01 November 2011
Alwyn Brice reports on this year's Showbus event, held at Duxford Air Museum. ...
Passing half a dozen Routemaster buses in various liveries on the M25 is a memorable occurrence – but then the annual bus fest in Cambridge, which attracts enthusiasts from all over the country and beyond, is a truly memorable wallow in nostalgia for anyone who’s ever travelled on these kings of the road.
According to one of the show’s organisers, Dave Reid, traders totalled around 85 on the day, while around 460 buses and coaches were expected. That’s a measure of how popular this event is: indeed, it’s pretty much the last big gathering of the year for the bus fraternity before the cooler weather sets in.
I’ve visited this event before, although it was a few years ago. The show got going back in the 1970s, so it’s got quite a bit of history.
What, then, was there to see? For the toy and model collector, it has to be said that the real thing overshadowed, both literally and metaphorically, the tiny replicas. But, like classic cars, if you’re keen on the miniature, then seeing the real thing is always an experience. In this context, Duxford didn’t disappoint.
But, before some words on some of the most impressive leviathans, I made my way over to Chris Tipping, who runs TTC Diecast. He was tasked this year with the production of the model for Showbus, and he’d come up with a lovely rendering of the FRM1 in red, that front entrance, rear-engined Routemaster.
A resin model, it boasted stunning detail and was well finished. Like all his company’s production, only 300 examples will be made, making it a true limited edition: something that rather mocks the ‘limited to 30,000 only’ tags you see on other models!
In his tent Chris had some pre-production models of the coming Corgi buses and coaches, but I was drawn by three other superb models he’d produced. The Marshall-bodied Dart was available in two different schemes at £58.99 while at £64.99 was a red and cream London Northern single door V3. I must say that at these prices they seemed to represent good value for money.
Chris mentioned that his range will be expanding in due course and that coaches will feature too.
Talking to toy dealer Peter Felton, it became clear that collectors are very happy with the subjects chosen by Corgi, EFE and Creative Master, to name but three diecast makers. “People go for the model rather than the maker; we’re seeing a lot of interest now in corporation liveries,” he says. “Also, both older buses and modern are equally collected. But, prices are climbing, and there’s a risk that younger collectors will be squeezed out.”
Peter and his friends (from the Yardley Wood Bus Club) were also displaying a 1965 Marshall/ Daimler Fleetline 37-seater coach that had been 10 years in the restoring: it looked very distinctive in navy and cream.
Elsewhere, there was little in the way of old toys, save a playworn, unboxed Corgi Routemaster (£15) and a Dinky Autobus Parisien in faded green and cream at £20.
The real deal
But, on to the real thing: Craig Mara had brought along a superb Bristol L6B 1950 31-seat coach finished in cream and green. This was a really evocative vehicle, with plenty of sweeping aluminium and chrome trim. Rescued from a Canvey Island museum in 2003, it has only just been MOT’d. Just 38 of these were made and his example is one of two left.
“The wooden frame had dropped at the front. There was no interior and hardly any flooring,” he told me. “The original restoration had started in 1984 but had stopped: in fact, the lower edges of the bodywork had been taken off and thrown away!”
It’s been a labour of love, this restoration, but he’s had help from enthusiasts along the way and it’s now almost finished, with just some minor detailing to do. Powered by a Bristol 6 (8.4 litre) engine, it’s hard to value this coach, but Chris said that it was insured for over £25,000.
Dave Cooper, who some readers will know as the brains behind Timbercraft, the display cabinet company, was there with plenty of cabinets – and his 1962 RM1403, which has had its roof removed. “Two were done like this – the other one’s in Greece!” he said. With a top speed of 39mph, it had taken him a couple of hours to drive over from Towcester.
And, lest you think it’s all fun and games with these rather large toys, you need to understand about spares: an exhaust can be £600 and tyres (Dave has replaced four this year) are £300 a corner. His example, in traditional red and with a CLT numberplate, is hired out and one of two buses that he owns. And, the example at Duxford has covered 1.5 million miles...
There was the occasional oddity too at the event. Take the Beadle Leyland Integrated, finished in Kent colours. This coach had actually started life as a double decker back in 1937 and had been rebodied in 1952, since this was deemed a more cost-efficient path to a smaller vehicle: this had necessitated removing the upper storey. In one family for 46 years, it was a rare survivor from the original batch of 209 and the driver thought that perhaps five were still around.
For lovers of 1950s and 1960s monochrome comedies, and those old enough to recall the St Trinians sagas, there was a 1950 Bedford OB Duple C29F in deep red that seemed to have been driven straight off the set. The coaches used in those schoolgirl films, to my mind at any rate, were among the prettiest manufactured, showing British coachwork in all its glory. Unless I’m mistaken, a Bedford OB was recently available as a resin kit from The Little Bus Company.
Seeing the steady flow of buses and coaches into the grounds of the museum was a real treat on the Sunday, and I’m sure there were many there who, not necessarily bus aficionados, nonetheless appreciated the efforts of those who keep these mementoes on the road.
Bits and pieces
No bus show is complete without its autojumble and this event didn’t disappoint. There was everything from bus parts (upholstery, steering wheels, radiator cores, badging, trafficators, bumpers and panels) to items worn or used by drivers and conductors, including uniforms, buttons, route badges, ticket machines, ticket rolls and even cash bags. Then there were postcards, photographs, books, DVDs... Add to this all manner of bus stop and trolleybus signage and you had the recipe for some serious browsing. Prices varied enormously, depending on the item in question, and I can report plenty of interest in ticket machines, particularly those of London Gibson pedigree: these can fetch up to £300 with the correct bag. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Finally, if you had money burning a hole in your pocket, then what about investing in a 1962 AEC Reliance Harrington Cavalier? One was up for grabs, which had been restored a few years back and which was now in need of fresh paint. This is a lovely streamlined, very classy coach with unmistakeable 1960s styling... yours for somewhere between £12-15,000. The queue starts here!
PICTURED TOP RIGHT One of the the prettiest coaches present was this Bedford OB Duple.
PICTURED CENTRE This Tri-ang Routemaster was one of the star toys seen at the event: with its rare original box, it would have set you back around £850!