The History of
Birmingham City Transport
1950 Guy Arab IV No. 2548
Registration No. JOJ 548
Leaving the paintshop at Witton on re-launch day, carrying Deputy Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Len Gregory, following the unveiling ceremony, 30th May 2011. Photo by J Everill.
Between 1947 and 1954 Birmingham City Transport (BCT) purchased 1748 new buses to replace its entire fleet of trams and trolleybuses, along with buses built to inferior standards during the Second World War (known as 'Utility' buses). Also replaced were all except 40 or so of its pre-War fleet of motor buses, although even these surviving buses were put into storage at Witton depot for several years before re-emerging in 1958 when BCT took over Midland Red routes on Walsall Road. The new buses were built by five different chassis manufacturers; Daimler of Coventry (926 buses), AEC of Southall (15 buses), Crossley of Stockport (270 buses), Leyland of Leyland (236 buses) and Guy of Wolverhampton (301 buses). The mass use of public transport at the time is reflected by the fact that only 35 of these vehicles were single-deckers, which were mainly for use on routes with low bridges. The double-deck fleet were mostly built to the Birmingham ‘Standard’ layout with straight staircases, five bay construction and well appointed interiors.
Seen in Ridgacre Road, outside Quinton Garage, is one of the ‘Utility’ bodied Guy Arab II’s, fleet number 1383 of 1944. This bus became a driver trainer after withdrawal from normal service in 1950 and when this photgraph was taken was numbered 98. The body seen here, fitted in 1952, was built by Brush and originally fitted in 1943 to AEC Regent No 448 of 1931. BCT acquired 84 Guy Arab I’s and II’s in 1942 – 44, all swept from passenger service by the arrival of the post-war ‘Standard’ fleet. Incredibly this bus remained in use, testing the gear changing abilities of hapless trainees, until 1968! Photo by B Ware.
Non-standard ‘Standards’! Two of several types of bus that made up Birmingham’s ‘Standard’ fleet. On the left is No 1747, a 1948 Leyland PD2 with Brush body. It shares Selly Oak Garage forecourt with a tram and AEC engined No 1500 of 1947, a Daimler CVA6 with Metro-Cammell body. The trams at Selly Oak were ousted by the new bus fleet in 1952.
Not really a ‘Standard’ but trying to look like one! The batch of 15 AEC Regents with Park Royal bodies delivered in 1947, were a peculiar blend of London RT and BCT styling. 1639 is seen at Lincoln Road North terminus, Acocks Green. Photos 2548 Group Collection.
2548 was one of a batch of 100 double-deck vehicles ordered by BCT in July 1948 and built in 1950 and 1951 with chassis by Guy Motors Ltd of Fallings Park, Wolverhampton and 54 seat bodywork by Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon Co Ltd of Birmingham. The bodies were built at the Marston Green (sometimes known as Elmdon) plant, Bickenhill Lane, in the former Austin Motor Co hangar where Stirling and Lancaster bombers had been assembled during the Second World War. The buses were equipped with 8.4 litre six cylinder Gardner 6LW diesel engines developing 102bhp at 1700rpm. They were constructed to a design specifically developed for BCT by Guy Motors incorporating a new frontal style dubbed the 'New Look', which concealed the radiator. Eventually, 902 buses were built to this design for BCT by Guy, Daimler and Crossley. The Guy buses were a development of the 'Arab III' chassis modified for BCT with fluid clutch, pre-selective four-speed epicyclic gearbox, automatic lubrication system and chassis members cut off immediately behind the rear springs, meaning the platform was suspended from the body superstructure. This updated model gained the designation 'Arab IV' All subsequent Guy deliveries to BCT were of this type with minor modifications, but the first 100 were famous for their rasping exhaust note due to having 2½" diameter pipes as opposed to the remaining buses which had 3" diameter systems.
The Gardner 6LW engine is installed in an Arab chassis being built for Birmingham City Transport at Guy Motors’ Fallings Park factory in 1950. BCT and Guy designers had worked together to create the ‘New Look’ frontal shape (later known as the Birmingham front) which was produced for twenty years and appeared in bus fleets throughout the UK and around the world. Photo from BCT archive.
From new, this batch was divided between the newly opened garage in Ridgacre Road, Quinton, which had the first 40, numbered 2526 to 2565 (Registrations JOJ 526 - JOJ 565), and Acocks Green which had the remaining 60, numbered 2566 to 2625 (JOJ 566 - JOJ 625). BCT was very particular about coordinating the registration numbers of its buses with the fleet numbers. Accordingly, they reserved registrations JOJ 1 to JOJ 999 for a large part of the post-War replacement fleet, numbered 2001 to 2999. Most of the 'New Look' buses were JOJ registered with the remainder in the series MOF 3 to MOF 227, fleet numbers 3003 to 3227 and just three of them registered LOG 300 to LOG 302, fleet numbers 3000 to 3002.
The first and the last of the famous Birmingham JOJ’s were further variations on the ‘Standard’ theme. JOJ 1 was a Daimler CVD6 with Metro Cammell body, Daimler CD6 engine and epicyclic pre-select gearbox which entered service in 1950 and seen here on the Stratford Road whilst JOJ 999 was a 1953 Guy Arab IV, also with Metro Cammell body but with a Gardner 6LW engine and synchromesh gearbox. It is seen at West Heath terminus. Photos 2548 Group collection.
The chassis for 2548 (JOJ 548), number 71023, was completed at Guy Motors’ Fallings Park factory in June 1950 and, fitted with engine number 82315, was driven to Metro-Cammell's works on the 21st of that month. The body fitted at Marston Green was arguably to the highest specification and standard ever achieved for a stage carriage bus built for urban use. In the lower saloon there was lavish use of moquette, produced to a design specifically for Birmingham, and upstairs leather upholstery. Much polished woodwork was employed throughout the bus. This was the last batch of buses ordered by BCT to be built in two halves, the top deck being constructed separately and then bolted onto the lower deck. The quality of the materials used and the excellent design and craftsmanship enabled many of the type to have working lives well in excess of expectations. BCT paid Metro-Cammell £2,565 for each body, the chassis costing £1,875 making a total cost per bus of £4,440.
The chassis of one of the first 100 BCT Arabs ready to depart from Guy Motors’ factory for bodying at Metro-Cammell’s Marston Green factory. Photo from BCT archive.
On completion, the bus was delivered to Quinton Garage where, even before it entered service, it became the subject of a number of tests in September 1950. These included fitting an experimental 5.16:1 ratio differential (not adopted as a standard fitment) and 36W lamps in rear directional arrows and brake lights (adopted in directional arrows for the rest of the fleet). 2548 also had a starring role in tests carried out with a variety of recovery apparatus, and a photographic record was made of the arrangements.
Brand new in Quinton Garage, 2548 is mounted on a towing ambulance as part of a series of tests with various types of towing equipment in September 1950. Photo from BCT archive.
2548 was passed as fit for traffic on 1st October 1950, its first day of service being Monday 3rd October. Within a few days, she was the subject of another test when the standard SAE30 engine oil was replaced by thinner SAE20. The results were not beneficial and the oil was returned to standard by 9th October. Three days later, she became the guinea-pig for trials of modified brake linkage levers. These were lengthened in an attempt to increase braking efficiency. The bus was kept busy with its new sisters clocking up an average of around 560 miles a week on the busy routes run from Quinton Garage and as the new design bedded in, various issues arose which required modifications. Amongst these were additional gates fitted to gear levers to prevent reverse being inadvertently engaged, after one driver managed to back into another bus when he thought he had selected second gear! The previously mentioned exhaust note was not always a source of pleasure, especially to the residents of Ridgacre Road who complained of being disturbed by early morning departures from Quinton Garage. Experiments took place with Crossley silencers, several 25xx Guys having them fitted and some buses received 3" diameter pipes as opposed to the standard 2½” systems.
Birmingham Corporation’s Transport Committee on a visit to Quinton Garage in about 1951 with some of the garage’s allocation of 25xx Guy Arabs in the gate on the left. Photo from BCT archive.
2548 had barely lost its gleaming new appearance when, in January 1951, it suffered the first in a long series of accidents. It would appear that 2548 was either very unlucky in its early years of service, or else the standard of driving in the 1950's and early 1960's left a lot to be desired. The record cards reveal that she was sent to BCT's central repair works at Tyburn Road, Erdington, no less than seven times between 1951 and 1962 for rectification of frontal collision damage and once in 1964 for a rear collision. These visits occurred as follows
The most serious was in December 1951 when the repair card shows a long list of panels and fittings replaced, internally as well as externally, structural repairs, repair or renewal of upper and lower saloon front bulkheads, a new front axle, steering box and radiator. However, her luck seemed to improve after 1964 because no further works visits were needed as a result of collisions.
2548 sandwiched between two Midland Red D7’s as it enters Victoria Square from Chamberlain Square in about 1955.
Photo by A B Cross.
More tests were carried out in 1955 with a repositioned diff worm shaft seal and in December 1957 involving the use of paper fuel filters, something which was subsequently introduced across the fleet. Apart from all the test work and visits to Tyburn Road Works, 2548 maintained a steady routine of service work punctuated by time off duty for BCT's rigorous programme of 'special cleans', carried out approximately once every 4 to 6 weeks. Preventative maintenance of body, electrical and mechanical components was based on mileage. This would involve time spent on one of the nine pits in Quinton Garage, for example, after 50,000 miles for fuel sprayers to be changed, after 75,000 miles for propeller shafts to be changed, 100,000 miles for dynamo and main brake servo change, 150,000 miles for front brake servos and steering box, 200,000 for front axle change, etc.
In April 1964, she received her third engine, No 71055, replacing No 82665, which had been in since July 1954, powering the bus over a distance of 262,411 (recorded) miles. The new engine was experimentally fitted with Hepworth & Grandage pistons until replaced by standard ones in July 1966.
Apart from four days spent at Selly Oak and three weeks working out of Harborne Garage in early 1965, 2548 remained a Quinton bus, covering the following routes:
2548 in New Street on 23rd July 1963 displays the M&B advert that she carried for several years. By now, the bus had been fitted with flashing indicators, the offside one seen immediately behind the cab door, replacing the original and unreliable trafficator arms. Photo 2548 Group collection.
Until 1964, apart from 2553/57/59/60/63/64 spending periods at Acocks Green, Quinton's allocation had not moved away from their original home except on short-term visits to other garages in connection with annual re-certification or engine block overhauls. However, dispersal began in September 1964 with 2526 - 2532 going to Selly Oak and in January 1965, 2536 - 2540 moved to Cotteridge. 2548's annual 'dock' in 1967 revealed a problem that afflicted most of this particular class of buses after so many years of service. A weakness in the chassis members where the front hanger brackets of the front springs were fixed resulted in cracks appearing. 2548 was sent in to Tyburn Road Works on 6th February for repairs, returning to base a couple of days later.
After another year of service, 2548's next 'dock' at Quinton at the beginning of February 1968 revealed that the chassis problem had not been resolved. 2548 was taken off the road and de-licensed whilst a decision was made regarding repairs. Eventually, she was sent to Tyburn Road where the remedy was to cut out the previous repair, re-weld it and then weld a heavy box section over the affected area. This was a success and the repair has remained good to this day.
1968 saw 2541 - 63 depart Quinton for Hockley. For 2548, official re-allocation to Hockley Garage took place in April 1968 when the bus was still out of action for chassis repairs and it was not until week ending 18th May 1968 that she once again entered traffic.
A 1960’s scene in Tyburn Road Works which 2548 visited for attention on no less than 24 occasions, eight times for collision repair, three times for engine replacement, five times for general overhaul, five times for repaints, twice for chassis repairs and once for installation of a cab heater. The bus furthest away in this view is one of the 2526 – 2625 batch Guys in for repair. At first glance, the other two buses would appear to be identical but in fact they are both Daimlers. 2126 (JOJ 126), nearest the camera, a CVD6 of 1951, had a Metro Cammell body built to the same specification as 2548 but tailored to fit the Daimler chassis. Compare the length of the cab side window or the first side window in the upper saloon with the Guy. The Daimler CD6 engines fitted in 2031 - 2130 was shorter than the Gardner 6LW’s in the Guys and so the engine bay and cab was shorter as a result. The bus in the middle, 3211 (MOF 211) was a 1954 Daimler CVG6 with Crossley body and lacks the drip rail seen under the lower blue band of the other two buses as it was constructed in one piece . Photo 2548 Group collection.
The two remaining original members of the batch at Quinton, 2564/65 went to Liverpool St Garage in 1969, but strangely, some of the former Acocks Green vehicles of the same batch, 2576 - 2584 and 2586 - 2601, had arrived at Quinton in 1968. 2582 upwards remained until 1970, except 2594 which was amongst the first seven withdrawn as surplus to requirements, on 30th September 1969 (2585 had been withdrawn in May 1966 after a severe collision). Former Acocks Green buses 2566 - 73, were also moved to Quinton for a brief period in early 1969.
2548's move to Hockley resulted in her becoming a regular sight at Wednesbury, West Bromwich and Dudley on the West Bromwich Corporation & BCT joint services as follows:
Other services worked whilst at Hockley were:
On 9th Sept 1968, 2548 is pursued by Harper Bros’ former London Transport RTL800 (KYY 770) in Old Snow Hill as it nears the City Centre en route from Kingstanding to Hall Green. From the early 1960’s, the front wings on the ‘New Look’ buses had been shortened to allow better air flow to the front brakes. By the time this photo was taken, 2548 must have been one of the few buses still carrying front wings of the original length but this was to change in line with the rest of the fleet when the bus was overhauled in early 1969. Photo by J Carroll.
On 6th February 1969, she entered Tyburn Road for the fifth overhaul in her long career. Whilst Leylands, Crossleys and Daimler engined Daimlers of similar age were rapidly being dispatched to scrap yards around the country, it was decided these veterans were worthy of yet another spell in works. 92 of the batch were out-shopped between November 1967 and June 1970 with Certificates of Fitness awarded by the Ministry of Transport of up to six years, remarkable for such elderly vehicles.
From 1st October 1969, Birmingham City Transport became the largest constituent of the newly formed West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) and the City coat of arms carried on the sides of the bus since delivery were covered over with vinyl stickers bearing the new PTE logo.
2548 at Dudley Bus Station in 1971, still in BCT colours but carrying the WMPTE logo. Photo 2548 Group collection.
The arrival of the PTE also meant that many BCT buses were re-allocated to garages in the newly created 'North Division'. Numerous worn out yet newer buses owned by Walsall and Wolverhampton Corporations were withdrawn and the sturdy and well maintained Birmingham Guys were moved in to take over, all remaining vehicles in the series 2564 to 2596 being sent to Walsall in early 1970. This move also allowed the closure of the town's trolleybus network. Additionally, many newly delivered vehicles were allocated to North Division garages meaning that there were fewer available to replace Birmingham's massive and aging post-war fleet. Although 2548 continued to work out of Hockley, many other members of the 2526 - 2625 batch were sent to 'foreign' garages. Later, when former Midland Red garages and routes in the Black Country and Sutton Coldfield were absorbed in 1973, members of the batch were also loaned to garages there. This all meant that buses of 2548's type which BCT had begun to scrap in the last few months of its existence suddenly had a new lease of life under WMPTE.
2573, under the trolleybus wires in St Paul’s Street, Walsall, was one of thirty from the 2526 – 2625 batch of Guys transferred there in early 1970 to assist with replacement of obsolete vehicles, including the trolleybuses. Photo by T W Moore.
Reorganisation of routes meant that Wolverhampton was added to the list of destinations to which 2548 operated - in fact she was noted working the 79 to the town on the route’s first day of operation, February 28th 1971.
BCT's high standards of preventative maintenance continued under what was now the PTE's South Division and 2548's record cards show many new or overhauled components fitted as a matter of routine at each annual 'dock' carried out in preparation for the MOT test. In addition, an overhauled engine, No 92509, was fitted between 10th and 13th May 1971 and on 11th June 1971 she was out-shopped from Tyburn Road in the PTE livery. This incorporated royal blue rather than the original deeper Prussian blue. A replacement gearbox was fitted on 12th January 1972 and after all this attention 2548 appeared to have many miles of regular service in front of her when she was sent to Harborne later that month to be 'docked'.
Having passed her MOT test on 28th February, 2548 returned to Hockley at the beginning of March 1972. Incredibly, after all the recent repairs and investment, by the end of the following month, she was withdrawn from service as being surplus to requirements. With the rapid onset of 'one man operation’ throughout the West Midlands, half-cab buses only suitable for conductor operation were often withdrawn en masse, regardless of condition, as each route was converted. Soho Road routes had changed over to 'one man' large capacity buses on 16th January and new YOX registered Daimler Fleetlines had arrived to take over, so whilst still in prime condition, 2548 was de-licensed on 30th April 1972.
This might well have been the end of the road for 2548, as she was stripped of her destination blinds and surplus fuel and driven to Lea Hall Garage for storage. Fortunately, she was parked in the garage, whereas many other withdrawn vehicles were left parked in the yard at the rear of the garage at the mercy of the weather and the local vandals.
In Summer 1972, when suitable candidates were sought for reinstatement to carry out a special role, 2548 was one of five vehicles chosen. WMPTE was launching its 'Travelcard' and four of the buses selected were to undergo conversion to mobile sales offices and photo booths. The buses so treated were Guys 2555 and 2607 and Daimler CVG6's 2819 and 2820.
Conversion to Travelcard promotions vehicle is under way in Lea Hall Garage in September 1972. Photo by D Yates.
Fortunately 2548 was subject to less radical alteration as she was to be used as a publicity vehicle and mobile cinema. The upper saloon windows were panelled over, a projector screen was mounted at the back of the top deck along with a projector table and wiring to power the equipment. The seats were turned round to face the screen and the old tungsten filament bulbs were removed and replaced with fluorescent lights. Luckily, the lower saloon was not altered. This work was completed on 12th October 1972.
Over the next year and a half 2548, now renumbered 197 in the ancillary vehicle fleet, spent time at Acocks Green and Perry Barr Garages and was often seen acting in a supporting role to one of the other four Travelcard buses in city and town centres of the PTE area, where queues of customers often built up to have photos taken and get Travelcards issued. 2548 finally 'came home' to Quinton on 11th May 1974 and its last MOT test under WMPTE ownership was carried out on 13th November 1975, but there is little evidence that the bus saw much use in the latter years of its role as a promotions vehicle. From 1976 it sat gathering dust in the middle of Quinton Garage along with the other Travelcard buses until official withdrawal from the ancillary fleet on 31st December 1977.
With the last of the original batch of 100 Guys having been withdrawn from regular use in October 1977, it seemed inevitable that 2548 would join them on the long haul to the Yorkshire scrap yards, but it appeared that she had been forgotten about. In the Autumn of 1978, Quinton bus enthusiasts Andrew Maxam and Rob Handford got together with others keen to preserve one of the few remaining Birmingham Standards that had not been disposed of by WMPTE. 2548 was not the initial choice due to her shabby appearance and the alterations from the normal layout.
However as the other options rapidly disappeared, it was decided to investigate the potential for restoring the bus to working order and so on 2nd December 1978, after checking the fuel pump was fully charged, jump leads were connected and the starter motor engaged for the first time in many months. The engine immediately fired up and after an initial blast of white smoke, the exhaust rapidly cleared to a healthy blue haze, remarkable for a cold diesel engine dormant for so long!
Inspection over a pit in Quinton Garage revealed the bus to be in very good mechanical order and the bodywork generally sound, considering the bus was now 28 years old. The records revealed that the engine had run less than 16,000 miles since installation and the gearbox only just over 6,000 miles. In all, the bus had run a recorded total of 545,000 miles since 1950, very low compared with buses that survived longer in passenger service.
The decision was made to buy the bus and the purchase price of £891.51 including tyres and VAT was paid in April 1979. Within three weeks of becoming the property of the 2548 Group, the bus had the changes made for Travelcard promotion reversed, external paintwork was cosmetically restored to WMPTE colours and an MOT test was passed. On May 13th 1979, 2548 attended the Sandwell Historic Vehicle Parade at Dartmouth Park West Bromwich, to the surprise of many enthusiasts present.
On 2nd Dec 1978 Des Kerrigan (far right) and Phil Taylor inspect 2548 on the pit at Quinton, watched by 16 year old Rob Handford, sporting the customary oily hands! Photo by M Wood.
Only two weeks after purchase by the 2548 Group and the signs of its Travelcard days have largely disappeared as Rob Handford paints the bus back to standard WMPTE colours in Quinton Garage. 6th May 1979. Photo by L Nicholson.
Once 2548 had left the security and protection of Quinton Garage, a new home had to be found. The first place she went for parking was probably the least suitable place she has ever been kept - a farmyard, though thankfully for only three weeks. Lowe Farm near Arley in the Severn Valley was home to a variety of livestock, cats and dogs which found the bus of interest, either as a shelter from the weather or something to rub against, and a considerable amount of cleaning was required when the bus was taken away. The other problem with this location was its remoteness, not being served by public transport. The principal active owners of the bus at that time were too young to have driving licences and those that could drive did not have enough spare time. A move was urgently needed and Rob Handford was fortunate enough to live at his parents' house in Quinton that possessed a large drive area fronting onto Ridgacre Road. The question was asked of his parents as to whether they would be willing to have a double-deck bus parked in front of the house, which also contained the Doctor's surgery run by his father David. One can imagine they were not too keen on this idea. However, access to the drive was via a gate which was set at an angle to it and the drive then rose steeply round a short curve before levelling off as it ran along in front of the house. The brick gateposts were positioned only a few inches further apart than the width of the bus. Confident that these constrictions would prevent the bus from reaching its intended parking place, David Handford agreed that if the bus could be driven through the gate and up the drive, then it could remain parked there in the short term, until a permanent home could be found.
Rob was equally confident that 2548 could be manoeuvered onto the drive and so the bus was collected from Arley on 6th June 1979 and arrived at the gate to the drive. The front of the bus was moved gingerly between the gateposts until the rear wheels were level with them. The steering was turned to full left-hand lock and with an inch or two to spare on either side and between the platform and the ground, 2548 edged forward to the spot that she would occupy for most of the next 2 years. Not surprisingly, the arrival of the bus on the front drive was the subject of much local interest. Being the local General Practitioner meant that Dr Handford had to field numerous questions at his surgery as to the presence of the bus. Many rumours went round the neighbourhood with regard to the reason for it being there. Amongst the more amusing suggestions overheard in the waiting room or in the queue at the nearby bus stop, were:
A photograph even appeared in a local newspaper with a plea for information as to why it was there. A reply was sent in by one of the Group members, Edward Chitham. At the end of the letter, which was published, he asked whether anyone knew the whereabouts of "a lower saloon front bulkhead handrail" which was missing when the bus was bought for preservation. Other members of the Group were sceptical about the likelihood of a reader happening to have one of these extremely obscure articles knocking about their home, especially as it was over a year since the last few intact examples had been sent for scrap. To their utter surprise, a couple of days later a man appeared at the front door of the Handford's house in Ridgacre Road bearing the required item! It fitted perfectly.
The Post and Mail Newspaper Group generously sponsored 2548 during its first year in preservation, paying £300 for its adverts to be displayed on sides and rear of the bus. Here it is in Colmore Row in August 1979 with the Sandwell Evening Mail advert on show. Photo by A Maxam.
For two weeks in July, 2548 was moved to covered parking at the depot of Storage and Haulage in Doulton Road, Cradley Heath before moving on 29th July to Aston's Transport yard at Whitlock's End, just south of Birmingham. The bus was moved back and forth between Whitlock's End and Ridgacre Road until the end of September 1979 when she was left at Whitlock's End, staying there until 14th December. From that date she moved back to Ridgacre Road where she was based until 14th March 1981. During this latter period the first proper restoration of the bus took place. The lower saloon ceiling was taken down and all the decorative wood cappings were removed and stripped of the many coats of varnish and brown paint. The marine plywood ceiling panels were then prepared for spraying with white paint. At this point a set-back occurred when builders carrying out repairs to the house and surgery at Ridgacre Road saw the panels stacked in the garage and decided to help themselves to one of them and chop it up for use in one of the jobs they were carrying out. Following strong protestations, the panel was replaced with a new one, but it required many layers of paint and hours of flatting with 'wet and dry' paper to bring it up to a standard near to that of the one destroyed.
The freshly painted ceiling and varnished wood was refitted, considerably improving the look of the bus for its travels during the 1980 season. Destinations reached by the bus in that year included:
Despite the great convenience of having the bus parked at Ridgacre Road, the 8 tons 2cwt of 2548 were having a detrimental affect on the driveway, which was only intended to bear the weight of cars. On top of this, the bus cut out much of the light getting through the sitting room windows of the house and Rob's mother was getting fed up with having to put the light on in the middle of the day so that she could see to play the piano!
2548 on the front drive of 83 Ridgacre Road, Quinton in early 1981. Photo 2548 Group collection.
Deterioration in the condition of the vehicle prompted a search for under-cover accommodation and this was found on an industrial estate at Lifford Lane near Cotteridge, in a unit leased by bus preservationist Colin Hawketts. From March 1981, 2548 joined former BCT vehicles 1486 (1947 Daimler CVA6), 2231 (1949 Leyland PS2), 2489 (1950 Crossley DD42), 2707 (1951 Daimler CVD6) and 117 (1940's AEC Matador recovery vehicle) which were also kept in the small industrial unit. For many years after the departure of 2548 from its unusual position in Ridgacre Road, locals still referred to 'the house with the bus on the drive' as a landmark in the area!
Due to the damaging effects on the paintwork of outside storage during the first two years in private ownership, the initial (and rather naive) intention had been to strip off the many layers back to bare metal and repaint the bus. Stripping of peeling paint from the worst areas started whilst the bus was based at 83 Ridgacre Road. However, it was soon found that mere repainting was not going to be adequate to achieve a good standard of restoration back to BCT condition. The most severely affected section was around the off-side front wheel arch which was badly corroded. The 'New Look' front had been damaged in a minor shunt prior to preservation and the near-side front wheel arch was corroded and badly fitted. Most of the lower panels were found to be too dented for filling and all the screws holding the beading, gutters and drip-strips to the outside of the bus were either badly rusted or insecure or both. In 'patched up' condition, 2548 continued to attend events during 1981 and 1982 but the bus was taken off the road in February 1983 to allow more in-depth repairs to commence and almost the whole exterior of the bus was stripped down to bare metal. In April 1984 re-location to Pensnett Trading Estate took place. The spacious unit here allowed full access around the bus for heavy work to be carried out, at times convenient to the Group. By this point, the 2548 Group had spawned further groups that had rescued other BCT buses. The 'umbrella' organisation became known as the Birmingham City Transport Society (BCTS) and the other buses acquired were:
The result of all this was that the membership grew, increasing the potential workforce for restoration, but it was rare that teams worked on more than one vehicle at a time. With a total of six buses to look after, there were long periods when 2548 did not receive any attention. However, much useful work was completed at Pensnett, especially renovation of the lower parts of the body pillars and the exterior of lower deck stress panels, cleaning and painting of parts of the chassis exposed during this work and manufacturing of new exterior panelling where the originals were too badly damaged for body filler to be used.
Sadly, the owners of the industrial unit at Pensnett decided in spring 1985 that storage of preserved vehicles was not providing enough income and gave notice to the vehicle owners to quit the building.
Preparing to depart Pensnett in June 1985 following re-panelling of much of the lower section of the bus. 2548 was not best prepared for the next three years, initially stored outside and later in a leaky barn and the bodywork suffered as a result. Photo by R Handford.
This ended a particularly enjoyable spell in the project and lead to a very bleak period in 2548's history. With finances stretched due to the large number of vehicles to look after, equivalent covered space for parking and restoration could not be afforded and it was necessary to move the vehicle to an open-air site at Brockmore, near Brierley Hill on 23rd June 1985. The bare aluminium began to suffer and water leaked in where-ever it could, causing some of the work already completed to be undone. The search to find somewhere under cover went on, but even following an appeal in a local newspaper it was not until seven months later that a less exposed place was found, although it has to be said, it was not a big improvement. The bus was moved on 9th February 1986 to Tower Farm at Essington, near Wolverhampton where it occupied a muddy spot in a barn surrounded by farm machinery and bales of straw. There were holes in the barn roof, which allowed rain to pour in, splashing mud up the sides of the bus. Two winters in these damp inhospitable conditions took an even greater toll on the exposed metalwork and other than occasional visits to take the batteries away for charging or to turn over the engine, the bus received little attention. During this time, BCTS had become involved in the setting up of Aston Manor Road Transport Museum in the former BCT tram depot at Witton, Birmingham and the hope was that it would eventually become home to the BCTS collection, which by this time had been reduced to three vehicles. As far as 2548 was concerned, this ambition became reality on 20th August 1988 when she became the second bus to arrive in the newly repaired building. She made a very sad sight and work on restoration immediately re-commenced with the damage done over the previous three years starting to be rectified.
It was decided this time not to leave any stone un-turned and all signs of rot or corrosion would be eliminated before repainting and a return to active use. On completion of each task, the bus would be better prepared to withstand the worst that the weather and the British roads could throw at it.
From 1988 to 2003 progress was limited and not always easy to manage, with access reliant on key-holding directors of the museum. This meant that work mainly had to be carried out at weekends when the public were present, thus restricting noisy or dusty processes. As the principal members of the restoration team were shift workers during these years, often working at weekends, the number of hours put into the project was a lot less than they would have wished. The work was not continuous in those years and, for a number of reasons, several breaks in work occurred.
Progress on rebuilding the off-side front wheel arch and cab at Witton during 1990. Photo by R Handford.
From 2003, the Group, at last, had unlimited access to the bus and the pace of work was much greater as a result. In 2008 a major effort to conclude the project started when a professional welder was employed to fabricate the platform framework. This resulted in renewed interest and an injection of new and skilled voluntary manpower followed. From then onwards, until completion of the restoration, a dedicated team put in long hours on many occasions, month after month.
On the pit for mechanical overhaul at Aston Manor Road Transport Museum, Witton, 29th April 2009. At the time the bus was bought for preservation, the engine had clocked up less than 16,000 miles since overhaul at Tyburn Road Works and therefore required only minor attention before completion of the restoration. Other mechanical and electrical components required more thorough renovation. Photo by R Handford.
After a 'mere' 22 years of increasing activity and expertise amongst the restoration team, the efforts of those involved began to bear fruit in October 2010 when the bus passed an MOT test. Staff at the testing station were summoned by the tester to see what was described by him as "the best I've ever seen!".
At the end of May 2011, the work of renovation was finally completed and on the 30th day of that month and with the blessing of the Deputy Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Len Gregory, who performed the unveiling ceremony, the bus emerged from the paintshop at Aston Manor Road Transport Museum resplendent in full 1960's livery, complete with all fittings, notices, transfers and advertisements appropriate to the time. The decision to represent this era was made for a number of reasons, the principal ones being the absence of many of the parts and materials required to return the bus to original condition and the fact that none of the owners or restoration team have memories of these buses when new.
In the course of the restoration, the following projects were completed:
(Annual progress reports detailing some of the work outlined above are available separately or on the 2548 Group website)
To many, the restoration of 2548 was a long drawn-out process, but the pleasure and satisfaction obtained by those involved in the achievement was considerable. This is reflected by the dedication to the task shown by a total of more than forty volunteers involved at various times. Based on the 10,185 hours recorded working on the bus at Witton between July 2002 and May 2011, a conservative estimate of the input in terms of voluntary time is that, since 1981, around 20,000 man hours have been expended. This equates to one man working 40 hours a week, 47 weeks a year for 10½ years. At an hourly rate of, say, £15 the notional value of this work is £300,000! In addition to the time actually working on the vehicle, it must not be forgotten that innumerable hours have been put into research, collecting parts and materials from around the country, searching the internet (or the Yellow Pages in the early days) for suppliers, making phone calls, developing relationships with fellow BCT bus owners and working on many smaller components in homes and workshops away from the bus. Approximately £25,000 was spent on parts, materials and professional help, the last of which was limited to welding of the platform structure, upholstering the seats and signwriting of advertisements.
Whilst the monetary value of 2548 will never match the sum of all that has been put into it, those that have produced the result have gained much more than a financial sum that none of them would want to swap for the bus! The privilege of helping to preserve this fine example of the best in British manufacturing craftsmanship and an iconic part of Birmingham's 20th Century civic pride has been enough. It is hoped that, like BCT, this bus will set a standard to which others will aspire. That you will have to judge for yourself!
Talyllyn Lake, en route from the Corris Railway to the Talyllyn Railway, 5th August 2012. Photo by R Handford.