C49 OCM was new to Halton Borough Transport in Novermber 1985 and was numbered 33. It was the first bus to be ordered by the then new Managing Director David Cunningham and was ordered to
‘Suburban Express’ Specification but without luggage racks and 52 luxury coach seats were fitted after delivery. It wore a reverse livery of mainly cream with a red band below the windows. The idea
was to try and gain private hire work in the newly deregulated bus market. It was fitted with a Leyland TL11 engine rated at 245bhp and a Leyland Hydracyclic fully automatic gearbox along with
a high speed rear axle. The bus cost £35,000.
The bus is significant in being the very last Leyland National to be built (chassis number 07835). It went on loan to Fylde Borough Transport for a couple of weeks when it was a month old.
Its first couple of years at Halton it was used exclusively on Private Hire work, with only very rare appearances on service work, it could be seen regularly parked inside the Moor Lane garage.
Its appearances in normal service got more frequent to the point that most of its mileage was now done on this work, unfortunately its coach seating started to suffer vandal attacks and the bus was reseated with standard bus seating around 1988 and was repainted into standard livery.
33 was used on all services but was still fitted with a tachograph and was available for private hires when required. In 1990 Halton expanded its 14 service from its terminus of Hough Green Farm into Liverpool City Centre as North Western had withdrawn its Liverpool service and service 61 that ran from Runcorn to Huyton was also extended into Liverpool City Centre, 33 along with Haltons other National 2’s and Leyland Lynxes were regularly seen plying their trade in competition with Merseybus and North Western in and out of Liverpool.
33 continued in service until 1997, its last twelve months of service saw it used mainly on School Service 38 that ran from Fairfield High School to Hale village. It was sold to Devaway in Chester along with all of Halton’s other National 2’s and three Lynxes. They were not the first Halton buses to run with Devaway as they commenced operation with a number of ex Halton East Lancs bodied Bristol RE’s. Devaway used the same livery as Halton with the addition of a cream Devaway fleetname above the doors/cab window.
Devaway sold its operations to Arriva Cymru in 1998, with 33 and the other Halton buses passing into Arriva ownership. Arriva retained the three newest Nationals (B131 SED, B132 SED and of course C49 OCM) and they were repainted into Arriva livery. They all gained fleetnumbers in the Crosville series becoming SNL131/132/49 respectively. They were used in and around the Mold and Chester areas until withdrawal in 2000.
With 33 being so significant it passed into preservation with a well known Crosville preservationist and was painted into Crosville Cymru livery (a livery it never carried in its services days), still with the number SNL49. It was taken to rallies and was then to appear on loan to MASS Transit in Lincoln and Doncaster from 2002 until 2008, running in both locations in full Crosville Cymru livery.
The bus arrived at North West Vehicle Restoration Trust’s Kirkby base on a low loader in early March 2013, and initially was parked outside until spaced inside the groups building was available. First job was to get an auto electrician in to investigate why the bus would not start from the cab. First job was to reinstate the battery leads and fit a new set of batteries, then we tried to start the bus but was met with a burning smell and a lot of smoke from under the starter switch. After a lot of head scratching the fault was traced to one of the main leads at the back of the bus having corroded off its mounting, this was refixed and the bus started from the cab. Fortunately most electrical items on the bus worked, apart from the brake lights which had to be required. Once its move inside was confirmed the broken windscreens were removed with a hefty couple of kicks!
Once the bus was inside we could properly assess the condition of the body, there was a large hole in the upper windscreen rail on the offside, with holes appearing on the nearside, there was a plate covering a hole at the bottom of the offside windscreen, fortunately all the window pans on the bus were in perfect condition, along with the wheelarches which I was pleased with. What was not so pleasing was on investigating the rust bubbles on the rear dome and window surround there were large holes which could not be filled, also a new emergency door and some skirt panels were required along with front and rear bumpers. What initially started off as a ‘tidy up and paint’ job was turning into a pretty major restoration!
Attention was turned to sourcing the parts necessary to replace the various ‘well worn’ bits on the bus. Firstly I had a pair of National 2 windscreens but I was very fortunate in knowing a few people who had all the parts I needed, including items I was told I would never get hold of. One headache was what to do with the rotten windscreen rail. Filling it was out of the question, replacements have not been available for many years, in the end a fibreglass ‘overpiece’ was purchased, which basically fitted over the old unit (once all the rot had been cut out and the remains treated with red oxide!)
With all the spare parts required available a start was made on the restoration in May 2013, undertaken by myself, a good friend who’s a bus bodybuilder and a great deal of help off members of the NWVRT. Firstly, the fibreglass overpiece was fitted along with the windscreens, then all the skirt panels were removed, three body pillars were welded up and a coat of red oxide applied to the entire lower part of the bus. Once this was done a start was made on the back end, with the dome, window surround, side pieces, bonnet and bumpers all being removed and replaced with fibreglass parts, the only metal part on the rear now is the centre bumper piece! I was fortunate in having access to a nearly new avdel gun kindly loaned to me by Andrew Cawley from Peoplesbus, Aintree. The rear roof pod had to be removed so the rear dome could be replaced and this revealed the original cream colour that could be matched up to order the paint (the original red was matched from under the outer door rubber).
Once the back end was replaced the whole bus was rubbed down and filled where necessary with various skirt panels replaced by new or decent second hand ones, the replacement emergency door was fitted which incidentally was off Widnes number 1 RTC 645L, this bus gaining a new door as part of its restoration.
While the bodywork was nearing completion, the plan was to leave the interior with its bus seats until a set of coach seats could be obtained. In a stroke of luck a dual purpose ECW Olympian stored at Kirkby was going for scrap so I purchased the seats out of it and they fitted into 33 perfectly! The cab seat was kindly retrimmed in Halton red, black and white swirly trim by Halton Transport.
The bus was then repainted into its as delivered livery with a coat of grey BDX Prmier, followed by a coat of cream primer with two coats of cream gloss and three coats of red gloss, transforming it from a neglected wreck into a fine bus once again.
I decided to preserve the bus in its condition when it was around four months old. When brand new it had a block gold ‘HALTON TRANSPORT’ above the doors/cab window, this was changed for the Halton coat of arms with Halton Transport in cream next to it and the telephone number of the company displayed on both sides and rear window. Vinyls for the bus were produced and fitted by Colin McKay and yet another stroke of luck I managed to acquire four original Halton coat of arms and a quantity of original varnish fix ‘3’s’.
Next was the interior, in 1992 Halton fitted their National 2’s with DiPTAC handrails and bell pushes. These were replaced with original spec ones purchased from one of the Barnsley Scrapyards along with replacement door rubbers. The black painted areas around the cab were repainted and replacement lettering applied above the switches. Replacement white step edging was also fitted. The black kick boards below the seat rails were also repainted black.
Now the bodywork was completed attention turned to the mechanicals. All seemed ok apart from the nearside airbag which needed to be reseated and the front levelling valve replaced. The fuel filters were changed and it was fully checked over and greased up and passed its MOT with flying colours in August 2013, a mere three months after restoration began.
Now we know not everything goes to plan........the nearside front airbag decided to unseat itself again, we tried to reseat it by driving it hard around the Kirkby base yard to no avail. A new airbag was fitted which alleviated the problem. With this sorted I could look forward to taking it to the Heaton Park Rally in Manchester on Sunday 1st September 2013 to make its debut. On its way to Heaton Park it seemed to be lacking in power, but we got there and it went down a storm. On the journey home the power loss got worse, so bad that it would only do 35MPH on the flat and 10MPH on inclines. It was coaxed back to Kirkby where a mechanic friend of mine had a look at it. It was not great news, the pump plates had broken (a common problem with National 2’s) and the timing on the engine had slipped. I sourced some replacement pump plates from Partline and these were fitted and the engine retimed. I took the bus out for a test drive and it seemed better but was still lacking power. On returning to base it was decided to check the fuel filters and these were clogged solid with silt, I think this was dragged through the fuel system when we drove it hard around the yard trying to get the defective airbag to reseat. Once the filters were changed its performance was transformed with plenty of power available.
The bus has attended a few rallies and has had no further problem so far, but its allowed, after all it was parked up for nearly five years!
As with all preservation projects there is always ‘things to do’, the coach seats are in as acquired condition, with the front side seats and rear seat being the standard bus units as per original they do not currently match, the seats will be retrimmed in a suitable trim when time and money permits. The interior will also be repainted in time to freshen it up.
I would like to pass on my thanks to everyone who has helped me with the bus, whether it be physical help, supplying parts, photographs or information, you all know who you are!!
Halton had a few ‘firsts and lasts’ out of Leyland’s Workington factory, of course 33, and others were Leyland National number 1 RTC 645L which was the first single door National built, Leyland National 2 number 25 HED 203V which was the first National 2 for a Municipal operator, Leyland Lynx 2 number 50 H543 FWM which was the first Cummins engine Lynx 2 to enter service and lastly Leyland Lynx 2 number 57 K853 MTJ which was the last Leyland Lynx to be built. Number 1 and 57 are preserved in the North West Museum of Road Transport, St Helens.