Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Race to the Last - 30 years ago

Blackpool's B-reg pair 363 and 364 pose in the depot yard in original condition in March 1986
On the face of it the first and last vehicle of a type should be fairly obvious to determine. However 30 years ago home market production of the Leyland Atlantean ceased with a number of candidates vying for the honour of the "last". Such an honour is complicated as Leyland continued to supply Atlanteans for export to Singapore, Indonesia and Kuwait.

Leyland chassis numbering started with the build year and 1984 Atlantean chassis production for the UK comprised 10 for Greater Manchester PTE; 13 for Merseyside PTE, two each for Lancaster and Blackpool and one each for Fylde and Barrow.

The final six chassis built for the UK are shown below. In terms of chassis number, Lancaster 223 was the last - though it entered service in July 1984 - Lancaster clearly not troubled about registering vehicles just before the then 1 August dates for new registrations. Merseyside hung onto 1070 and registered it on 10 September - four months after its previous example, while Blackpool's last pair (intended as A363/4PCK) were registered on 17 September and were certainly in use by the end of that week. This left Fylde who registered 75 on 1 October 1984 giving it the title of the last UK Atlantean to enter service.

Last Atlantean Candidates
ChassisRegBodyOperatorNumberDOFRFate/Current
8400183B926KWMAlexanderMerseyside PTE107010/9/1984Preserved 201 Group, 
8400199B75URNNorthern CountiesFylde Borough751/10/1984Preserved, Blackpool Transport Omnibus Gp
8400200B363UBVEast LancsBlackpool36317/9/1984Scrapped 2009
8400208B364UBVEast LancsBlackpool36417/9/1984Blackpool Transport
8400270A214MCKEast LancsLancaster21410/7/1984Scrapped 2000
8400271A223MCKEast LancsLancaster22310/7/1984Scrapped 1995

However, even that accolade is open to challenge. Bizarrely two left hand drive Atlanteans then enter the story. A 1980 built Atlantean with Willowbrook body had failed to sell for export. Intended for Baghdad it was reputedly damaged before delivery and eventually in 1987 it was rebuilt to right hand drive and sold to Whippets of Fenstanton, taxed for the first time in October 1987 as D850AVV. If that was not enough on 3 October 1988 a solitary Neoplan bodied Leyland Atlantean was registered as F212JWV. This retained left hand drive configuration and was used by a religious group as an exhibition vehicle - it survives today.

Blackpool 363/364
Blackpool's final pair of Atlanteans, 363/4 differed from the 62 predecessors in featuring coach seats - a new departure for this conservative fleet. They arrived in a bespoke version of the fleet livery, but in December 1988 both gained the standard green and cream of the era. A second identical repaint took place in February 1992 (364) and April (363). 

The purchase of Fylde in 1994 changed the dynamic of the Blackpool operation. Both coach Atlanteans were mooted for a move to Fylde - joining their coach fleet but only 364 moved on 21 October 1994. It was allocated fleet number 47 and was repainted into Seagull Coaches two tone blue (the only ex Blackpool Atlantean to receive two tone blue) in February/March.
363 on service 11 during its Squires Gate phase - 6 June 1998
47 was restricted to coach work, but 363 continued on bus work at Rigby Road. Fylde was fully absorbed in 1996 and its buses renumbered into the Blackpool fleet. 47 became 447. 363 joined it at Squires Gate in February 1997 but it retained the revised green and cream livery it had gained in September 1995. May 1997 saw 447 repainted to match 363 and regain its original number. It returned to bus work alongside 363 - regularly on the 11/11A.
363's appearance was not enhanced by its modified front upper deck windows - fitted as the originals had been damaged. Less apparent in this 2005 view is the installation of bus seats in the rear half of the top deck - releasing spares to 364

Squires Gate closed in April 1999 and 363/4 returned to Rigby Road. Both had been retrimmed earlier in the year using an NBC style moquette as used to retrim some former Blackpool Atlanteans sold to North Birmingham Busways. 363 was repainted in July 1999. The Metro era saw 363/4 allocated to Line 14 initially with small stickers from 2001, but the conversion Trident operation saw them move onto Line 11, schools and seasonal work.

As the Atlantean fleet reduced from 2002 onwards, 363/4 were destined to survive until the end which for a while looked like being 2006. A farewell weekend in October saw 363 run on one day and 364 on both - but both returned to schools use the following day! With two others later reinstated, their operation continued. 363 was stood down in July 2008 but 364 continued - often working a peak journey on minibus service 2C - until it retired on 30 November 2009.
364 makes a rare appearance on Metro Line 6 on 26 October 2009 - just a month before withdrawal
363 was scrapped on 10 June 2009 at Inglemere Metals, but 364 remains with Blackpool Transport. It was rallied during 2010/1 but has been stored since.

Fylde 75 
Fylde adopted coach seating in its last five Atlanteans, purchased in single units from 1981 to 1984. 75 was the last entering service in October 1984. It was one of two to be delivered in the blue and white livery adopted in 1983 (previous ones had a yellow band). In April 1989 it went to GM Buses for a contract repaint into the new two tone blue livery with white band.
Fylde 75 in June 1989 operating service 11C passing the old cottage at the end of Squires Gate Lane - a location now transformed with the Progress Way link road to the M55 constructed a few years after this photo
It was decided to refurbish the newest two Atlanteans to join the Seagull Coaches fleet to provide extra capacity on busy excursions to Fleetwood Market and Granada Studios. 75 was re-registered NJI5505 in December 1990 ahead of its final month in service. Between February and May 1991 it was refurbished by Northern Counties and returned to use as  Seagull 25 in June in light blue with dark blue skirt. Other than school contracts it was restricted to coach work.
In preservation but showing the post 1993 repaint condition. The destination display was modified at refurbishment as were the top deck front windows and the entrance doors.
A second renumber from 25 to 45 in March 1992, preceded a repaint in the same livery, albeit with a dark blue roof band matching the new bus livery in June 1993. With Fylde merged into the Blackpool fleet in summer 1996, 45 became 445 and started to appear on bus work. In April 1997 it received Blackpool green and cream and reverted to bus duties. In February 1999 it moved to Rigby Road depot, ending its life at Squires Gate on Saturday 6 Feb on the 11/11A and starting its new life on Rigby Road worked 14/14A - with conductors - two days later. Squires Gate closed in April 1999 so the 11/11A became its occasional domain again.
445 on Line 11 in 2002 - a repair to the destination display has seen a new smaller glazed aperture fitted.
Investment in new buses saw the Atlanteans demoted to mainly school work and seasonal services 1 and 21. 445 survived to the last month of ex Fylde Atlanteans but was withdrawn mid May 2004 - a couple of weeks before the last of its sisters.

It was sold to the Blackpool Transport Omnibus Group - an informal group of mainly BTS drivers - a few weeks later and was re-registered back to B75URN in early 2005. It debuted on the rally scene in green and cream in March. During 2007/8 it was restored to Seagull Colours debuting at the Atlantean 50 event at Manchester Museum of Transport on 19 October 2008. It has been a regular rally attender but has been out of use recently.