Essay : Not their finest hour – Guy Wulfrunian

Mike Humble


From personal experience, there is no customer more difficult to trade with or educate for that matter than a Bus or Coach operator. Your average road haulier for example will look for overall cost and network support before driver acceptance and a typical average car buyer tends to look for reliability and a good deal as their main reasons to buy.

A haulier has little interest in trucks outside of office hours and the car driver locks the doors and forgets until the next journey or daily commute. speak to your typical PSV operator and you’ll find a much different attitude. These men (and women) eat, live and sleep the industry like no other in my experience and considering their prime directive is to move the masses, each operators approach or view to how its done is as individual and varied as the print on your forefinger.

Some have an infectious attitude towards customer care, whereby some see the passengers as nothing more than two legged cattle and some simply care about the bottom line and nothing else. Some of the brightest, shrewdest, thickest, scruffiest, smartest and above all fascinating people I have ever met… have been operators of public transport.

In the turbulent world of sales, there is a known saying of ‘Customer is King‘ which of course is quite right, but what’s the general consensus of ‘The Customer is Always Right‘ – within the dark world of bus and coach sales? Well let me tell you, in many cases you couldn’t be further from the truth!

Let’s take Ronald Brooke for example, the once outspoken Fleet Engineer for the once colossal West Riding Bus Co. At the time, he was considered bonkers with his far reaching futuristic ideas. Brooke got rather carried away with a seedling of an idea to design and produce a modern double deck bus that was tough and strong enough to cope with the arduous and rough operating terrain of Wakefield and surrounding areas. West Riding had then undertaken an expansion plan which by 1957 saw the company become the UK’s biggest bus company that was independent.

One man’s dream becomes a National nightmare

The knock on effect of this was considerable influence with some manufacturers and when Brooke had finally finished his ideas of his dream child bus, various chassis builders were contacted with a view to turning this vision from a dream on paper to a product in steel and reality. Even in the days of black and white, manufacturers were always receptive to differing specification in power units or coachwork. But engineering tended to be set in stone and the chassis or suspension was the pure responsibility of the chassis builder be it Bristol, Daimler or Leyland to use as examples.

Brookes’ design was to feature many componentry ideas which today are commonplace on a modern bus. Air suspension and disc brakes is the present norm on every UK PSV chassis, but way back in the 50’s was viewed with aghast and wonderment. The engine was to feature up front like all other deckers of the time but so was the entrance platform for the passengers. There was reason in Brookes apparent madness, their fleet suffered with king pin and leaf spring failures mainly caused by the shocking roads in the rural areas the company served – no one could offer a solution so… all he did was create his own.

All the big chassis suppliers viewed Ronald’s plans and blueprints and kindly declined to become involved with such a daring and untried design. On paper the bus made perfect sense as new ideas often do, but re-inventing the wheel (quite literally) was too much of a risk to take for manufacturers who were still reeling and recovering from years of wartime austerity rules. But one company showed a keen interest and took little persuasion to become involved and consequently bring the Brookes dream into a reality which rather sadly proved to be more of a nightmare.

Guy Motors Ltd were once a well respected builder of Buses, Trucks and Trolleybuses who produced their products in Wolverhampton right up to 1982. Their products were far from revolutionary or futuristic but certainly known for being reliable and robust in construction. The Arab double deck chassis was very successful selling in big numbers to Municipal operators and had benefited by being selected by the Supply Ministry during WW2 to supply 2200 buses over a three year period with the first batches entering service in 1942.

Guy were a respected name in bus circles - that was to change!
Guy was a respected name in bus circles – that was to change!

A stolen march or a step too far?

Not quite as big as Daimler or Leyland at that time, Guy were seen as a respected rival and this new chassis idea was seen as an ideal opportunity to mix it with the big boys and pave the road ahead for future bus designs but Guy had their fair share of problems just as Leyland were to suffer a little later. An African business venture was dying on its feet and not long before the new bus was launched tragedy hit the company – founder Sidney Guy retired after more than 40 years leaving a great company without a great leader and sound businessman.

Undeterred, Guy launched the all new Wulfrunian onto a shocked and stunned marketplace in 1958 featuring almost all of Ronald Brookes novel ideas. Not only was the suspension air provided, but also independent on the front axle which also featured the Dunlop developed disc brakes. A drop rear axle was fitted to provide a lower chassis so that low bridges could be passed under and the all new Gardner 6LX 10.5 litre diesel was mounted up front as per the design brief. Guy motors sent two development chassis to Leeds to be bodied by Charles Roe in time for the 1958 Commercial Motor Show.

Gardner 6LX - The worlds best diesel was fitted first into possibly the UKs worst bus.
Gardner 6LX – The world’s best diesel was fitted first into possibly the UK’s worst bus.

Guy had certainly stolen the march from Leyland who had developed its rear engined Atlantean chassis and some considerable interest was shown. Designed in anticipation of the relaxing of the one man operation rule made the front entrance area a requirement, the front axle was positioned further back than the norm to free up platform space. Owing to the huge size of the Gardner engine, the drivers cab area was very cramped in relation to other buses, so right away these buses were unpopular with driving crews and engineering staff who found them awkward to work on.

Ultimate technology brings ultimate downfall

The chassis itself was tough and substantial like Guy products that came before it but the combined weight of the driveline and complicated independent front suspension subframe gave the bus a massive weight bias over the front axle. They could be tricky to drive in slippery or icy conditions, especially when travelling uphill and all that unladen weight on the front end resulted in similar problems that Brookes had tried to avoid – accelerated wear on critical suspension or steering components such as the king pins and shock absorbers. Oh – don’t even mention the radiator less cooling system either!

They suffered from major tyre and suspension wear - Just look at the front wheel castor angle on this laden bus.
They suffered from major tyre and suspension wear – Just look at the front wheel castor angle on this laden bus.

Wulfunians also suffered from abnormal front tyre wear again caused by weight balance deficiencies. This spurred operators to remove the front two rows of seats on the upper deck and reducing the capacity by eight passengers in an attempt to preserve the life of the components that Ronald Brookes loathed to frequently replace on older bus designs. In reality, he had compounded the problem rather that cure it. Huge warranty costs and cancelled orders were key to Guy Motors entering bankruptcy in early 1961, rumor has it that Guy lost almost £500,000 in their final year of trading before entering administration.

Guy went on to be purchased by Jaguar Daimler who kept the Wulfrunian on the order books until 1965 of which during that time, 126 were purchased by the West Riding company out of a total production run of just 137. Guy ceased all bus building during British Leyland ownership in 1969, from then on concentrating on truck chassis. In a nutshell the Wulfrunian was a brave and clever idea in theory, but in reality a total and suicidal disaster, proving beyond doubt that the customer is quite often wrong…

Very wrong!



Mike Humble


  1. Great article. Great that you are doing commercial vehicles. I was PA to Lord Stokes w.e.f. 01 December 1969 and have a lot to tell. If Keith Adams would like to phone me here in Bath, my number is ———–. I am just going out for lunch but please call after 2 pm. Best regards from MK.

  2. Showing my age when I say I just remember the old Northern “Guys” with “Newcastle Worswick St” desination boards as shown in the photo. That Wulfrunian doesn’t look the most attractive of buses, but it is after all, from a bygone era.

  3. What front suspension system did they use, double wishbone wouldn’t give that kind of castor angle and neither would struts. I’m thinking it must have been some kind of 2-CV like leading arm affair.

  4. 2 actually survive, both part of the Dewsbury bus Museum collection. One is actually a runner, and was out to play last November. I have a few colour snaps of the Wulfrunian, including interior shots if you want Mike

  5. Thanks for the Wulfrunian story, Mike. I’d forgotten about the overhung front engine position, (bit like a very big Audi!) which helps to explain why the rear end tended to rise so much under braking. I rode in Wulfs a few times as a kid in Wolverhampton, and I guess these were early, even possibly prototype versions, as Wolverhampton Corporation Transport naturally supported the home team. The ride really was like being in a boat on a heavy swell, good job I wasn’t prone to sea-sickness.
    Can we look forward to your take on Sunbeam Trolleybuses, also made and used extensively in Wolverhampton?

  6. My first sight of one of these was as a feature article centre page spread in – the Eagle, when I was boy.
    I’ve never forgotten that name and have mentioned it many times at ‘old vehicle’ meetings – but no one except me seemed to remember. Unitl now!
    Great article. Thank you.

  7. One other innovative thing that the Wulfrunian was, it was low floor! Yup the entrance was entirely step free, but you wouldn’t get a push chair down the ‘throat’ between the arches/stairwell though!

  8. Were they withdrawn from service quite young? If over 100 of them were sold to West Yorkshire up to 1965, I’d expect them to have been a common sight in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when petrol and diesel entered my veins whilst living in that county. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. By that time, West Yorshire’s double decker fleet seemed to be entirely Bristol Lodekkas and VRs.

    • They were sold to West Riding of Wakefield and its associated Company . The independent happily sold out to NBC just before 1970 I think, joining a rather mixed bunch of Yorkshire Area operators, Yorkshire Woollen, Hebble and some other coach and bus companies. These eventually traded, like the BET group had with ‘Yorkshire’ on the side. West Yorkshire Road Car Co mainly operated around Keithly through to York – in both places jointly with the local government for a while until they were bought out. Yorkshire Traction stayed based in Barnsley and covered the NBC operations in SYPTE area which were never acquired by by SYPTE (as opposed to a lot of the Doncaster and similar area independent operators) WYPTE generally had their area sewn up with the likes of the former corporation operators of Halifax (inc Todmorden) , Bradford, Leeds and some joint services with NBC. If West Riding had not gone to NBC I suspect WYPTE might have got it for its routes, Anyway as part of NBC assorted 2nd Hand Bristols were brought in to replace fairly swiftly the Guys. One of the now preserved ones ended up with Crouch End Coaches, it saw a litte bit of use I think most other 2nd hand sales were direct to scrap – the Gardner Engine was useful for use in trucks and boats, or used a seat stores in the odd coach co around the UK.

  9. Tim, warranty claims bankrupted Guy, and they also crippled West Riding, who had also purchased Daimler Roadliners, and Leyland Panthers, all of them unreliable lemons. They had to sell up to the THC, and they quickly drafted in Lodekkas. Most of the Gardner 6LX’s were salvaged, and put into brand new Fleetlines which were hastily purchased, and which partly drove West Riding to the wall as thay couldn’t really afford them, but they desperately needed them to keep services running

    • Not only was I one of the two who drove it down (we laughed at finding a set of ear defenders hanging from the destination handle, but soon found them very necessary!) but was mainly involved in getting it running properly (which was never really achieved). A true blunder-bus if ever there was one!

  10. @No.3 It looks like a double wishbone setup in picture number 6. It could give that sort of castor angle on turns if the kingpins were inclined forwards at the top, though I don’t know why they’d want that.

  11. Fascinating article-though I am not into buses. Front suspension looks to be unequal length double wishbones, hence the lean in on load. Pardon my ignorance but what is “Cave Brown Cave” cooling as mentioned in Mikes piece and on the cutaway drawing? Thanks in anticipation

    • Did you ever get a reply? The cooling system was named after its founder Wg Cdr Thomas Reginald Cave-Brown-Cave and was in a nutshell located upstairs, improving heating within the bus although it was not widely adopted. Bristol Commercial Vehicles offered it as did Guy with the Wulfrunian as above.

  12. I’m a little confused by the reference to the “castor angle” being visible in one of the pictures. I’m no expert but I don’t really think I am seeing castor angle, rather “camber angle”.

    Am I wrong?

  13. @14 Simon, my steering studies are 40 plus years old but I think you are correct. The bus in the photo is exhibiting positive camber–wheel in at the top, which is not good. Negative camber brings the tyre contact patch on the road under the centre of steering rotation, minimising scrub. Unequal length wishbone suspension(shorter at the top)will cause this under heavy load (and negative on maximum bounce) but has other desirable features.
    Castor is brought about by having the top suspension mount forward of the bottom one causing self centering of the steering, the bigger the offset (angle) the stronger the self centering action. It would not be visible on the wheel surface.
    Hope that all correct –its a long time ago! Now where is my king pin reamer??

  14. Umm – this could run and run, but ‘Wheel in at the top is’ negative camber, generally reckoned to enhance lateral cornering grip…

  15. @11 It was me who drove the thing to Dudley! Ear defenders were the order of the day.
    On paper the Wulfrunian was the engineers perfect bus for the time it was designed ( straight driveline, use of metalastic bushes to cut greasing to a minimum, Gardner engine the list goes on) but, and it was a very big but, the way things were designed and the materials and technology available meant that a lot of mistakes were made. For example the front wishbones were of a bad design that cracked and were almost impossible to replace so the design was changed to cast ones that were even worse!
    The cave-Brown-Cave cooling and passenger heating system used two small radiators either side of the front destination box instead of a big one in front of the engine. The idea was that the flow of air (about the same as a conventially placed radiator) could be directed into the saloon for passenger heating instead of being wasted. Good idea in theory but air flow was directed using primitive motor/solenoids which were constantly in a damp environment leading to seizure and freezing cold or boiling hot buses! Not that it mattered too much anyway as if a Gardner ran hotter than tepid , there was something wrong! The system was prone to trapped air and to top up the coolant meant a trip upstairs with the passengers.
    I could go on but I think you get the picture. Incidentally a small Scottish firm took on the concept of a front engined, front entrance bus and made it work quite well. Enter the Ailsa stage left.

  16. D–n it! You are correct–got my + and – transposed. Apologies–the one grey cell is letting me down!

  17. The later Guy/Leyland Victory was also front engined, but seemed to avoid these problems?

  18. The Guy Victory was very closely related to the old Guy Arab I believe, and as complex as a knife and fork

  19. Hmmm…..I feel the Wulfrunian was one of the bus industry’s great blind alleys. Every once in a while, a manufacturer comes up with a vehicle that in concept looks like a good idea but in practice turns out to be commercial or engineering flop. Guy had been in the bus industry since before WW2 but before its outbreak, it’s fair to say it was not in the major league. However, the outbreak of hostilities turned Leyland, Bristol and AEC towards military work and as operators needed buses to replace vehicles damaged, the government drew up a specification of so-called ‘Utility’ buses, built out of easily available materials. Guy Motors was one of the companies chosen.

    As a result, it’s Arab model appeared in many fleets who would have never chosen such a bus. It amazed the industry with its rugged reliability. Indeed, after the War many operators stuck with Guy. However, in the late fifties with Leyland and Damlier launched their rear-engined Atlantean and Fleetline and with AEC getting lead up a blind alley with London’s obsession with the Routemaster, Guy realised that it needed a new model to compete.

    At the time many operators were suffering teething issues with the new rear-engined models -overheating being a major concern. Many operators hankered for the simplicity of earlier front engined models such as the PD3Titan or Bristol Lodekka. Guy felt it could build a model which was futuristic, with advanced features offering all the benefits of one-person operation but with a front engine. However, the single biggest issue with the Guy was the size of that engine. It seriously encroached into the entrance. The industry rapidly realised this was a blind alley and operators said no thanks. But had earlier Atlantean’s and Fleetlines not been so unreliable, or had the industry not been so conservative, then it’s likely the Wulfrunian would have appeared with a rear-engine.

    Volvo however took the same route as Guy did with the Ailsa. However, it used a much smaller, turbo-charged engine which although sitting at the front did not mean passengers had to squeeze past. Although it did not sell as well as it was hoped, it did lay the foundations for Volvo to become a major player in the bus industry today.

    That’s not to say the industry is now perfect and doesn’t gets it wrong. Recent examples off the top of my head are the original Transbus Enviro 200 with its rear-door designed with London in mind. Except London then changed its mind. Or the Wight Commuter body which was meant to follow on from all the Volvo B10M’s sold as dual purpose buses but with a low entrance. It sold about four…….

  20. not being funny but like all things that are new to engineering, testing is absolutely vital before you unleash a product on the public or professionals alike. Had they done lots of testing before hand they could have engineered the problems out. Time and again throughout British industrial history, I see commercial failings purely because of the lack of testing. From old diesel trains, to the Sinclair QL and Microdrives, to anything created by TVR.

    These days it’s all about testing to get it right first time. Because today, consumers, quite rightly, simply will not tolerate any failure. They just expect things to work properly.

  21. It’s often argued whether it was the Wulfrunian or the South African operation that dragged Guy Motors under; I presume the latter.

    Guy built its last PSVs for the UK in 1969, but the export range continued even after the closure of Fallings Park.

    Yes the Victory J Mark II series II double decker supplied to Kowloon Motor Bus and China Motor Bus was reliable but it was not all that stable…

  22. By far the best articles on UK commercial vehicles I’ve found.

    Such an unfortunate name, Wulfrunian. Almost unpronounceable. Say what you will, but choosing such a name has a prospective buyer (other than Mr. Brookes) crossing their eyes and reaching for the next brochure instead.

    Hindsight is of course first class, but the front suspension layout is identical to the American Motors Rambler cars of the late 1950s, but by not using ball joints and having a swivel kingpin go vertically down through the hub, you double the metal bushings required compared to a solid axle. You gain nothing, in fact you worsen the situation. Then, since a bus is not a racing car, the upper and lower wishbones should have been more nearly the same length, which would have reduced camber change with load and lessened tire wear.

    Finally, even with unequal length arms, presumably the idea behind air springing surely is to pump up or blow down the bellows to compensate for varying loads. That would mean the camber shown should never have happened if the air springs were working properly.

    Too much machinery crammed into too small a space causing too many compromises. As I said, a critique 55 years later is probably not fair, but one wonders if Mr. Brookes had second thoughts when he saw the prototypes, let alone the production buses.

  23. Double wishbone suspension is prone to sideways tyre scrub, causing high tyre wear as the track of the wheels moves inwards and outwards with up and down wheel travel. wheel track is maximum in mid compression position, minimum and both extremes of wheel travel

  24. Years ago I worked out a series of possible solutions to the Wulfrunian’s failings, which were basically these:
    Substitute drum brakes for discs.
    Adapt Routemaster wishbone coil over shocker (beefed up if possible) and if there was room incoropate adjustable torsion bars. This could have made the front end more rigid and the torsion bars could have been adjusted to preserve ride height.
    Use a Lodekka type solid drop centre beam front axle with leaf springs.
    The rear suspension could be air, coil or leaf springs with shock absorbers.
    The AEC AV505 had performed well in BLs various lorries (unlike its horizontal version the AH505). This engine at 8.2 litres would have been more compact and lighter than the Gardner 6LX. This would have given more platform space and reduced load on the front axle. It could have been set at its lower power output 135bhp, which was about right for the time, application and had the benefit of not having a turbo charger. The downside would have been its lack of torque compared with the Gardner 6LX, but it might have been possible to live with this.
    Power steering.
    At its lowest point the Wulfrunian gearbox was only three inches above road level and vulnerable to damage.Move it as far to the front of the chassis as poss. to increase the clearance. It may have been possible to close couple it to the engine. However I have never heard of a semi auto box being sited thus, the front axle may have got in the way and weight distribution problems may have reared their ugly head again.

    After speaking to a local operator of Volvo Ailsas, he fealt the Volvo TD70 6.7 litre turbo charged engine was too thirsty (approx 5-6mpg), noisy and had poor torque characteristics for stop start bus operations. Compared with the larger naturally aspirated Gardner 6LX or Leyland 680, which would return about 9mpg. This could account fot the Ailsa restricted sales.
    The Guy Victory was a simplified, normal height, front engined, OMO operable bus, using the Gardner 6LXB engine coupled to a Voith gearbox. It was sold in large numbers to Hong Kong (a very difficult operating area for bus operation) and, I think South Africa. They were successful enough to enjoy, unlike the Wulfrunian, a full service life of fifteen to twenty years. It anyone wants to see one, there is one preserved with the Scottish Vintage Bus Group at Lathalmond.

  25. Just a couple of points for clarity. The article states that the front two rows of upper deck seats were removed. This is slightly incorrect as the nearside of the upper deck only has one row of seats forward of the unusual staircase that leads directly off the front platform. Thus to achieve the reduction of 8 capacity one was removed from the nearside and three were removed from the offside.

    With reference to the posted comments it was the West Riding Automobile Company of Wakefield that operated the Wulfrunian not West Yorkshire. The Wulfrunians did run into Leeds throughout the 1960’s but not to the same Bus Station that West Yorkshire used. The final West Riding Wulfrunian 995 ran in service in 1972 (UCX 275) and survives as part of the Dewsbury Bus Museum collection in running order. A second original West Riding Wulfrunian 970 (WHL 970) is being fully restored at Dewsbury Bus Museum and can be seen in the building on Museum Open Days.Significant progress on its restoration has taken place throughout 2104 and regular visitors to the Museum will certainly see the diffeerence at teh March 2015 Open Day.

  26. Of all the negative comments it is worth a thought that Leyland used Wulfrunian drawings for the suspension on the latest double deck. Also disc brakes air suspension are now standard on all new vehicles. The Wulfrunian was 40 years ahead of it’s time

  27. Modern buses might have less character than vehicles like the AEC Routemaster, with its open platform and half cab, but these were wretched for the driver with the heat from the engine, the lack of space and crash gearboxes. Also the buses were difficult to heat for the passengers in winter and often had hard plastic seats, I think Guy were ahead of their time by doing away with the half cab and the open platform and also the buses were better to drive. On routes where passenger numbers were limited and the conductor was less necessary, this meant the Wulfrunian could be driver only, although driver only buses were at least a decade away.

  28. I am not sure if the first part of the previous comment referred to Wulfrunians. So forgive me if they did not. No Wulfrunians had crash gearboxes. 135 had semi-automatic epicyclic gearboxes and the two Accrington Wulfrunians had a clutch and synchromesh gearbox. And none had plastic seats.

    A complete myth is that the Wulfrunian bankrupted Guy. It didn’t. Guy’s financial woes were due to a number of shortcomings in South Africa. When they went bankrupt in September 1961 there were only 40 Wulfrunians in service and their average age was only six months. I have analysed the numbers and in a worst-case scenario the Wulfrunian would have contributed a maximum of 5% of Guy’s debt at that stage – more likely less than that. The Wulfrunian certainly cost Guy quite a lot of money later on, but at the time of Guy’s bankruptcy its effect was minimal. The Wulfrunian did not bankrupt Guy.

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