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Birmingham AEC Regent Appeal - December 2018
The long-awaited start-up of piano-front Regent 486, following the second repair of the engine, finally took place on 4 December 2018. (This is an auspicious date, being the 87th anniversary of 486 entering service!) Initially, testing only took place inside the workshop and once assembly was completed by Andy Baxter the engine fired up very easily and ran smoothly with no adjustments required.
My impression was that the engine sounds and feels better second time around and a noticeable vibration that had previously occurred at higher revs is no longer there. This is probably because Andy had had the clutch assembly balanced and it seemed to have cured the problem. Indeed, the engine ran so smoothly that a £1 coin could be stood on edge on the rocker cover whilst the engine is running. I am pleased to report that the first week of road test running, from 10 to 14 December, went very well, every day being blessed with dry weather and salt-free roads.
The engine performed faultlessly for over 140 miles of varied road and traffic conditions, the only issue arising being a slight blow that developed from the exhaust manifold. It pulled well for an engine of only 7.4 litres and the bus has a fair turn of speed, although for obvious reasons that aspect was not explored too far. Having said that, there was no problem stopping the bus, the brakes being superb and having a good feel to them. That was just as well as I had to make more than one sharp application to avoid impatient drivers anxious to get in front of 486 and then causing an obstruction! The steering was rather heavy and we were unsure why that should be, because when the wheels were jacked up off the ground the steering wheel could be turned fairly freely. We increased tyre pressures and thoroughly lubricated all the steering mechanism, with no significant improvement so further investigation remained necessary at the time of writing. Fuel consumption so far works out at around 6 to 7 miles per gallon, which is roughly as expected.
While waiting for the engine to be completed I had fitted the stanchions within the saloons, all but one being renovated items. The seven which have been reclaimed came from Museum stocks and were salvaged from scrapped BCT 'Standards'. As a result, the angles and positions of the bends in the stainless steel tubes were incorrect for the Regent so a fair amount of manipulation was required using Andy's hydraulic tube bender, in some cases completely straightening the poles and re-bending them. The top and bottom brackets were removed to allow shortening of the stanchions and following a trial fit, the poles went away for welding of redundant holes, fettling and polishing. The mild steel feet for the lower saloon ones were shot blasted, repaired as necessary and painted brown. The upper saloon feet and the top brackets for both decks, some of which required welding of cracks, were polished and rivetted back in place. One of the stanchions was too battered to be re-used so new stainless tube has been obtained and shaped to suit. P-clips to secure the stanchions to the seat backs have been made from stainless steel sheet.
With the bus back at the Museum, work will concentrate on the application of transfers or signwriting of notices for which we have no transfers. Many people have been involved in gathering the information which will allow a full set of authentic notices and legal lettering to be applied. For the upper saloon, Malcolm Keeley provided original style 'double-blue' transfers for the 'No Spitting' and 'No Standing' notices on the front bulkhead. The road safety notices applied to lower saloon windows are currently being refined into a format that can be used to produce transfers. After an appeal by the Editor of this publication, who had created an initial mock-up, a Museum member, Paul Meers, volunteered to take the information we had gathered and create the required artwork.
With regard to the large ornate rear fleet number, I enquired with one of the original manufacturers, Tearne & Sons Ltd in Birmingham, to see if they could help. Amazingly, they still stock these transfers but, unfortunately they had run out of "8"s so I could only purchase a "4" and a "6" with a spare for each. Andrew Gardner then set about searching for someone who could produce an "8" at reasonable cost. As a result, Precision Decals produced a water slide transfer in the correct style after Tearne & Sons were able to supply a vinyl sticker for copying. I am hoping the old and new transfers will look at home together.
A very useful visit to Peter Letts's home to look through the materials produced or gathered by his late father Stan yielded an original section of leathercloth taken by Lloyd Penfold from a scrap Daimler COG5. This bears the words "PASSENGERS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO RIDE UPON THE PLATFORM" as was used on the Regents and this can be copied by the sign-writer. Tracings of other notices have been loaned by Peter, such as the warning "ONE STEP TO ROAD", which was actually traced by Stan from the platform partition of 486 before it was removed and replaced during restoration work in the 1970s. Information on external lettering for the bus is now complete, again helped by Stan's tracings.
Stan was a great supporter of 486 and was instrumental in its second rescue by a Birmingham-based group. This was when our organisation's predecessor, Birmingham Omnibus Preservation Society (BOPS) was formed in 1973, its first aim being the return of the Regent from Romford where it had spent the previous two years. Stan was directly involved in collecting and bringing the bus 'home' and had wanted to use his considerable talents to create the transfers for it. Sadly he did not live to see the current restoration take place so it is fitting that the items he had kept ready for the process will be fully utilised.
Assistance was given by Aston Manor Museum at Aldridge when it came to finding the exact details of the Birmingham civic crest applied to the 1931-1932 Regents. An original transfer was uncovered on a panel kindly loaned from their 1933 Morris Dictator No 47. Also, their Chairman, Martin Fisher, has lent an enamelled Hackney Carriage licence plate of London origin which will be used to create a replica West Midlands Area one for the platform partition on 486. The plates and the font were the same nationally so we will apply an appropriate licence number on the plate which Pete Murphy has already cut out of sheet steel.
We are nearing the point this extraordinary survivor will be complete in every aspect and I find it amazing that all the ingredients have come together. Many people have helped to bring about this massive restoration and once the job is finally done I will elaborate further on some of the processes and contributors involved; a story most certainly worth telling!
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