1921 The Charabus

The Collection’s exhibit

This unique convertible single-decker bus was a Show Exhibit at the Commercial Motor Show at Olympia in 1921. It went into service in Northamptonshire & Bedfordshire and there are no other survivors of this type. The model G7 was a variation of the famous “RAF type” Leyland, with a low radiator/bonnet, a different back axle and long wheelbase. This vehicle was demonstrated at the Show at Olympia in 1921 on the Dodson stand and it showed Dodson’s patent “Charabus” design. After the Show it was sold to the United Counties Omnibus Co. who later panelled over the roof (now restored to its original pattern with help from the Patents’ Office Library; most of the fittings being found still intact). United Counties was taken over by Thomas Tilling in 1931, Tilling was Nationalised in 1948 and now it is part of the Stagecoach Group.

Importance of this vehicle:

  • It is the only surviving “Charabus” and is therefore unique.
  • Christopher Dodson was a famous London coachbuilder commencing with horse buses, later motor buses, and this is the earliest surviving example of their work.
  • This is the second oldest full-sized single-decker bus, the only example with “Jubilee seats”
  • The chassis of the bus is typical of the early 1920s, high frame and normal control driving position (driver behind the engine) – this was all to change in the mid 1920s with more modern designs.

Interesting Features:

  • Removable side windows, canvas centre to the roof which can be folded up to make the vehicle open like a charabanc. In inclement weather it can be fully enclosed hence the name “Charabus”.
  • Wire mesh roof luggage rack accessible by a ladder at the back.
  • The seating capacity can be increased by 10 “Jubilee” seats (tip-up gangway seats) – a common feature of the day but there are no other surviving examples of buses with this feature.
  • Exhaust whistle mounted on top of the engine controllable by the driver.
  • Autovac for pumping petrol to the engine, (most buses of the day were gravity fed)
  • Restored to Eau-de-Nil livery as exhibited at the Commercial Motor Show, Olympia.

Discovery & Restoration:

After service in 1929 the remains of this bus became a static shop behind the Post Office in Ithlingborough.  Latterly it was used as a store shed, plumbed in with a bathtub, also gas and electricity. It was found by Mike Sutcliffe MBE in 1977and exchanged for a caravan. The correct mechanical parts were discovered making it possible to restore it to original condition. Mike is well known for the high standard of his early motorbus restorations, going to great lengths to ensure that every detail is absolutely authentic, in fact, in 2004 he was honoured by the Queen for “Services to Motor Heritage”.

The bus was acquired by The Shuttleworth Collection in 2015, made possible with substantial funds from the SVAS and a “living legacy” from Mike, thereby ensuring its future for the public to see and enjoy for many years to come. It is also good to see it in the company of “The Wellingborough” double-decker as they worked together in the Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire area.

The “Charabus” was outright winner and runner-up on two Brighton Runs, also has won awards presented by HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

film_use2  This bus has featured in numerous films including Cider with Rosie (1998: UK) with David Troughton.