For many years your author has waited to see this unique vehicle which was added to the West Yorkshire PTE vehicle stock during the 1970's. It remained as a one-off with six other prototype Foden double deckers, then with the annual North West Vehicles Restoration Trusts' (NWVRT) running day approaching, a chance was available to look at this particular Foden NC in more detail...........................................................................................................
The 1970's were to bring more upheaval to the British UK bus industry, with Leyland now purchasing much of the major English based manufacturers under one roof as the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC). Leyland was planning to remove its ageing Atlantean chassis along with the inherited Bristol VRT and Daimler Fleetline chassis to bring into production a new chassis. The B-15 unit was to be developed with sophisticated enhancements, with high specification equipment also installed, such as independent air suspension, air brakes, air cooling system, with most of the design geared towards London Transport requirements. Of course the B-15 became the new Leyland Titan TN-series, which without the industrial disputes, could have became the new double decker for Leyland. But with strong customer resistance the Atlantean and VR stayed on Leyland's books until the 1980's. However the Fleetline was revealed to be discontinued by 1978, which led to Dennis of Guilford to design the Dominator chassis, with some assistance from South Yorkshire PTE. The Dennis Dominator stayed around until 1997, when it was replaced by the Arrow a low floor chassis based on the single deck Lance chassis. This would evolve into the now highly successful Dennis Trident II chassis the low floor chassis still in production today.
MCW now based in the West Midlands, who had worked with Leyland in the past, had decided to have a brief friendship with Scania, with two models the Metro Scania saloon and the more popular Metropolitan double decker chassis. Naturally having gained the experience of combining elements together to get the right package, MCW then worked out that using the trusted Gardner 6LXB engine with a Voith gearbox then a new chassis was created the Metrobus. Initially using a similar shaped and styled body to the Metropolitan, the Metrobus caught on not only in London but in the Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Yorkshire, much to Leyland's dismay, as the Titan became solely a London bus, but not for the want of trying.
Foden of Sandbach had being involved in the British bus industry before, but went on to concentrate on the Truck business. As news filtered through that Leyland were going to withdraw the Fleetline chassis from production, Foden began to look into the possibility to produce its own bus chassis. With help from Wigan based Northern Counties, a renowned bus body builder who were building buses for Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire PTEs. The Foden chassis which had a frame around which allowed the bodywork to be joined direct to the frame adding more stability to the bus. Which also allowed one of the seven prototype chassis to have an East Lancashire body, which was delivered to South Yorkshire PTE. There was a valid reason for Northern Counties tying in with this project, as MCW had found reasonable success with the Metropolitan and then the Metrobus. While Alexander's of Falkirk was involved with the Volvo Alisa B55-10 production.
Greater Manchester PTE (2) West Midlands (1) and Derby City Transport (1) all had normal height bodies, while Potteries Motor Traction (PMT) (1) and West Yorkshire PTE (1) both had low height bodies with the East Lancs bodied Foden was full height. By 1976 both Foden and Northern Counties unveiled the new Foden NC with a drop centre rear axle which allowed the low height bodywork, with the rear mounted Gardner 6LXB engine with Allison 5 speed automatic gearbox.
West Yorkshire PTE acquired there example of the Foden NC during March 1977 as 7250 TUB250R, the bus soon appeared at the official opening of the Bradford Interchange in the same month. The bus was part of a display of new PTE vehicles along side the Volvo Alisa, MCW Metropolitans and Leyland Atlanteans. 7250 was to find itself being used as a training and evaluation vehicle for the most of 1977, until October of that year, when the bus entered service. 7250 was based in the Kirklees district of the PTE and was initially used on the 43 Huddersfield to Halifax via Elland service, jointly operated by both Calderdale and Kirklees districts.
Above the lower saloon seating arrangement is illustrated, showing the early PTE cloth pattern and the uncluttered lower deck, with bench seating across the wheel arches. The Northern Counties body has kept well over the years and looks fresh, the luggage area is underneath the conductors locker and staircase. The upper deck seating has the brown leatherette style seating cloth and is set out allowing ample leg room, again this looks fresh, neat and tidy.
From the 1980's the Foden was not seeing much use as a PSV and it was withdrawn in May 1984, pending a view on the bus's future. The non standard Volvo Alisa 3480 (LUG480P) was withdrawn and sold to Derby City Transport during 1981, it could have been the same fate for 7250. But in December 1985 the bus was sold to Green a Weymouth based dealer, staying until July 1988. When Bootle based Aintree Coaches, owner John Cherry purchased 7250 and used it in service in Merseyside. The bus was even used for weekend excursions until the early 1990's, but it was decided to rest 7250 as parts were becoming rarer to source new for the bus. During the following years the bus was seen at selected rallies, but in 2012 the bus made a return to the Wirral Transport Show, now painted into the WYPTE 'roads & pavements' livery, which suits the low height body well.
Some time between October 2012 to early 2015 the Foden was moved to its new home at the NWVRT base in Kirkby, Liverpool. Here 7250 is joined the other remaining Foden West Midlands PTE 6300 ROC300R, which after many years of being preserved could soon see the light of day and the open road. WMPTE 6300 needs some new brakes and then the MOT test before a repaint into the blue & cream West Midlands livery, which will look very smart, along side similar liveried WMPTE Fleetlines & MCW Metrobuses.
What is the Foden NC like as a passenger, well with neatly arranged interior the bus is pleasant and airy, with plenty of chrome grab rails and good traditional bus seats. Inside the bus the engine noise is reasonable, but the Gardner engine coupled to the Allison gearbox did give of an unusual sound. The ride quality was very smooth, even the modern day speed restriction methods failed to impede the Fodens' progress. The Northern Counties body even though some 28 years of age has stayed in good condition, with very little rattles and other noises. still proving that the much missed Wigan manufacture knew how to make a good bus body. You get the same quality when travelling on a preserved Greater Manchester standard NCME bodied Atlantean or Fleetline. 7250 has the same style of low height body as WYPTE 7001-7005 (MNW1-5P) and 7006-7010 (SUA6-10R) Leyland Fleetlines new in 1976-7.
During the special invited guest run the bus was paused at Kirkby Rail Station, as guests were able to photograph the bus, John Cherry the owner allowed time for others to capture a shot of the Foden out on the street. Before returning to the NWVRT based, were the Foden returned to it restricted hiding place. Overall personally your author feels that if Foden had taken the plunge into the bus industry again this particular vehicle would have been successful. You would imagine the Voith gearbox becoming the standard with the Gardner engine, similar to the MCW Metrobus at the time. However with the prototypes being in service with the selected operators, no orders were forthcoming and so the Foden NC project came quietly to an end by 1978. Northern Counties continued to build GMPTE standards until 1987, then revamped the body design with a couple of changes until the late 1990's. Foden continued forward with its truck business and never returned to the bus industry.
All the Foden NCs which had arrived into service had short lives with the operators during 1977-8, most withdrawn by 1984. With only two remaining examples moving to the NWVRT base, its hoped that both 7250 and 6300 will be out and about for next years NWVRT running & open day.
A Big thank you the both John Cherry and the NWVRT volunteer who allowed your author to grab some out public view shots of the Foden. With thanks to John for allowing KBMT members the opportunity to sample the Foden NC as a passenger.