Southern African Buses and Coaches - Brief history on buses in South Africa

A Brief History of Cape Town Buses 1950-1980

by Rollo Dickson

Underfloor-engined, straight-framed Leyland Olympics and Worldmasters entered service with the Cape Tramways group during the early fifties. They were nowhere near as successful as conventional front-engined models, running far fewer miles between overhauls. Dust and dirt thrown up on unmade roads was a major problem (a circumstance largely unknown by municipal operators in cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria), and later the notorious 'oil-starvation' phenomenon was pinpointed.
For subsequent orders, the group reverted to the mid-fifties' Leyland OPS4/5 single-decker model, and 72-seat PD3A/2 and PD3/5 double-decker, all with cranked frames and front engines. The single-deckers had half-cab Busaf (previously known as Bus-Bodies) bodies, while the double-deckers were full-fronted.

55 Daimler CVG6LX30 72-seat double-deckers, identical to the Leyland PD3/5 except for the grille, were supplied to Cape Tramways in 1966/7. 13 went to PE, but later these were transferred back to Cape Town in exchange for their Fleetlines.

Following introduction of the so-called UK 'Bus Grant' in the sixties (the government meeting half the cost of every new urban bus as long as it had its door beside the driver), production of conventional front-engined vehicles with cranked frames ceased virtually overnight, leaving only straight-framed single-deck models, and rear-engined double-deckers.

During the sixties, Guy - mimicking the AEC 'Kudu' - reworked the straight-frame underfloor-engine layout to take a front-mounted engine cantilevered ahead of the front-axle, thereby permitting the door being placed beside the driver. This was marketed as the Guy 'Trambus'. Cape Tramways took 40 in 1967, allocating them to PE (fleet 800-839). Cape Town also acquired a number of AEC Kudus, but later transferred these to East London in exchange for 100+ underfloor-engine Worldmasters, inherited from the previous operator, which were underperforming on hilly and dusty routes.

'Big J' was actually a heavy truck produced by Guy. In 1969, a heavier version of the Trambus was produced - this became known as the Victory J. During the next few years, Cape Tramways (and other operators like United Transport) bought considerable numbers. Strictly speaking, there was never a Guy Victory J or Big J bus, as Guy became part of the Leyland Empire before they were produced. All Victory J buses - certainly those in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth - carried the Leyland, not the Guy, logo.

In 1968, when Leyland took them over, both Guy and Daimler were subsidiaries of the Jaguar group. (NB This was British Daimler, founded in 1896, as distinct from Germany's completely separate Daimler-Benz). Thus the Daimler Fleetline, introduced in 1960, effectively became a Leyland Fleetline from 1968, yet Daimler, not Leyland logos appeared on these buses.
(To further confuse the issue, some Fleetlines both prior to 1968 and later had Leyland engines. Cape Tramways however specified Gardners,  a slower running and much more fuel-efficient unit.  Busaf bodied all these vehicles except for an ex-Halifax (UK) municipal Fleetline imported on test at City Tramways.

Johannesburg meanwhile graduated from Fleetlines to Mercedes O305's, being the first operator for which Busaf devised a double-deck version. (Both Johannesburg and Pretoria had previously experimented with Bristol VRT rear-engined double-deckers. Before that, Pretoria's first rear-engined double-deckers had been Leyland Atlanteans - that was in in the early sixties.
From 1960, City Tramways operated a Leyland Atlantean that came to it as a demonstrator). Busaf later built MAN double-deckers too.

Cape Tramways' experience with rear engines was generally unfavourable for several reasons, all contributing to expensive maintenance. In 1973, Busaf - on the initiative of the group - fitted an experimental double-deck body to a Victory J chassis.
Following successful testing as PE fleet no 1000, orders were placed for the Cape Town series numbered as 16xx.
Four identical vehicles were sold to Hong Kong. Due to heavy tyre wear caused by the engine cantilevered ahead of the front axle plus the upper deck, the axle was moved forward in subsequent Cape Tramways orders (17xx and 18xx for City Tramways).

In the early seventies, PE Tramways Rolling Stock Engineer Mel Wright rebuilt a Leyland Worldmaster, turning the horizontal engine into vertical configuration.
This highly successful modification resulted - apart from an inevitably higher floor - in performance not dissimilar to the OPS4/5.
City Tramways at Cape Town forthwith rebuilt and rebodied its substantial fleet of Worldmasters similarly, all giving excellent service for well over another 10 years.

The group also rebuilt a number of the surviving OPS4/5s, moving the front axle back to bring the door forward beside the driver, giving a layout similar to the original Guy Trambus.

In rebodying, the characteristic OPS4/5 half-cab configuration was converted to full front. These vehicles were deployed mainly in the group's so-called 'country companies' at Stellenbosch, Strand, Paarl, Malmesbury, Saldanha, Worcester, etc - all now no more.

In 1987, sixteen 100-seater double-deckers were supplied by Busaf on Leyland Victory J chassis.

Webmasters Note
I would like to thank Rollo for writing this for the bus site, and in doing so, making it easier for us to understand the somewhat complex bus system Cape Town, South Africa.



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