Prepared in Notepad by Ian Smith,

This page created on 25th June 1998, updated 20th February 2015.

The public prototype, RM1


Design work for the Routemaster started as long ago as 1947. The RT was off the drawing boards and into production, and would bring standardisation to London's double-decker fleet, both in the Central Area and the Country. It would also see off the trams from the streets of London and its suburbs. Although the RT was a superb bus, ahead of anything else at that time, it was nevertheless a pre-war design, and the war had produced a whole lot of new thinking in terms of materials and mechanisms.

Certain principals were adopted at the start.

  • The bus was to be semi-integral, with a stiff, all-aluminium body obviating the need for a chassis, with the running gear mounted on sub-frames that could be detached for separate overhaul. (This built on the experience gained with MCW trolleybuses).
  • A rear platform layout was adopted after much thought, including consideration of front entrance layouts. Although this feature would make it appear dated in comparison with the revolutionary Atlantean, its worth in Central London conditions, with packed buses, frequent stops and very short passenger journeys is still recognised in the 1990s.
  • RM1 at Chiswick
  • A seating capacity of about 64 was recommended. This was a row of seats more than in the RT, but less than the 70 seats of the trolleybuses. But a 70 seater would need to be longer, with a six-wheel arrangement to meet current regulations.
  • A 70 person capacity could also have been met by adopting standee single-deckers, but experience elsewhere was already indicating that passengers would queue in cars rather than travel like cattle. (This experience was (in)conveniently forgotten when LT adopted the Merlin generation in the seventies.)
  • The power plant could be either diesel or electric. The trolleybuses were going to need replacement at the end of the fifties, despite their modern appearance and long-lasting characteristics. So the early RM planning included production as a trolleybus. This option died in 1954, when LT announced that the trolleybus system would be replaced by a fleet of modern lightweight diesel buses. The RM now had a public raison d'etre.
  • Gearchanging, on RM1, was clutchless. The Wilson epicyclic gearbox had an electro-hydraulic shift mechanism, operated from a stick on the steering column.
  • Braking was by a power-assisted hydraulic system, rather than LT's previous air system.
  • Coil rather than leaf springs were used on the suspension, and the front wheels had car-type independent suspension. This made the RM very stable on the road, with a slightly bouncier ride sensation.
RM1 at Chiswick, June 1983. Photo, used with permission, by Adrian J. Stuart-Robson.

RM prototype

First appearance, 1954

The appearance of the first Routemaster prototype at the Commercial Motor Show in September 1954 made a big impression on everyone, not least an interested six-year old there with his Dad.
The bus was very different from the RT. Indeed, the body shell seemed to have been turned round, with a vertical front and a curved rear. The radiator had disappeared too, leaving a trolleybus-like flat front but combined with a half-cab and bonnet. The displays, that said nothing much other than "London Transport ROUTEMASTER" were small and disappointing.

It was wider and longer too, at 8ft by 27ft, and had direction indicators at front and rear.

(Before anyone writes to grumble, yes, the front device was symmetrical, with seven bars vertically below the roundel. I CAN count, but my pixel resolution is limited!)

After the show RM1 disappeared from public view for a while, joining RM2 on a test programme involving hill starts and 7500 miles of test running, some of it at MIRA (Nuneaton) and some at the Army testing grounds at Chobham. It re-appeared for the Aluminium Industry exhibition on the South Bank, in June 1955.

Into Service, 1956

RM1: second appearance After the exhibition it went for upgrading, to take on board the testing experience and public comments:
  • the front sub-chassis was strengthened;
  • the displays were improved, with a three panel display at the front, and a single panel on the nearside and rear. A small route number blind replaced the traditional offside board.
  • a heating system was installed. This latter owed much of its origin to that unsuccessfully tried out in RTC1, the Greenline RT coach prototype. A radiator above the cab provided hot air for saloon heating.
  • The opening front top windows were replaced by plain windows.

RM1 was licensed as SLT56 on January 11th, 1956, and after a spell of crew training at Cricklewood (W) was allocated to route 2, Golders Green to Crystal Palace, entering service on 8th February 1956. Its usual duty, W16, was selected for its particularly long arduous day.

Public reaction was mixed:

  • The thin foam-filled seat cushions were disliked - and were quickly replaced with thicker ones.
  • The ride quality was appreciated by some, but made others feel travel-sick ( shades of the APT).
  • The heating was appreciated on the snowy days of that February.
  • The lower saloon suffered from transmission noise, a totally different sound from the RTs or the STLs.
  • The front bulkead creaked.
Maintenance, driving and excessive tyre wear problems also cropped up, but were corrected on RM2, while RM1 continued in service until August. On the 8th August RM1 returned to Chiswick for a front-end rebuild.

RM1: third appearance

The Lord Mayors Show, 1956

RM1 reappeared in public for the annual Lord Mayors Show in November. It was rather different at the front. It now had a vertically mounted radiator, behind a vertically slotted grille, right at the very front. (It actually made RM1 slightly longer than the permitted 27ft)
Less obvious was the new engine behind it, a new AEC AV600 9.6 litre diesel, a forerunner of the AV590 that was to become the class standard. This replaced RM1's original RT engine. There were other less obvious changes around the front layout too, in particular a stronger A-frame sub-chassis, and changes to the transmission couplings, sound-proofing and general flow of cooling air.

More Passenger Service, 1957-59

RM1: revised radiator RM1 went back to Cricklewood for further mileage accumulation from 6th March 1957. In the interim it had received a modified and improved front grille, but the overall front end appearance was still lumpy, and the wide bonnet gave drivers problems seeing the kerb. (Why this didn't matter on trolleybuses I have never worked out: was it a myth?). The steering was still excessively heavy.

RM1 was used on heavy turns on route 260 (Cricklewood to Surrey Docks), with route 2 duties on Sundays. It continued to throw up problems that would be rectified or ignored on the production batches to follow. It came off duty for an overhaul on 31st July 1959.
RM1: standard front

Training Duties 1959-1972

After overhaul it went into the training fleet, mainly attached to garages in east London, starting with Upton Park(U). New drivers still had to struggle with its heavy steering, good practice I suppose for for dealing with failure of power steering on the production models.
RM1 was repainted in 1964, and was fitted at the same time with a standard bonnet and wings, although retaining its plain windows and ventilation system.
Far from being a London Transport "pet", RM1 became steadily more neglected. Without further repaints after 1964 it became distinctly shabby.
RM1 was withdrawn from trainer use at Dalston in 1972.
RM1 at Chiswick

Sold and Bought

It might have been expected that the doyenne of the class would have been retired with honours by London Transport, with preservation in the museum collection. But in 1973 RM1 was sold to the Lockheed Corporation, for use in brake development trials. By the end of the decade it was back at Chiswick, although not owned by LT. Only in 1981 was RM1 bought back by LT for preservation. It was given a light overhaul and repaint, and became a show bus for special occasions. In 1986 it was donated to the care of the LT Museum, and from 1989 formed part of the LT Museum Collection. It is retained in working order, in final London Transport condition, ie with an early standard radiator (red bar, no roundel) and ventilator front wings. It has occasionally been seen at rallies, and very occasionally meets up with the other prototypes.
RM1 at Chiswick driving school.
Photo, used with permission, by Mike Dawes
RM1 on 8 at Hackney Wick

Museum duties and Sporadic Public Service

Having spent 38 years on other duties, RM1 was called back to revenue-earning passenger duties in February 1997, when it celebrated 40 years of RM service in London by working on Route 2 to Crystal Palace for two days.

Since then it has appeared occasionally, notably during the festivities surrounding the withdrawal of Routemasters from normal service, and at special occasions such as the Bow Garage Centenary, operating in service.

RM1 passes Hackney Wick on Route 8 on the last day of RML/conductor operation on the route, June 2004


 9/54:     Commercial Motor Show
10/54:     road-testing and trials at MIRA and Chobham
 6/55:     Aluminium Industry exhibition, South Bank
 7/55:     Chiswick: rebuild chassis, improve displays, add heating.
 1/56:     licensed, SLT 56
 2/56: W   into service on 2 (Golders Green-Crystal Palace)
 8/56:     Chiswick: front end rebuild.
11/56:     Lord Mayor's Show: temporary radiator.
 3/57: W   more service on 260 (Mon-Sat), 2 (Sun), revised radiator.
10/59:     Chiswick
11/59: W   further service on 260 and 2.
 7/59:     Chiswick: overhaul.
   59: U   trainer
       WH  trainer
   64:     repaint, standard front and wings.
   67: PR  trainer
       BK  trainer
 4/70: EM  transfer, trainer
 1/72: D   transfer, trainer
10/72: D   withdrawn into store
 4/73:     sold to Lockheed Corporation for brake trials.
11/78:     relocated from Chiswick to Aldenham
 7/81:     repurchased by London Transport.
 2/82:     showbus duties
 3/82:     light overhaul, repaint
 5/83: CS  transfer from Aldenham to Chiswick
 2/86: LT  given to care of LT Museum.
 8/89: LT  donated to LT Collection.
 2/97: LT  2 days service on route 2.
12/98: AT  transfer from Ash Grove to Acton Depot, via Covent Garden
 4/99: AT  service at Cobham Museum Open Day
 6/04:     used on last RML-day on 8
 7/04:     used on last crew day on 7; at RM50
 9/04:     used on last crew day on 73
 1/05:     used briefly on last crew-day on 36 
 9/06:     used on 9,15
 6/08:     used on X25, Bow Garage Centenary
 6/09:     active on Hertford Running Day (331, 390)
 9/10:     at opening of Cobham Hall, Brooklands 
 6/14:     at Alperton Open Day
 6/14:     at Fulwell Open Day
 7/14:     at RM60, Finsbury Park
 9/14:     at Ongar for "End of the Tube"
 9/14:     at Earl's Court for 60th birthday!
 5/16:     at Shepherds Bush Open Day
 7/16:     at Holloway Garage Open Day

RM1, offside front RM1, nearside front RM1, nearside rear

RM1 takes a rest between duties on the Cobham Open Day, Brooklands Runway, April 1999. The different emergency exit window, with rounded bottom corners, and the integral rear-light / handrail assembly can be seen. Photos by Ian Smith
RM1, offside RM1, nearside

Photographic References

For a key to the references see the bibliography

1954: first condition: flat front, no grilles, small displays, LTE1954
BM3RM p10    o/s front, no blinds, no front panel
BM3RM p10    n/s rear, no blinds
LBF p109     n/s profile, no ads 
BPRM p16     n/s front, no side ads
ALoLBW p105  n/s front, no side ads
BM3RM p13    rear		
RM_1 p15     n/s profile
RM_1 p14     n/s front
RM_1 p16     rear
RM_1 p18     platform, stairs
RM_1 p19     interior, lower saloon, (fwd)
RM_1 p20     interior, upper saloon, (back)
RM_1 p21     n/s front, bullseye in front display
H54 p158     n/s front, bullseye in front display
RM_1 p21     o/s front, at Commercial Motor Show, Earls Court.
LBF p109     o/s front, at Commercial Motor Show, Earls Court.
6/55: first condition: flat front, no grilles, small displays, at Aluminium exhibition
LBM32 p26    front, cab, platform, rear, o/s (7 views)
LB&TA p36    front
Buses505 p30
BM3RM p12    front
RM_1 p02     o/s:  large route box
RM_1 p22     large o/s box, front n/s
1955: testing: first condition: flat front, no grilles, small displays, no ads.
Buses505 p31 at Staines LT
BM3RM p16    at Staines LT
RM_1 p23     (218 LA) at Staines Garage, for testing at Chobham
LBM137 p37   at Staines LT
RM_1 p24     12/55 at Aldenham with heat/vent grilles on front, real ads, tilt test
1956: service from Cricklewood (W), proper blinds, real ads
RM_1 p24     showing 2 to Crystal Palace, Victoria, press launch, 31/01/56
CB12 p34     on 2 to Crystal Palace, Golders Grn 
RM_1 p03     on 2 to Crystal Palace, Vauxhall Br Rd
LBM100 p03   on 2 to Crystal Palace
BM3RM p18    on 2 to Crystal Palace
Buses505 p30 on 2 to Golders Green Stn, Crystal Palace
Buses505 p30 on 2 to Crystal Palace, Golders Grn
AIHLB p54    on 2 to Golders Green Stn
BM3RM p14    on 2 to Crystal Palace
BM3RM p15    on 2 to Golders Green Stn
BM3RM p05    on 2 to Crystal Palace
CB28 p07     on 2 to Crystal Palace
Buses712 p40 on 2 to Crystal Palace
LBP&P p44    on 2 to Golders Grn Stn, Crystal Palace
RM_1 p24     on 2 to Crystal Palace, Swiss Cottage
H56 p95      on 2 to Crystal Palace
H56 p131     on 2 to Golders Green Stn, Crystal Palace
H56 p103     interior view of lower saloon
H56 p34      showing 2 to Crystal Palace, Horse Guards, after Centenary exhibition, 7/56
H56 p46      on 2 to Cricklewood Garage, after Centenary exhibition, 7/56
11/56: Lord Mayor's Show: temporary radiator, Routemaster ads.
RM_1 p26     front n/s & rear n/s
1957-59: further service, RM3-style radiator
RM_1 p27     3/57:  on 260 to Aldwych
Buses505 p30        on 260 to Cricklewood Garage, Aldwych
H57 p46      1957:  on 2 to Golders Green Stn
H57 p47      3/57:  on 260 to Aldwych, Edgware Rd
H57 p116     1957:  on 260 to Waterloo, Cricklewood Garage
BM3RM p15    1957:  on 2 to Victoria, Golders Gn
RM_1 p33     1958:  on 260 to Aldwych, nr Marble Arch
CB12 p34     1958:  on 260 to Aldwych, Picc Circus
AECiC p102   1958:  on 2 to Crystal Palace
CB67 p05     1958:  on 2 to Golders Green Stn
AIHLB p06    1958:  on 260 to Waterloo, Colindale
LB&TA p36    1958:  on 260 to Aldwych
LSubB p34           on 260 to Aldwych, Edgware Rd
LT3362p101          on 260 to Surrey Docks Stn, Waterloo Br.
1959-1972: trainer, new radiator from 1964
RM_1 p27            WH at Stamford Hill Depot, RM3-style radiator
H61 p61      6/61:  WH at Stamford Hill LT
HeyLB3 p09   1967:  PR at Twickenham, later radiator
RM_2 p68     1972:  D  at Chiswick following withdrawal
1973-81: Lockheed,
LBM145 p39   7/76:     at Chiswick
RM_2 p69     8/79:     at Chiswick  
LBM31 p3     1980:     in the dip at Chiswick 
1981 - : preservation in LT Museum collection
BM3RM p20    4/83:  displaying 260 to Waterloo, Cobham (all 4 prototypes)
LB6395 p80   7/83:  Chiswick Open Day (all 4 prototypes)				

RM_2 p69            outside Covent Garden

Buses496 p13 1996:  at Aldenham closure
CB24 p06     1996:  last out of Aldenham

BFocus8 p45  2/97:  service on 2 at Crystal Palace
LBM100 p03   2/97:  service on 2 at Crystal Palace
Buses505 p29 2/97:  on 2 to Crystal Palace, Victoria
Buses712 p41 */04:  on 73 to Euston
TLB506 p00   9/06:  on 15 to Trafalgar Square

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