Saturday, 24 December 2011

Swift Spotlight

Front and Back - first series Swifts pass at Abingdon Street corner. 548 shows how these buses originally had vents below the windscreen.
Blackpool had standardised on Leyland Titans from 1932 to 1968 and by summer 1969 had a relatively homogeneous fleet - 50 PD2s and 90 PD3s, all but five with Metro Cammell bodywork. The last of streamlined centre loader buses were retired earlier in 1969. One Man operation had not been practised since 1964 when the solitary OMO service 18 and the two specially converted buses had been withdrawn.

Traditionally new buses went on the busiest routes, but with economies needed Blackpool followed the industry route of replacing short crew buses seating 63 with long wheelbase single deckers seating 47 with standing room making up the total capacity. The buses could, of course, be worked with a driver only and this achieved economies and saw the unusual practise of the newest buses on the quietest routes.

Blackpool first inspected a Leeds Corporation Swift in January 1967. It chose to order 15 AEC Swift chassis with bodies by Marshall of Cambridge. This was not the departure from Leyland stable that it may have seemed as Leyland by then owned AEC and the Swift shared a common chassis frame with Leyland's Panther. That said it was something of a departure for the conservative operator. The new buses became 541-555 (PFR541-555H) and the first to arrive was 544 which featured in official publicity and was licensed on 20 October 1969. 545 was licensed on 3 November so its likely that these two were used for driver training. 541-3/6-8 were licensed on 1 December. They entered service on Monday 8 December operating service 7C and 25A between Blackpool and Cleveleys that required four buses between them. Service 9 (Blackpool to College) soon followed taking the requirement up to six buses with 549 licensed from 15 January.

Swifts had short lives by Blackpool standards with most withdrawn at between 10 and 14 years. 546 is in its last year seen here on service 11C which used Swifts on Sundays.
The final seven did not arrive until the spring with 550/1/3/5 licensed on 2 April, 554 on 8 April and 552 on 5 May. On 4 May routes 7 and 7A were converted to OMO operating taking the weekday requirement to ten out of the fifteen buses. On a Sunday Swifts could also be seen on route 1 to Poulton - but the Sunday service came to an end later in the year.

Further Swifts were ordered for the 1971/2 programme. AEC quoted £4,150 per bus and Marshall £4,472 for the bodies. Delivery charges were £20 from AEC and £31 from Marshalls. Deliveries started in September with 558/9 licensed on 17th and 557/60 on 21st. 562 followed on 4 October, 556/61/5 on 6 October and 563/4 on 4 November. No further bus routes were converted until 20 December when routes 6A/B (Grange Park to Midgeland Road using two buses), 15A (Bispham to Hospital with five buses) and 16 (Town Centre to Wordsworth Avenue with 4 buses) were converted. 
The second and third batches had higher driving positions and different windscreens compared to 541 to 555. 556 was the first of the 1971 batch of ten seen here in April 1980 on route 12
On Sundays Swift operation also extended to the 11C from December 1971, 6 during 1972, 5 and 23 from February 1973. During 1971 it was decided to replace the remaining PD2s with a batch of 30 further single deckers in 1973/4, though delivery delays meant that the buses did not appear until March 1974! The results of the tendering exercise were interesting:
  • 1st Seddon RU - £10, 845
  • 2nd AEC/Marshall - £11, 038  (28% higher than 556-565!)
  • 3rd Leyland National - £11, 510.50 
  • 4th AEC/Willowbrook - £12, 147
  • 5th Metro Scania - £12, 774.05 
Note how the AEC/Marshall combination was not the cheapest. It was felt that the Seddon’s floor layout was not to Blackpool’s liking and the fact that 25 Swifts were already owned meant that AEC were awarded the contract as the maintenance savings from standardisation offset the extra purchase cost. The flagship Leyland National and Metro Scania were deemed “not to Blackpool’s specification in numerous ways”. 

566-579 were registered ready for 1st April 1974, 580-586 for May 587-589 in July and 590-595 in August. 6 May 1974 saw routes 2 (Blackpool to Poulton), 15 (Blackpool to Staining) and 12 (Blackpool to Airport) converted. Routes 3 (North Shore to Marton) and 26 (Town Centre  to South Pier) followed on 3 March 1975. 45 out of 55 Swifts were required for the basic service on routes 1, 2, 3/3A, 6B, 7/7A, 7B/7C, 9, 12, 15, 15A, 16, 25A and 26.
Route 25A was one of the first routes to use Swifts. Here 569 complete with original dash vent and Blackpool's added slip board holder. It is seen here on Dickson Road heading against the current one way flow of traffic in 1979
Service reductions during the 1970s saw the vehicle requirement reduce and new Atlanteans took over duties on the 7/7A and 9. Swifts were then used to convert routes 19 South Pier to Mereside (Feb 1976) and 23/23A (Hospital to South Pier and Midgeland Road) to OPO. 

By 1983 the 29 surviving Swifts (and the four Lancets) provided routes:
  • 2/2A (Blackpool to Poulton) 3 buses
  • 3/3A (Cleveleys to Mereside/Midgeland Road) 4 buses which incorporated the 6B and 25A
  • 8 (Blackpool to Whiteholme) 1 bus
  • 16 (Blackpool to Wordsworth Avenue) 3 buses
  • 19 (South Pier to Mereside) 1 bus
  • 23/23A (Hospital to South Pier/Midgeland Road) 6 buses
  • 26 (Town Centre to South Pier) 5 buses
  • Plus Sunday services 5, 6 and 16B.
The 56th Swift
Blackpool owned a 56th Swift from September 1977 in the form of ex Southampton City Transport 2 (MTR420F) with Stachans body which was purchased for spares and spent three years in Rigby Road yard being cannibalised before sale for scrap in July 1980.

Swift Liveries
The Swifts were new in all-over cream with just the wheels in green. This was distinctive but stark. A handful of buses received the later off-white shades from 1977/8 but in early 1979 581 and 582 were outshopped with green roofs following the introduction of Leyland Atlanteans in green/off white. 558 and 559 followed with a green waistband and this was adopted as the new livery. 581/2 were modified to match during 1981.

The first and last of of the 1969/70 batch 541 - in original livery and 555 in the later livery on withdrawal in 1981
All but 12 Swifts received the new livery - early withdrawals 541-7/50/1/3, 561 and 563 being the exceptions. The programme took four years to complete with 562 and then 588 as the last two to be treated. There is some suggestion that 574 and 575 received further repaints in February 1987 but this is not confirmed. The only other Swift repaint was 577 which received an all-over advert to Latusport Shop in July 1984.  

Swift withdrawals
Withdrawals of the Swifts began, surprisingly, with 561 which was parked up in early 1980 after just over eight years use while sister 558 was also parked up with accident damage. Routine withdrawals began, not surprisingly, with the initial batch. 544/5 were delicensed in August 1980 followed by 541-3/7 and 555 in March/April 1981. 552 declared its self redundant on 31 May 1981 while working service 11C when it collided with trees on Regent Road, while youthful 578 at just seven years and six months did likewise due to a collision with the depot doors on 20 September.
Accidents happen. Two 1981 withdrawals were unplanned. 552 on the right collided with trees on Regent Road while 578 hit the depot doors and was withdrawn before its eight birthday
551 - and newer sister 563 were withdrawn in September 1981, 546 came off in December. This left 548-550, 553 and 554 in use during 1982. 549/50 survived until July/August, 553/4 September/October and 548 survived as the last of its batch until April 1983. Four new Dennis Lancets in 1982, new Atlanteans purchased annually and the impact of service reductions saw off the Swifts.

In addition to 548, 1983 dawned with seven of the 1971 batch intact (556/7/9, 560/2/4/5). Inroads were soon made with 557/9/64 off by May and 562 by August along with 567/8 - the first of the final batch to succumb. Withdrawals then slowed with only 566 (of 1974) off in March 1984; 560 (of 1971) in May 1984 and 556 (of 1971) in January 1985. 
Swifts repose in Rigby Road Depot in February 1986 - most of these survived after deregulation
As at January 1986 565 of 1971 and 25 of the 30 1974 buses remained in use. 581 had been parked up in December 1985. The purchase of four second hand Leyland Nationals and six ex London Routemasters saw off 579/80/2/93 in February 1986 while 565/9/86 followed in March/April.

Deregulation saw new routes for the Swifts which appeared on the 4 (Blackpool-Mereside), 33 (Cleveleys-Marton Hypermarket) and revised services 2A, 15, 23-25 and the barely changed 26. 590 heads for the Hypermarket (now Asda on Vicarage Lane) on route 33 in October 1987. (Donald MacRae see his Victory Guy photo albums for more from his collection)
19 remained in use at deregulation (570-577, 583-585, 587-592 and 595). Buses began to be whittled down with 584 off in November 1986, 592 the following month, 595 in January and 577 in March. 572/91 also reached the end of the road in October 1987. The 11 survivors were to be replaced one for one by a batch of ex Strathclyde Buses Leyland Nationals - which were just five years younger. These entered service between December 1987 and February 1988 and 570/4 came off before the end of the year with 573/6/83 in January leaving 571, 585 and 587-590 into the final month. 571 and 590 are believed to have been the last to run, working route 4 on 29 February with 590 working the final 2300 from Bus Station to Mereside.
574 heads for Bispham on route 15 - normally the preserve of Leyland Nationals as the rota included trips to Preston on routes 180/2 (Donald MacRae see his Victory Guy photo albums for more from his collection)  
Swift Disposals
Disposals of the AEC Swifts generally fell into two categorises - pre deregulation sales direct to dealers for scrap and a post deregulation block sale to Wealden Omnibuses from where several buses went for further service.

36 Swifts were sold between 1981 and 1986 (541-569, 578-582, 586 and 593). Dealing with the exceptions first, 554 went for Preservation and 564/7/8 went to Stonier of Tunstall in 1984 via a dealer but did not operate for the firm. They were eventually sent for scrap. 562 went to Blackpool Airport in 1984 for use as part of fire brigade training exercises and was finally destroyed in 1997. 565 went to Lancashire Police for use as an exhibition unit but was out of use by 1989.  The remainder generally went to dealers for scrap. 

Leaving home - Swift 574 departs Rigby Road for the long journey to Kent in the ownership of Wealden PSV dealership
This left the 19 vehicles that were still in service at deregulation. Progressively withdrawn from service from December 1986 to February 1988 all remained in store at Rigby Road Depot at the start of April 1988. Wealden Omnibuses, a Kent based operator-dealer purchased all 19. It quickly find home for 12 buses -all of which had seen use in the last six months of operation. These were:
  • 570 with Blue Saloon Guildford 5/88 - w/d 8/92.  Preserved by 5/96 (Graham Oliver and later LTT) (570 with Blue Saloon front and rear view)
  • 571 with Weybus of Weymouth 5/88 then to Anglewish (Seaside Shuttle) of Portland in 10/88 w/d 5/89 and to Davies of Bridport as spares for 589 in 9/89 then scrapped 2/90
  • 572/4/6 to Ogdens of St Helens 8/88 (572 briefly loaned to East Surrey Buses before the sale) all w/d summer 1989 and scrapped by end of year
  • 573 Wealdens operating arm and loans to East Surrey, sold c3/90 to Raff of Gravesend then scrapped 8/90
  • 583 Davies of Bridport, later back to Wealden and to Knotty, Staffs in 1993 - burnt out 1996 (583 with Knotty)
  • 585 Bonner, Ongar 5/88 then to Raff Gravesend 12/89 and scrapped 7/90
  • 587 to Inverclyde, Greenock 5/88 then by 9/88 to Cumbrae Coaches, Millport w/d 1/90 and scrapped
  • 588 to Inverclyde, Greenock 5/88 w/d 11/88 and auctioned 5/89 scrapped 9/89 588 with Inverclyde
  • 589 with Weybus of Weymouth 5/88 then to Anglewish (Seaside Shuttle) of Portland in 10/88 to Davies of Bridport 9/89, De Vinci's Nightclub, West Bay 5/90, preserved 1997 but not reported since early c2002 Flickr Picture of 589
  • 590 Wealden hire fleet and loaned to East Surrey Buses. Last licensed 10/88
The rest were not fit for further use and Wealden had several moved to Fylde's Squires Gate depot for storage (Wealden used Fylde as a staging post for buses collected from Scotland). 575, 584, 591/2/4/5 all moved to Fylde - as did 583 briefly while at least 572 of the Ogdens trio called in at Fylde on prior to moving to St Helens. The six were gradually disposed of with 591/4 going in November 1988; 575/92 in February 1989, 584 around August 1989 and 595 around August 1990. 595 did move onto Wealden but the rest went straight for scrap. 
Preserved Swift 570 and AEC Routemaster 521 displayed together at the 2010 Blackpool Transport open day
Most of the survivors after deregulation had short second lives with their new owners. Swifts were an acquired taste and required gentle nurturing. Knotty for example swore by them (others perhaps swore at them) but modified 583 to use a Leopard style air pedestal gear change to replace the automatic electric unit specified by Blackpool. Those wanting a cheap ready to run vehicle tended to be disappointed and at least one operator ceased due to maintenance problems. 1991 started with the following survivors:
  • 554 (PFR554H) -with Wealden who purchased it from Graham Oliver and put it back in to bus service but by this time it had been placed in store. It was bought back by Graham in 1995 and passed to LTT in October 1996. It was restored to original cream in 1998 and but has been stored in recent years awaiting mechanical attention
  • 562 (UFR562K) - shell at Blackpool Airport scrapped 1997
  • 570 (OFR970M) - Blue Saloon, Guildford w/d 1992 but kept in store until sold in 1995. Preserved by Graham Oliver in 1996 it has since passed to LTT.
  • 583 (OFR983M) - Davies of Bridport later to Wealden and to Knotty in 1993. Destroyed by fire in late 1996 as last Blackpool Swift in service
  • 589 (OFR989M) - with Da Vinci's nightclub in Bridport, Dorset and for sale in 1995. Later bought by Graham Oliver for preservation but passed to another owner. Was under restoration, but no recent reports.

Today both 554 and 570 are in store with LTT - 554 requiring and overhaul and 570 - displayed at BTS open day in September 2010 - requiring minor mechanical work prior to recommissioning.