The LONDON TRANSPORT Ford TransitsThis page created 5th April 2001, updated 27th December 2006
IntroductionThe idea of using really tiny buses for specific purposes was not a new one. It had just never been economic to do so in Central London, with its very low fares. Even full-size single deckers, like LTs Ts and RFs, with 32-41 seats, did not pay their way even when fully loaded, because of the cost of a two-man crew. The same argument applied to twenty-seater one-person operated buses, and London had stopped using those in the Central Area in 1949. In the post-war years LT had used the GSs for small-bus work in the Country Area, but had not re-established one man operation with small buses in the Central Area. (In those days the RF was considered a LARGE single-decker). But now, in the early seventies, one man operation was returning, even if the fare levels were still being kept very low for political reasons. The GLC had a policy of providing bus access to all area within its boundaries, but there were a few areas that had resisted the bus either for snobbish reasons or because of narrow roads. These included the stockbroker housing around Elmstead Woods, near Bromley, Dulwich Village, parts of Hampstead and parts of Enfield/Winchmore Hill. It was suggested that the use of very small buses might be acceptable in these areas, and a Ford Transit demonstrator with Dormobile body was tried out in 1972 in the Highgate area.
FS1-20: Ford Transit/Strachans DP16F, 1FS1The trials must have been deemed a success, for four routes were identified, and twenty buses ordered. They were based on the respected Ford Transit van chassis, with a manual gearbox, and had box bodies with sixteen dual-purpose seats for the expected up-market clientele. The bodies were rather similar to those used on mobile shops, and they were instantly dubbed "bread-vans". I don't know what genius selected MLK registrations for them, but sir, I salute you!
Into service September 1972 saw the start of the W9 at Enfield, followed later in September by the P4 at Stockwell, and in October by the B1 at Bromley and the C11 at Highgate. They were driven by a "dedicated band of older drivers", as another author put it. That was because all London Transport's driver trainees for the previous twenty years had been taught and tested on buses with pre-selector or automatic gearboxes. Only the older drivers, plus a handful of others with wider experience, had the necessary manual gearbox psv driver's licences.
That these routes were a success is shown by their continued existence into the new millenium, albeit lengthened and with larger vehicles (the B1 became the busy 314).
The Transits scurried about on these four routes until 1975 and 1976, when they were replaced on first C11 and then the other three routes by the short Bristol LHs, the BS class. Most went into store, and thence sale to small operators and schools. A couple went into the service fleet as personnel transports, and FS19 became a radio trainer associated with the BUSCO Routemasters at Peckham
Dial-a-RideBut some were retained in service for a new venture, started in 1974, to exploit their small size, the Hampstead Dial-a-Ride service, that soon became the H2, operated by Finchley. To this was added the PB1 in Potters Bar, which started in March 1977
FS21-26: Ford Transit/Dormobile DP16F, 2FS2Dial-a-Ride needed an extra bus from the beginning, and a Dormobile demonstarotor was hired until one was ready. FS21 was built in 1975, with a body by Dormobile and a later version Transit chassis, and was classified 2FS2. It went to Finchley for the Hampstead Dial-a-Ride.
This was followed in 1979 by five more,
so that the oldest remaining first series buses could be retired:
by this time their lightly built bodies had had enough.
They were used on the Hampstead H2, where larger buses could not go,
and on the PB1 at Potters Bar.
FS27-29: Ford Transit/Carlyle B20F, 3FS3By 1985 the second series were tired, and a fresh set of three were bought, with even boxier bodies by Carlyle, with concertina folding doors and twenty bus seats. No more "dual purpose". Again they were for the H2, while the PB1 had been restocked with Dodge minibuses in March 1983.
FS29 broke new ground in 1986 when it went to Westlink for their 602 (Feltham - Shepperton).
Oddly, it initially retained Finchley garage markings
even with Westlink go-faster stripes of white and turquoise.
Other operatorsLondon Country also tried the dial-a-ride concept using five Transits with 16-seater Dormobile body, FT 1-5, in the Harlow area, starting in August 1974. The minibuses were replaced by Bristol BNs in April 1977, and passed on to Midland Red during that year.
North Downs used one on their 853 Orpington - Croydon service, back in the days when this was a rarely attempted journey for which a minibus surficed.
Mole Valley used one in Surbiton.
P.S.For Classic Bus magazine enthusiasts there is of course the game of "guess what FS stands for". Suggestions are: Ford Strachans, Ford Small, Ford Special, Fairly Silly, or Fully Shrunk.