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An in-depth look at the classic Bedford OB

 

 

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A brief history of the type
Ask any middle aged enthusiast their first recollection of riding on a bus or coach, & the chances are that it would be going to school on an OB Bedford.
As the Bedford slogan used to say, 'You see them everywhere'. In this article we look at the OB in preservation, & some of the vehicles that have survived, both restored & un-restored. But first lets look at the history of the OB and its wartime variant the OWB.
Vauxhall Motors introduced the Bedford OB in 1939 as a replacement for the WTB, like the WTB it was powered by a six cylinder petrol engine of 3519cc (214.7 cu in), commonly known as the 28 hp unit, (the old RAC rating). Where the OB differed from its predecessor was with the chassis, specially designed for PSV use, previously an adapted lorry chassis had been used. The OB chassis has an offset differential in the rear axle with the engine and four speed sliding mesh (crash), gearbox mounted at a slight angle to enable the propeller shaft to line up with the differential which was set to the near side of the axle. This enabled a sunken gangway to be installed along the centre line of the coach.
Production commenced in 1939, but with the outbreak of war only a total of 73 were built, with 52 going to the UK market before hostilities halted production later that year. In 1942, in line with strict Ministry of Supply specifications, production recommenced on a wartime austerity version, the OWB. This was one of the few government approved chassis sanctioned for wartime production. The 29-32 seat bus bodies in the main were built by Duple & Roe, to a standard design which included wooden slatted seats. When war ended in 1945, production of the OWB ceased after some 3300 were built & production re-commenced on the OB.
Many OWB's soldiered on in service until the early 1950's when a number were rebodied with the Duple Vista coach body, new chassis being in short supply & on a long waiting list. Between 1939 & 1951 Bedford produced a total of 16,164 OB & OWB chassis of which the greater number were bodied by Duple with their now classic Vista 27 to 29 seat coach body. Forty six other manufacturers including Plaxton, Mulliner, SMT & Thurgood produced bodies for the OB, which in the main were of a similar design to Duple. Papworth Industries near Cambridge also built a batch of 30 Vista bodied OB's for Duple in 1949, 2 complete & 28 finished in primer but without seats or interior to be finished off by Duple. Papworth also made Vista rear ends for Duple including boot doors. The OB was popular with both the national companies & the smaller independents, in fact many small operators started off with OB's.
I will not dwell on the operation side of OB's here, as it is not part of the brief, except to say that it played a very important part of the post war bus & coach industry & continued to give good service way passed its anticipated life span. Many OB's were still going strong with small operators until the mid 1970's, almost 25 years since the last ones were built in 1951.
The industry found it difficult to find a true replacement for the OB which did not come until 1961 when Bedford introduced the 29 seat VAS. The larger 33 to 41 seat SB, Bedford's official replacement for the OB, did not initially favour many operators who found it too large for their work.
In concept the OB still lives on in the form of Mercedes 0814D Varios & similar midi coaches, which are still basically a lightweight commercial chassis with a coach built body by a number of manufacturers including Plaxton.

The Bedford OB in Preservation
Of all the makes & types, the Bedford OB/OWB is probably the best known & has survived  in greater numbers than most other types. Currently there are around 180 thought to still exist, ranging from un-restored derelicts, through to immaculately restored examples, out of these around 75 are road worthy.
Not many OWB's have survived, & most that have, are re-bodied with Duple Vista coach bodies making them indistinguishable from an OB. Only three restored examples survive with their original austerity type bodies, although these are rebuilt replicas. They are GZ 783 owned by Ulsterbus,  GZ 2248 recently (May 2012) acquired by Eddie Doig, West Kirby from Warstone Motors, & CTP 200 owned by the Working Omnibus Museum Project, Portsmouth. Of the remainder, three are re-bodied examples, the best known is probably CUT 465, new to Jacques of Coalville, & now owned by Dews Coaches of Somersham, Cambridgeshire, and the oldest OWB still in active PSV service. GAL 967 new to Gash of Newark, has now, after many years with Gretton of Peterborough, been restored by Cobus of Bridlington for Johnson of Worksop, both have 1952 Vista coach bodies. Another rebuilt (1953) example WG 9833 is with Chandler of Elton, & the oldest, a 1942, un-rebuilt example, BBW 291 with Peter Wilks of Lincoln is at the time of writing under long term restoration & is believed to be the only original bodied OWB surviving. The austerity body was built from unseasoned timber of poor quality with steel panelling, most did not last longer than the mid fifties. Of the restored OB's, there are some first class examples around, to mention a few, Felix of Long Melford are a well known rally attended with their 1947, ex Shearings DBU 889, & have won a number of rally awards, including, Best OB at the Bedford Gathering 2002.
Another first class example is LNA 367, a 1950 Duple bodied coach new to Moss & Smith of Macclesfield, but now in the blue & cream livery of Walter Gell of Raunds. Peter Skinner of Raunds acquired LNA 367 in a derelict condition in 1996, he had it professionally restored, & it returned to the road in 1998, Moseley PCV of Pontefact now owns LNA 367. Cyril Kenzie of Shepreth, a well-known coach operator in Cambridgeshire has ex Barber of Mitcham OB, JBY 804 which he bought in 1966 for private hire work, & has kept in good condition with class 6 MoT, with minimal restoration ever since. JBY 804 is one of the later versions (post 1950) with top quarter lights, & was first registered in 1951. Another well-known OB is GWV 101 that was bought new by Leathers Coaches of Maiden Bradley in 1951, & has remained with the company throughout its life. Len Cooper, the owner of Leathers retained GWV 101 on retiring & closing the business in 1998. GWV 101 made an appearance in the 1998 BBC TV series "Lion Country", a 'fly on the wall' documentary about life around Longleat, & also featured in the film "Enigma"
Very few non-Duple OB examples survive, although Mulliner bus bodied LSU 857 (ex Safety Coaches of Jersey J6986) is still active. Another vary rare example of a Mulliner coach bodied OB is DJD 217, it has never seen PSV service, being new to Barnardo Homes, Woodford Bridge in 1950. DJD 217 was later converted to a mobile gas showroom in Colchester, before reverting to a coach again to transport fruit pickers in Essex until being laid up in 1975. DJD  217 is now with a Belgium owner having been restored by the late Chris Izitt of Harrogate.
Only two Plaxton examples are thought to survive, EAJ 679 owned by Ray Lockett of Henfield, & ETL 221 with Ken Edwards of Llanon. Not all preserved OB's are kept solely for rallying, a number still earn their keep as full PSV's. John Woodhams maintains CCF 648, originally new to Theobald of Long Melford, & later with Hector Boon of Boons Coaches Boreham, to full PSV spec, for an active life of vintage tours around the Isle of Wight, & mainland UK.  On the Isle of Man, Tours of Douglas operate 1949 MN (ex HTM 20) & 1950 MN (ex RHK 843). On Jersey, Tantivy Blue use J 7247 (ex JAB 661) on island tours. While in the Sheffield area, Cosy Coaches operate ATS 408 and its claim to fame was in the TV series 'One Foot in The Past' featuring it on the Bolsover Heritage Tour, a summer Sunday tourist service linking a number of local attractions & places of interest Including National Trust property, Hardwick Hall. Sadly it no longer operates this service due to withdrawal of council funding. Terry Jones of Vista Coaches Yatton, has owned ex Crosville SL 71 (MFM 39) for many years, & although Terry has now closed his business & the OB now has a new owner, Terry still gets to drive it to rallies & running days. MFM 39 appeared in a TV film called 'Bus to Bosworth', & has been affectionately named 'Bosworth' by Terry. In 2007 it had a complete restoration  to its body.
Finally Mervyn Annetts maintains HOD 75 (ex western National 596) in full PSV use. It is a regular attendee at the FoKAB running days, & has appeared in numerous films & TV series including a recent appearance in "Foyles War", and Lewis Coaches of Henstridge operate ex Eagles of Castle Acre KPW 896, & ex Woolacombe & Morthoe JDV 754 as a heritage vehicles. These are just a few of the Bedford OB's that have been restored & maintained in road worthy condition, more are with other operators & private owners or currently in the process of being restored.
Turning to un restored examples, & for the most part we are looking at an unknown quantity & quality. Upward of 100 OB's are out there either awaiting restoration, part restored, or merely lying in a barn or field derelict with little prospect of ever taking to the road.
There is always the owner, often in his twilight years, who says 'one day I will get round to restoring it' when, in reality time is running out both for the owner, & the OB. I also believe there are still a few more OB's waiting to be re-discovered, indeed an ex I.o.M. OB MMN 57 was found in 2008 in fully restored condition operating as a hotel bus in Holland. It is always pleasing to see un-restored OB's returning to use after years of dereliction. 
On going restorations include an OB from the famous Mulley of Ixworth fleet, CCB 861 which is now receiving a full body restoration with Felix Coaches of Long Melford,  & will join the companies other OB (DBU 889) in their heritage hire fleet.  Other first class restorations worthy of mention are Tim Wootton's ex Royal Blue LTA 750; Lewis Coaches KPW 986; Lodge's Coaches TMY 700 & LTA 752; Connie Barton's HOT 339; ex Crossville MFM 39 by Busworks, Blackpool;  ex IoW GDL 667 by Alex Cars of Cirencester; & in 2012, JUE 860 (now registered 72103) operating with Oatlands holiday complex on Guernsey having had a full restoration at Kenzies, Shepreth, Cambridgeshire. These are just a small selection of OB's that have seen recent restoration. Many more are still being worked on.

The 70th OB Get Together at Luton on Sunday August 16th 2009 saw probably the biggest line up of OB/OWB's ever when 30 turned up including two that had been recently returned to the road after many years idle. These were the afore mentioned CCB 861 & recently restored re bodied OWB GAL 967 by Cobus of Bridlington for Johnson's of Hodthorpe. The full list of attendees were:

OWB's
CUT 465, GAL 967
 
OB's
ATS 408, CCB 861, DBU 889, ETL 221, FNV 705, HOD 75, KEL 94, KGN 433, KNN 314, KPW 986, KYE 905, LDF 833, LDV 483, LKH 429, LTA 750, LTA 752, LTA 904, LYC 731,  TMY 700, JBY 804, EAJ 679, HOT 339, 5695P (Belgium),  MFM 39, MHU 193, MYB 33, NTW 368, NTW 706



Buying an OB

As with most vintage buses & coaches body parts have to be hand made, & the OB is no exception with its ash framework, & aluminium body panels. A sure sign of rotting framework is when the numerous screws holding the panel Work in place either work loose or will not tighten. Also try pushing on the body sides, if there is movement then the framework is rotten. The rear framework around the boot & rear window is particularly prone to rot on the Vista body. Any bodywork refurbishment is going to be expensive, especially if the work is going to be put in the hands of a professional coach repairer.
Front wings are basically the same as the 0 series lorry & can still be found, but most will need some restoration work, Cobus (01262 603829) can supply glass fibre front & rear wings of excellent quality. The sliding roof, one of the features of the Vista body (although not all were fitted with one) can be a source of problems. Some owners take the easy option of sealing them up, but this can only delay inherent corrosion of the runners, & rot to the surrounding framework. As the sliding roof is one of the endearing features of the OB, it a shame not to not have it working, as anyone who has ridden on an OB with the roof open on a hot summers day will testify. Check also for rot & damp along the inside of the roof, blocked or leaking drainpipes can cause water ingress here. It is a major job placing the pipes as the head lining & roof interior need to be removed. The seats should the correct type for the coach, several different styles were fitted by Duple, and the correct moquette is available from Holdsworth Heritage (01422 433000) should the seats need recovering. A total seat recover will cost in the region of £5000.
On the mechanical side check that there is no undue corrosion to the chassis, not a common problem with OB's. Unless the vehicle is fully restored and running the condition the engine, transmission brakes, electric’s etc. can only be checked visually. Defects in these areas are not so much of a problem, as spares are available. If you are buying a non-runner, budget to do a full overhaul of brakes, engine transmission & electrics. Before taking to the road in your restored OB check the wheel rims for corrosion. To give you an example as to why you should be checking the wheels, there was recently an OB which suffered a wheel failure whilst in service, when three rivets failed due to rusting. Luckily the driver managed to stop the coach before serious damage took place this problem can only be seen with the tyre & tube removed.

 

 


How much would you expect to pay for an OB
A fully restored Duple Vista example can fetch between £** & £**, with a road worthy example still needing work, fetching between £** & £**. One needing major restoration may change hands for less than £**. In an auction in 2003 a restored example was sold for £** & an un-restored one for £**. In a private sale a tiptop example changed hands for over £**. A bus version (Duple Mk4 or Mulliner) would be about half the value of the Vista coach. A restored Mulliner bus was sold in 2011 for £**. Always buy the best example you can afford, and ask to see evidence of restoration work, i.e. photo's, bills etc. Many vehicles have deteriorated, particularly if stored in the open, & will eventually be suitable for spare parts only. With professional restoration costing in the region of £** or more, you are unlikely to be able to re-coupe the cost should you wish to later sell the vehicle. In December 2010 LTA 750 the open sided  OB was sold in a Southampton action for £** plus 5% commission (£**)

 

 


Availability of spares
Most engine & chassis parts are available through specialist dealers in Bedford spares such as Norman Aish of Bygone Bedford Bits, Poole, Dorset (01202 745117) or John Morter of Wymondham (01953 602581). Some parts can be adapted or modified from later Bedford types. Most OB's have been re-engined at some time in their life, & the originals can still be rebuilt. But in many cases, particularly those who operate their OB's commercially prefer to fit the later 214 cubic inch Bedford petrol engine as fitted to later Bedford's such as the J2, VAS & TK lorry. Although this is the same capacity & physical size as the old 28hp unit, it has a better lubrication system; larger valves & produces more power and are inter-changeable with the old unit.
The electrical system on a number of preserved OB' s has been updated to alternator charging in place of the original 12V DC Dynamo. Whilst not authentic, it does provide a more reliable system, particularly if the bus or coach is to be used after dark with the interior lights on.
One important part that is apparently difficult to obtain in good condition is the differential unit, with the high 6.17:1 ratio, these are also sort after by owners of 0 series lorries who wish to gain a higher top gear ratio to obtain a higher road speed. However it is unlikely that you would need to replace the whole differential unit, a worn pinion bearing is the most likely cause of back axle noise, these are still available new from bearing stockists.
Other spares which are difficult to obtain are the Smiths 8 day clock, (expect to pay £100 for a good one), and the starting handle grill insert which blanks off the large gap in the grill bars. These are 'rare as hens teeth', if you find one expect to pay £50 or more.
 

Another item that the OB owner will want is the OB book “The Bedford OB & OWB” by John Woodhams, these are now out of print, & finding one with a second-hand book dealer or via the Internet could set you back around £40.

 

 

 

 

What’s it like to drive
The first impression on sitting in the driving seat, is the basic layout & lack of instruments, just a speedo, fuel gauge & warning lights for ignition & oil pressure mounted centrally in the dashboard, which is straight out of the 0 series lorry. To your right are what appear to be old style household bakerlite switches, these control the interior & destination lighting. The six-cylinder petrol engine is started with either a pull starter or on later models & push button on the engine cowling. The driving position is somewhat cramped for a long legged driver as the seat is non-adjustable. First gear on the four speed 'crash' gearbox is not used unless starting on a steep hill with a full load of passengers, second is the normal 'first' gear. Double de-clutching is a must if you are to get anywhere near silent gear changes, & even then if the revs are not right the gearbox will object.
The whine associated with the OB may sound 'musical' standing by the roadside watching an OB go by, but from the drivers seat it can be deafening, particularly in third gear which has to be revved hard to get into the high top gear. The gear ratios were not changed from the lorry derivative with a large step up between third & top. Getting underway the acceleration is quite respectable, & the little coach will soon get up to its cruising speed of 40 mph. An OB will be quite happy running on unleaded petrol, expect to get around 12 mpg. With no power assistance the steering is to say the least heavy, especially with a full load of passengers on board, & combined with a poor steering lock, can make hard work of manoeuvring in tight spaces. Visibility from the driver’s seat is good for a coach of this vintage although the drivers seat, being rather low can cause problems for shorter drivers, also one has to allow for the body being wider from behind the driving position especially when driving down narrow lanes. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the coach is narrower than it really is.
Having mentioned the down side of driving an OB, anyone who has driven one will agree that it is a 'drivers vehicle' & in the right hands the OB can perform well, particularly on country roads, which it was designed for. One can understand why they were so popular with the small country operator as a general-purpose public service vehicle, service bus, school bus, & excursions to the seaside at weekends.


Conclusion
The OB will always be a favourite; it is every ones idea of an old coach. At every rally I have attended with Dews of Somersham well-known OWB (CUT 465) there is always great interest from the public, many starting a conversation with 'I went to school on one of these'. They may not know them as OB's but to them it is THE old Bedford bus.
With around 180 OB/OWB's still out there & 70 or so still running this must be the most popular bus/coach in preservation, (although LT fans may disagree). Whilst some other older types seem to have disappeared from the rally field, an OB is to be seen at most bus rallies, SIX attended the Bedford Gathering in 2003. Long may the OB continue.


John Wakefield is seen at the wheel of Bedford OWB CUT 465

Bedford OLAZ
Although looking like an OB, the OLAZ uses the standard Bedford 'O' type 3-4 ton goods chassis with a wheeelbase of 13ft 1in as against the 14ft 6in on the OB.  The OLAZ shares the same 28 hp petrol engine but uses the later syncromesh gearbox. Bodied by Duple few were produced between 1951/3 with the majority going to MacBrayne as C20FM (M = mail) post buses to serve the highlands & islands of Scotland. Being higher chassis than the OB they were well suited to the narrow roads & ferry crossings. Duple did also produce a limited number of Sportsman models which used external wood framing resembling that of the Morris Minor Traveller car. They did not prove popular with operators.
Only two OLAZ's are know to be preserved, these being ex MacBrayne KGD903/4 (see listing)

 

Listing detailing all known surviving OB's & OWB's - WILL BE UPLOADED IN DUE COURSE

Website containing images of Bedford OB's (Don't forget to come back!)

Useful contacts for OB's

Mechanical Spares
Norman Aish (Bygone Bedford Bits) 01202 745117
John Morter 01953 602581
Bernie Smith, Broughton, Northants tel 01536 790790 email vintagevehiclespares@btinternet.co.uk
Vintage Wings & Radiators 0161 202 6247 http://www.vintagewingsandradiators.co.uk/
Past Parts, Bury St Edmunds http://www.pastparts.co.uk/ (brake cylinders)
Mid Hants Tyres, Fleet 01252 318666; Southern Tyres, Farnborough 01252 342444 (750 x 20 tyres),
Priden Engineering, Wisbech http://www.pridenengineering.co.uk/contact.html new alloy petrol tanks for around £500 inc VAT

Body work repairs/spares
Tom Simpson     01142 489139
Kenzie's Coaches 01763 260288
John Holdsworth 01422 433000 seat moquette  

                                                                                                                                                                 
Interior Pillar Lights: Davey Lighting
http://www.davey-lighting.co.uk/ 

Wedding Hire

 

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