AEC Noticeboards

Saunders Roe and Bus bodies
Page 1 of 2

Author:  Stephen Allcroft [ Mon Mar 03, 2014 6:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Although Vickers, Short Brothers and Blackburn among the British seaplane builders prior to World War two had built bus and coach bodies; Shorts being in particular major coachbuilders in the period from the early 1920s to the mid 1930s before orders for their large monoplane flying boats (the Empire and the Sunderland) built up and they left coachbuilding; Saunders had not been among them.

Saunders Roe was formed in 1934 after the Crossley Brothers sold their majority holding in AVRO Ltd to the Hawker-Siddeley holding company, and AVRO’s founder Alliot Verdon-Roe left and invested the money from the sale of his AVRO shares in Saunders. During World War Two as well as their main works at Cowes a shadow factory at Beaumaris on Anglesey was established, mainly to service the RAF fleet of Consolidated Catalina flying boats. Post war, initially under the Saunders Engineering and Shipyard name, bodies were produced there on AEC Regal single deckers, one major customer was Northern General Transport and a large batch went (with ACLO badges) to AECs Uruguayan and Argentinean concessionaries. These SEAS bodies wherever delivered required massive rebuilding fairly early in their lives, perhaps as with Massey Brothers and some other wartime builders, insufficiently-seasoned timber was used for the frames. There the story could have ended but for London Transport. Seeking to expand body production for the RT series, Saunders Roe were given an initial contract, unlike Cravens Ltd in Sheffield Saunders Roe built to the standard RT outline and their bodies unlike the Metro-Cammell examples on RTLs were fully interchangeable with the standard Park Royal and Weymann RT bodies, the only structural difference between these Welsh built RTs and the products built in London and Surrey appears to have been the use of a one-piece marine-ply roof centre, although early spotters noted the offside rear route stencil holder was in a different place. Oddly the current number of Buses has on page 10 Saunders bodied KXW161 and on Page 11 Cravens bodied JXC194, both hired in to provide extra services during a recent Industrial dispute on the London Underground. The first batch was 250 strong and unlike Cravens’ batch of 120 a repeat order was placed for a further 50, production in effect being continuous until the last was delivered in February 1951, unlike the unsatisfactory Regals LT had no reported troubles with these bodies, which like the rest of the post-war RT bodies used U-section steel frame members into which wooden fillets were fitted to hold the panel fixing screws.

Whilst these vehicles were on order and under production there was some important strengthening of personnel. A number of body designers moved south from Stockport after in 1948 Associated Commercial Vehicles had purchased Crossley Motors, whilst in 1950, following the liquidation of Northern Coach Builders of Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, to pay the death duties of the firm’s owner, the new General Manager arrived.

William Bramham had been works manager at Cross Gates Works Leeds for Charles H Roe Ltd from 1926 and it was whilst at Roe that his name first appears on patents, notably those in 1928 for the interlocking waist rail and those in 1934 for the Safety-Staircase. In 1936 he had succeeded Alfred Romer (who had gone to Bristol to direct the Tilling Group’s chassis building) at Eastern Coach Works as its General Manager on the occasion of its separation from Eastern Counties Omnibus Company. Something Tilling did not do with Bristol Commercial Vehicles until later. It was during his early days in charge that ECW started to advertise its bodies as ‘Designed for a long life.’ He left Lowestoft for Newcastle in 1948 after ECW had switched to framework based on the use of aluminium extrusions. A majority of the patents for these and for the ECW rubber-gasket glazing system have Bill Bramham’s name to them. In his two years at Gosforth, he managed a firm using a conventional ‘composite’ construction with steel reinforced hardwood framing and aluminium sheet panels. But he was obviously planning to change that, as the Series II 8ft wide bodies introduced by NCB under his management can easily be mistaken for ECW products, and the glazing seems to use the ECW/Bramham patent.

After efficiently managing production of a very large contract for a demanding customer, and being rewarded with a follow on order [Saunders Roe now often using the trading name SARO for its aviation products, the most impressive of which was the ten engined turboprop Princess Flying Boat Airliner, and the strangest to fly perhaps the SRA/1 single-turbojet flying boat fighter] the coachworks at Beaumaris could have disappeared but under Bill Bramham’s management and with the skilled ex-Crossley designers they rose briefly to the status of a major player in home and export markets with a product that earned a justifiable reputation for both quality and durability.

This was sold from 1951 as the SARO Rivalloy body, the trade name standing for Riveted Aluminium Alloy. Unlike rival free market products (until William Shirley, Bramham’s successor at Lowestoft, moved to Park Royal Vehicles in 1953, designing the Monocoach and the Routemaster and giving Crossley the structural guidance for the initial six Bridgemasters, also producing a range of PRV body-on chassis products with strong ECW stryling cues.) this was a bus framed and skinned entirely in aluminium using rivets to attach stress-panels, window pans and finish panels. There has been no monograph published on the coachwork from Beaumaris so I do not know details of the system, but clearly both RT and ECW ideas on parts-standardisation and ease of construction were combined with an emphasis on long life. Also, in stark contrast to contemporary designs from the market leading MCW-group the Rivalloy was a lightweight body. Although Leyland had its own coachworks (building with steel frames from 1934) and also had a 21-year partnership agreement with MCW to build the Olympic, many export Royal Tigers received the Rivalloy Body, including the massive Cuban order for 620 buses as well as contracts nearer to home in Ireland, for Londonderry and Lough Swilly and Great Northern Railway Companies. The construction system of the Rivalloy lent itself readily to completely-knocked-down export and I seem to recall the bulk of the bodies for Auckland were so supplied. These were probably the largest Rivalloy bodies being 8ft 6in wide and 34ft long and were supplied on Royal Tiger, AEC Regal IV and Daimler Freeline motor buses and BUT RETB1 trolleybuses. However the light weight and modular design led to at least one Rivalloy body on the 27ft 6in long Commer Avenger light-duty PSV. Although the Royal Tiger sold well overseas, its home market sales were not what Leyland had hoped-for and early in 1952 a lighter home market chassis was being readied for production.

The 1952 show exhibit and the first demonstrator Tiger Cub both carried Rivalloy bodies and BET, the parent group of launch customer Ribble Motor Services placed a group order for 200 over the next two years, Argentinean operators also took 100 Rivalloy bodies. An interesting one off about the same time was an Integral version of the body, badged SARO and featuring a Gardner 5HLW engine, vacuum brakes and a David Brown overdrive gearbox, it was designed in conjunction with BET group afilliate Maidstone & District and served a full 15 year life with them before working a further five years with Berresford’s in the Potteries.

Many Rivalloy bodies worked past their twentieth birthdays, Lough Swilly’s first was still going 24 years after introduction and Auckland also obtained a long life from its examples.

Saunders Roe seem only to have built one steel-framed double-deck body other than for an RT, it was used to rebody a wartime Bristol K5G for Chatham and District and seems to have been built to full RT standards, resulting in a lamentable power to weight ratio. During 1951 however, Rivalloy principles were applied to a double deck body, although the outline was very like the RT and some parts such as the rear platform window and the upper deck emergency exit were visually identical, a clue as to the similarity of construction with the Rivalloy can be seen in the domed-head rivets attaching the panels.

Two such were built to start with, one was built for Devon General, using a former London STL Chassis and running units from a scrap Devon General AEC Regal; it weighed less than seven tons unladen and still holds the record as Britain’s lightest double-decker. It is stored and awaiting restoration. The second body was built as a demonstrator on a new AEC Regent III. Whilst working with Maidstone & District it was registered OKM317 and passed to Dodds of Troon in 1953 who used it on their share of AA Motor Services duties until September 1979, in a 26 year service life it covered over 690,000 miles. It has been fully restored by Dodds Coaches who keep it in their Ayr garage.

From these two buses three orders resulted, delivered in 1952/3. Liverpool took AEC Regent III chassis for their A39 and A40, the latter being among the first buses to feature a 1950s fad for unpainted aluminium finish. Birmingham also took a similar body on Guy Arab 3002 (LOG302) which was a ton lighter than their standard bodies and so only required a Gardner 5LW rather than a 6LW to provide the same performance, thus travelling a mile further for every gallon of fuel used. All three of these served a full service life with their owners, passing to Merseyside and West Midlands PTE’s and then into preservation. A39 was sound but broken up eventually to provide spares for its unpainted colleague. Most remarkably when Leyland decided in 1952 to develop a rear-transverse-engined double decker the initial prototype received a SARO body to the same structure but fully fronted and lowheight with bright trim as on Rivalloy Tiger Cubs, being registered STF90 when it commenced demonstration in 1953, as built it too had an RT-style emergency exit, but this was altered in development.

Sadly it was scrapped by its final PSV owner in the early 1960s, some Rivalloy bodies survive in the UK and in New Zealand and at least one RT does but remarkably only two of the six aluminium framed double deckers have not survived. LOG302 is fully restored and preserved at Aldridge transport museum.

So with a soundly built and well received single deck product and a promising new double deck structure, why did not SARO at Beaumaris go on to grow and prosper? Two reasons are apparent, although the Rivalloy Tiger Cubs were well received by the BET fleets that took them, BET had taken against the long life concept, and especially against aluminium framework, which they saw as increasing first cost un-necessarily when the group target was to write all buses and coaches down over twelve years working life. Although the decision was not applied until after the closure of Beaumaris as a coachbuilder.

The real reason was, for all its publicity and its flair at achieving it, the parent company in Cowes had not actually sold one aircraft to its own design since the 1930s: it seems the profits from the Rivalloy were siphoned back to the Isle of Wight to enable the parent company to bid for ever odder government development contracts and seek ever more eccentric uses for the three Princess flying-boat airframes built, only one of which ever flew. In 1956 they closed the Beaumaris plant and shortly after started working with Christopher Cockerell on a mad government contract for something called a hover-craft.
Cammell-Laird eventually bought the Beaumaris Factory and during 1966-8, the factory (renamed Laird (Anglesey) Ltd) did some sub-contract work for fellow Laird Group affiliate Metro-Cammell bodying Leyland Titans for Brighton and Atlanteans for Devon General. According to Flickr, the factory still stands, derelict.

Saunders Roe did get that hovercraft thingy to work, eventually selling some, but they were taken over by Westland, later spun out into British Hovercraft Ltd and now long gone, no rocket/ramjet interceptors with stainless steel fuselages, no transonic nor nuclear-powered flying-boats…

If businessmen rather than aircraft enthusiasts had have been at the helm then we might have seen SARO get a share of the Routemaster contract, and rather than MCW, Saunders Roe might have been the launch bodybuilder on the Atlantean.

Better add that Charles Henry Roe was not related to Alliot Verdon Roe.

Thanks for your indulgence

Stephen Allcroft

Author:  Brian Watkinson [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

"The only structural difference between these Welsh built RTs and the products built in London and Surrey appears to have been the use of a one-piece marine-ply roof centre, although early spotters noted the offside rear route stencil holder was in a different place".

Although fitted to the other RT bodies at the time, the Saunders DIDN'T have a one piece interior plywood roof panel, it was divided as came later with the RT8/2 bodies into 5 sections.

The construction differences between the Park Royal and Weymann versions of the RT body (the RT3) were enormous, and included the materials used, the Saunders used a mixture of aluminium alloy and steel, the RT3 was steel only. A clue was the use of strap plates with staggered screw holes!

The attached was taken by David Thrower of his RT 3955. It shows clearly the side structure of the Saunders RT 3/3 body. As in common with MCCW and Cravens variants, the cab was the only part of the bus that was to the same design as the standard RT3 body.

In the attached view you can also see why the O/S route plate was set back

O-S RT 3955 -2.jpg
O-S RT 3955 -2.jpg [ 609.94 KiB | Viewed 11703 times ]

Author:  Brian Watkinson [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

"LT had no reported troubles with these bodies, which like the rest of the post-war RT bodies used U-section steel frame members into which wooden fillets were fitted to hold the panel fixing screws."

From the above post the construction detailed here is totally wrong.
Secondly LT had major problems with Saunders in two respects, one was the first bus was delivered 11 months late with no sign of a 2nd bus, the first RT was the only bus delivered in 1948 when the contract signed was for 250 by the end of 1948!
There was also a major Saunders design fault that led to a serious fracture of the front bulkhead found on the first pilot overhaul and on all subsequent buses, Saunders supplied the materials for the rectification of this to LT but it increased significantly the time and cost of the 1st cycle overhauls of these vehicles.

Author:  Stephen Allcroft [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 4:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

I stand corrected as far as the LT order goes, but I tend to leave following LT to others and it does look like they needed both the Crossley Drawing office staff and Bill Bramham to get the RT contract fulfilled.

As for the Rivalloy I still think it a shame there were no further developments.

Author:  Brian Watkinson [ Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Their drawing office was given a new RT to copy! It was the insistence on using the T shaped pillars that caused the problems with the bulkhead plus maintenance wise they are a pain ( we have two) as use small 3/4" packings bolted through the pillars that are fragile and limit screw length ( as did the MCCW pillars) but they are strong and not as prone to rust as the PRV/Weymann bodies.

Author:  mancunian [ Wed Mar 05, 2014 5:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Many thanks for this, Stephen.

On the single deck front, another SARO body in the style of the BET Tiger Cubs was fitted to a special lightweight Guy Arab UF, which was registered LJW 336 and became the prototype and demonstrator for the Arab LUF range. This is now preserved in the Aston Manor Road Transport Museum at Aldridge.

More intriguingly, a photograph at shows a former Beadle demonstrator with what looks uncannily like a SARO front end - possibly rebuilt?

Author:  Stephen Allcroft [ Thu Mar 06, 2014 11:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Thanks Mancunian, the free version on SCRAN is too small for me to discern the reg or operator, can you help with this?
Notably Beadle and Harrington were building in aluminium, but at the time the Rivalloy was announced Beadle were only doing integrals (two styles, two sizes) with Sentinel and Harrington were only exporting bus bodies and most of their coaches used steel reinforced hardwood frames.

I always find these front and body mismatches oddly intriguing. Ensign ran a VRT3 with an LH front panel and Whippet's Baghdad Spec Atlantean bizarre enough before they inflicted a Plaxton Paramount III dash on it.

Stephen Allcroft



Author:  mancunian [ Thu Mar 06, 2014 3:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

The reg of the Beadle-Commer is XKT 784. It was at one time operated by Hutchison, Overtown, but whether it is with them in the SCRAN photo is not entirely clear. (The photo is part of the Robert Grieves archive, but Robert's captions were not uploaded with the photos, so information is sparse. I and others have spent many months improving them, but I feel I've barely been able to scratch the surface.)

Author:  Stephen Allcroft [ Fri Mar 07, 2014 12:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Thanks for that, a Robert Grieves Picture without a caption... His captions were almost the better part of his books.

Author:  Stephen Allcroft [ Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Saunders Roe and Bus bodies

Two pictures of it before the SARO front with Clyde Coast, auction announced as closing but back open best part of £2 for two pictures though. ... 1295203879

Page 1 of 2 All times are UTC
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group