The majority of Imberbus journeys are operated by former London Transport “Routemaster” buses that used to operate on regular service in the Capital.
The Routemaster was designed by London Transport and built by the Associated Equipment Company (AEC) and Park Royal Vehicles between 1954 and 1968. The layout of the vehicle was traditional for the time, with the driver sat on his own in a cab next to the engine, and passengers boarding and alighting from an open platform at the rear, under the supervision of a conductor. However, it was a pioneering and innovative design which used lightweight aluminium along with techniques developed in aircraft production during World War II.
It also introduced for the first time on a bus independent front suspension, power steering, a fully automatic gearbox and power-hydraulic braking. London Transport took delivery of 2,123 standard length 64 seat Routemasters (RM) and 524 of the slightly longer 72 seat version (RML). Coach varients (RMC and RCL) were also produced for use on long distance Green Line routes which had a modified suspension and interior, an electrically operated door instead of an open platform, and a semi-automatic gearbox with higher gear ratios. Versions which had a door behind the front wheel (rather than at the back) were also produced for British European Airways and the Northern General Transport Company and an experimental version with a door at the front and the engine at the back was also built.
Although the Routemaster initially attracted little serious interest from bus companies outside London when it was first introduced, second hand Routemasters became a very popular purchase when they started to be withdrawn from service in London in 1982. The iconic nature of the Routemaster meant that many have been exported abroad for use on sightseeing work, but following bus deregulation in 1986 second hand Routemasters also began to appeal to other UK bus companies, who initially saw them as a cheap and novel way of attracting passengers away from their competitors. As a result, for a period in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s they could be found in regular service in diverse locations such as Bedford, Blackpool, Burnley, Carlisle, Corby, Dundee, Glasgow, Hull, Manchester, Mansfield, Perth, Reading, Scarborough, Southampton and Southend.
The Routemaster therefore proved to be a very durable vehicle, outlasting several of its replacement types in London, surviving the privatisation of the former London Transport bus operators and eventually being used by other bus companies around the world. Indeed, out of the 2,876 Routemasters built, more than 1000 are believed to still be in existence. However, with many of these vehicles now more than 50 years old, use of Routemasters in regular service is now mainly limited to sightseeing tours, although a small number of refurbished (and re-engined) RM’s are still used in Central London to provide a weekend heritage service over part of normal route 15. Fortunately, many Routemasters have been preserved by transport enthusiasts and several examples are now owned by bus companies for use on specialist hires such as weddings, and it is some of these vehicles that are used each year to operate the Imberbus service.
Further detail about the history of the Routemaster can be found on the Routemaster Association website and also on Wikipedia, whilst an ITV documentary of some of the Routemasters that have emigrated to far-away lands can be found HERE.
Recent Imber bus events have also featured the more modern incarnation of the Routemaster – click here to find out about the “New Bus for Imber” !
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