NX West Midlands Hero

West Midlands Fleetlines at fifty

Part 3 by Mark Fitchew

Part three - Higher Numbers

Delivery of the 1973 order of Daimler Fleetlines and Bristol VRs was completed with the arrival in early 1976 of the final VRs. The PTE wished to follow this up with an order for a further six hundred Fleetlines, to be delivered over the following few years. However, British Leyland still faced problems with meeting it’s then commitments, so they only accepted an order for 420 chassis! 

The PTE had responded to this by going to one of Leyland’s upcoming rivals, with fifty Alexander bodied Volvo  (4738-4787) being delivered in early 1976, following the successful operation of three prototypes (4527-4529) in 1974. Following these, the latest delivery of what had become the PTE’s standard single decker, the Leyland National, these twelve built to dual door specification for the Shuttle service at the National Exhibition Centre, took the PTE fleetnumber series up to 4799, but the presence of ex Midland Red buses in the PTE fleet with fleetnumbers between 4800 and 6298 saw the fleetnumbers of new buses take a jump to 6299, which was given to a Metro Cammell Metropolitan demonstrator, allocated to Miller Street, whilst 6300 would be given to what would become a rare Northern Counties bodied Foden, allocated to Liverpool Street. Therefore, the next deliveries of Fleetlines would begin at 6301, the first few entering service in January 1976.

6301 Onwards

British Leyland had by now closed the Coventry Daimler factory that had previously been the home of Fleetline production since the model’s birth in 1960, with production transferred to the Leyland factory in the Lancashire town of that name, with the model now becoming known as the Leyland Fleetline. The first 120 Leyland badged buses, Metro Cammell bodied 6301-6420 would have further links to their builders, as they featured more Leyland 680 engines, following the success of that engine in 4530-4579 and continuing problems in obtaining sufficient Gardner engines.

Although a few of this batch (6358-6362) would begin their lives at South Division’s Yardley Wood garage, before transferring to their intended Stourbridge home, these buses would be allocated to North Division garages, helping to replace a myriad of ex Walsall and Wolverhampton front engine buses, but becoming particularly noticeable at the three ex Midland Red garages in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, at Stourbridge, Hartshill and Dudley itself. Consistent deliveries throughout 1976 would enable the one manning of various ex Midland Red trunk routes throughout the year, including Dudley’s 125/125 Birmingham – Wolverhampton services, and Hartshill’s 245/246 Stourbridge – Dudley – Wednesbury corridor, during the spring of that year. December 1976 would see a mammoth revision of services take place throughout Dudley, including the one manning of Stourbridge’s 130 to Birmingham and the Dudley operated 140 to Birmingham via Blackheath, these one mannings very much reducing the number of BMMO D9s in operation at the three garages, with the type finally disappearing from PTE service during 1977. The new Fleetlines would also replace BMMO S16 and S17 single deckers, helping to increase the number of double deckers in the fleet.

6341 onwards would see a revised front indicator layout, with the distinctive, half moon shaped indicators fitted just above cab level, as fitted to the Fleetlines (and VRs) up until 6340 being replaced by a more discreet, square indicator just below the cab. As the years passed by, the old style upper indicators would be an instantly recognisable distinguishing feature when one of the older Fleetlines was approaching. 

Metro Cammell would also body Gardner engined 6420-6570, which would carry on 1976 deliveries and continue into 1977, the  number of PTE Standard Fleetlines now forming the majority of the fleet, with an illustration of one frequently being used on PTE publicity, such as timetable books and so on. Three of these, 6431, 6432 and 6433, would attract attention by being painted in a silver livery to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, with a different advertiser sponsoring each bus. These would do a tour of the various PTE garages whilst in the livery. Demonstrator Metropolitan 6299 would also gain silver livery, though that remained at it’s Miller Street home. 

Park Royal would also feature in the new orders, with 6571-6610 being delivered throughout 1976 to South Division garages. Production problems at this London based Leyland subsidiary, would cause delivery delays to the rest of the order, which prompted the PTE to cancel the final thirty of it’s order, reassigning that order, for buses 6691-6720, to Metro Cammell. These would be delivered to the PTE in 1978, whilst Park Royal bodied buses 6611-6690 were delivered very slowly between 1977 and 1979, with many arriving after higher numbered Metro Cammell bodied Fleetlines had entered service.

Image: Daimler Fleetline / Park Royal (WMPTE STANDARD)

East Lancs

The PTE had inherited an option to purchase forty East Lancs bodied Fleetlines originally placed by Coventry City Transport but the aforementioned delivery delays meant that these wouldn’t begin to arrive until 1977! These were allocated fleetnumbers 6721-6760. Initially, the PTE had added another forty to the order, which would have taken these up to 6800 but, in the event, possibly due to the length of time that it took for these buses to be delivered, the additional forty East Lancs bodies were cancelled, with Metro Cammell bodying 6761-6800 instead. 6721-6760 would turn out to feature the last East Lancs bodies to be bought by WMPTE.

Although instantly recognisable from Metro Cammell and Park Royal examples, by their peaked front domes, these bodies would look quite different from the PTE’s earlier East Lancs bodies by featuring PTE specified upper front ventilators, the standard two piece destination blind, and standard PTE interiors.

The first twenty, 6721-6740, would be allocated to Birmingham’s Acocks Green garage in 1977, with at least one having a short term loan to Perry Barr. They would remain in Birmingham for around a year, when they would join the remainder of the batch, and their Coventry City Transport derived sisters, at the two Coventry garages at Harnall Lane and Sandy Lane.

5531 And More Metro Cammell Bodies

As mentioned, Park Royal had fell considerably behind on their orders, so the PTE reassigned the body order for 6691-6720 to Metro Cammell, who had also taken East Lancs place as the bodybuilders for 6761-6800. One other Metro Cammell body ordered at this time was for 1965 vintage  ex BCT Fleetline 3531, which had been the victim of a fire in October 1971, with it’s original body having been broken up in June 1972. The bus’s chassis had then been used for test purposes but it was decided to order an extra Metro Cammell body to fit to the chassis, the rebodied bus being given the fleetnumber 5531. The engine compartment of earlier Fleetlines was noticeably narrower than on latter examples, so 5531’s new body took this into account, with it’s rear engine “bustle” being noticeably narrower. 5531 would enter service in September 1978 from Washwood Heath garage, where it would remain until it’s withdrawal in 1982, not long after it’s originally bodied ex BCT sisters, a regrettably short life for it’s body, if not it’s chassis!

The Final Batches

1977 saw the PTE add to it’s Metro Cammell bodied Fleetline orders for another 135 examples, with these becoming 6866-7000. Delivery of these would commence in 1978, with twenty examples (6871-6890) being allocated to Acocks Green, allowing the East Lancs Fleetlines there to transfer to the two Coventry garages, allowing many of the last ex Coventry Daimler CVG6s to be withdrawn. Many of the 69xx Fleetlines would also find their way to the East Division, meaning the allocation of the PTE Standard Fleetline to the city for the first time, bringing a belated PTE look to the two Coventry garages! The final ex Coventry Daimler CVG6 would run on 24th August 1979, bringing to an end WMPTE’s era of half cab, front engine and rear entrance operation.

The new batch would be delivered throughout 1978, with the final few, 6997-7000, being delivered to Walsall in January 1979. But Park Royal still hadn’t completed their outstanding order, which continued to appear during early 1979, with the final bus, 6690, entering service at Acocks Green in May. 

By this time, the WMPTE Standard Fleetline was allocated to every PTE garage and was familiar throughout the county as the standard bus of the PTE. The demise of the last front engine buses meant that PTE Standard Fleetlines were now replacing some of the early acquired PTE Fleetlines in the fleet, such as the ten ex BCT prototype Fleetlines, which had been unable to be converted to one man operation due to the blinds having to be changed by the conductor, and the early, ex Walsall short Fleetlines. But change was once again in the air.

Image: Travel West Midlands 6924, Birmingham City

Reasons For The End!

Despite it’s obvious problems, British Leyland looked to the future with, probably misplaced optimism! With the success of it’s Leyland National integral single decker (as already mentioned, the PTE’s standard single decker, with a batch of the new National 2 arriving in 1980 to replace the last BMMO S23s (at Stourbridge) meaning the whole PTE full size single deck fleet consisted of Nationals.) Leyland announced that it planned to replace it’s three double deck types (Atlantean, Fleetline and Bristol VR) with a brand new, integrally constructed (meaning the body and chassis were physically integrated, compared to the traditional practice of body and chassis being constructed separately) double decker, known originally as the B15 but soon reviving an old, Leyland double decker name and becoming known as the Leyland Titans. WMPTE was one operator who showed an interest, with the operation of a demonstrator at Washwood Heath in 1978 leading to an order for five (7001-7005) with 7001 making it’s debut on the Park and Ride service at the 1978 Motor Show, whilst the remaining four entered service in early 1979.

The development of the Titan caused concern to the country’s remaining independent bodybuilders, who would obviously lose out if the majority of the UK’s buses became integrally constructed, including Birmingham based Metro Cammell, who countered this uncertainty by developing it’s own integrally constructed rival to the Titan, in the form of the Metrobus. Being a local manufacturer who had reliably supplied bodies to the PTE, and with the PTE’s favoured Gardner engine being an option for the new model, it was unsurprising that the PTE showed interest, with five being ordered, numbered 6831 – 6835, which entered service in 1978. Whilst 6831-6834 would feature standard PTE interiors,  6835 would feature a new interior which would become standard when the PTE decided to standardise on the Metrobus for it’s future double deck needs. It would go on display at the same 1978 Motor Show where 7001 was operating on Park & Ride duties. 

The PTE would order another two prototypes, which would also feature the standard PTE interior but would be fitted with Rolls Royce engines, these becoming 7006 and 7007, delivered in 1979.

The first production batch of Metrobuses would also enter service in 1979, featuring the new interior, Gardner engines (as were fitted in the first five Prototypes) and a new fleetnumber series beginning at 2001. The PTE also ordered a batch of sixty Titans but the closure of the Park Royal factory where the Titan was assembled caused delays whilst the model transferred to the National factory in Workington, Cumbria, caused the PTE to cancel the order, concluding the PTE’s rather fraught relationship with Park Royal over the previous few years! In fact, the whole industry didn’t take to being told to buy the Titan, forcing Leyland to introduce the separate body/chassis Olympians, which would go on to great success….though not with WMPTE! 

Instead, encouraged by local politicians keen to protect local jobs, the PTE standardised on the Metrobus throughout the eighties. So the building of the Standard WMPTE came to an end. But the Fleetline would continue to be a part of the West Midlands scene for the next seventeen years, which will be looked at in subsequent parts. 

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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Published: 16th November 2021

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