100 years of motor buses

2 months ago Wed 16th Dec 2020

100 years of Council owned motor buses in Cardiff

Article and photos by Andrew Wiltshire

Cardiff Corporation launched its electric tramcar fleet in May 1902, however in October 1920 Cardiff Corporation were granted powers to run petrol-electric motor buses within the city boundaries.  These motorbuses would be deployed on lightly-used routes as well as providing feeder services to their tram network. The first six were Dennis-Stevens petrol-electrics which entered service on 24 December 1920 on a service from St. John Square to Monthermer Road, Cathays. Costing £1550 each, they were numbered 48 to 53 and had 28-seat Dodson CD19 rear-entrance bodies. They also featured 40hp White & Poppe 4-cylinder engines and solid tyres, but most were later fitted with pneumatic tyres.

image of one of Cardiff Corporation's first motor buses

48 was one of six Dennis-Stevens petrol-electrics, Cardiff Corporation’s first motor buses.

Three new motorbus routes commenced in 1922 running from St. Mary Street to Moorland Road, Splott, St. Mary Street to Monthermer Road and the Taff Vale Railway Station to Cyncoed. A further six Dennis petrol-electric buses arrived the same year, but were completed as 50-seat open-top double-deckers. In 1923 two one-man operated services commenced, one from Cathedral Road (Tram Terminus) to Llandaff North, and another from Canton to Ely. In October that year a small batch of 20-seat Dennis buses were purchased and operated on the Llandaff North, St. Fagans, Ely and Llanishen routes. Further motor buses operated in subsequent years included some Bristols, Albions, Thornycrofts and Leylands of both Titan and Tiger models. Meanwhile the tram network was slowly reduced in size.

image of AEC Regent 1 K as built

One of the first diesel-engined buses for Cardiff were a batch of ten AEC Regent double-deckers in 1934. Number 1 is seen crossing the old river bridge at Llandaff North in the 1930s.

The first diesel-engined buses for Cardiff were a batch of ten AEC Regent double-deckers in 1934 numbered 1 to 10. They had crash gearboxes and 50-seat bodies. From now on all motor buses would have diesel engines and for many years the fleet would be prominently double-deck with only a handful of single-deckers for specific routes. The Corporation introduced electric trolleybuses in 1942 to start replacing the old trams and these shared the roads with the motor buses, the last trams running in 1950.

image of Layland Royal Tiger in 1952

Seen in the old yard at Sloper Road 136 is a Leyland Royal Tiger of 1952. It is one of only a handful of underfloor engine single-deckers purchased in the 1950s.

After the Second World War motor buses in the Cardiff Corporation fleet followed the same layout for over two decades, with an engine at the front and open-platform rear-entrance bodies. Between 1946 and 1966 they were supplied by AEC, Crossley, Daimler, Guy and Leyland introducing a lot of variety into the fleet. However, Cardiff did acquire a very small fleet of underfloor engine Leyland single-deckers in the 1950s, which had front-entrances.

A line up of typical motors buses of the 1950s and early 1960s at Sloper Road depot

A line up of typical motors buses of the 1950s and early 1960s at Sloper Road depot. From left to right we have AEC Regent V 374 of 1961, Guy Arab IV 323 of 1956 and Leyland Titan 401 of 1963.

By the 1960s things were changing in the bus world and a number of manufacturers were offering rear-engined buses that would be suitable for one-person operation. In April 1966 Cardiff Corporation Transport announced an order for 32 rear-engine Daimler Fleetlines double-deckers with front entrances and Gardner engines at a total cost of around £250,000. They entered service in 1967 and paved the way for many more rear-engine double-deckers as the Corporation’s network of services were gradually converted to one-person operation. By the late 1980s single-deckers and midibuses became the preferred choice for Cardiff which was now trading as Cardiff Bus, an arms-length company but still owned by Cardiff Council.

Daimler Fleetline 480 of 1967 was one of Cardiff’s first rear-engine buses

Daimler Fleetline 480 of 1967 was one of Cardiff’s first rear-engine buses. Here it is seen at Rhiwbina in 1973 having been repainted into the new orange livery, in this case promoting British Rails new HQ in the city.

Low-floor easy-access single-deck buses started to appear across the UK from 1994, and in 1997 Cardiff Bus purchased fifteen very stylish Optare Excel single-deckers which unfortunately proved to be very unreliable. From 1998 Cardiff Bus standardised on the Dennis Dart for most of its low-floor buses until 2006, when a fleet of nineteen impressive Scania bendy-buses was introduced. Since then motor buses have been of Scania, Alexander-Dennis and Mercedes-Benz manufacture and have included a small number of double-deckers. Since 2014 the emphasis in the bus industry has been on reducing engine emissions, and Cardiff Bus currently have many vehicles to Euro6 standard.

Optare Excel 202 new in 1997

Optare Excel 202 new in 1997 was one of Cardiff Bus’s first low-floor easy access buses. It is seen in Canton in Easyrider livery.
Scania bendy-buses introduced in 2006One of the impressive Scania bendy-buses introduced in 2006. 614 is seen on its first day in service approaching Victoria Park on its way into town.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Cardiff Corporation’s first motor bus on 24 December 2020, it is rather ironic that looking to the future of bus operation in Cardiff, it is highly likely that they will be powered by electricity!! 

a line up of Citaro buses outside City Hall in Cardiff city centre

Cardiff Bus’s most recent buses are a batch of ten Mercedes-Benz Citaro single-deckers with Euro6 engines.

Cardiff Bus would like to thank Andrew Wiltshire for writing this article and providing photographs.