Let’s turn now to the BMMO D9.
Since the 1920s Midland Red had built a reputation not only as a formidable operator, but also as a genuine leader in bus technology – even though its manufacturing division was far smaller than that of any major manufacturer.
Its operations stretched all the way from Leicester in the east to Shrewsbury in the west, Stafford in the north and Banbury in the south. Its services were a mixture of intensive urban routes and less busy inter-urban lines.
As we have seen, Loftus Wyndman Shire, the chief engineer up to 1940, was a man with very strong views about bus design. He enjoyed the confidence of the BMMO board and had greater latitude to develop his ideas than he might have had at a major manufacturer. So much confidence in fact that they let him label his in-house products SOS, for Shire’s Own Specification.
In 1922 he converted a Tilling Stevens TS3 single-deck chassis to a half cab layout, calling it the FS (for Front Steer). This was the first of a fleet of 56 such machines with open-top double-deck bodies and forward entrances.
Midland Red was an exclusively single-deck fleet by 1930, when increased demand called for larger capacity vehicles. The REDD (Rear Entrance Double Deck) appeared in 1931 of which 51 were built. This fitted the contemporary mould of half-cab double-deckers, and even the running units were largely designed and built in-house.
Then came the FEDD (Front Entrance Double Deck) in 1933, which totalled 336 machines. Most had either sliding or jack-knife doors, manually operated by the conductor. Since almost all the BMMO single-deckers had forward entrances, it was reasoned that double-deckers would work that way just as well. In fact they didn’t in the busier circumstances than the FS had faced, and the rear platform layout ultimately proved to be much more practical.
Shire was succeeded as chief engineer in 1940 by Donald Sinclair, who continued the radical tradition although the SOS brand was dropped. After the Second World War, BMMO’s energies were directed at developing new single- and double-deck buses as passenger demand soared.
The first post-war double-decker was the D5. It proved reliable but rather noisy and uncomfortable for its passengers. However, it did feature power-operated doors on the rear platform. These helped keep the bus interior warm between stops that might be some distance apart.
Following a trend to save weight, and thus precious fuel, the D5 was succeeded by the D7. Like virtually all the SOS and BMMO double-deckers to date, the whole design was done in-house, but whereas the chassis were built at Midland Red’s Central Works in Carlyle Road, Birmingham, the bodies were built by various outside coachbuilders.
Recognising the opportunity presented by the increase in the legal double-decker bus length to 30 feet, BMMO considered developing a larger bus. This would enable busy routes to be served by fewer, bigger buses, with consequent cost savings.
Work began on the new design in around 1956. It drew on innovations incorporated in recent single-deck models like the S14 and S15, and experiments like the fitment of a semi-automatic gearbox in a D7 bus.
The prototype of what was designated the D9 was built in late 1957 and began development testing early the following year. That included work at MIRA (like the Routemaster). Various components were tried out, and either retained or dispensed with. The bus was unveiled to an enthusiastic technical press in August 1958.
Eventually the prototype was considered fit for passenger service and put into daily operation at Bearwood garage (up the road from the Central Works) in February 1958 where it could be closely monitored.
The buses were the first double-deckers that BMMO had built entirely in-house. A manufacturing and assembly plant was opened in 1954 to enable the firm to have complete control of its vehicle supply. Production started towards the end of 1959, with the first bus entering service in January 1960.
The build continued throughout the early sixties, with 265 buses in use by the end of 1964. It took until November 1966 for the remaining 40 to enter service, bringing the final total to 345. All the buses built in 1965 and 1966 were not completed at the Central Works, but had their exterior panelling and interior fitting out done by Willowbrook.
This was because of the skills shortages BMMO was facing since so many well-paid jobs were available elsewhere in the West Midlands motor industry. Many highly skilled craftsmen were tempted away by much higher wages at places like the BMC factory at Longbridge. Production of S17 single-deckers was prioritised to hasten withdrawal of surviving pre-war buses.
The D9 was built entirely to meet the needs of Midland Red, and no effort was made to market it elsewhere.
Midland Red was absorbed into the National Bus Company in 1968 and the D9s adopted its poppy red livery. When the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive was created in 1973, a large quantity of D9s went to this operator. As an indication of how extraordinary these vehicles were thought to be, WMPTE entered a four-year agreement with Midland Red to maintain and repair them.
The last D9 ran in regular passenger service in December 1979. Ten were acquired for sightseeing work in central London, seven of which were converted to open-toppers. About 27 went to other operators and a handful have been preserved.
Manufacturing at the Central Works wound down until the final single-deck bus was finished in June 1970 and the factory closed.
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