Another snapshot in time, public transport-style from the Northgate roundabout in Darlington, circa 1981 – Mike Humble’s neck of the woods…
I’m not sure if this is summer time, or if the driver had left the front door open to glean a better view of the traffic as he carefully snakes his 1970 Gardner-powered, Marshall-bodied Daimler Fleetline through the busy traffic. Viewers of a discerning taste will savour the other vehicles either in or just passing out of camera view including a Triumph 1300/1500 series, an early Morris Marina, a very late Escort Mk2, a Durham Constabulary Vauxhall Viva HC and an Alexander-bodied Leyland Atlantean of the Northern fleet.
What makes this so nice to see is how public transport has changed over the decades. Not that long ago, most big towns and cities ran their own Council-operated bus companies, or municipal operations. Darlington Transport lasted until 1994 when it was effectively run off the road in a bus war with Stagecoach. Now there are just a handful of municipal operations left in the UK where once there was dozens up and down the land.
With today’s kneeling air suspension, flat floors, tiny 19-inch wheels and rev-happy 6.7-litre Cummins engines, they are a world apart from the above image. Back in 1980, your average bus had a 10.45 litre Gardner engine, a semi-automatic gearbox and non-power assisted steering, even the above Radford-built Daimler had a manual ratchet type handbrake. Durham Constabulary no longer use a Viva, though a Vauxhall is still the chosen panda car today.
Meanwhile, if you take away the traffic, the scene is still the same largely thanks to that lovely Burtons building being listed but, by 1984, the bus in view was scrapped. Daimler buses officially ceased production in 1973 following the move of production from Radford in Coventry to Leyland, with all future Fleetlines being badged as Leyland. Also in 1980, we saw the Escort morph from rear to front-wheel drive with the arrival of Project Erika or, as it was better known, the MK3.
CHN 748K went to its grave in 1984 – a remarkably short life for a bus. These Marshall bodies were known for being lacking in torsional strength and rigidity. Chassis flex used to cause body fatigue around the middle passenger door and, once that occurred, it took expensive and time consuming work to rectify correctly. New buses, which were added to the fleet during the same year, resulted in most of these 1970 vehicles being sold off or scrapped.