Memories : Mansfield Road, Nottingham, 1983

The mighty Nottingham City Transport (NCT) once had a major influence on the British bus and coach manufacturing business – that was partly because to the Council-run department had one of the most respected and feared Chief Engineers in the industry, who also happened to be a staunch loyal supporter of BL products.

Mike Humble takes your fares for this ride.

Image: Martyn Hearson

If you were ever a regular visitor to the main city of the East Midlands – Nottingham – a good few years back, it was hard not to notice the Council’s green and off white Leyland buses growling around the streets. Nottingham couldn’t get enough of them, be it Leyland Nationals, Atlanteans and even Daimler Fleetline buses plying their trade in this busy and bustling city.

For many years its Head of Purchasing and Engineering was the now-retired, but legendary John Lowrie, who beavered away in his first-floor inner sanctum at NCT’s Parliament Street Depot and Head Office. Most bus company managers ordered vehicles ‘off-the peg’ so to speak, but Nottingham had a bigger hand in their purchasing than most.

Lowrie personally chose everything from the floor coverings, to the size of the passenger doors – it was even said that the ungainly dodgem-like front rubber bumpers fitted to their buses were down to Mr Lowrie reckoning they would intimidate and deter car drivers from getting too close to his buses in the city centre causing damage. Not only that, but a low speed collision with a pedestrian was bound to reduce the chance of serious injury. And do you what? He was right, too. I had a chance meeting with John a few years back – he was part visionary, part eccentric, but totally knew his stuff.

Bespoke bus design for Nottingham

Even the design of the double-deck bodywork was dictated to Nottingham’s own criteria. Some say the Northern Counties coachwork looked like no other bus operated in the UK. John Lowrie had previously been a Leyland Apprentice before working his way up the oily ladder into operational management.

At its peak in 1976, Nottingham owned and ran almost 500 buses with the lion’s share being Leyland Group products. But Lowrie liked to keep his suppliers on their toes and in 1982 drew up a plan to modernise the fleet with a new ‘standard’ type bus. He wasn’t a fan of the recently-launched Leyland Olympian and looked at another UK chassis builder, Hestair Dennis, to bring his dreams to life. Awaiting the green signal in the picture is No. 396 in the fleet, a Dennis Falcon V.

The Falcon H and V series was a not too successful chassis that was available with either a horizontal or vertical engine hence the two differing letters. It had a stiffer, more rustic chassis than the Dennis Dominator and this double-deck vehicle ran with a turbocharged 250bhp 11.0-litre Mercedes V6 engine which was way more powerful than the equivalent Daimler or Leyland with their 170 or 180bhp.

Trying after buying…

Nottingham bought two for evaluation purposes, but went back for no more. Despite the best attempts of the operator and the builder they proved troublesome, thirsty, awkward to locate spares for in a hurry and the noise levels in the lower saloon were reputed to be almost deafening when driven hard. Unladen weight was also very high compared to rivals which is why you can spot the Alcoa alloy rims fitted to the vehicles. It was found out during type approval that a fully-laden bus got dangerously close it maximum gross vehicle weight.

To further alleviate the weight situation a smaller fuel tank was fitted meaning its daily operational duties had to be closely monitored to ensure they didn’t get dangerously low on diesel or run dry before their work was done. Interestingly, though, if you note the other vehicles clearly seen in the image, the Ford Fiesta (below) and Austin Metro you see were the same kind of rivals as this Dennis was to the other bus – a ‘standard’ Nottingham Leyland Atlantean. Reading this gives the impression that the Falcon V was a bit of a blunderbus, but that’s not entirely accurate.

Drivers loved them for their light steering, ferocious performance and strong brakes. The gearbox retarder was said to be so powerful that mechanics had difficulty getting balanced brake efficiency readings on the rollers prior to an MoT test owing to the brake linings getting hardly any serious wear on them. Compare that to a Leyland National that got six-to-eight weeks from a set of rear linings – if you were lucky.

Ford Fiesta Mk1

6 Comments

  1. The nearer bus has the registration number WRR 396Y, and the fleet number 396. The one further away seems to have 402 on the front of the roof. The one at the rear has no visible registration or fleet number.

    I boarded at a Nottingham hotel during the week for much of a winter in the 1980s, while delivering the materials needed for the fitters relacing the district heating scheme hot water cylinders and radiators with individual boilers and new radiators, etc for the houses of what had been the Stewarts & Lloyds estate at Corby.

    • Eric : I’m just curious what the connection with Nottingham was if you were working at Corby ?

  2. Interesting because it’s my home territory and I could’ve been driving in that scene at the time the photo was taken.

    Buses still travel along that stretch of road, although all the buildings have since been demolished and replaced by equally ugly modern versions.

    By the early 80s I hardly ever used public transport because I drove everywhere – and it was still possible to drive in the centre of Nottingham. These days you can’t drive in the city centre (no bad thing) and I use buses much more because I have a bus pass.

  3. my home town and always the best thing to see when coming home from being away now in new zealand and i miss Nottingham everyday.also a major BL lunatic all my 40 years still have 4 rover 220gti and coupe turbos and even though not BL a convertible jensen interceptor one of the last to made,

  4. Note the front seat upstairs above the driver faces sideways. A feature of Nottingham buses that made little sense. I can understand a desire to specify a specific specification, but Nottingham buses were ugly.

    It takes a certain level of eccentricity to try Dennis Falcons over Leyland Olympians. There were National Express Falcon coaches that were scrapped within about 5 years too

  5. Nottingham also tried out the Leyland-DAB Lion, another rare vehicle!

    Dennis for a long time seemed to produce all sorts of different vehicles without selling many of them, until the Javelin which was a decent success and the Dart which was a MASSIVE success.

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