The Bristol RE – National Welsh

The National Bus Company (NBC) was keen to standardise the products it used, and sought to restrict purchases of vehicles to a simpler, and therefore smaller, range of types. NBC had joined forces with Leyland to undertake the production of the integral rear-engined single decker that had become known as the Leyland National – realistically, NBC joined the project to rescue it from being a complete white elephant, though none of the official histories seem to say that! As the factory in Cumbria was setup to produce 2000 vehicles per year, NBC committed to purchasing 500 each year, and this met virtually all of the group’s requirement for heavy duty single deckers. There was thus no place for the Bristol RE in bus form, and production of just the coach versions would presumably not have been viable. NBC thus standardised on the Leyland Leopard for future coach requirements, generally with Plaxton or Duple bodywork – although this was a distinctly less durable or satisfactory vehicle for the express service work at which the RELH/ECW combination excelled. Bristol CV and ECW concentrated on the production of double deckers and lightweight underfloor engined single deckers for NBC.

On the operating front, Red & White had been effectively merged with Western Welsh, and the merger was completed in April 1978 when the combined company was renamed National Welsh Omnibus Services Ltd. The Red & White name disappeared, seemingly for ever – despite the fact that quite a significant part of the operating area was in England. Under the National Welsh name, the REs continued to serve the company well, mostly in their former, ex-R&W depots and operating areas, although some also worked from former WW depots, particularly as the rationalisation of the late 1970s gathered pace, and a number of depots were closed.

More REs did in fact join the fleet, when NW purchased 8 RESL buses from the Bristol Omnibus Company in 1980. These had been built in 1969, and carried the deeper flat windscreen that ECW had used for its production in that year, but which none of R&W’s native REs carried. Photographic evidence suggests that these were spread across the company’s operating area, but their stay was relatively short, and they were generally outlived by native REs.

The late 1970s was the era of MAP (Market Analysis Project) which generated local identities as an addition to the company fleetname, as well as rationalisation of routes and operations. The early 1980s brought structural rationalisation of several NBC subsidiaries, splitting to smaller, leaner units in readiness for the anticipated deregulation. National Welsh was not split (at that stage), but in October 1984 the anomaly of the Welsh name for operations in England was finally recognised, and a new fleetname was introduced for those areas. Well, it wasn’t really a new name – as it was Red & White. At that time there were still a few REs in the fleet, so it is possible that some carried the R&W fleetname for a second time (as happened to a few of the REs that had been new to the pre-1972 incarnation of Wilts & Dorset). I am still researching the details of this matter. The remaining REs were withdrawn during this period, so that by the summer of 1987, there were no REs remaining in the fleet.