The LONDON TRANSPORT Volvo Ailsas: V class

This page created 16th June 2001 by Ian Smith

V1-V3: The experimental Ailsas

In 1984 London Transport was thinking hard about its next generation of buses. Titans and Metrobuses were arriving, but the production run of both was forseeably limited, and LT wanted to be ahead of the game for the next generation. Rather than repeat the mistakes of the 70's, when mass orders of new buses without proper evaluation had led to widespread problems, LT set up a pilot study, buying small numbers of vehicles from several manufacturers and putting them into comparison trials: the Alternative Vehicle Evaluation (AVE) trials.

Three Volvo Ailsa B55s were included. The Ailsa was a long way from a new type, having been around since 1972, but it offered the chance to evaluate a front-engined bus, as the Ailsa featured a compact turbocharged diesel engine alongside the driver.


V1,2 drawing, early livery V1 and V2 were straightforward dual-door Alexander R-bodied buses (introducing this manufacturer to LT). The front engine required an external driver's door, and the lack of a rear engine allowed seating right to the back (yielding H47/31D), but otherwise these were normal seventies buses. Their appearance was a little startling at first, with an enormous front grille, and a one-piece wrap-round windscreen.

They went with the other AVE buses to Stockwell (SW), where they spent their weekdays on the 170 and Sundays on the 44, taking up duties in April 1984. They quickly proved popular with drivers, maintenance staff and passengers.

  • 170: Clapham Junction - Wandsworth - Putney Heath - Roehampton
  • 44: Tootng Stn - Tooting Bdy - Wandsworth - Battersea - Vauxhall Stn


V3 in St Peters St on 84. V3 on 84.

V3 drawing, early livery

V3 on the 84. This is the reinstated V3, with two doorways, doing short-workings on the 84 on the January 2008 Running Day.
V3 was a radically different animal. Although the bodyshell was similar, the second door was located at the rear rather than the centre, and there were two staircases. The idea was to evaluate whether this layout stimulated free flow of passengers at stops, to solve the perennial problem of long dwell times. Unfortunately the twin staircases resulted in a blind spot for the driver, opposite the rear door, so a conductor had to be carried. So V3, which did not get into service until March 1985, eleven months after the other two, was restricted to crew-operated routes. At first it spent most of its time on the 77A, but was later confined to the 88.
  • 77A: Aldwych - Trafalgar Sq. - Westminster - Vauxhall - Clapham Junction - Wandsworth
  • 88: Oxford Circus - Piccadilly Circus - Trafalgar Sq. - Westminster - Vauxhall - Stockwell - Clapham Common

Inside V3. Upstairs in V3.

Inside V3: the lower interior feels quite dark, with two staircases, and the area between the two was not visible to the driver, requiring the use of a conductor. Upstairs the bus is bright and airy, but the lack of front seats in front of the spiral staircase does seem odd.
rebuilt V3 drawing, LN livery

Move to Potters Bar

The rear doorway idea was abandoned, and V3 was rebuilt with just the front doorway, but retaining the twin staircases. It also acquired a second opening window upstairs at the front, balancing the previously lopsided arrangement (occasioned by there not being front offside seats upstairs).

In February 1987 V1-3 were transferred to Potters Bar (PB). They received fairly broad white bands and black skirts for their new role. This northern garage was operating in deregulated Hertfordshire rather than protected London, and was going to require a different approach if it was to retain work. The Ailsa trio were just part of the London Buses solution...

V3 at South Mimms. V3 at South Mimms.

The preserved V3 at South Mimms in January 2008.
Van Hool McArdle Ailsa, LN livery

The ex-Yorkshire Ailsas, V4-16

To help the economics of the Hertfordshire operation London Buses bought thirteen Ailsas from South Yorkshire, and put most of them into work at Potters Bar from March 1987. The exception was that which should have been V15, which was acquired just for spares. V16 was quickly renumbered to V15 to avoid the gap in the sequence when the spares bus was dismantled.

The secondhand buses had bodies by the Irish-Belgian consortium of Van Hool McArdle, to dual doorway H44/31D configuration, with tall, full-width upper front windows that looked good but were terribly vulnerable to tree damage. They too received London Buses red with black skirts and a white band. Together with V1-3 they were put to work on Potters Bar's network of routes: 84, 234, 242, 263, 310A and W8:

  • 84: St Albans- London Colney - South Mimms - Potters Bar - Barnet Church - New Barnet Stn.
  • 234: East Finchley Stn - Muswell Hill Bdy - Friern Barnet - Whetstone - Barnet Church - Barnet.
  • 242: Waltham Abbey -
  • 263: Archway Stn - Highgate - E. Finchley - N.Finchley - Whetstone - Barnet Church - Barnet Gen.Hosp.
  • 310A: Enfield Town - Ponders End - Waltham Cross - Cheshunt - Broxbourne - Ware - Hertford.
  • W8: Picketts Lock Centre - Edmonton Green - Enfield Town - Gordon Hill - Chase Farm Hospital.

ex-WMPTE Ailsa drawing, Potters Bar livery

The ex-West Midland Ailsas, V16-65

Fifty more secondhand Ailsas followed in the following months. These were an entire batch from West Midlands PTE and filled in the now missing V16 and ran through to V65. These had Scottish-looking Alexander AV bodies, with distinctive peaks at front and back, more window bays than the others, and front doors only (still of the three-leaf folding pattern to keep clear of the engine).

They had been bought by WMPTE in 1976, and used at Oldbury and Sutton Coldfield (both ex-Midland Red garages). They had been declared non-standard "because of the difficulty in obtaining spare parts" in 1987, after more than ten years of valiant service.

They were divided between Potters Bar and Harrow Weald, the latter garage operating the Harrow Buses low-cost unit in a bid to win tendered work.
ex-WMPTE Ailsa drawing, Harrow Buses livery The Potters Bar buses gained the red, black skirt and white band livery, while the Harrow buses were repainted in a distinctive red and cream livery. (How repaints kept costs low I haven't worked out: perhaps they were required in order to prove that the low cost units weren't cheating. More likely it was the English managerial need to mark territory).

  • 114: Mill Hill Bdy - Burnt Oak - Queensbury - Kenton - - South Harrow - Ruislip
  • 140: Heathrow Airport - Yeading - Northolt - Sth Harrow - Harrow - Wealdstone - Harrow Weald
  • 183: Golders Green Stn - Hendon - Kingsbury - Kenton - Harrow - Pinner
  • 340: Edgware Stn - Stanmore - Harrow Weald - Wealdstone - Harrow

Boro'Line Maidstone: the Bexley Ailsas

When the Bexleybus operation of routes 422 and 492 were taken away from Bexleybus by LRT and given instead to Boro'Line Maidstone, operating from Crayford, in November 1988, Boro'Line started operating the service using Nationals hired from London country North East. It looked around quickly for its own vehicles, and bought four Nationals from London Buses and eight ex-Tayside Ailsas from Ensign Bus. These were Alexander-bodied, like the West Midlands variety. Boro'Line treated them to its bright livery of blue and yellow, with silver-grey skirt and red "line". They were numbered 911-918.

Exit the secondhand buses

September 1989 saw a change in the nature of tender awards. Councils were beginning to see that lowest cost awards did not guarantee an efficient service. Companies with low bids found difficulty in retaining staff, and reliability suffered. Even councillors (or perhaps their voters) noticed when their services were being run with old buses while other places were getting new ones. So this tender round tended to emphasise new vehicles. The days of the secondhand buses were numbered.

Potters Bar was first to notice. Their retention of contracts meant that newer buses had to be draughted in, and the old buses headed for London Bus Sales at Fulwell.

Harrow Weald noticed by the other method. Their loss of contracts meant a loss of work: 130 jobs. Again the old buses headed for Fulwell and sale.

Many congregated at Black Prince in Morley, where they worked in individual variants of the company's liveries up until about 1996. Then the local traffic commissioner, concerned at the problems with the Ailsas there, cut the company's bus allowance by half, dooming most of the Ailsas.

V1-3 were much newer of course, so they soldiered on at Potters Bar. V3's career in London came to a sticky end in November 1992 when it turned over and impaled itself on a tree. The scrap man beckoned. But Ailsa enthusiast Black Prince of Morley stepped in and took it north, for a rebuild. Every now and then reports of its imminent resurrection have issued from the Leeds direction.

V1 and V2 were privatised to MTL London Northern in 1994. They were transferred to MTL subsidiary London Suburban Buses for a while, which brought them back into central London on Route 4 during 1995 After that they were sent north to Merseybus, where they appeared on contract work for Sightseers still wearing London Northern fleetnames. Very quickly they were sold to Black Prince of Morley, replacing older Ailsas. As in London, V1 and V2 soldiered on, while V3 remained "in process of repair" as and when time allowed.

V22, V45 at Black Prince, July 1995 V3 at Black Prince, April 2001

V22 and V45 (772 and 745) at Black Prince in July 1995, with advertising rears. V3 (103) in the Morley workshops, April 2001, with framing and panelling replaced.
Both photos by Phil Stevens. (used by permission).
V3 eventually emerged from its long rebuild in September 2004, resplendent in a typical (but unique) Black Prince livery of plum and yellow, and was pit into service on various of the company's routes around Leeds. I spotted it occasionally, but caught up with it one day in april 2005 in Headingley. I was just in time. Black Prince sold out to First Leeds in 2005, but V3 was retained for preservation. It soon went to a preservationist in the West Midlands, and in March 2006 to Roger Wright at Blue Triangle. He had it restored to original condition with two doorways as well as two staircases. It re-appeared at North Weald Rally in June 2007, operating the 718 service to and from London. It has subsequently appeared on other occasions, including, very appropriately, the January 2008 Running Day at St.Albans.

V3 in Headingley, April 2005 V3 passes Headingley Cricket Ground, April 2005

V3 was back on Black Prince service 54 through Headingley one day in April 2005.

V3 in St Peters St on 84. V3 in St Peters St on 84.

Restored V3 in St.Albans in January 2008.

For superb pictures of Ailsa at Potters Bar, see: Jenny's Volvo Ailsa Page.

Other London or ex-London Ailsa sites:

Ian's Bus Stop C text V text. V histories photo refs