Mercedes-Benz Varios

Prepared on Notepad by Ian Smith,
This page created 3rd December 2011.

The Vario was the last main design of the bread-van era. That statement does it an injustice, in that it was designed from the outset as a bus, not a van conversion, but its genus was apparent. It came more or less at the end of a long line of Mercedes Benz mini and midibuses, of which there were still plenty about in the second half of the 1990s. But the tide of bus operation was turning. Small bus operation was turning to the Dennis Dart SLF, the 8.8m MPD version of which could get into most places that a bread-van could, and which offered greater manoevrability as well as the low-floor attraction of DDA compliance (as well as the much greater commercial draw of buggy compliance). So the Vario had stiff competion, made worse by the Optare Solo, which came in a narrow version that could get to the narrow places that an MPD couldn't. So there were not huge numbers of Varios around the London area. Most of the few were on the Greenbelt fringes, and with operators that only marginally impinged on the London Transport area. There were exceptions, where operators used the Vario for estate penetration.

Bodywork was mainly by Plaxton, with the Beaver2 body in two lengths (8.5 and 7.8m), although there were also Alexander, UVG Citistar and Marshall Master bodies.

Stagecoach Selkent was a significant user, with the eighteen shared between Plumstead and Catford (MB 1-18) for routes winding through urban back-roads.

Arriva The Shires and Arriva East Herts & Essex had even more, The Shires taking twenty-eight new ones as a follow-on to its huge fleet of earlier Beavers, replacing older minibuses, and East Herts and Essex taking fifteen, shared between the Hertfordshire operations and those at Colchester and Southend. A further ten were transferred in from Arriva Yorkshire, and there were odd hires and transfers at times. Many eventually gravitated to Milton Keynes, after the takeover of MK Metro.

Tellings-Golden Miller bought some of its own Varios for back-roads work in the Kingston area on Surrey tendered routes, then gradually increased the number using hires and purchases as needs dictated. Surrey bus work was very precarious, and the buses proved useful when routes were taken on at short notice. T-GM sent some south-eastwards to Dartford when they took over the Crystals operations for a while, and acquired two of Crystals' own buses. Others went to fellow-company Burton's at Haverhill, although one did venture back home for a short spell with Wiltax at New Haw. The ten remaining with T-GM at their takeover by Travel London did not long outlive the change of ownership, most going to work with Connex in Jersey.

Epsom Buses had two batches: the first were three with small UVG Citistar bodywork, followed by four Beaver2s for Kingston back-roads work.

Crystals Beaver2 sketch Crystals of Dartford had quite a fleet of Mercedes midibuses, some with Crystals' own bodywork, others with Plaxton. Some were used on contract to TfL for the widespread Mobility Bus network in south-east London, whilst others worked Roundabout routes in Orpington, especially the R2. Fleet livery for the R2 Mercedes was turquoise. In 1999 the company renewed the R2 fleet with four new 7.8m Varios, two with Beaver2 bodies and two with Crystals.

In August 2003 Crystals sold all its remaining bus operations to Tellings-Golden Miller, along with the Dartford base, the Optare Solos, and the two Plaxton-bodied Varios. What it did with the two Crystals-bodied Varios I know not: perhaps they were retained for private hire work.

Imperial Buses Imperial ALX100 sketch of Rainham leased three short ALX100-bodied Varios for their year-long tenure of Essex routes 46, 200, 201, and 500 from April 2001. After that they were repainted white, and went elsewhere.

Imperial then (c2004) acquired a couple more Varios, this time Beaver2s, that had been with Coulson of Thurrock for Grays services. These lasted in service until November 2007, being disposed of about three years later!

Town & Country ALX100 sketch Town & Country of Thurrock also had one of the ALX100 buses (105) from the same batch, which it kept for several years, neatly turned out in two blues livery. It also had a couple of the slightly larger Beaver2s (106 and 107). The latter had earlier been with Owen's of Sidcup Town & Country Beaver2 sketch

Owens Beaver2 sketch Owen's Coaches used a new long wheelbase Beaver2 on the K14-K15 shuttles linking the new Bluewater Shopping pit with the nearby villages of Bean, Southfleet, New Barn and Longfield, between March 1999 and 2002. It was white with prominent route branding as the Bluewater Shuttle. It moved on from Owen's, across the Thames to Town & Country in Thurrock.

Nightingale of Slough had a small fleet of Mercedes midibuses for local routes, and added a CitiStar-bodied Vario in 1998, which it kept until about 2004. The bus then re-emerged with Acorn Travel in Pembrokeshire.

Centrebus Beaver2 sketch Lutonian bought a pair of Beaver2s in April 2001 (129, 131). These burbled around the Luton area for some years, eventally exchanging their white, blue and orange for the orange, blue and white of Centrebus.

Centrebus moved 129 to St.Albans and 131 to Dunstable. Lutonian Beaver2 sketch

In March 2008 Universitybus took over the St.Albans operations of Centrebus, including 129, which became 459 in the uno fleet. It stayed at work on the Welwyn Garden City route 215 where it had been, still in orange, blue and white, but without fleetnames, until April 2010, when it moved on to Thomas of Rhondda.

Meanwhile 131 had moved north to Centrebus associate Bowers of Chapel-en-le Frith, then moved again to Centrebus at Corby.

Centrebus, in addition to the pair taken over from Lutonian, acquired another long Beaver2 from Kinch. In mid 2006 Centrebus acquired three Alexander-bodied Varios from Travel West Midlands for use in its Stevenage operations. One of these was burned out in January 2007 in a depot fire at Woodside.

Universitybus took over one of the Centrebus (ex-Lutonian) Varios in March 2008 to use on its Welwyn Garden City network of routes (201, 203, 205, 206, 215, 312). It kept on at this until April 2010, when it was sold to Thomas, Rhondda, for further service.

Tillingbourne Beaver2 sketch Tillingbourne bought five long Beaver2 Varios during 1998 - 1999, and two shorter ones in 2000, for use on its services in Surrey and West Sussex. But Tillingbourne ceased operation in March 2001, and these seven were dispersed, just the last of them coming back to the same area to work for Countryliner.

Mistral Beaver2 sketch Countryliner Following the Tillingbourne collapse there was a period when other operators struggled to pick up the pieces. One of these was Countryliner, which had been a coaching arm of London Country South West. The company decided to take on local services in the Woking area from the autumn of 2001, but its preferred Dart SLFs would not be ready in time. It had acquired one of the Tillingbourne Varios, which it ran in Tillingbourne blue/yellow livery, and now it hired three more long Varios from Mistral Rentals for three months or so, until the MPDs arrived.

Two of the hired Varios then went off to the opposite corner of London, to Kingston's in Thurrock. The ex-Limebourne Vario lasted another year, before going west - to Western Greyhound in Cornwall.

Another Vario came in December 2007, ex Devon General.

Mistral Beaver2 sketch Repton Coaches was another firm to offer Woking area services following the demise of Tillingbourne. They hired a succession of Beaver2s during 2001 and 2002.

Legg's Travel of Brooklands hired a couple of Varios in late 2001, early 2002, but did not keep them long.

Central Parking Systems (Centra) was one of a number of companies that hired large numbers of buses. Its main business had been airport parking services, at Heathrow and Gatwick, but in November 2003 it moved into local bus work in Surrey when it took over the routes of Thames Bus of New Haw. Amongst its own buses used on Surrey routes were a couple of Varios. More of its own Varios followed. In April 2004 its local bus business expanded when it took over Locallink at Stansted.

However, local buses did not seem to be its thing. The Stansted local bus operations were quickly sold off, and in August 2005 the Surrey local operations were taken over by Flights Hallmark. They kept the Centra fleetname at first, and the red/blue/silver livery, but then changed the name to Surreyconnect. But Surreyconnect also closed down in May 2007. Centra Beaver2 sketch Surreyconnect Beaver2 sketch

Red Rose of Aylesbury bought their own Beaver2 back in September 1997, and kept it in service until May 2010, just over thirteen years later. They had a variety of mini- and midibuses - StarRiders, Beavers, MetroRiders... This one wore the dark red livery with broad cream diagonal band and deep black skirt, and roamed widely over Red Rose's territory in Buckinghamshire.

A depot fire in November 2007 destroyed other midibuses, so Red Rose bought a secondhand Beaver2 - also 7.8m - from East Yorkshire. This one received the newer livery with a shallower skirt, red front bumpers and a narrower yellow diagonal band.

Red Rose Beaver2 sketch Red Rose Beaver2 sketch

R450PRH at Showbus 2009 Red Line of Aylesbury also found the Vario a useful bus for Buckinghamshire work. An ex Stagecoach Manchester bus was acquired in September 2007, and another two, one a short one from East Yorkshire and the other a longer one ex-Dawson Rentals came in February 2008. Livery was dark red with white coach lines. Red Line Beaver2 sketch

Z&S International, also of Aylesbury, had three Varios, two of them ex-Epsom Buses. The first, V91UVY, was initially in olive green, but later received a livery of overall maroon with a gold band. Quite why I don't know, for the other two, ex-Epsom, were used initially (2005) in Epsom's maroon and cream, but later received a company standard white with blue skirt and flash.

Z&S Beaver2 sketch Z&S Beaver2 sketch

Grant Palmer of Dunstable was a relative late-comer to Vario operation, working mainly northwards from Dunstable and so outwith the old LT Country Area. Since 2006 the operator has used at least eight Varios with Beaver2 bodywork, some short-term hires, others long-term leases or purchases. Livery is red and white, in various fashionable styles. Grant Palmer Beaver2 sketch Grant Palmer Beaver2 sketch

Metrobus bought three in late 1998 for use on Godstone-based routes, but disposed of them after four years,

EU06JVX at Ware Stn, Golden Boy of Roydon, near Harlow, leased a Beaver2 in September 2000, which it used on the 324 (Broxbourne-Hertford) for eighteen months.

In March 2006 they acquired another, for use on Ware local services. Golden Boy Beaver2 sketch

Golden Boy's second Vario, at Ware Station in June 2010.

Blue Triangle hired six Varios in April 2001 for six months, for use on Central London route C10, when it was removed from Limebourne.

Northdown Motor Services (Nostalgiabus) also hired a Vario for a short period in 2001.

Regal Busways likewise hired two for couple of months from August 2002.

First Essex Master sketch First Essex operated a Village network near Stansted on behalf of Essex County Council. Stansted Transit took over the contract for the network in January 2005, and hired the six narrow Marshall Masters that had operated it, for about six months. The Masters then returned to First Essex at Basildon.

Lewis Bus Beaver2 sketch Lewis Travel of Greenwich had a pair of Varios for use on the 422/427 around Swanley and the 474, 475 between Longfield and Bluewater. These were replaced in 2008 when Lewis acquired a bunch of MetroRiders instead.

South Eastern Provincial ALX100 sketch South Eastern Provincial of Crawley tried their hand with a pair of ALX100-bodied Varios. They were painted to attract attention, which at least got them photographed, even if the colour scheme - or the service - did not appeal to passengers. The service did not last long.

SM Beaver2 sketch Lea Valley Buses split off from Travel with Hunny at the start of 2011, and took an ex-Arriva the Shires Beaver2 that had just been acquired for services 255 and 555. But these routes were pruned in May 2011, and the Vario moved on - but not far.

It was acquired by S.M.Travel of Harlow, who also acquired two more Varios with Beaver2 bodies (one from Red Line). They were mainly used on Harlow services 20 and 21.

Arriva Southern Counties acquired a handful of Varios late in the day, culled from a variety of Arriva companies around the country. One had a longer-term use as a staff ferry bus (F186), but the others arrived to fill short-term needs, although the elderly Varios were not robust enough to cope with the rigours of the North Downs, and not large enough to cope with passenger loadings. All five had gone by September 2011.

Ian's Bus Stop Midibus Index. main text. bus histories. photo refs.