London Central, London General Volvo Olympians

This page created 18th November 2006 by Ian Smith


NV Docklands Express drawing London Central was privatised in October 1994, with garages at Camberwell, New Cross, Peckham and Bexleyheath, and a double-decker fleet mainly of Routemasters and Titans. They won a contract for the D1 (County Hall - Isle of Dogs (limited stop)), and promptly ordered ten Volvo Olympians with Northern Counties Palatine I bodywork, the first of many such for work in the capital. They arrived in March 1995, wearing a dedicated livery of red, grey skirt and broad white tween-decks band with "Docklands Express" and a route-bar superimposed. They had front doorways only. They went to work from Camberwell, some being tried out first on route 40.

The D1 was withdrawn in September 1999. The ten buses were redistributed, six to Bexleyheath (for the 492) and three to Peckham (for the 381), and NV7 went to New Cross, where it received a special "tram" livery of red and cream with black lining and silver roof. It was used with similarly-liveried T172 on the 710 (Rotherhithe - Bluewater).

NV Docklands Express drawing The Peckham refugees did not stay there long. In the spring of 2001 NV8-10 were sent to Metrobus at Crawley, where they became Metrobus 888-890. They went straight into service following Arriva's pull-out from Crawley, and quickly donned blue and yellow livery. Out at Crawley, beyond the touch of TfL rules, they settled to useful work, remaining in service until June 2006.
NV1-6 were loaned to Blue Triangle for a while from February 2001 to operate route 492 on behalf of London Central, who were having staffing problems. NV1-6 moved on in the early summer of 2002 to Metrobus at Orpington for use on the 320 (Bromley North - Biggin Hill Valley). They received numbers 891-4, 885-6.


The next batch were also single doorway buses, seventeen ordered for route 51 for the contract renewal in November 1995. These wore the standard livery of the time: red, light grey skirt and a narrow white band at lower ceiling level. They went to Bexleyheath.

They had not been in service long when NV16 went for its FFD - and it was discovered that it wasn't NV16 at all: the VIN plates did not match the registration. Others of the class were found to have the same problem, due to a mix-up at Northern Counties. So several had to be reregistered with the correct plates, and the fleet numbers were amended to match.

NV24 on 422, Woolwich, October 2000 NV Paladin I drawing

Single-door London Central NV24 was on 422 to its home town of Bexleyheath, in Woolwich on 28th October 2000.
They didn't stick as rigidly to their prescribed route as buses allocated to other garages did, and soon they could be seen on a variety of Bexleyheath's double-decker routes. NV11 was unique amonst this batch in being transferred to Metrobus at Orpington in July 2002 (as 896).

But the low-floor revolution soon caught up with the rest, and most of the batch were sold via Ensign Bus during 2004, the rest following in 2005. Buyers included Solent Blue Line, Aintree Coaches, First Manchester, Blackburn Transport, Yorkshire Traction, and Hedingham Omnibuses. Ensignbus repainted NV13 in apple-green and cream and used it on the X80 as well as for demonstrations, before selling it on. Sullivan Buses bought NV26. They were still young, but no longer fitted TfL's stringent contract requirements for buses without steps.


NV Paladin I dual-door drawing Twenty-one dual doorway buses were ordered for New Cross to replace the Titans on route 171 (Catford Garage-Holborn Station) in June 1996. Along with the dual doorways they had central staircases. Livery still included a light grey skirt and white band.

These too had a short life with London Central. PVLs arrived to replace them on the 171 and 172 in the summer of 2001. Twelve were then transferred to Metrobus, where they were repainted and set to work from Orpington on the 261 (Lewisham - Grove Park - Bromley Common). This route had been using single-doorway Olympians, and was due to receive dual-doorway low-floor buses on contract renewal. By using the NVs from London Central single-doorway Olypians could be sent to Crawley to replace hired Metrobuses, until such time as the new buses arrived. When they did, in January 2002, five of the dual-doorway NVs were returned to London Central, where Camberwell used them on routes 35, 40 and 45 still in blue and yellow. The other seven stayed at Orpington until the late spring of 2003, when new Omnidekkas rendered them redundant. They went to store at First's Leicester depot

NV33 on 172, Brockley, June 2000 NV33 on 171, Brockley, June 2000

London Central NV33 and NV31 were on New Cross routes 172 and 171 in Brockley on a dismal day in October 2000.

NV41 on 261, Bromley, September 2001 NV30 on 261, Bromley, September 2001 NV35 on 261, Bromley, June 2001

The Metrobus years: Metrobus 881 (NV41), 870 (NV30) and 875 (NV35) on the 261, between Bromley North and Grove Park in September 2001.

NV49-79, 81-99

August 1997 saw the start of a delivery of two dozen dual-doorway Olympians to Camberwell to replace Titans on routes 35 (Shoreditch - Clapham Junction) and 40 (Dulwich Library to Aldgate Station). This was completed by a further ten in July 1998. In between came sixteen for New Cross, where they took over from Titans on route 21(Lewisham - London Bridge Stn), starting in February 1998. One of the New Cross buses (NV58) was covered in gold-coloured vinyl in 2002 as part of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

In summer 2002 routes 35 and 40 went low-floor with PVLs, making a number of Camberwell's NVs redundant. Sister company Go-Ahead North-East needed buses, and about thirty-three of this batch of NVs headed north-eastwards to meet their need. The others hung on, filling niches, mainly until the autumn of 2004, when more were sold via Ensign Bus.

Ensignbus took NV60 and converted it to single-doorway and painted it green and cream, mainly to show customers what they could supply, but using it in service as appropriate. They certainly managed to sell the others! Mullany's of Watford and Sullivan Buses of South Mimms took some for rail work and contracts. Just one, NV72, hung on with London Central as a dedicated trainer.

London General

NV101-139, 141-159

London General had been privatised with a substantial Metrobus fleet, and in early 1997, when they had joined London Central in the G0-Ahead group, they started buying Volvo Olympians. These were all dual doorway buses, very similar to those that London Central were oredering. Those for Sutton had Palatine I bodywork, and arrived in batches throughout 1997 and early 1998. Livery included a yellow coachline above the pale grey skirt.

Sutton put them to work on the 93 North Cheam - Putney Bridge, 154 West Croydon - Morden Stn, and 157 Crystal Palace - Morden Stn, all retained TfL contracts, and then on the 213 Sutton Garage - Kingston.

NV104 on 93, Putney Bridge Stn, June 2000 NV158 on 93, Putney, June 2000

London General NV104 and NV158 were on the 93 at Putney in June 2000.
Their sojourn at Sutton was also prematurely cut short, when low-floor buses (EVLs - East Lancs bodied Volvo B7TLs) took over the 93, 154 and 213 in 2002. (The 157 went to Travel London). The four-year-old NVs were distributed around the other garages, including the London Central ones. Stockwell used some to replace their older Volvo VC Citybuses. Some displaced Palatine IIs from Putney so that the posher buses could form a commercial services fleet.


Then in spring 2003 many were placed in a dedicated training fleet. To emphasise that these were not service buses they were given a distinctive blue-based livery - although this does not stop the public from trying to hail them or board them, apparently! The blue base was then superscribed with banners in red, yellow, purple or mint, or with multicoloured rainbows, plus the trainers' phone number in large white letters. The trainers became a common sight, being allocated to most of the group's garages.

NV132, New Cross garage, January 2005 NV132 near Lewisham, January 2005

Trainers: NV132 pulls out of New Cross garage and NV128 near Lewisham, January 2005.


The twenty-seven Olympians chosen to replace Metrobuses on Putney's route 74 (Roehampton - Baker Street) were different in having the Palatine II bodywork. Livery was red with light grey skirt, yellow cheat line and a double white line at roof level. There was some discrete route branding, iterating major attractions on the route. As they penetrated the West End they were effective advertising hoardings, and the rear ends were soon adorned with super-rear adverts.

They arrived at the end of 1997, and went into service in January 1998.

NV166, Baker Street, October 2001 NV166, Baker Street, October 2001 NV166, Baker Street, October 2001

NV166 at the Baker Street terminus of route 74 in October 2001, showing how the rear ends were used for adverts.
NV170 off 70D, Dorking, August 2003 NV PaladinII drawing
Trainer NV169 at Downham in April 2004.

Commercial Services

When Volvo B&TLs took over the 74 in 2002 the 27 Palatine2-bodied Olympians wre still mainly less than five years old. Too good to waste, they became the core of the two companies' special purposes fleets, spread between Camberwell, Sutton, Merton and Stockwell garages. They appeared regularly at major London events such as Wimbledon, Derby Day and the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as travelling further afield for events such as Farnborough Air Show and the Sandwich Open Golf Championships. Rail replacement work provided a more mundane but regular diet of work.

NV170, 171 and 176 were sent back to Blackburn for haircuts, returning in May 2003 with removable winter lids. These were kept on a gantry in Camberwell garage when not required.

But in 2006 commercial services received some low-floor replacements, and some of the Palatine IIs have been sold (several to Mullany's, Watford) or transferred to Go-Ahead group's Birmingham Coach Company.

NV170 off 70D, Dorking, August 2003 NV179 on 729, Bromley, December 2002 NV175 on Rail duty, Three Bridges, 19 March 2006

Commercial services: Open-top NV170 visited the Running Day at Dorking in August 2003, running in in service as a 70D from New Cross.
NV179 was carrying Christmas shoppers from Bromley to Bluewater in December 2002.
NV175 was on Rail Replacement duties between Three Bridges and East Grinstead on 19th March 2006.

Bus Stop Olympians AVMet NV histories photo refs AV(LC)