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A Century of Transport - Front to Back; A Rear-engined Revolution
Experimental rear-engined buses appeared before the Second World War but none went successfully into production in the UK. The need to minimise the engine's occupation of passenger carrying space had led to underfloor-engined single-deckers, standard from 1950 onwards. The result was high floor levels and several steps to get aboard. Even less success could be reported on double-deckers with underfloor engines because the engine location implied excessive overall height or inadequate interior height. Midland Red was the only successful British designer of underfloor-engined double-deckers around this time, building just two D10 models in 1960-1 of which the sole survivor is on display at the Transport Museum, Wythall. 943 KHA is technically one of the most unusual buses in Britain but, being unassuming in appearance, most visitors pass it by without appreciating its significance.
Fleets of rear-engined double-deck buses were running successfully in the United States in the 1930s. Leyland is credited as the first major builder of rear-engined buses in the UK but, actually, Foden was well ahead of the field with its PVRF6 model, introduced in September 1950. The standard engine was the distinctive nasal-sounding Foden two-stroke, although a PVRG6 Gardner-engined variant was also offered. Few were produced.
Leyland had been experimenting with rear-engined double-deckers throughout the '50s but its earliest prototypes looked very different from the production vehicles. They had a rear entrance with the space alongside the driver being wasted. The longer double-deckers permitted from 1956 allowed an adequately wide entrance to move ahead of the front axle and the double-decker began to take on the layout familiar today. The production model, the Atlantean, was launched at the 1958 Commercial Motor Show.
The double-deck bus was effectively turned back to front. The entrance was now at the very front and had low steps, directly opposite the driver. The notion of driver only operation was not a serious issue at this stage as double-deckers without conductors were not permitted until 1967. The Atlanteans were built to the new 30 feet length, had lots of seats and the driver could supervise boarding and unloading while the conductors kept busy collecting the fares on these big buses. In due course the Atlantean had rival rear-engined designs, although separate ownership disappeared in the '60s when virtually the entire British vehicle building industry merged into the ill-starred British Leyland.
©Copyright 2018 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JA, England.
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