Northern Counties CH43/26F body
Gardner 6LXB 10.4l 180bhp diesel engine
Leyland 5 speed Hydracyclic automatic gearbox
GMT No 3253
First No 30185
Registered 10 July 1986
(Certificate Of Initial Fitness 02 July 1986)>
Withdrawn by First April 2005
Current status: on the road
C253FRJ is a Northern Counties bodied, coach seated Olympian and was the last bus to be delivered to Wigan depot prior to deregulation. She was one of two Express Olympians intended for Wigan depot’s involvement in the GM Express network. The other Wigan Express Olympian, no 3271, was the first new bus delivered to Wigan under the auspices of GM Buses post deregulation.
Greater Manchester PTE had a number of Express routes which were, essentially, limited stop services. GMPTE decided to brand these services “Express” and upgrade the vehicles used in time for deregulation, which involved using coach seated buses in a fancy new livery. Wigan Corporation had operated limited stop type services in the past to places such as Liverpool and Bolton but some of these had been eroded in time by being diverted off the direct routes and through housing estates. Wigan No 4 is an example of the 1950s incarnation of the GM Buses Express idea.
Wigan had taken a number of conventional bus-seated Olympians prior to the delivery of the two Express machines, their Gardner engines thus breaking the dominance of Leyland engined buses in the former Corpy operation.
The Express Olympians were strategically based to cover the Express network with the 32, 33 and 401 routes worked by Wigan. The coach seats of these buses reduced the lower deck seating capacity to 26 (instead of 30) due to their much bulkier nature. The upper deck remained the same at 43 however.3253 is fitted with the much maligned Leyland Hydracyclic gearbox. The ‘box is attached to a fluid flywheel which is, in turn, attached to the Gardiner engine crankshaft via a triangular shaped piece of steel called a flex plate. This was later to be the cause of 3253’s downfall.
The GM Express network was just a memory when withdrawal finally came for 3253. She had been a Bury machine since the early 1990s and eventually became 30185 in the First scheme. Bury depot completed their last routine inspection on 20 April 2005. Shortly after this the aforementioned flex plate gave up when the bolts retaining it sheared. Apparently this is not an uncommon problem. As it is sometimes difficult to tell whether it is the flex plate that has failed or some other component (i.e. the gearbox) this type of failure resulted in immediate withdrawal. With repairs out of the question 3253 had run out of time. She was dumped at Bury depot to await the trip to the scrapyard.
3253 was identified as a preservation candidate by a Trust member and she was offered by First for preservation. There was also a further generous offer of a second withdrawn vehicle for spares or restoration; however a lack of storage space prevented this. 3253 went to Phoenix Motors in Wigan for attention and after a lot of work, principally to the transmission but also to address the other problems associated with being both a time expired service bus and having stood inactive for a time, appeared at the GMTS Christmas Cracker event at Boyle Street in 2007 conveying Trust members, friends and family for a day out in Manchester. Of greater importance was the need to fly the flag for the WTT as Wigan No 9 had recently been stood down from rallies when her MOT expired.
The decision to put 3253 on the road in an unrestored condition was made primarily to give us another vehicle to promote the work of the Trust. Also, as 3253 was stored off site no work could be done other than basic running checks. The long term aim was to bring 3253 to the WTT sheds for restoration when time and space in the shed permitted. Unfortunately, while being prepped for the first run out of the summer 2008 season the bus developed an air leak. And, for good measure, a fuel leak. With no scope to work on 3253 at her then location she was stood down to await developments.
In March 2009 she was moved to the WTT premises on the back of a wrecker and put in a suitable position in the shed. Other priorities and issues prevented any work being done until March 2010 when the need to make the bus mobile finally became too great. Olympians are not the easiest of vehicles to work on with only a few sleepers to drive up on to provide ground clearance but the job could be put off no longer. The fuel leak was traced to the fuel return pipe which had corroded. This was only about a foot long but replacement was not easy given the limited clearance. The air leak was traced to a defective unloader valve. Again, not the easiest of things to get access to but this was replaced and the bus could finally move again.
With the obstacles to 3253’s restoration now long gone the exterior repanelling began. The bus has already had lots of MOT work completed and it is almost criminal not to have her on the road. The only other task is to replace the batteries which seem to have deteriorated while she has been stood. One is so far gone it even seems to have changed in appearance…
While we were confident that the exterior would be a relatively straightforward job the interior is a different story. Downstairs she retains the coach seats, albeit in a mixture of moquettes. Upstairs she is completely bus seated. Although we have sourced enough GM Express coach seats it will take a lot of (scarce!) time and money to complete the interior restoration. As a result of this the interior is unlikely to be restored to the original condition soon.
On the road
3253 spent a while away for professional attention to the suspension and other minor problems during the first half of 2015. The MOT was finally obtained in May of that year. As mentioned above the interior of the bus requires a lot of attention to return to it original Express condition. Because of this we decided not to restore the bus to Express livery straight away. Instead we have painted 3253 in Wigan Corporation colours to the approximate dimensions of Wigan No 9’s Corporation livery. This is in part commemorates First’s repaint of Wigan based Olympian 3303 in to Wigan Corporation livery in 2002. In that scheme the white lines on the body resembled the Corporation livery applied to Massey bodied vehicles. Our version on 3253 is more suited to a Northern Counties style. The intention is to restore 3253 with Express seats and Express livery when time and funds permit.