Sunday, 22 November 2009

Blackpool's Lancets

Lancet 597 loads outside St Johns Church as 599 prepares to overtake.

When Blackpool Transport was a council department prior to deregulation it was bound by municipal procurement rules. This meant competitive tendering and resulted in some surprises. Generally councils were compelled to select the cheapest compliant bid unless a case could be made for a more expensive one. For example in 1973, 30 AEC Swifts were ordered, though other firms were cheaper. This was sanctioned as 25 Swifts were already owned and commonality of spares and a standard fleet offered economies.

In 1981 Blackpool decided to buy four new single deckers and four new double deckers. Naturally the Atlantean/East Lancs combination was selected for the latter as 50 others were already owned. The last new single deckers dated form 1974/5 - the aforementioned Swifts and the model had long been deleted. The rest of the fleet was Leyland engined Leyland built double deckers (Titans and Atlanteans) and Leyland was not offering O.680 engined single deckers. Therefore the cheapest one and emerged as four of the new Dennis Lancet. Dennis, at the time better known for its fire engines and dustcarts had returned to bus building in 1977 with the Dominator and had followed this with the rear engined Falcon. The Lancet was its underfloor engined version with a powerpack from Perkins fitted - unusually for a bus.

The Lancet was not an unqualified success. 87 were built between 1981 and 1990, 28 were exported, 18 were finished as buses, 15 as midibuses, 3 as coaches, 8 as accessible buses, 1 as a non psv and even 12 as mobile libraries.

Bodywork was by Marshall of Cambridge, who had bodies the Swifts. The latter had the BET inspired body, while the Lancets had the "Camair 80" - which showed Marshall's eye for style. Allocated numbers 596 to 599 and registrations ORN596-599X production hit a number of delays and it was late July before the first - 596 - arrived. The other four followed in early August and the batch was registered as VCW596-9Y. 596 entered service on 9 August. The Lancets were commonly used on services 2/2A to Poulton - though also appeared on other services such as the 3/3A, 23/23A and 26.

Deregulation saw horizons broadened with the Lancets appearing on tendered services from Poulton to Preston (180/2) and the Kirkham Roamer (7). A new livery was introduced in 1987 and 599 was the first single decker to receive it in April - green roof, window surrounds and skirt. Its three sisters followed suit over the next couple of months. This livery version was unique to the Lancets, as the Nationals had cream window surrounds.

Over winter 1987/8 Blackpool Transport bought 11 second hand Leyland Nationals to replace its last Swifts - the final one running at the end of February. Its single deck fleet now consisted of 15 second hand Mark 1 Leyland Nationals of 1977/8, 4 National 2s of 1984 and the 4 Lancets of 1982 - just 23 vehicles from a peak of 55 in 1975. This lasted just three more weeks though as the Lancets were summarily withdrawn in March and left on 20th for Redby of Sunderland. Here they ran alongside a handful of Dennis Dominator single deckers from Darlington with similar bodies. Initially they retained Blackpool colours but soon received a white based scheme. After less than six years in Blackpool, they lasted just over five in Sunderland. In July 596, 597 and the accident damaged 599 passed to Tanat Valley Coaches. 599 was for spares, 596/7 became regulars on the Oswestry Town Service. 598 meanwhile went to the Potteries with Knotty, joining ex Blackpool Swift 583.
1995 saw further moves. 596 went to Pioneer of Rochdale, 598 to Bluebird of Middleton while 597 was bought by Thames Valley Training of London and even came to Blackpool for a repaint in its original livery - adopted by the enthusiast run training firm. 599 was scrapped later the same year. 596 moved from Pioneer in 2000, passing to a church in Bradford as congregation transport. It ended its days in 2003. 598 meanwhile briefly joined 596 at Pioneer in 1996 but passed to a dealer never to surface again in 1997.

This left 597 as the last survivor having passed into preservation in Hexham in 2000. Sadly it was vandalised and was seen in 2004 stored outside with some broken windows and apparent body decay. Its current status is unknown, but if it survives is likely to be in the 'major projects' category by now.