The Bristol RE – Deliveries 1965-7

The advent of the longer Bristol RE in the early 1960s presented an opportunity to replace the few double deckers with single deckers. With seating capacities of up to 54, the double deckers of the late 1940s and early ’50s had virtually the same number of seats, but less space for standing passengers, so that the RE that could be one-person-operated was an attractive proposition. R&W’s first batch of RE buses arrived in 1965, and they were used to replace double deckers on the trunk Cardiff-Gloucester service; and, following the opening of the first Severn Bridge in 1966, they appeared on the Cardiff-Bristol services. Of this batch of 11 vehicles, fleet number R265 (GAX2C) survives in preservation. The official company fleetlist for 1976 records these vehicles as being fitted with Gardner 6HLW engines, but the survivor now has the more powerful 6HLX.

The first RE coaches appeared in 1966, a further batch of 11 (RC1-1166, GWO1-11D). The ECW coach body for the RELH chassis had several variations, particularly in respect to the door, trim and destination display. R&W chose a single-piece manual door, with two shallow destination windows located in a small ‘box’ that protruded slightly from the otherwise rounded front dome. The trim was typical of ‘full coach’ vehicles with a wide polished strip above the waistband, and another at the very bottom of the skirt panels between the axles. These vehicles were Series 1 RELH models, with Gardner engines, manual gearboxes and 19′ wheelbase chassis. Several of these vehicles were sold for further use by independent operators, but none survives now. The combination of the manual door and the destination box design meant that they were not really suitable for adaptation to bus work, and the manual gearboxes didn’t help in that respect.

During those two years, R&W also received over 40 MW buses for renewal of the single deck fleet, but from 1967, for several years, all vehicles purchased were REs. The 1967 deliveries were the first Series 2 chassis, with semi-automatic gearboxes, and a shorter variant was now available. R&W received 21 of these RESL buses, fitted with Leyland 600 engines. All but one (LAX112E) were allocated to Aberdare depot, where they replaced Leyland Royal Tigers, which had the same engine. These vehicles proved to be popular, with a useful turn of speed, and were used on the longer routes such as the 175 Cardiff-Aberdare-Swansea and 178 Cardiff-Nelson-Merthyr, as well as the celebrated 172 Aberdare-Porthcawl service with its mountain sections into the Rhondda valleys. The 1967 RESLs seemed to hold the fort on the 172 well into the second half of the 1970s. Later in 1967 came 5 RELLs, with dual purpose seating – unusual for R&W, but these were initially used on the recently introduced services across the Severn Bridge between Cardiff and Bristol. The longer RELLs also had 600 engines, but thanks to the extra length and weight weren’t quite so nimble; and the patronage on the Severn Bridge services didn’t really reach expectations, so that when the services were recast, some of the 5 DP RELLs were transferred to easier routes in the Forest of Dean and surrounding area. The first of the RESLs, RS167 (LAX101E) survives in preservation.