The Guy Wulfrunian - A Short History
Basil Hancock, the author of this article, has completed the text of a comprehensive book detailing all you could ever want to know about the Guy Wulfrunian. It is expected to be published towards in mid 2023 and will include more than 600 images, including specially prepared drawings showing every Wulfrunian variant, plus tables, reports and other information. All proceeds from this book will be donated to Dewsbury Bus Museum to support the preservation and operation of its Wulfrunians.
Guy’s Wulfrunian, named after the good citizens of Wolverhampton, was an advanced design double deck bus which was ahead of its time and was beset with problems. Basil Hancock, who once owned West Riding 970, tells the story.
'We registered the type name "Wulfrunian" some time ago and have been keeping it “up our sleeves” until we had a very special kind of vehicle which we thought would do every credit to the Lady Wulfrun.'
With these words, Guy Motors launched the Wulfrunian which, at the time of its introduction in 1959, was billed as the most advanced double-deck bus ever built. Technically, it was a tremendous advance on anything that had gone before, and to some extent since, but it was too far ahead of its time and proved to be a liability to its manufacturer and to its operators. However, despite many claims to the contrary it did not bankrupt Guy Motors.
In 1957, when the idea of the Wulfrunian began to take shape, bus design in Britain was at the onset of a period of intensive change. The traditional double-decker, typified by the AEC Regent, Daimler CV series, Guy Arab and Leyland Titan, was being challenged by others of different layout. This had started some eight years before with the Bristol Lodekka, with its low height capability, and had been followed by the AEC Bridgemaster, Dennis Loline and, eventually the Albion Lowlander. Leyland had already in 1956 launched the rear-engined Atlantean as a fully integral double-decker and was to redesign it for production in 1958 as a separate chassis. Daimler were waiting in the wings with the RE30, later to be launched as the Fleetline, and BMMO (Midland Red) were building their highly advanced range of underfloor engined single-deck buses, later to be joined by similar double-deckers. Midland Red, of course, operated an extensive network of services around Wolverhampton, and their latest buses with disc brakes and independent suspension cannot have escaped the notice of Guy's designers.
Guy Motors too was looking to the future and had already begun the development of an air suspension system in conjunction with Firestone, and a disc brake system in conjunction with Girling. These two developments first appeared in 1958 in the Victory Airide, an underfloor engined chassis which was sold only for export. Discussions with a number of operators and a review of the market revealed the need for a new double-deck chassis which was to meet certain requirements. These included high passenger capacity, low height without sunken gangways, better passenger environment (especially ride quality and heating) and, as every manufacturer always sets out to do, decreased and cheaper maintenance.
The West Riding Automobile Co, based in Wakefield and then arguably the largest independent bus operator in Britain (Lancashire United also had a claim to the title), became very interested, and much of the vehicle design was evolved during discussions between Guy and West Riding, reputedly over restaurant tables. The details of the resulting vehicle were first released in April 1959 and revealed a bus radically different from anything seen before or since. The prototype chassis was bodied by Charles H. Roe of Leeds and appeared, as West Riding 863, in the demonstration park at the Scottish Motor Show at Glasgow in November 1959.
Predictably, it caused quite a stir.
A Wulfrunian chassis standing in the yard at Guy's factory In Wolverhampton shows clearly the general layout of the units. Of note are the temporary radiator for delivery and the temporary bracing between the wheels. The surge tanks for the front suspension, mounted above the front wheels, were only provided on very early chassis but the rear tanks were fitted to all Wulfrunians.
At first sight, a bodied Wulfrunian did not appear very different from an Atlantean, but close inspection revealed a totally different vehicle. Although the entrance was at the front, ahead of the front wheels, the engine too was at the front, offset towards the offside of the chassis in a manner later to become more familiar in the Volvo Ailsa.
As standard the engine was the then new Gardner 6LX, though a Gardner 6LW, AEC AV590 or Leyland O.600 or O.680 were also available. The chassis frame was a complex structure made up of a large number of separate pressings and welded assemblies bolted together and provided a very low floor level from front to rear for the semi-integral bodywork which was to be fitted. This allowed the overall height of a complete vehicle to be as low as 13ft 4in as standard. There was no front axle and instead independent suspension was provided with a rolling lobe air spring mounted inboard of each wheel. The engine was mounted to a fluid flywheel, and a propeller shaft ran beneath the floor to the gearbox which was mounted beneath the gangway halfway along the chassis. This gearbox was a special Guy-built version of the SCG semi-automatic design with reduced overall height. The drive then passed by means of another propeller shaft to a newly developed drop-centre double reduction rear axle which allowed the low floor to run to the rear of the bus.
The rear suspension was again by means of air, with two rolling lobe air springs ahead of the axle, and two more behind, with location of the axle provided by suitable radius rods and a Panhard rod. Six levelling valves were fitted, one master valve front and rear controlling a separate valve for each wheel. The fuel tank was mounted at the rear on the offside of the chassis, and the batteries were generally located across the rear of the frame. There was no conventional radiator, and the bodybuilder was expected to incorporate the Cave-Browne-Cave combined engine cooling and saloon heating system, with its characteristic grilles above the cab on either side of the destination display.
The most novel and controversial feature of this unusual chassis was however the braking system. Following the lead set by Midland Red with its single-deckers and its own work on the Victory Airide, Guy Motors decided to fit the Wulfrunian with disc brakes all round. The front wheels were each provided with one double-sided air-over-hydraulic caliper unit, and the rear wheels each had two similar units. On earlier vehicles, these brakes were operated by means of an Airpak air/hydraulic servo unit, one for the front brakes and one for the rear brakes, providing what was probably the first application in Britain of twin-circuit brakes. On later examples, the Airpaks were replaced by conventional air-over-hydraulic master cylinders. Because of the inability of the disc brakes to accept a conventional handbrake operation, a drum brake operated by a Bowden cable from the cab was mounted on the front input flange of the rear axle.
The chassis had a wheelbase of 15ft 4in and was designed to accept 30ft long bodies of single or double-deck layout and with entrances at the front, centre or rear. An option was also offered for a more conventional rear entrance layout, with a wheelbase of 16ft 4in and an overall body length of 28ft. In this version the front axle was moved forward and the engine moved to the chassis centre line so as to allow a wider cab. The other option offered was the fitting of a ZF synchromesh four-speed gearbox, and this also entailed the replacement of the fluid flywheel by a single dry-plate clutch. Despite the publicity showing a column mounted gear lever and cable-operated gear change, the only two vehicles actually built with this option, for Accrington Corporation, had a floor-mounted gear lever and rod-operated gear change. Tyres were 11.00x20 14-ply at the front and 9.00x20 12-ply at the rear.
One of the two Accrington chassis ready for delivery to East Lancs. The different position of the engine, the reduced front overhang, the ZF gearbox and the different location of the auxiliaries can be contrasted with the standard chassis. This chassis was designed for rear-entrance bodywork.
West Riding 863 was fitted with a Roe body which was copied on all but six of the Wulfrunians built. It was to a metal framed design which had originated with Park Royal Vehicles and seated 43 passengers upstairs and 32 downstairs. It was to a fairly conventional low height design with deep sunken gangways on the lower deck and a rear emergency door in the centre of the rear end, but at the front end it was radically different. A single entrance step led on to a rather cramped front platform, on the far side of which was the engine beneath insulated fibreglass panels. Beyond that was a very narrow driver's cab with a separate entrance door on the offside. A narrow gangway passed between the front wheels and, to alleviate the bottleneck which would have resulted from placing the stairs behind the driver, the staircase was mounted over the nearside front wheel, rising directly off the platform. This in turn led to the use of asymmetric front doors, with two wide leaves folding to the front and two narrow leaves folding against the stairs. A luggage pen was provided over the offside front wheel. The driver's windscreen and the entire panel below it was hinged on the offside and could be opened as one unit to provide access to the engine.
The entrance of West Riding 891 at Leeds in February 1972, shortly before the end of Wulfrunian operation, shows the engine enclosure with the driver’s cab beyond. The foot of the nearside staircase can just be seen on the right.
The lower saloon of West Wales 42 shows the typical lower deck layout of a Wulfrunian with its nearside staircase, offside luggage rack, and deep sunken gangways. The offset of the engine is noticeable, as is the restricted forward vision for passengers. The luggage racks were unique to this vehicle.
Louvres were provided above both windscreens for the Cave-Browne-Cave system with additional louvres below the windscreens. The offside ones were to provide ventilation for the engine and the nearside ones (omitted on the last buses built) were dummies purely for symmetry. On 863 alone, these lower louvres were covered by ungainly polished grilles.
Registered OHL863, the prototype entered service with West Riding in December 1959 and was followed six months later by two Roe-bodied demonstrators painted in yellow with black lining (the colours of the Wolverhampton Wanderers football club) and registered 7800 DA and 8072 DA.
West Riding 863, the prototype Wulfrunian, outside the depot at Belle Isle, Wakefield, when new. It was painted in a unique red and ivory livery. The stairs rising from the entrance platform can be clearly seen.
Demonstrator 7800 DA stands alongside Western SMT Alexander-bodied Leyland Titan PD3s at Kilmarnock during a period on loan to the Scottish Bus Group in 1960. Note the separate driver's cab door. This bus had the highest seating capacity (78) of any Wulfrunian. It also had a unique layout of front grilles for its Cave-Browne-Cave system.
Demonstrator 8072 DA stands in the demonstration park at the Earls Court Commercial Motor Show in September 1960, showing off its Wolverhampton Wanderers-inspired livery. This bus only had 72 seats as it allowed more legroom for the passengers. Note the similarity to West Riding 863.
The first production example, West Riding's 864, the first of an initial batch of 50, appeared on the Roe stand at the 1960 Commercial Motor Show at Earls Court, and was accompanied by the chassis of 865 which appeared on the Guy stand.
867, one of the first production Wulfrunians delivered to West Riding stands in its original livery in Wakefield Bus Station. The red buses were nominally for use on the former West Riding tram routes.
Indeed, Earls Court presented a very buoyant impression that year as a further two Wulfrunians were also on show. On the Northern Counties stand was the first of three examples ordered by Lancashire United Transport, and on the Park Royal stand was a bus for Bury Corporation. This vehicle was actually built by Roe, but as Roe had already reached their permitted number of exhibits it was shown on the Park Royal stand. Interestingly, the Park Royal records referred to it as a Wulfrunian body mounted on a Guy Arab chassis!
Bury 101 with its unique three-piece door stands outside the Charles H Roe factory before going to London as an exhibit at the 1960 Commercial Motor Show. Unusual features of this bus included the styling of the Cave-Browne-Cave grilles, the destination display beneath the stairs and the faired-in rear wheel arches. The last feature, which must have made the rear brakes even more prone to overheating than usual, disappeared very quickly.
Lancashire United 58 was the only Wulfrunian bought by the company since 59 and 60, which were to be rear-entrance 30-footers, were cancelled. It was also the only Wulfrunian bodied by Northern Counties. It only lasted for a year in service before it was sold to West Riding, where it became fleet number 938.
As 1960 closed, the future for the Wulfrunian looked very good. West Riding followed up their initial order for 50 with another for 20 buses and also ordered six single-deck examples. Unfortunately, these latter were subsequently cancelled and so what might have been the most interesting single-deckers of the decade were stillborn. Not only that but they would have been the first low floor single deckers more than thirty years before such vehicles started to enter service in the UK.
The two demonstrators were in great demand, visiting numerous operators in England, Scotland and Ireland, and other orders were coming in. During 1961 East Lancashire bodied a vehicle for Guy's home town, Wolverhampton, and shortly afterwards produced a similar example for West Wales Motors, Ammanford.
The conventional Wolverhampton Wulfrunian, fleet number 70, is seen posed at Brewood Post Office, probably when on test. Since a number of other photos taken around this time show the same people on board, they were probably Guy Motors or Wolverhampton Corporation engineers.
West Wales Motors 42 was an East Lancashire-bodied Wulfrunian new in 1961. At Guy’s expense it took part in the 1961 Brighton Coach Rally and is seen here during the driving tests. This bus passed to West Riding in 1962, becoming fleet number 959.
Orders were also received from Belfast Corporation, Rotherham Corporation and China Motor Bus, Hong Kong, but unfortunately these were all cancelled at a later date. In addition, Lancashire United Transport cancelled their remaining pair, which was to have been of rear entrance layout on 18ft wheelbase chassis. However, in 1961 Accrington Corporation did purchase two rear-entrance examples fitted with East Lancs bodies and, apart from their layout, these buses were unusual in having the optional Gardner 6LW engine and ZF synchromesh gearbox. They were also notable in being extremely ugly!
The first of Accrington's two rear-entrance Wulfrunians leaving town on a short working. The destination sums up the Wulfrunian perfectly.
However, the initial boom was followed by an equally swift crash. It quickly became clear that Guy Motors, desperately short of cash due to troubles with a South African subsidiary, had been unable to carry out the development work that such a novel design required, and from the start the Wulfrunian was in trouble. The brakes were inadequately cooled and were shrouded by the bodywork, which only added to the trouble. As a result, the life of the pads was very short, while the small number of buses built meant that the cost of the replacements was high. The Airpak units also proved troublesome and contributed to further braking problems. The air suspension units suffered numerous problems and the high loads on the front wheels caused frame failures, heavy steering, high tyre wear rates and, later in life, hub failures. The cooling system too did not contribute to reliability, and the Gardner engine never seemed as reliable as it did in other vehicles. Finally, to apply the transmission handbrake when the vehicle was moving would cause severe damage to the unit.
As a result, maintenance costs were excessively high and general reliability fell far short of desirable levels. Drivers found the cab too cramped and too warm. while the steering was, as previously mentioned, very heavy, and it was not unknown for conductors and passengers to complain of travel sickness due to the soft suspension. In short, the Wulfrunian rapidly acquired the reputation of being little short of a disaster operationally. It was not much different for Guy, as in order to compete with chassis such as the Atlantean and Fleetline, the Wulfrunian had to be sold at a price which was really uneconomical.
In the British bus industry, bad news travels fast. Most purchasers had only taken one or two vehicles for evaluation, and their experiences soon made the operators who had sat back to wait and see glad of their caution. Orders virtually dried up, and only three Wulfrunians were delivered after 1961 to customers other than West Riding. Two of these went to County Motors of Lepton, in whom West Riding had a large financial stake, and were to West Riding’s basic specification with standard Roe bodies.
County Motors 100 is seen on Guy trade plates during a period when it was returned to Guy for tests and modifications – a fate which befell a number of Wulfrunians. It later became West Riding 996.
The remaining bus went to Wolverhampton Corporation and was to a radically different specification. It was based on an 18ft wheelbase chassis with reduced front overhang and centrally-mounted engine but retained the Gardner 6LX engine and semi-automatic gearbox.
Wolverhampton 71, photographed prior to delivery in 1962, provides a contrast with its conventional sister seen previously. It offered so few advantages in terms of layout or performance that it remained unique and was followed in the Wolverhampton fleet by conventional (and cheaper) Guy Arab Vs.
An East Lancs body of similar design to the Accrington buses was fitted, but it was equipped with a sliding entrance door behind the front axle and was if anything even uglier! However, its most radical change was that the disc brakes were replaced by conventional drum brakes. and in this respect it appears to have been more successful than the rest. Wolverhampton remained unimpressed though, and on future orders reverted, as did other customers who remained loyal to Guy, to the Arab V, the new and mechanically simpler replacement for the Wulfrunian.
Four Wulfrunians stand in Wakefield Bus Station, headed by 950. Three are in the green livery worn by many of these buses and the fourth is in red. West Riding’s Wulfrunians wore a range of red and green liveries through their lives. There were seven main variants and a further four sub-variants.
Meanwhile, West Riding soldiered on, and placed further orders for 25 buses, delivered in 1963, and 30 more, delivered in 1965, bringing their total to 126, while even they eventually admitted defeat and cancelled a further batch of 25. The final batch of 30 buses was to a modified Mk2 design which involved the complete redesign of the front suspension units and other changes.
West Riding also began to acquire second-hand examples which their original purchasers were only too glad to dispose of, and after a couple of years had obtained the Lancashire United, West Wales and County Motors Wulfrunians. Finally, they acquired the two demonstrators for spares in 1966 after they had been out of use for some years, and as a result owned 132 of the 137 Wulfrunians built. Of the remaining five, the Accrington pair were sold off in 1968 and had both gone for scrap within four years, the Wolverhampton pair had both suffered a similar fate by 1973, and Bury's, sold in 1963, had by 1971 been dumped in a field.
In April 1969 the Ministry of Transport, concerned about a number if front suspension failures, insisted on all remaining West Riding Wulfrunians having the front eight upper deck seats removed in order to reduce the loading on the front suspension, reducing the capacity to 67 seats. Interestingly no other Wulfrunians, by then only with Wolverhampton Corporation and a few secondhand examples with independent operators, were similarly treated.
West Riding 1000, the first of the Mk2 Wulfrunians, in Wakefield bus station in 1969 wearing the final simplified Tilling Green livery. Note the angle of the front wheel and that the nearside rows of louvres below the windscreen were not fitted on this batch.
In the end, rising costs, poor reliability and shortage of spares forced even West Riding to admit defeat and, largely due to financial problems caused by the Wulfrunian, it sold out to the Transport Holding Co in 1968, subsequently passing to the National Bus Company. A massive injection of second-hand NBC Bristol Lodekkas, some new Daimler Fleetlines and the retention of older Guy Arabs enabled a rapid rundown of the Wulfrunian fleet, and on 26 March 1972, the last West Riding Wulfrunian appeared, almost unnoticed, at the closure of the Bradford trolleybus system. The entire fleet was disposed of in just over 12 years from the arrival of the first example, and some buses were a mere four years old when they went for scrap. Seven vehicles were sold for further service, but with one exception they had all gone by 1973. The exception, 970, soldiered on with its seventh owner, Crouch End Luxury Coaches, in North London until 1978.
However, all is not lost as three Wulfrunians still survive. West Riding 995, formerly County Motors 99, passed directly into preservation in 1972, following its farewell appearance at Bradford, in the ownership of the West Riding Wulfrunian Preservation Society. After many years of successful rallying, it is a treasured possession of the now renamed West Riding Omnibus Preservation Society (WROPS) based at Dewsbury Bus Museum. However, it is often out on loan to other locations as part of a policy to separate the two restored Wulfrunians most of the time in order to minimise the possibility of both vehicles being damaged or destroyed in, for instance, a depot fire.
Bury 101 was rescued from its field in 1982 and towed to Manchester for eventual restoration for the Manchester Bus Museum. It was stored in the open at Hyde Road Works but sadly in 1984 it was severely damaged when hit by another bus. Unfortunately a satisfactory agreement could not be reached with its owner (Berresford Motors) which would allow for it to be repaired and restored and ultimately it was sold for spare parts use with the body being scrapped in Barnsley in 1989. The chassis survived for some years in various locations in Yorkshire but was eventually cut up in 2020, with some parts removed for use in the other two preserved Wulfrunians and other buses. A sad end for a very distinctive bus.
Finally, West Riding 970 was acquired for preservation by the author in 1982 and for some years resided at the premises of the Mersey & Calder Bus Preservation Group at Burscough in Lancashire. The author moved to Australia in 1987 and eventually the bus passed to a group from the WROPS and moved to the Dewsbury Bus Museum, where it returned to operation in 2022, fully restored in its original West Riding Ayres red and ivory livery.
The last Wulfrunian to remain in service was West Riding 970, seen abandoned in the yard of Crouch End Luxury Coaches, Wood Green, in 1982. This bus was initially rescued for preservation by the author and after a lengthy restoration at the Dewsbury Bus Museum, it is scheduled to re-enter service in 2022
Other Wulfrunian parts to survive included 50 Gardner engines which were fitted to the final batch of 25 new Daimler Fleetlines delivered to West Riding (and which ironically replaced the last Wulfrunians) and 23 Fleetlines for Yorkshire Woollen, with the remaining two engines presumably kept as spares.
So, what will history make of the Wulfrunian? It was without doubt a very advanced vehicle and a very bold design, but one which was doomed from the start. Its manufacturer was nearly bankrupt and its development was severely curtailed while its poor early performance established a reputation which it could never shake off. No other manufacturer used its braking or suspension components, and its own poor sales too ensured that economies of scale could never bring spare parts prices down to a reasonable level. A traditional British bus industry gave it a resounding thumbs down. On the other hand, it provided a ride quality which in its day was second to none, and when compared with most other buses on the road at the time. It undoubtedly set new standards of passenger comfort and pointed to the sort of standards which could be expected of buses 20 years later.
Although the Wulfrunian is largely a memory, a surprising number of its design features have survived. During the development of the Leyland Titan (B15), Wulfrunian drawings were used as the basis for both the front and rear suspension designs, and a comprehensive series of' tests was carried out on behalf of Leyland in 1970. A Fleetline, an Atlantean and the unique FRM rear-engined Routemaster were scientifically evaluated against a Wulfrunian to assess the vehicle ride and the Wulfrunian won hands down. Not long after that came the appearance of the Volvo Ailsa double-deck chassis, and this, with its front entrance, front engine layout, reflected much of the Wulfrunian's design in a simpler chassis. Indeed, it is rumoured that Volvo made a very detailed inspection of one of the survivors before embarking on the design of the Ailsa. And now air suspension, disc brakes and low floors are virtually universal on British and European double-deckers.
Truly, the Wulfrunian was ahead of its time.
The Lancashire United, West Wales and County Motors vehicles were later sold to West Riding becoming 938, 959 and 995/6 respectively in West Riding's fleet.
The two demonstrators passed to West Riding in 1966 for spares.
More Guy Wulfrunians . . . .
The roots of the Dewsbury Bus Museum are entwined with the Guy Wulfrunian. In fact, what became the West Riding Omnibus Museum Trust started life in 1971 as the West Riding Wulfrunian Preservation Society. Have a look at the "Our History" tab above. We are home to the only two surviving Wulfrunians, red tramway replacement WHL970 (970) and green ex-County Motors UCX275 (995).
The year 2021 was our Golden Jubilee Year so we made it "The Year of the Guy Wulfrunian" and to celebrate it, we featured a photograph of each and every Guy Wulfrunian built every day between 1st January and the end of May, starting with prototype 863.
These photographs have been added to our Guy Wulfrunians - ALL OF THEM album on Flickr. You can see the album by clicking HERE. We hope you enjoy them....