NX West Midlands Hero

West Midlands Fleetlines At Fifty

Read part one of the series by Mark Fitchew (Trams, Train & Buscapades!)

Published: 6th September 2021

The Standard Daimler Fleetline bus

It was really inevitable that the October 1969 formed West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) would come to standardise on the 1960 introduced Daimler Fleetline rear engine chassis for it's double decker (by far the majority in this heavily urbanised fleet) needs, as three (Birmigham, Walsall and West Bromwich) of the four municipal operators taken over by the Passenger Transport Executive, had standardised on the marque in their final years. Even the fourth constituent, Wolverhampton, had twenty five, Park Royal bodied thirty three foot dual door examples on order, these becoming the PTE’s 3980-4004. These had been sufficiently early into their build for the PTE to request them to be built to an identical specification to ninety nine (was originally one hundred but a deal was made with Daimler for the hundredth bus to be sent to Johannesburg in South Africa instead. I’ve often wondered if the price of this deal was for Park Royal to body the Wolverhampton buses to the same specification as the Birmigham buses) thirty three foot, dual door buses that Birmingham City Transport (BCT) had on order (3881-3979.) Due to their size, both batches of buses soon earned the nickname Jumbos!

But the Park Royal Jumbos weren’t the only Fleetlines that the PTE’s predecessors had on order, as both West Bromwich and Walsall were also expecting some Northern Counties bodied examples. West Bromwich’s consisted of eight, thirty three foot, dual door examples, which were numbered 4005-4012. Walsall, meanwhile, had fifteen dual door Fleetlines on order, of similar appearance to the West Bromwich buses, though only thirty foot long, these becoming the PTE's 4013-4027.

West Bromwich also had an option on another six Northern Counties bodied Fleetlines, which the PTE exercised and a seventh bus was added, in place of the bus that went to Johannesburg. These became 4029-4035, with the PTE specifying it’s own preferred features, such as single doors and a twin destination blind, not dissimilar from the style of blinds used for many years by Midland Red, enabling the ultimate destination to be displayed on the top blind, with the lower usually used for “via” points. This would become the standard specification for PTE blinds on most future new vehicles, including all of the PTE’s Fleetlines. 4027-4035 wouldn’t enter service until October 1971,  initially allocated to Walsall, though they would eventually be transferred to their originally intended West Bromwich home in 1975.

Image: Daimler Fleetline / MCW (WMPTE STANDARD)

The First WMPTE Standard Fleetlines

The PTE soon placed an order for two hundred Fleetlines to it’s preferred thirty foot, single door specification, complete with the style of blinds pioneered on 4027-4035, though these would be the last PTE Fleetlines to feature Northern Counties bodied, the only further Northern Counties body to be purchased by the PTE being fitted to 1977’s rare Foden 6300.

Instead, the PTE copied BCT’s previous, dual sourcing practice, by ordering one hundred bodies each from Park Royal and Metro Cammell, to be fitted onto two hundred Fleetline chassis. The body style from both builders would feature a very strong resemblance to the Birmingham and Wolverhampton Jumbos, this box-like style owing more than a little to 1968’s trendsetting Mancunian bodywork pioneered by Manchester City Transport.

The Park Royal buses started to arrive first, in 1971, with 4036-4050 being allocated to Wolverhampton Cleveland Road for that garage’s share on the then recently introduced service 79 from Wolverhampton-Birmingham, which combined most of the former Birmingham/West Bromwich 75, with the West Bromwich/Wolverhampton 90, Walsall 51 and Wolverhampton 2 & 7, illustrating how the PTE intended to integrate it’s network. 

4051-4081 would be allocated to Harborne, mainly to one man the 21 & 22 services to the Weoley Castle estate, for the new buses were all equipped with the PTE’s new Autofare, exact fare collection system, enabling the speeding up of boarding times on the increasing number of one man operated services. Indeed, all the new buses that were being bought by the PTE were partially financed by the government’s New Bus Grant, introduced by the same 1968 Transport Act that had created the PTEs, a stipulation of this grant requiring the buses to be suitable for one man operation.

Therefore, 4082-4098 went to Hockley, whilst 4099-4108 and the first of the Metro Cammell batch, 4136-4157, went to West Bromwich in preparation for the one manning of the Soho Road services, including the new 79, the longer established 74 from Birmingham-Dudley and their short workings 72, 73, 75, 76, 77 and, from the Wolverhampton end, the 71 & 78.

As well as the yellow formica, another former feature that the early PTE standards possessed was the khaki roof of a darker cream, this having been originated by BCT following the discovery that the virtually black roofs painted in wartime to prevent being visible to enemy aircraft, were more hard-wearing than the standard BCT cream, so the undertaking introduced the darker cream roof after the war. With the PTE adopting a modified of BCT livery (featuring a lighter blue) the khaki roof also featured on buses up to 4100, with 4101 onwards featuring all cream roofs. 

The rest of the two batches soon spread across the remaining PTE garages, helping to spread one man operation across the system and providing the beginning of a standard WMPTE look, amongst the varied selection of acquired stock.

We would like to thank Mark Fitchew, a very knowledgeable bus enthusiast and bus driver for the help with putting this blog series blogs together. Keep your eyes open for the next remaining part of this blog series, which will be published very soon!

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