Ensignbus and Capital Citybus Leyland Olympians

This page created 12th August 2003 by Ian Smith


Ensignbus had grown out of the bus recycling business of Ensign Bus & Coach at Purfleet, when the business had tendered for the 145 route using stock Fleetlines in 1986. It grew by taking over the operations of Frontrunner South East (an East Midlands long-distance attempt at the London tendered market, taken over by Stagecoach, who did not want these services), in June 1989. Ensignbus took over a collection of third-hand Atlanteans with the services but was still short of decent rolling stock. Better buses were required, and Ensignbus bought some new Olympians from dealer stock. (This must have been quite a shock for companies that had been buying their buses for London tendered services from Ensign for some years!)

121-128, 133: Alexander and Northern Counties.

Ensignbus Alexander Olympian Ensignbus bought eight standard length Olympians with Alexander RL bodywork in September 1989 for use on route 252 (Gidea Park - Collier Row), plus one with low-height (13ft 8in) Northern Counties bodywork (133), that could operate under the railway bridge at Cranham. These gave a substantial upgrade to the route, which had been suffering with a variety of old buses since before the takeover.

The buses were finished in Ensignbus livery of powder blue and silver.

A year later Ensignbus operations were nearly taken over by the London Suburban Buses organisation (Whitehall Investments), and 121 was given London Suburban Buses fleetnames on the Ensignbus livery as a demonstration. The deal fell through, and the Ensignbus fleetnames returned! But in January 1991 Ensignbus operations were taken over by the Hong Kong CNT group. The "new" company (legally the Frontrunner company) was rebranded Capital Citybus, with its own yellow livery with red banding and Hong Kong symbols.
The UK management bought the company at the end of 1995, and it was taken over by First Group in 1998, becoming First Capital. Most of these nine did their ten years with the companies, but in 1999 they were transferred away to First Eastern Counties for further work. London Pride/LCNW Olympian

129-132: the long buses.

In autumn 1989 Ensign also bought four long wheelbase Olympians for their London Pride sightseeing fleet. These had long low Northern Counties bodywork, stretched by a bay from the standard 9.6m to 10.3m. Despite being intended for sightseeing they were 83-seater front entrance buses (with bus seating). They were painted in the red and silver livery of Ensign's London Pride sightseeing company. That did not stop Ensignbus from making use of them on bus services such as the 246 in the early part of 1990.

But London Country North West had a desperate need for big new buses, and two of the monsters were sold to them in April 1990, with a third following in August. The first two went to High Wycombe, and the third to Garston, where it was used on LRT-tendered route 142, alongside their old and new LR Olympians.
Arriva The Shires long Olympian They received the new LCNW livery of dark green and silver grey, and were numbered LRL29,31, 32.

Luton & District took them over with LCNW in October 1990, and bought the fourth, which became LRL30, in 1991.

The Shires rebranding saw them go into yellow, blue and stone livery, with Chilternrover local branding for their work at High Wycombe. Arriva repainted them into their ubiquitous turquoise and champagne livery.

Capital Citybus

After Ensign sold their Ensignbus business in December 1990 the new company settled on the name of Capital Citybus, and a new livery of overall yellow with red lining was introduced. In 1991 the London Forest District of London Buses had a disastrous tender round. They won the tenders for the Walthamstow area on the basis of pay rates which their employees refused to accept. A strike ensued, the tenders were reawarded, and London Forest closed down. Many of the crews followed the tenders to Capital Citybus (where the offered rewards were greater). and Capital Citybus had a whole lot of new routes to run.

Northern Counties standards: 129-132, 134-5.

Capital Citybus NC Olympian The first six of the late 1991 new Olympians were bodied by Northern Counties. These were to the shorter 9.6m length, and took over the numbers vacated by the sold long versions, then continued the series.

They went into service in September 1991. They were intended for the 97A, 123, and 215 but a publicity mix-up promising blue and silver buses on these routes meant that the yellow ones appeared on Dagenham's 252 for a while before taking up their intended duties.

  • 97A Whipps Cross - Chingford Stn
  • 123 Wood Green - Ilford High Road
  • 215 Walthamstow Central Stn - Yardley Lane Estate
  • 252 Collier Row - Romford - Gidea Park
A rather different territory was also visited: from November 1991 Capital Citybus won the contract for Sunday operation of the 321. At first it was the Alexanders that went there, in blue and silver, but it was not long before the yellow buses joined the fray.
  • 321 Luton - Watford - Rickmansworth
They continued to work from Dagenham and Northumberland Park, and later from Hackney and Rainham (when that new depot took over from Dagenham). They went into the red version of the Capital Citybus livery.

Two were transferred out to First Huddersfield in April 2002.
Capital Citybus 2-door Olympian

The 2-door Leyland demonstrator: 250

250 was a Leyland demonstrator, that Capital Citybus bought as a one-off in the summer of 1991. Unusually for the company at that time it had dual doorways. It was an all-Leyland high-body bus, with a unique frontal treatment: a sloping windscreen and a heavily moulded front and grille. It was initially liveried in yellow.
Despite being unique in the fleet it prospered. 250 acquired a standard front and windscreen to replace the ugly original effort, and was the first recipient of the red and yellow version of the fleet livery - presumably so that it could be used on central London routes if required, where its two doors would be appreciated.

It worked from Northumberland Park until March 2002, and then from Hackney until July 2004. Then it switched to training, with a new livery: First National silver-blue with dark blue skirt. For its new role it was sent west to Alperton. It subsequently went into preservation in November 2008.
250 at Stratford Bus Stn, August 2002

250 was resting from the 158 in Stratford Bus Station when I went looking for it in August 2002. It was still wearing C logos rather than the updated f variety.

Capital Citybus Leyland Olympian

Leyland standards: 136-158.

Twenty-three new single-door all-Leyland Olympians were also bought for the takeover of the London Forest routes. They were intended for use on the Walthamstow network, so were allocated to the new Northumberland Park depot. As this converted bakery depot was not quite completed in time, they worked initially out of Dagenham Dock, but soon moved. Staple fare was the long 123 route from Wood Green to Ilford. They too worked on the Sunday 321 in the Watford area.

They remained with Capital Citybus until 2001. Then 137 was destroyed by fire in July 2001, and the others were despatched to other parts of the First empire during the following winter, going to First Leeds, First Cymru and First Manchester. There they exchanged their faded yellow livery for washed-out "secondhand Barbie" livery for their new duties.

The lucky buses: 159-165

Another ten Olympians were required in October 1992, when Capital Citybus took over the eastern trunk route 296:
  • 296 Ilford High Road - Romford - Gidea Park - Harold Wood Stn
The first seven of the buses were Leyland Olympians with Northern Counties bodies like those on the earlier batch, in yellow livery. They were also given personalised "lucky" number-plates, a gift from the manufacturers. Each bus had the number 888 - a Chinese lucky number - and letters relating to the initials or names of the company directors.

They stayed with Capital Citybus, and then First Capital, until February / March 2001, when they were replaced and sent to First Manchester.

First and Last: 166

Capital Citybus 166 The last new Leyland Olympian bought by the company was the last Leyland Olympian. It was also the first bus to receive the Palatine II style of bodywork from Northern Counties, a style that was to be seen on various later chassis including the Volvo Olympians delivered as 167 and 168. It featured a pair of large wrap-round screens at the front, upstairs as well as down. Perhaps to make up for the improved forward view, the downstairs rear window was absent. Moulded individual seats featured inside. The front was a completely new design, with a bulging grille moulding below the deep screen, rectangular headlamps and perimeter indicators. This must have proved vulnerable, as there are three slight variants in the first four photos I looked at - one of which includes a small Volvo badge! Livery was a variation on the standard yellow with red bands: black window surrounds and a black skirt-line was part of the "modern" styling.

166 - which also had a "lucky" 888 registration, settled down on the 296, and was also transferred away within First Group in February 2001.

Secondhand from Scotland: 172-174, 180

Capital Citybus low Alexander Olympian Capital Citybus bought four lowheight Olympians from Highland Scottish in 1992. The slightly lower Alexander-bodied buses would prove useful on their burgeoning rail replacement services. Their lack of LRT-compliant features like rear and side route indicators inhibited their regular use on LRT services, but they were useful on Capital's commercial services, such as Romford - Lakeside, as well as on contracts and railway work. In 1995 the company won a longer-term contract to provide replacement bus services for the East London Line while its Brunel tunnel under the Thames was worked on.

180, the bus with the oilder, squarer Alexander front grille, was repainted in the special livery adopted for buses allocated to the contract, with deep orange and white paintwork and route branding.

The four moved on to First Eastern Counties in the summer of 1999.

The Cityrama Optare: 169

Another secondhand acquisition - via Ensign Bus, naturally - was 169, one of the two Optare-bodied Olympians originally bought by Cityrama in 1988 for the 200. Cityrama had converted it to open-top for tour duties after giving up the bus operations. Capital Citybus bought it in November 1994, and had Ensign put a lid back on it. The chosen roof was from a Titan. Capital Citybus, and then First Capital, used it for six years before disposing of it to First Mainline (in Sheffield) in February 2001.

Secondhand from the Wirral

In August and September 2000 First Capital imported some elderly ECW-bodied Olympians from the Crosville (First PMT) operations on the Wirral, swapping them for Dominators. They were intended for use on schools and college contracts:
  • 253 Chingford - Waltham Abbey
  • 651 Romford - Chase Cross
  • 670 Romford - Corbets Tey
  • 674
  • 0002Thurrock College
Another use at weekends soon presented it self, in the shape of Central Line tube replacements. They also started to appear on ordinary services, despite still wearing PMT livery. Although eight were supposed to arrive, two never did, and the six that did come soon went, returning north to First PMT in January 2001.

Bus Stop index BTS bus histories photo refs Metrobus