Prepared on Notepad by Ian Smith,

This page created 27th July 2000, updated 23rd October


DT147 at Kew Bridge, October 1997 "Wow - that's new!" was my first impression when I first saw one of the tiny Dennis Dart buses in the summer of 1990. I was visiting Bromley, and instead of the horrid breadvan conversions there were suddenly hordes of these very stylish little buses. Little, but buses. They made me think of the prewar Q-types (which I had never seen), by their flamboyant styling, so different from anything that had gone before.
London Buses had gone through a rather dreadful phase in the 1980s, when the fashion became the breadvan derivative bus-let. Not the minuscule Ford Transits, but larger things like StarRiders, MetroRiders, Renaults and Mercedes "midibuses". They were supposed to nip through the traffic and into estates where real buses couldn't go. They nipped alright. But with breadvan suspension and heavy clogs on the brake pedals there were several times when my mother had complained of being deposited on the floor.

So the Dennis Dart revolution marked a return to some kind of sanity in bus design. They might be small but they were properly designed buses. Dennis Specialist Vehicles were not newcomers to the bus industry, but their input to London Transport had been small in volume. Their speciality was municipal transport - fire engines, refuse vehicles. But this had led them to cure the braking problems that had previously bedevilled small-wheeled bus designs.

The 1990 production Dennis Darts had short, 8.5 metre chassis, and wonderful bodies by Duple. The first eyecatcher was the curved front, with that glorious windscreen. Then there was the bonded glazing. It looked modern. It was modern. It went. It stopped (smoothly). It was good to ride in.

But the Dart chassis caught the mood of the bus industry so well that capacity for body-building far outstripped Duple's capability. The design rights passed to Carlyle, who produced many more of the stylish DTs in 8.5m and 9.0m lengths. But even they couldn't keep up with demand.

DW117 and DW104 at South Kensington Stn, March 1999 Wright's of Ballymena quickly produced a rather more conventional body - their Handybus - that was bought by London in two lengths as the DW class. With their split windscreens they reminded some people of the RF class, but there were hints of the stylish Wright bodies to follow in the deep scoop shape below the windscreen.

DRL129 at Grove Park Stn, July 1999 Reeve Burgess (a Plaxton subsidiary) also produced a simple box-shaped body, the Pointer, that quickly became the Bus of the Decade. London Buses bought them in several lengths as the DR family. The first were 8.5m midibuses, but the modular nature of the body and chassis made it simple to add bays to produce the 9.0m (DRL) and 9.8m (EDR) versions. Plaxton quickly made it the main stream of their production.

By now London Buses had been privatised, but most of the new companies adopted the Dart with a vengeance, as did the ex-London Country companies and indeed bus companies nationwide.

Kentish Bus 3144, October 1997 There were yet more body-builders: Northern Counties with a stylish Paladin body, adopted by Kentish Bus and London Northern as the DNL class, and East Lancs, who produced a remarkably old-fashioned coach-type body for London Buses (DEL) and British Bus (London & Country) (DS). Alexander produced the conservative Dash body, which became a Stagecoach group standard and appeared with East London and Selkent. Marshall took over the Carlyle body design and produced a few for London operators, while Wadham Stringer produced the Portsdown body that looked as if it was intended for local authority use.
The Dennis Dart did not stop there. As the 1990s progressed the requirement for low-floor buses, without an entrance step, and preferably with kneeling capability, became established. The Dart chassis evolved to the Super Low Floor (SLF) version, in ever greater lengths: but that's a story still to come.

This story would be incomplete without mention of a couple of competitors in the Dart market. Volvo soon produced the B6 chassis that took the same range of bodywork as the longer Darts, and had success around the London fringes. MAN's chassis for the Optare Vecta also received the Marshall C37 body, and was used this way by MTL London.


Ian's Bus Stop Dart Introduction. DT.