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A Century of Transport - Rear Engines become Standard; Manufacturers Merge and Collapse

Some operators continued to favour front-engined buses, generally on reliability grounds or speed of loading. At least the Atlantean and its compatriots all had semi-automatic gearboxes - many operators (and the builder for state owned operators, Bristol) carried on specifying manual gearboxes for other types despite bigger dimensions, the ever increasing traffic in cities and the loss of driving staff to industries with better pay and conditions. A bus grant introduced in 1968 for approved designs eased the introduction of driver only buses to minimise the staffing shortages, but killed off all the front-engined models on offer, good or indifferent. Double-deck bus design had changed totally in ten years. The accelerated replacement of buses meant that by 1980 the front-engined bus was becoming an endangered species outside London.

Operators now called for rear-engined single-deckers to replace the underfloor designs with their steep entrances. They did not want the engine occupying space across the back so, while the engine did move to the back, it was placed under the floor. The difference between the low front entrance and the high floor at the rear end was met by ramping or a step. Most of these early rear-underfloor single-deckers of the mid-'60s evidently suffered from inadequate development and set new records for short life but in time the concept matured.

Most of the British vehicle building industry was merged into British Leyland in the 1960s. Guy Motors of Wolverhampton was one of two significant manufacturers of buses and lorries in the West Midlands. Guy vehicles were tough sloggers whilst Daimler of Coventry was well known as a manufacturer of refined quality cars and buses. Daimler featured pre-selective gearboxes for many years and its buses were much loved by town operators coping with congested streets. Daimler and Guy were taken over by Jaguar in 1960 and 1961 respectively. Jaguar merged with BMC in 1966 and merged again in 1968 to form part of British Leyland.

The causes of the subsequent collapse of the industry are still the subject of much heated debate but most agree that concentration of development effort towards cars led to the bus and truck sectors falling behind its European competitors with disastrous results. Meanwhile some old British vehicles seem indestructible as anybody who has visited Malta, with its salt free roads, will confirm.

Amongst the European invasion was Volvo which proved initially to be resistant to the concept of rear-engined buses. It continued to sell underfloor-engined single-deckers and coaches to operators crying out for reliable products. It also developed the Ailsa double-decker, built in Scotland. This had a front engine - a small, turbocharged, Volvo unit between the driver and the entrance door. The successor to this design was an underfloor-engined double-decker, at last introducing to the open market in the mid-'80s the configuration successfully pioneered by Midland Red a quarter of a century earlier!

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©Copyright 2019 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JA, England.
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