Midland Red memories at Wythall

Special report and picture gallery by Stuart Jones and David Cole

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO ACCESS THE GALLERY

The Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company, better known as the Midland Red, is central to the history of bus operation in the Midlands and the Autumn Running Day of the Transport Museum Wythall focused heavily, but not exclusively, on its buses and coaches.

The event, held on 3 October, marked 40 years since the once-vast concern was split into five separate bus/coach operating divisions (plus the Central Works). These were Midland Red South, West, North and East (soon to become Midland Fox) and Midland Red Coaches. These were later sold separately under the National Bus Company privatisation process in the mid-1980s, although both Midland Red Coaches and Midland Red West went to the same management buyout team.

BMMO was highly unusual in building buses and coaches in-house to its own designs incorporating engines also developed and built by the company. These were supplemented, especially post-war, by purchases from other manufacturers, with the last Midland Red products, S23 single-deckers, taking to the road in 1970 with bodies completed by Plaxton.

For the occasion Wythall pulled out all the stops to have every available Midland Red vehicle it could out on the road, providing rides for the crowds that turned up to enjoy them. There were exceptions such as a Guy Utility, a D7 and a D5B, which are undergoing long-term restoration, the latter after serving as a control room at Hednesford Hills Raceway, but these could be seen among the static displays. A 1966 S17 that is mechanically complete but currently has no seats was run minus passengers alongside a complete 1964 S16 which is otherwise similar but has the smaller 8.028-litre engine and a crash box rather than the 10.5-litre unit and a semi-automatic gearbox.

Other Midland Red types operating on the day included a 1940 SON, a 1950 S12, two D9s, C5 and CM6T coaches, the now unique underfloor engined D10 double-decker, two S22s and an S23. Among non-Midland Red built types operating were the Museum’s immaculate all-Leyland PD2 known by the company as the LD8, a 1973 Leyland Leopard Marshall (S27), a 1976 Leyland Leopard Plaxton Supreme (C16), a 1977 Leyland National (N6), a 1971 Leyland Leopard Plaxton Panorama Elite (C10) and a 1983 Leyland Olympian in the Mercian colours of an NBC MAP scheme. These were supported by buses originally with other fleets including Trent, Bristol Omnibus and Stevensons, with others on static display and two former Travel West Midlands buses providing the car park shuttle, one of them the very early low-floor Optare Spectra dating back to 1997.

Newly restored vehicles always prove a particular attraction and there were several present. From the Museum’s own collection was a 1966 Midland Red D12 Daimler Fleetline Alexander, while the CM6T motorway coach of 1965 had not turned a wheel in anger for some time. It made an interesting comparison with Roger Burdett’s 1959 C5, the CM5T variant of which was arguably the first coach type specifically designed for the motorway era. It attracted great interest at the time with Corgi and Budgie producing model versions and the Eagle comic featuring a cutaway drawing. An even older privately preserved Midland Red coach on which restoration had just been completed was the 3301 Group’s 1948 C1 with Duple coachwork to a BMMO design. I was lucky enough to travel on it and it was an experience to savour with its throaty engine and period interior. Freshly repainted in NBC poppy red and white was a Daimler Fleetline Alexander (D13) of 1970.

Former Midland Red service vehicles were there to provide support including a Land Rover and two buses cut down to act as tow trucks, one very nicely restored D7 and the other a Leyland PD2 acquired with the business of Harper Brothers, Heath Hayes, in 1974. The PD2 was called out during the morning to rescue an S21 single decker with lift pump issues, although these had been resolved by the end of the day.

Running Days are among the many events staged at Wythall which has much to interest transport enthusiasts of all ages and a volunteer staff that is extremely professional in the way that it presents and delivers all that it does. More information on www.wythall.org.uk

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