Unfrozen STLsThis page created 1997, updated 17th July 2000
The Unfrozen STLs: 12 bodies plus STL 2648-2681
The 39-45 War brought new demands on London Transport. The policy of replacing petrol engines with diesel paid off, as rationing placed restraints on the amount of petrol available. But many petrol-engined buses were put in store, or loaned to the Provinces, including many STs. STLs were mostly dieselised by now, but had to cope with the extra demands of increased traffic, lower maintenance, fewer experienced personnel - and enemy action! An early wartime measure was the diversion of bus-building capacity to the production of war supplies: trucks, aircraft, components. So the supply of new buses dried up completely.
The STL17 bodiesThe Blitz had made large inroads into the number of STL bodies available, with the spare "float" bodies built to facilitate quick overhaul being used up as replacements, and some repairable bodies having to be put aside until supplies were available. In 1941 London Transport received authority to build a dozen new STL bodies. These were the STL17 bodies.
Outwardly they resembled the standard roofbox STLs, except that the front windows did not open and the mudguards were built without the "streamline" sweepback. Full display apertures were incorporated, although restricted displays were de rigueur by the time that they were delivered. A shortage of window glass also meant that they arrived with most non-opening windows boarded rather than glazed. Inside Chiswick had been forced to eschew the lightweight aluminium-framed seats, returning to wooden frames - with RT moquette on the seats. The bodies also lacked internal lining panels.
The twelve bodies went onto available chassis as they were built, and were soon scattered across the number range. (STL 2355, 2621, 1245, 259, 1312, 635,2407, 1331, 258, 2669, 2657, 2651). The last three took so long to arrive that they were ready just in time to go onto an unfrozen chassis...
The 17STL unfrozen chassisBy 1942 the home situation was so desperate that the Ministry of Supply permitted the completion of chassis that had been started before the war, and LT received 34 of these "unfrozen" chassis to turn into STLs. It had permission also to build another 34 bodies, to austerity specifications.
But LT had an urgent need for lowbridge buses, particularly in the Morden and Watford areas. So it built 20 of the 34 new bodies as lowbridge types: the Chiswick lowbridge austerity STLs.
The unfrozen chassis were given an eclectic mixture of bodies: there were 13 new ones (STL17/1), built to austerity standards, three of the STL17 bodies plus a variegated 18 culled from the float of spare bodies. There were General STLs, leaning-backs, standards and roofboxes.... these were the Unfrozen STLs. All the new buses were painted red.
The STL17/1sThe new bodies, thirteen of which went onto unfrozen chassis and the other one onto a standard chassis (STL932), were like the STL17s - except that the roofbox was missing and there was no display on the bus rear. They were also recognisable by the non-matching front mudguards and their louvred bonnets, together with the deep radiator of the later engine. But they were built to relaxed austerity standards, so they were single skinned and had wooden seats rather than aluminium, with wooden slats to sit on too. They were rather heavier than the standard product. Like those with secondhand bodies they all received red livery, although they all (except STL 932) went to the Country Area.
The secondhand bodiesThe second-hand or spare bodies were drawn from LT's float of maintenance spares, and were fitted to the chassis released by the Ministry of Supply in 1942 (see above). They were a very mixed bunch, which made this group a fascinating set of buses. They were all initially painted red/white. However, as they all had crash gearboxes they were quickly sent to the Country Area, where the experienced crews were used to such things! To be serious, they went to especially hilly routes, in the Chilterns and North Downs areas, where their power and friction clutches were appreciated.
Unfrozen STL with STL3 body: STL 2681 (FXT404)
The 17STLs in serviceAlthough painted red, the 17STLs saw out the war in the Country Area, and stayed there through the immediate post-war traffic boom. The first allocations were to Amersham and then Hemel Hempstead, for use on the 353, 362/A/B, and 366. They were allowed to operate up Amersham Hill at High Wycombe, unlike other double-deckers. Then five went to Watford High Street (WA) for a short while, before joining the last of the batch at Godstone. There they were used on the 409 and 411 over the North Downs to Croydon.
As diesel-engined, relatively "new" buses they mostly survived the early postwar purges, despite some of them carrying some of the oldest bodies going! Nor were the bodies swappped at overhaul for newer types. However, ten of the STL17/1 austerity bodies were rebuilt by Mann Egerton during 1948, but only Enfield's red Central Area STL932 had a full display set installed at the rear. They received green liveries: green and white or green and cream, during 1945-6.
In 1950 the Godstone contingent moved north to join the others. Most of the 17STLs survived right to the end of Country bus operation of STLs in 1954, and continued then as staff buses or trainers right up until the end for STLs in June 1955. Some were even repainted in overall green with a cream band! Seven were converted to service vehicles, one was used for further gas-power trials, and some were sold for further service in the UK or abroad.