Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Dennis Lancets

598 on its familiar 2/2A duty at Poulton
Candidates for the most unusual Blackpool bus are the four Marshall Camair bodied Dennis Lancets operated between 1982 and 1988. They came about through a tendering procedure whereby manufacturer bid for a contract to supply vehicles. There was little on the market that was compatible with the existing Blackpool fleet which comprised Leyland engined Atlanteans and AEC engined Swifts. Dennis and Marshall were presumably the lowest bidder. Dennis supplied its new high floor Lancet chassis, which proved to be something of a flop. Only 87 were completed between 1981 and 1990 and that included 12 mobile libraries!

598 starts the climb of Anchorsholme Hill on route 3 to Mereside
 Blackpool's were amongst the first taking chassis 106, 107, 109 and 111 in a series starting at 101. They were intended to arrive earlier in 1982 and registrations ORN596-9X were booked and fleet numbers 596-599 were allocated. In the end the first, 596, did not arrive until 22nd July 1982 and was tested on trade plates prior to licensing as VCW596Y on 1st August. 597 arrived on 14 August; 598 on 19th and 599 20th, all with matching VCW---Y plates. At least 599 carried its ORN599X plate as it featured in a trade press article in June 1982, prior to completion.

596 demonstrates the high steps onto the platform and again into the saloon that blighted underfloor engined buses such as the Lancet
 The Lancets were commonly used on routes 2/2A (Blackpool to Poulton) which needed two buses with a third at peak times. They also appeared on other single deck routes such as the 3/3A, 8, 16, 19, 23/23A and 26 when available. Such availability was not always high as the vehicles had to return to Dennis for warranty work in their first few months. The Perkins V8 engines were found to be very heavy on fuel, and somewhat noisy, reputedly leading to complaints when they operated the night tram service.
After deregulation, the Lancets saw some use on newly acquired tendered services such as the Kirham Roamer, 165 (Preston to Lytham), 173 (Blackpool to Kirkham) and 180/2 (Preston to Poulton and Fleetwood). Single deck 'town' services now comprised the 2A (Poulton to Bispham), 3 (Mereside to Bispham), 4 (Blackpool to Wordsworth Avenue), 15 (Staining to Bispham), 23-25 (Hospital to South Shore/Mereside) and 33 (Cleveleys to Marton).

596 leaves Depot to work route 173 to Kirkham in the new livery. Later repaints on Leyland Nationals featured cream rather than green window surrounds (Donald MacRae)
 Routine repaints commenced in May 1987 when 599 became the first single decker to receive the new livery, followed by 596-8 over the next two months. 597 had suffered accident damage prior to repaint and emerged with slightly revised front end glazing. 596 suffered similar damage in late 1987 and was rebuilt in house in early 1988. February had seen the withdrawal of the final AEC Swifts and it was a great surprise that 596-599 were suddenly withdrawn in March 1988 and all four left on 20th having been sold to Redby of Sunderland, who also bought similar Camair bodies on Dennis Dominator chassis.

June 1988 and 599 is seen still in Blackpool livery with Redby of Sunderland (Dave Hatcher)
They ran in Sunderland in various liveries until summer 1993 when 596/7/9 left to go to Tanat Valley of Pentrefelin. 596/7 saw use on Oswestry Town Services, but 599 became a source of spares. 598 meanwhile was purchased by Knotty of Stoke-on-Trent where it was later rejoined by Swift 583. Further disposals took place in 1995 with 596 moving to Pioneer of Rochdale in February and 598 to Bluebird of Middleton in April. 597 was bought by enthusiast Graham Oliver for his Thames Valley Training fleet. It returned to Blackpool Transport for a repaint in its original livery (adopted by Thames Valley for its fleet of mainly ex London buses). 599 was sold on for scrap.

Sister 598 in a later Redby livery in South Shields - it was later repainted green (Dave Hatcher)

598 later joined 596 with Pioneer in October 1996 but was sold onto a dealer in April 1997 and was presumably scrapped. In 2000 596 moved to the Abundant Life Centre, a church in Bradford and lasted until February 2003. 597 passed to a preservationist in Hexham in 2000 and was viewed by the author in 2004 in poor condition. By then the last survivor its current circumstances are not known.

596 in the vivid Pioneer livery in Rochdale shows the modified quarter lights fitted by Blackpool Transport to this and 597 after accident damage

The sad condition of 597 in March 2004 stored on a farm near Hexham