Sunday, 20 November 2016

From the Archives: National Service

The original National produced between 1972 and 1980 did not enter the Blackpool fleet until 1986 and lasted just five years. Here is ex Crosville 548 on the Promenade trying to drum up interest in a Morecambe Bay bus/boat excursion. (Brian Turner)
The Leyland National was a landmark design. Leyland had absorbed several chassis makers with a range of vehicles and attempted to replace them with a single integral design developed in a joint venture with the National Bus Company. Introduced in 1972, other chassis such as the Bristol RE and AEC Swift continued alongside for a few years and Blackpool was quite dismissive of the National, reviewing it as 'not suitable in many ways' when justifying the tender award for the 1973 single deckers to Leyland subsidiary AEC. The full results were:
  • Seddon RU - £10,845
  • AEC Swift with Marshall body - £11,038
  • Leyland National - £11,510.50
  • AEC Swift with Willowbrook body - £12,147
  • Metro Scania - £12,774.05
The attractive livery of the Nationals is shown to effect on 544 which is about to turn from Harrowside into Clifton Drive
Several demonstrators were tried with RRM148M in June 1975 - though with 55 Swifts in stock the need for single deckers was not apparent. The Mark 2 type launched in 1980 appeared in November 1980 in the former of demonstrator WRN413V while GCK430W followed in March/April 1981 - both in the Fishwick's fleet. Two Halton examples followed in 1983 EWM630Y in April and CKC929X in May. Finally in January 1984 Blackpool placed an order for four mark 2s.

They arrived between 29 June and 1 July 1984 and after a period of familiarisation, entered service on 7 July, though some may have appeared the previous day. As the previous single deckers had taken the series to 599, they restarted the single deck numbering back at 541-544 (A541-4PCW). They introduced the Gardner engine to the fleet with the turbocharged 6HLXCT. 
542 on the post deregulation 2A at Bispham in August 1987. The front end was now devoid of the Corporation crest. (Brian Turner)
Leyland National production was reaching the end. 541-544 had production numbers 7777-7780 and just 55 more followed - ironically most for municipal operators rather than the NBC which took the majority of production.
Unusually the second hand Nationals all arrived in overall grey primer. Here 545-547 (right to left) show off their Gardner badges (Brian Turner)
A further six were ordered for 1985 delivery, but the council cancelled the order due to the uncertainty of deregulation. The order was taken up by Southdown with two more and they went to their Brighton & Hove division which soon became a separate business. They became their C450-5OAP with several ending up on the Falkland Islands!

The Nationals carried an attractive version of the single deck livery enhanced by a green skirt. 541 was the first to lose this gaining an all-over advert for Agri Electrics in December 1985.
541 was a surprising choice for this Agri Electrics all-over advert. (Brian Turner)
Instead of purchasing new buses, Blackpool entered the second hand market. Crosville Motor Services was implementing a programme of engine changes in its large mark 1 National fleet installing Gardner engines from withdrawn Seddon RUs in place of the unconventional fixed head 510 unit. Blackpool borrowed one (GMB387T) in mid November 1985 for evaluation and Crosville agreed to withdrawn and convert four buses for Blackpool. 
26 May 1986 and 545 poses on Midgeland Road turning circle which shows more than little evidence of oil leaks! (Brian Turner)
February 8 1986 saw LMA413T (to be 548) arrive from Crosville followed by CFM345/7S and KMA399T (545-547) on 17th. 548 was quickly repainted emerging on the 22nd with 547 following. Entry into service was delayed as the Union insisted on moquette seating for the driver, though the passengers had to retain the NBC vinyl! 

547 was first noted in use on 10th March, 548 by the 16th, 546 on the 23rd and 545 in early April. Like the National 2s they were used across the single deck network. Deregulation saw single deckers focus on the 2A (Poulton to Bispham), 3 (Mereside-Bispham), 4 (Wordsworth Avenue to Town Centre), 15 (Staining to Bispham), 23-25 (Hospital to South Shore/Mereside) and 26 (South Pier to Mereside). The Nationals in particular also saw use on tendered services 165 (Preston - Lytham), 180/2 (Fleetwood-Poulton-Preston), 185 (Blackpool-Kirkham-Preston) and the Kirkham Roamer. Later the 173 Blackpool-Lytham-Kirkham was added to the list.
The new fleet livery was somewhat plainer on the Nationals than the first scheme. The first of the Glasgow buses - their LN1 and Blackpool's 156 waits at the evening and Sunday terminus of route 25 on 9 January 1988. (Brian Turner)
The remaining AEC Swifts, while not particularly long in the tooth, were challenging to maintain as they were long obsolete. Strathclyde Buses had purchased 20 mark 1 Nationals in 1979 but they were now largely redundant and 11 remained, at least some by this time in store (Flickr Strathclyde LN1). Blackpool bought all 11 with three arriving in November (GGE156/66/74T), with GGE162/5T at least in stock by the end of the month and GGE161/4/7/70T here by 6th December leaving GGE158/72T outstanding and these arrived in January 1988. As City Pacers had taken over the single deck series, BTS simply adopted the registration number as the fleet number for its new arrivals.
National 167 awaits preparation for service, albeit with Blackpool blinds, in the bus yard on 13 December 1987 (Brian Turner)

165 receives mechanical attention alongside mk 2 542 in the bus compound on 28 November (Brian Turner)

162 sits alongside its new yard mates Atlanteans 311 and 317 and Swift 575 - the latter replaced by the Nationals (Brian Turner)
By this time 541 had been outshopped in the new single deck livery and 156 was the first of the Strathclyde's to leave the paint shop in the same scheme. 174 and 164 then followed. During December at one stage 161, 162, 166 and 170 filled the paint shop together while 165 was in the Body Shop. 156 was the first to enter service in mid December followed by 164/74 later in the month. Repaints continued with 165/7 outshopped in mid January, 172 towards the end of the month and finally 158 in early February.
161 on its first day in service, fully equipped for a duty on service 4, save for the Glasgow blind! It returned to depot with some minor faults in the early afternoon as seen here. (Brian Turner)
The buses were drip fed into service with 166/70 certainly used in January but the rest debuted in February. April saw 541-8 renumbered to 141-8 to group the Nationals together - indeed with the end of the Swifts in February and premature disposal of the Lancets in March the 19 Nationals now formed the entire single deck fleet. 148 did not make an appearance for some time as in March it was badly damaged when hit by a car and its rebuilt took until September to be completed when it returned to use in the new livery. 

Routine repaints followed with 142 the last National 2 painted in July and 145 the last mark 1 in August. This meant that the entire fleet was now in the new livery, except for the special Routemaster and Handybus liveries.
Single deck generations. April 1990 and Nationals 156 and 165 sandwich brand new Deltas 104 and 106 while Mark 2 144 looks on. (Brian Turner)
The decision to buy new Optare Deltas for 1990 spelled the beginning of the end of the mark 1 Nationals which were something of a stop gap. The first batch of eight saw 145-148 laid up after service on 11 March. With the Deltas rostered for the 23-25 and 53, the 15 surviving Nationals were rostered for seven all day duties on the 2A, 15, 180/2 plus the more recent tendered services 190-192 to Great Eccleston and Kirkham. They also provided back up to the Deltas (especially when private hires took them away from their service route) and minibus services. 145/6/8 passed to Norfolks of Nayland and 147 to A1 Service, Ardrossan.
145 and 146 sit withdrawn in the bus yard with still active 166 in April 1990
A second batch of Deltas arrived over the winter 1990/1 and these replaced the Strathclyde Nationals with 162, 164/6/7 and 172 withdrawn in December and the rest lasting until February. All eleven were purchased by Southend Transport. 

With just 141-144 left, it was something of a surprise that these were destined for a short life, replaced by Deltas 118-120/2 and withdrawn on 6 May 1991, leaving for Caldaire North East (United and Tees & District) later in the month bringing the Leyland National era to an end after just seven years.

145/6/8, along with Atlanteans 305-309, revitalised the fleet of long established Norfolk's of Nayland operating services into Colchester. In April 1991 Nofolks were absorbed by the growing Hedingham Omnibus fleet and gained the red and cream livery (flickr link). The three Nationals passed to Northern Bus of Dinnington in May 1996. Two years later Mainline - the former South Yorkshire PTE fleet took over Northern and the Nationals, though all were withdrawn soon after. 146 saw further use with the Appelby group mainly in Hull registered LJI8027 and by 2004 it was to be found in Lowestoft and was still there, for sale, in August 2016. It is not thought that 145/8 saw further use.
Former 148 and 146 with Atlantean 309 in the attractive two tone green and cream Norfolks livery in June 1991 when in the ownership of Hedingham Omnibuses.

147 spent its next life with a member of the A1 Services Consortium in Ardrossan but in January 1995 joined the Stagecoach Group with the A1 business. Now part of Western Buses, it was written off in an accident in April 2000. (Flickr 147 with A1)

The Scottish buses moved to Southend Transport as their 716-726 in numerical order. Some had short lives with 164 used for spares in 1992; 165 transferred to sister British Bus fleet London & Country in 1993 (flickr); 166 used for spares from January 1995 (flickr); 158 accident damaged in October 1996 and sold for scrap (Flickr 158 damaged). 172 and 174 were also sent for scrap in 1995/6. (Flickr 156 with Southend)

The survivors lasted until 1997 with the final bus (ex 167) withdrawn in June. 167 went straight for scrap but some had new lives. 156 went to the London &; Country group fleets which became part of Arriva with the absorption of British Bus. It was used as a driver trainer and on withdrawal passed via a dealer to JSM Driver Training in Edmonton in January 1999 before being preserved by Michael Roulston back in Scotland from November 2001. Sadly it is now understood to have been sold for scrap from the Beith Transport Museum.

161 returned to the North West running with Border of Burnley from November 1997 before being scrapped in June 1999. 162 ran with McKindless of Wishaw from July 1997 and was scrapped in 2000. 165 ran with London & Country until February 1998 and later ran as part of dealer Wealden of Kent's hire fleet until accident damage saw it sent for scrap later in the year.

Former 170 was the exception as during 1992 it was refurbished with a DAF engine (flickr). It entered service as 745 (PJI3745) in December 1992 and outlasted the main National fleet until withdrawal in 1998. It then ran with Supreme of Hadleigh but was last licensed in 2002 (Flickr with Supreme).

The National 2s fitted in well with the United and Tees fleets but two reached a premature end with accident damage, 141 going for scrap in July 1994 and 144 written off in October 1995. 142/3 survived into the Arriva era - interesting Blackpool's Nationals ran with each of the three big groups, Stagecoach (147), First (145/6/8) and Arriva (142/3, 156/65). They were withdrawn in December 1999 but it is believed 142 saw a brief period of use with sister firm Northumbria. Flickr link 541 Tees

143 was exported to Ireland on 12 July 2000 joining the fleet of O's Coaches of Hospital, Co Limerick (flickr link). After withdrawal it passed to the Kells Museum in November 2008 where it remains in store, approaching dereliction. Sister 142 was purchased by Cleveland Police (flickr link) as a mobile display unit in May 2000. By 2003 it was in store in Redcar and was taken on by the Redcar Youth Improvement Programme in March 2004. It was bought for preservation in 2009, but sadly was in too poor condition and was used for parts eventually. 

542 in Redcar in March 2004 after withdrawal by Cleveland Police and prior to its adoption by Redcar Youth Improvement Project