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Birmingham AEC Regent Appeal - July 2017
Progress with all aspects of the restoration of our Metro-Cammell bodied AEC Regent No.486 in the last couple of months has resulted in a feast for the eyes and ears of anyone having an interest in British commercial vehicles of the period. The late 1920s and early 1930s were years of rapid development and this bus survives to represent a significant move forward in chassis and body construction standards and the developing style that went with it. For me, the privilege of seeing this iconic vehicle being re-born and being part of that process is a remarkable experience.
The pleasure of seeing the craftsmanship going into the renovation of the bodywork has continued as Ian Barrett and Saul Woods have concentrated their efforts on pushing ahead with work around the lower deck.
The panels above window level on either side are now in place. These incorporate the ventilators, parts of which are formed out of slots and flaps in the panel itself and part of which is rivetted on. Most of the skirt panels have been cut out and had their edges joggled, all but one of them requiring some sort of additional work to accommodate the various openings and other features around the lower part of the bus. The fixed panels for the nearside have been completed and following trial fitting with newly cut and drilled straps, they were removed again for the rears to be painted before being permanently fitted in place. This will include fitting of the horizontal wooden bump rail with radiused aluminium capping which runs along both sides of the bus, about half way up the skirt panels.
The lower panels for the nearside, towards the front, also form the access flaps to the tool box and have yet to be made. On the offside, the panels between the wheelarches have been made and trial fitted but those behind the rear wheelarch have compound curves to accommodate the taper of the bus towards the back and from top to bottom and will take a little longer to complete. Brackets to take the wooden guard rails which fit below panel level between the axles have been made and fitted.
At the front offside corner, Ian has put much work into recreating the cab doorstep, wheelarch, framework and panelling. The original arch, sadly now riddled with woodworm, was made of a single piece of ash, curved to the correct radius. However, as bending or machining such a large piece of wood is not practical at Ian's workshop, he has steamed several thinner sheets of ash and formed them into the correct radius before gluing them together to achieve the same result. To this wooden arch is fixed the steel inner arch which was made to drawings we were fortunate to have on loan from Aston Manor Museum at Aldridge. Nonetheless, it has required considerable fettling to get it to fit correctly. The original cab door has survived and now fits perfectly again although it requires further renovation and building up with lock, handles, signalling window and so on.
All the opening windows in the lower saloon are now fitted and fully operational and the side panels within the saloon area have been covered in leathercloth. Lino has also been laid on the floor and then a sealant applied to protect the surface. The latter task was carried out by Ken Westmacott, one of our regular volunteers at Wythall, who has been to the workshop in Surrey to assist with this and other jobs, such as preparation and painting of the backs of exterior panels, preparing and drilling beading strips for the saloon floors and cleaning up handrails ready for fitting. Claire Pendrous and daughter Laura have also assisted with cleaning up some handrails but also doing alterations to others which in some cases will have to be used in place of missing originals.
On the outside of the upper deck, I have continued to build up coats of paint, assisted for a week in early June by Kevin Hill. The roof and upper deck window frames are now in their final coat of paint, a 50/50 mix of gloss cream and varnish and the panels below the windows should be in a similar condition by the end of June. All external paintwork will be given a final coat of varnish in due course, once all lining out, application of transfers and signwriting is completed.
Turning to the parts of the bus that will enable all this work to be driven about on the road, you may have noted my reference at the start of the article to a feast for the ears as well as the eyes. Well, I am pleased to report that on 5 May, the engine burst into life for the first time, putting life into the heart of 486 after seventy-three years absence! Unsurprisingly, this was not without a few challenges and the actual start-up was delayed by two days as a result of a defect with the magneto. This was particularly irritating as the magneto had gone through a costly overhaul by an outside firm and was assumed to be fully operational.
As a result, it took Andy a while to narrow down the reason for the engine not firing up and much time was wasted checking aspects such as timing, spark plugs and so on. In the event, when I took the defective magneto to Mick Evans for him to check, he found that the post on which the contact arm pivots was choked up with corrosion and devoid of any lubrication. With this dealt with, and the points gap set correctly, it functioned perfectly, but only for about five minutes until a new defect stopped it working altogether! This is now under investigation and being taken up with the firm that did the 'overhaul'.
The initial start-up was only possible because Andy was able to go to the London Bus Museum and borrow a spare magneto, which itself was not in the best of health. Now with the engine running a few other teething problems showed up. These included a weep from the cylinder head gasket, a petrol leak on the autovac tank and a blow on the exhaust silencer. Additionally, the carburettor required adjustment involving enlarged jets to allow smooth slow and fast running and an enlarged choke tube had to be made by Roger Stagg. With all these issues dealt with and with a further magneto borrowed from LBM, by early June, the engine was able to run smoothly throughout the rev range. When ticking over, the engine is extremely quiet and thanks to all the work done by Andy to balance the con rods, there is barely any vibration.
With this milestone passed, wheels and tyres will be fitted before the end of June to enable 486 to be driven for the first time since 1944 and moved to a new position in the workshop. This will give unrestricted access around all of the lower deck so that the remaining drilling and fixing of panels and fittings can take place and painting can progress.
The Regent's place will then be taken by the next major project for Ian and team, 1948 Johannesburg AEC 664T trolleybus No 589 (same spec as the LT SA3 class) which also has an MCW body.
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