A Century of Transport - 1927-1937: A Decade of Progress
Vehicle design had been advancing since the beginning of the century but the period around 1930 saw notable developments.
In 1927 Leyland introduced its revolutionary Titan double-decker bus. The whole design was lower in height than its predecessors but, for those operators which needed it, the height saving could be increased by moving the upper saloon gangway to the offside and recessing it into the lower saloon ceiling. This arrangement became standard for 30 years with operators who needed double-decker seating capacity but were beset by bridges and trees. Mechanically the Titan sported a new 6 cylinder petrol engine, shared by the Tiger single-decker chassis introduced at the same time. The new range confirmed Leyland as a world class vehicle builder.
The Leylands were joined in 1929 by the AEC Regent, Regal and Renown models which were similarly advanced but set new standards for design. Bus chassis now looked much like they would for the next thirty years. Bus bodybuilders now included enclosed cabs and staircases as a matter of course.
Up until the First World War nearly all lorries had two axles. It was realised that the wheelbase could not be extended indefinitely to increase load space so the solution was either extra axles, a trailer or articulation. The first solution gained favour in this country. At first an extra rear axle was provided but in 1929 Sentinel produced a steam wagon which was the first rigid eight, i.e. twin steering axles at the front as well as two axles at the rear. This idea was soon taken up by most of the heavy vehicle builders.
Metro-Cammell of Birmingham entered the bus bodybuilding market in 1930 with a patented design of all-metal construction. Rival builders started to adopt the idea, not always successfully, but Metro-Cammell's products proved robust and the builder was soon amongst the market leaders.
Several manufacturers began developing diesel engines in the early 1930s. They quickly proved far more economical than petrol engines although not so smooth. Diesels proved particularly suitable for bigger vehicles like buses and larger lorries. Steam lorries were especially eclipsed and by 1937 few non-diesel larger vehicles were being purchased. Diesels have subsequently been adopted for smaller and smaller vehicles including, more recently, cars.
The commonality of bus and lorry chassis designs had largely disappeared by 1939. There was a demand, however, for cheap, lightweight smaller coaches and these remained truck derived, generally with petrol engines until diesel engines gained favour in the mid-1950s. The market leader was Bedford whose products, despite their low purchase cost, could last and last and were the mainstay of low demand country routes for decades.
By now, in the Midlands, the bigger cities and towns had buses operated by the local corporation but Midland Red was a mighty operator infilling between the big towns, while providing most of the services in the smaller towns and to the surrounding villages. It was the largest bus company in England and Wales outside London; big enough to justify the design and construction of its own buses which were thus unique to the company.
Looking briefly at road freight, extremely manoeuvrable articulated mechanical horses were developed to replace the real thing working on short haul deliveries from yards with restricted room. The railways operated hundreds on local parcel delivery work until the work was hived off to National Carriers. The Scammell Scarab was the leader but Karrier was also a considerable player in this market.
The tramcar was in serious decline by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. By 1950, most towns and cities that retained them were actively replacing them and, by the end of that decade, only a handful of systems remained in the country with none in the Midlands.
©Copyright 2003 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JX, England.
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