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Collector's World - Tickets Please!

Collector's World - Tickets Please!

CAN THERE BE ANYTHING MORE evocative than the sight of a half century old single decker trundling along the highway, typically attired in green with cream highlights? I would suggest not: this is a quintessentially British phenomenon, sadly all too rare in this day and age.

Yes, this month I’m lifting dustcover off that king of the road, the coach. And why not – after all, whilst this journal tends to focus on the car and its derivatives, the coach is equally important as historical transport. The days of the omnibus might have passed but, I’m glad to say, the coach lives on.

Coaches, I guess, were (and continue to be), all things to all people. To those out in the sticks, they were a lifeline, whilst for those in the suburbs, they were probably a less common sight and perhaps the preserve of end-ofterm activities or the annual office day out. Whatever, the coach was a Great British Institution: it couldn’t really be otherwise, since there were so many companies (coachbuilders, actually) out there who were willing and able to clothe your bare utilitarian chassis and engine. Of course, not all coaches were thus constructed but certainly in the coach’s formative years, it tended to be the specialist who added the wood and metal to come up with a distinctive style.

The coachbuilder’s list is an extensive one, encompassing as it does the likes of Duple, Burlingham, Harrington, Swallow and Alexander: and these are just a tiny number.

Many builders would be absorbed or bought out whilst others simply failed to maintain the pace of progress. Britain was something of a specialist by the time the second world war came to a close and its coaches were exported all over the world, to some of the most unlikeliest places on the planet. It was a time when British goods stood for quality and reliability; after all, if you’re selling a coach to Singapore or to India, after-sales service wasn’t going to be that hot… even if the climate was.

Coaches, as opposed to buses, have a lot of charm insofar as I am concerned. I love watching old black and white films wherein such conveyances are glimpsed: there is something romantic and naive about these 1940s and 1950s workhorses, which were painted in a variety of liveries during the period and which would have dutifully plied their routes on a daily basis. Step inside a restored example today and you cannot but fail to be overawed by the simplicity of the interior and those well-remembered leather and moquette seats, which look supremely comfortable. They had to be: after all, when there were services by coach that would take you from London to Glasgow (travelling time unspecified), and which did without the frills (ie no wi-fi, no music and no toilet), then a comfortable seat was the very least that the coach operator could offer you.

They might have been slow and they might have creaked and groaned, but who cared? The option, that of going by train, would have been more expensive; whilst if you had a car…

It’s small wonder, then, that there are coach (and bus) fairs from time to time, where you can track down spare parts for that restoration project (and let’s be honest – restoring a coach makes putting a car back together a childishly simple exercise by comparison); whilst the swapmeet scene is an essential trading ground for anyone obsessed with public road transport. Coach devotees, I have to say, are admirably served when it comes to the miniature.

A great many of the models available are designed for use in that other great British Institution, the model railway layout, and so are replicated in 1:76 scale. Smaller scales do exist, however, (N gauge or 1:148) if you should be pressed for space. Another interesting scale is the huge 1:24: such models pack in tremendous detail but are, naturally, commensurately more expensive than their smaller brethren, which can typically be had for just a few pounds. It doesn’t thus take a deep pocket nor very long to build up a perfectly respectable collection; however, to judge by the numbers of coaches that I see for sale on certain auction sites, these models are removed from their boxes, put on display and then returned to those same boxes for resale some years later. Their values have diminished considerably in the interim, though, which makes them bargains for the newly-arrived collector today.

For the true enthusiast, though, it’s the real thing that beckons. They are remarkably addictive vehicles, coaches, and with a little diligent browsing on the Internet, the would-be owner should be able to turn up an example. It helps to have a wide brief: whilst you may love the 1940s, finding a coach from the era may take time. I chanced upon one of my favourites, the Bedford OB, recently: dating from 1949 and with Duple bodywork, it was ready to show, and needed only minor cosmetics. It was priced at £29,000.

Well, I never said that coaches were cheap… on the other hand, you can find a project for around £2,000, dependant on model and period and coachwork. Storage is naturally a consideration when it comes to this kind of hardware and a cultivating a friendly farmer will probably reap dividends.

But consider the magical moment: you’ve a load of friends who all want to go on the same excursion or day trip. Forget the cavalcade of cars: crush them into a coach and split the petrol costs. I’ll warrant it would be a trip that they’d not quickly forget…

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From Collector's World, p. 4 of issue August 2016

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