The Bristol RE – Deliveries 1972-4 – the last new REs

The delivery of the 1971 RESLs was rather protracted, with the last 4 not appearing until spring of 1972, only shortly before the 1972 order. This order consisted of 13 more of the RELH dual purpose type, similar to the 4 delivered in 1971, but with a couple of differences – most notably, that they had Gardner engines. The Gardner was generally the engine of choice for the RE, and R&W had plenty of other vehicles with engines from that manufacturer, but they did appear to have become loyal followers of the Leyland engined variety, as was their eastern neighbour the Bristol Omnibus Company. These vehicles featured red roofs from new, and (to my eye at least) a richer shade of cream paint. These vehicles also carried a new style of fleetname in italic block letters, which was also applied to some older vehicles at repaint during this period. There was also a 14th vehicle for Jones, with blue paint in place of the red.

The 1973 orders consisted of just 4 RELH coaches for Red & White, with Plaxton Panorama Elite bodies similar to the pair delivered in 1971, but this time without the opening windows. A more noticeable difference was that these were delivered in the newly adopted NBC coach livery of plain white. Jones received a similar coach, albeit with 51 seats, plus another RELH/ECW dual purpose vehicle. This latter vehicle had a Gardner engine, but the Plaxton coaches all had Leyland 680s.

Finally, in 1974 six further coaches were delivered, this time with the Mark 2 ECW coach body design, which was only produced for two seasons. A final RELH with the dual purpose body was supplied to Jones. This, like the previous year’s example was painted in the NBC standard style of ‘local coach’ livery, with the lower half of the body in the fleet bus colour, and the top half white. Jones was unique within the NBC in using blue as the fleet bus colour, which can reasonably be assumed to have been a condition of the sale of the business. All of the 1974 vehicles were fitted with Leyland 680 engines.

During the period 1965-74, Red & White purchased 137 REs, with a further 8 going to the Jones subsidiary. Had sales of the RE to mainland UK operators continued, it would no doubt have become the standard vehicle for the fleet, but politics of various forms intervened to prevent that happening. The management of the company had decided in the mid-1960s that no further double deckers would be purchased, although, in practice two new Bristol VRTs did carry Red & White fleetnames in the early part of 1978, just prior to the renaming of the combined Western Welsh and Red & White companies in April of that year. By then, the economics and politics of the industry had changed again, and MAP (Market Analysis Project) was the order of the day.

There is no doubt that the South Wales valleys are a tough operating area for buses, so it is not surprising that many of the REs were withdrawn after 12 years in service – at the end of the second certificate of fitness, in accordance with the vehicle examination system prevailing at the time. Several other operators in the BTC/THC group pursued a similar policy. The express coach work was also demanding, but nonetheless, several of the ECW series 1 coach bodied vehicles went on to serve as dual purpose vehicles on longer distance bus services for a number of years. In fact, 97 of the REs were still in service at 12 February 1982, including 34 coaches (this total would have included some of the 8 Bristol RESLs purchased secondhand from the Bristol Omnibus Company in 1980). It is notable, that when ex-Red & White REs were being withdrawn, younger Leyland Leopards that had originated with Western Welsh were being withdrawn at the same time. The National Welsh fleet was also contracting rapidly in the late 1970s and early ’80s – for example, Buses Magazine noted that the total fleet dropped from 621 in October 1980 to 549 in the following month. In 1975, it had been over 800!