offered for sale by tender, and was tendered for by the same scrap yard that cut up No. 6.
At this crucial stage the author (and subsequent owner) had read the bus was being withdrawn in “Buses illustrated”, an enthusiast’s magazine. A Mr H Williams, the then General Manager and Chief Engineer was contacted. He told the writer that, if he wanted the bus, he would have to guarantee purchase the very next day, as the tender from the scrap yard had been accepted for £180,00 but the firm concerned had not been notified. Hasty arrangements were made to go to South Wales and view the vehicle. Two of us went down to the depot and there was No. 7 standing forlornly in the yard, out of use. The staff there were obviously very pleased to see us and hoping we would save the bus from the scrap heap. The bus started first go and sounded exactly as she does now after all these years. That was it – that beautiful vehicle had to be saved from scrap and purchased for preservation and so the deed was done. The bus was bought for £190 which included a spare wheel and a new front spring. It had to be removed during the next month.
Some exterior of the body work fitted to the bus is worthy of attention. Inside the front of the bus can be seen the bodybuilders name, Bruce Coachworks. Bruce were a small subsidiary of a large body builder, East Lancs Bodies of Wigan, Lancashire which is still in existence. Bruce built the body on No 7 to an East Lancs specification. They built very few bus bodies and are no longer in existence. Most of their vehicles were for Cardiff Transport and these were trolley buses (trackless trams) and a few for Eastbourne Corporation. One of the Trolleys and one of the Eastbourne vehicles (An AEC regent III) survive into preservation. The only two single deckers were no 6 and no 7. It follows that No 7 therefore is the only Bruce bodied single deck bus in existence.
Perhaps at this stage I should introduce myself as the new owner of No 7. My name is John Allen and I have owned this bus until I recently donated it to Sandstone to be kept in continued preservation. Why do people buy old buses, lorries and steam vehicles? Many many times I have been asked this question or why didn’t I buy and old car as most sensible people would do? I can only suggest that it is a combination of memories, sadness to see familiar vehicles going for ever, the superb sounds given out by that vintage gear box in 2nd and 3rd gear and to me the sheer beauty of that classic radiator grill – acknowledged to be one of the classic designs in the preservation area.
Having brought the bus I now had to find a home for it. You can’t park a vehicle like that in the road or on your drive – imagine the neighbours’ comments! I eventually found a coach operator firm in Walsall who were very receptive to my parking it there in their yard for £10.00 a month, albeit out in the open.
The day arrived when this time, three of us went down to collect the bus. This time I took a driver, used to heavy vehicle driving, which I wasn’t. Just as well, when I tried to drive it away I couldn’t handle the gears and not being used to the width was up on the pavement. So it was handed over to “experience” who drove it safely to its new home. I subsequently learned to drive it myself on quiet roads. One soon learns that the gear changes must be made quickly, especially when changing down.
So for the next 9 years the bus stayed at Walsall in the West Midlands of England. Practically every Saturday I worked on it. Frequently took it out for a run up the nearby M6 motorway, stopping for a coffee at one of the motorway restaurant areas. I always got admiring glances and often photographs were taken by unknown individuals.
As the bus was to be disposed of by its original owners, the paintwork was in poor condition, the tyres were badly worn and the battery’s (all 4 of them at that time 4 x 6 volt heavy brutes), the first task was to replace the tyres and these were acquired from wrecked lorries in scrap yards. The 4x6v batteries were replaced by 2 x 12v. The paintwork was then tackled, but is not as easy as it looks to paint a vehicle out in the open with a brush using coach enamel. It was always my wish to have the bus properly spray painted, but I could never quite run to the expense of this. Perhaps Sandstone will do this. The rear right hand mud guard was rusted away and if one looks now you can see I fitted some very thick plastic to the bodywork. In all the thirty years I owned the bus it never let me down mechanically. I tackled the smaller jobs myself such as replacing fan belts, exhaust system and fuel filters. I had the electrics re-wired professionally in 1978 and the right hand brake drum re-skimmed to prevent vibration when brakes were applied. Most of the timber (Ash) body work is still intact, although pieces have been replaced from time to time. I also replaced lights in the saloon and the headlights. Some enthusiasts completely dismantle a vehicle and rebuild it, but unless one is a professional, or has access to workshops and tools, this is not advisable. Too many vehicles have been lost as the restorer runs out of cash or finds the job too much for him (or her).
Some vandalism was experienced at Walsall, mostly theft of light bulbs, but a more serious incident occurred when some unknown vandal started the bus and tried to reverse it down a bank. They damaged the back end and a right hand pillar at the back which was repaired with fibre glass.
There are many bus and lorry and steam rallies in the UK and I attended two or three of these every summer. Two long distance rallies the bus went to were Weymouth in Dorset and Blackpool in Lancashire. Usually on major rallies and road runs, up to 100 buses and lorries would attend. Mixed car and bus rallies were rare as the mix was not right. No 7 was pressed into service when my two children were younger and I would take them and their friends out on their birthdays for picnics.
At the beginning of October until the end of March the bus was delicensed, as it is too cold to run it. The batteries were removed and put on a trickle charge through the winter. I will not dwell on the rally scene, and the places I went to as this will be of little interest to your readers. The bus was moved to a farm in Oxfordshire to a village called Chalgrove where I moved with my family. This happened in 1980 and for the first time since I owned the bus it was under cover in a barn for the winter months after the barley harvest was finished with. I was most grateful for this.
In 1991 like so many in the UK, over the age of 55, I was made redundant. I spent five years in South Africa when I when I was 21 and had many happy memories. My wife and I had spent a holiday here in 1989 which we both enjoyed. We decided we would like to live here for some years. I decided to bring the bus with us, as I didn’t want to part with it. The first step was to visit the South African Embassy in London to see whether I could bring the bus to South Africa.
I was advised that no foreign buses were allowed into the country, but if I wrote to Pretoria an exception might be made as the bus was a preservation project and would not be used in passenger earning service. Eventually I heard from Pretoria accepting the vehicle and that a nominal amount of VAT would be levied and so it was arranged. The bus duly arrived in November 1991 at Durban docks. After settling with custom and shipping agents I went to collect it. The crane had broken the windows. The bus had travelled deck cargo as it wouldn’t fit in a container. I had arranged with Putco to temporarily park the bus at their depot on the Point Road. As I drove it there I encountered many interested glances and the staff and drivers at Putco were even more startled to see it. Nobody seems to have seen a crash box bus before!
The very first outing was to give a short trip to some children at the then Dan Perkins garage at Durban North, on the occasion of their Christmas party. It was there that I learned of the Veteran Car Club at Kloof, north of Durban. I had arranged with the Licensing authority to have the vehicle licensed, although I had to take a heavy vehicle driving test which was achieved on a Mercedes truck, a rather costly affair. The Veteran Car Club at Kloof have their own grounds and club house and they very kindly allowed me to park on their lawns. In 1992 they had a car rally at Midmar Dam. The drivers were accommodated on the Eastern side of the dam, some 5 kilometres from the restaurant area. I was able to repay some of their kindness by driving to Midmar and transporting the drivers/owners of the cars to the restaurant area. This journey involved my going up the notorious town hill at Pietermaritzburg and I was slightly apprehensive of this, as I had never been up it before, however, I needn’t have worried. The old Regal took it in her stride mostly in 3rd gear with a short stretch in second gear. At the top I checked the water, as I could feel the engine getting hot, but all was well.
For the next few years the bus remained at Kloof. Most Saturdays it went out for a run with some friends. The usual destination was the coffee/souvenir shop at Botha’s Hill. At times I was accompanied by Colin Healey in his 1952 AEC Regent III double decker (ex Johannesburg Municipal transport) and after it had been virtually rebuilt, by Doug Green’s ex London Transport AEC Regent III, the famous “RT type. It was one of 5 exported to East London by London Transport in the 1960s and had been dumped near Midmar.
Around 1995 the Veteran Car Club needed my space to build some garages and this led to a move to Pinetown to a Heritage Centre site. This was fairly short lived as it was not very suitable being a little difficult to enter.
In 1996 members of the Durban Historical Transport Society became the owners of 5 vintage buses sited at Midmar Village, which was being closed by the Natal Parks Board. These vehicles were an AEC trolleybus, an AEC Regent, a Guy six wheeler double decker and a single deck Leyland Royal Tiger. A new site was urgently required and eventually through the great kindness of a Mr Tom Freeman we were allowed to occupy a site behind the Durban drive-in cinema where many of our “collection” still remains.
Accordingly the Regal then moved to join these vehicles and a museum was established. During the next few years the Regal took part in three processions to celebrate various happenings in Durban. Usually these processions were accompanied by floats, fire engines, girls etc, etc; progress was very slow down Durban’s main thoroughfare, West Street, due to the crowds. It was also a problem to stop people jumping on for a “free ride”.
No 7 also attended charity fetes and took part in “Cars at the Park”, Pietermaritzburg, on a couple of occasions, and “Cars by the River” at Amanzimtoti on the Natal South Coast.
The years flew past and I was getting concerned at the now increasing attention we were experiencing at the museum of vandals and thieves, taking headlights, badges and even an aluminium radiator from an Albion lorry. This in spite of barbed wire and a locked gate. We had appealed to Durban City Council for a more secure site, but although sympathetic, they were unable to help us.
So how did Sandstone get into the picture? It started with the Natal Vintage Tractor Club inviting us to take a couple of buses with them to the annual tractor festival at Clocolan. We didn’t take the Regal as it was felt that more interest would be generated with the two AEC double deckers and so Colin Healey and myself drove the AEC Regent III and Brian Sotheby the AEC Regent V, all the way from Durban to Clocolan. We accompanied the dozen or so tractors. There must have been some sore bums on that long journey!. Needless to say the two Regents created quite a stir at Clocolan especially with the children to whom we gave rides to around the town. Many of them had never seen a double decker bus before.
On this visit we learned of Sandstone, and it was decided to visit the site on the way home. After the tractor festival we duly turned into Sandstone. At this period the narrow gauge rail track was still being laid as we were not expected, it was very kind of the staff there to allow us in and even more so, to show us all around. The big sheds, now housing the exhibits were not erected at the time, and scores of tractors spare bits were all scattered around. Colin drooled over the steam vehicles but we were all utterly astonished at the huge variety of mainly tractors around. Neither Colin nor I even knew of this massive collection. I remember at the time the Leyland Beaver lorry was having a new wooden cab being built. I am only sorry I cannot remember the name of the person who showed us around. We left thoroughly impressed that someone (unknown to us) had, had the foresight and enthusiasm to assemble such a collection, and in such superb surroundings.
My next contact with Sandstone was at the first Nottingham Road festival of steam. Sandstone had sent down 3 steam vehicles, and Colin had attended with his steam-roller and I had driven the Regal there. In fact Shaun Ackerman had taken a picture of the Regal at Nottingham Road station, where it was transporting passengers from the station to the rally grounds. I had a long chat with Shaun who impressed me with his manner and obvious interest in steam. He gave me a copy of the Heritage Trust magazine. I later on in the day asked him if he thought Sandstone would be interested in housing the vehicle on a permanent or long term loan. He then told me of Wilfred Mole, whom I had heard of, but never met, and thought Sandstone would be most interested in having the bus on its property. I was assured it would be not only in a secure environment, but also housed under cover in the recently erected vehicle shed.
All this sounded like an answer to my prayer. That a safe site could be found to accommodate my bus, to enable it to continue in preservation, and also to be driven around the site at future events.
I thought about this a great deal, as not only vandalism, but also the destructive elements of Durban weather and salt laden air were an increasing worry. I then contacted Shaun and Chris Wilson and a meeting was arranged at Sandstone to discuss the possibility of the bus moving to Sandstone. So in due course, myself, Colin Healey and Len de Kramer came to Sandstone and after a very friendly discussion it was agreed that the bus would move to Sandstone initially for 10 years.
In due course Leon Flynn came down to Durban and we drove the bus on to the large low loader. This slightly damaged the rear end of the bus, and should it be transported to events in the future, great care must be given on loading and unloading. And so in 2001 the bus arrived at Sandstone. Later that year I called in, as I wanted to see where it was housed. Once again I was impressed with the accommodation, and relieved to see that Sandstone had kept their promise to keep it under cover and this was to influence my final decision as to its future.
The bus had its final Durban public appearance at the Easter 2001 steam train event. This event attracts thousands of people. Over the Easter holiday the Umgeni Steam Railway run daily two steam train trips right around Durban harbour to the Point. There passengers leave the train and cross the harbour by ferry. As the passengers embark our buses convey the passengers back to the car park. We give them a short run around the harbour and Point Road, no 7 will be missed at this event.
The bus came out at the hugely successful Great 100 working tractor evening event and both Leon and I shared the driving from the cark park to the centre of Sandstone. The bus was packed solidly all the time and with standing passengers. I was a little concerned with the floor holding up as the timber underneath is fifty years old. However all went well. The bus was also out at the last public event at Sandstone. I did not move passengers this time as the tractor carts others seem to be copying very well. I was a little uncertain if the organisers wished me to do this. I did however give several passengers a ride when I was hailed not least of which were six African children whom I believe were employees offspring. I did enjoy myself, just well the sheer pleasure of driving the bus. I was asked to drive to the railway terminus to bring back a couple of train passengers affected by hot ash from the locomotive. I was with Chris Wilson at the time, but when we arrived the passengers had already been driven back.
John Allen, the author of this history of no: 7 has now left South Africa and returned to the UK, but before departing he donated the AEC to Sandstone for its collection. The bus is now in the care of Chris Wilson at Sandstone and has seen some use at steam and other events. Recent international tour groups have been astonished at seeing this Welsh bus in South Africa and many times the bus has taken passengers in preference to the train.
The bus is still in good condition but Chris Wilson is looking at some major restoration on the bodywork in the not too distant future.
Sandstone Heritage Trust would like to thank John Allen for his donation of this exceptional vehicle and we look forward to many years of enjoyment of this vehicle for our visitors.