Crossgates Connection, Optare for Morley
January 1991 saw the start of Black Prince’s relationship with the products of local Leeds bus manufacturer Optare, which would run right through to the end of the company in July 2005, with a total of nineteen Optare buses being operated over that period.
The Optare-Black Prince story is told here by Stephen Whiteley and Bradley McMullan, illustrated mainly with photographs from David Crowther, Stephen Whiteley, Bradley McMullan and Michael Nash.
Other photographs have been used from purchased collections.
Black Prince purchased a former demonstrator Optare MetroRider, 842 (G842LWR), for use on local shopper service 752. Optare were quickly gaining a reputation in the bus industry for forward-thinking, futuristic and attractive design, and this little minibus was no different.
It was a departure from the old “bread van” type, being a purpose-built minibus and not a van derived vehicle-indeed, one of the luxuries enjoyed by passengers was the built-in sound system, which was often found playing pop music as the bus nipped around the Morley estates picking up passengers in areas where buses couldn't usually negotiate their way.
Black Prince developed a taste for the type, and it was the first of many MetroRiders to come. Two longer versions, 167 (K167FYG) and 168 (K168FYG), came from Heatons in spring 1995, for use on routes 66 and 67 connecting the Bramley, Leysholme and Troydale areas with Leeds city centre.
Another former demonstrator arrived in October 1996, N289DWY. This was the first re-engineered Optare MetroRider, to the company’s own design, previous versions being based on the original MCW product to which Optare had purchased the rights. This bus was a success and was eventually replaced by the first brand new MetroRider, 51 (R51SWR), which arrived in late May 1998.
The final new MetroRider, which ran alongside 51, was 237 (V237LWU), new in October 1999. These were superb buses. Visually, their raked bonnet, large windscreen, and characteristic Optare body styling made the vehicle unique, combining practicality with styling.
Mechanically, they featured a Cummins turbocharged/intercooled 6 litre “Euro 2” engine, Allison automatic transmission and ventilated brake discs on front and rear. When routes 66 and 67 were eventually surrendered in October 2004, both 51 and 237 were painted allover white in the Black Prince paintshop, ready for disposal. Both were quickly snapped up, 51 by local operator Stringers of Pontefract, and 237 by Stansted Transit for work in Bishops Stortford.
A detailed look at the wider history of the minibus type vehicle in the Black Prince fleet can be found by following this link, The Minibus Fleet, to our "Minibus Matters" page.
The alternative Midibus, the Optare Vecta
The success of the smaller MetroRider type minibuses meant that Black Prince turned to Leeds based Optare for future orders of larger midibus purchases too.
A significant milestone was the purchase in March 1995 of four brand new Optare Vectas. When most operators were opting for the Dennis Dart, Black Prince decided to be different, the Vecta fleet was to compete with Alexander "Dash" bodied examples of the Dart, on the infamous Churwell hill on the Morley to Leeds corridor.
This 10.0 metre citybus was based on the tried and tested MAN 11-190 chassis, powered by an MAN D 0826 LOH 06 vertical six cylinder, in-line turbocharged and intercooled Euro 1 diesel engine. Transmission came via a four speed, automatic ZF box, with integral retarder.
The image carousel, below, contains some fabulous shots of the four "Vectas" on the production line in various stages of completeness. These rare photographs come from the Brian Crowther archive and can be enlarged by clicking on the image when the carousel stops.
The four Vectas were numbered 71, 73, 74 and 75 (M71, 73, 74, 75WYG), and in the finest of Black Prince traditions, each carried its own unique interpretation of the red, yellow and maroon livery.
With the exception of a 1974 Ford Transit minibus, these "Vectas" were the first brand new buses that Black Prince purchased.
A quirky touch was the addition of a unique slogan on the bonnet of each Vecta.
M71WYG had it's rear end adorned with "Black Prince, Leads in Leeds", 73 carried the legend "Black Prince-In Front Again".
The other buses bore the messages "Less Fuss on a Black Prince Bus" (M75WYG) and 74 said "BE A RIDER-on Black Prince", the latter slogan being a surefire dig at the competition of the time, Yorkshire Rider!.
73 ran with Black Prince until May 2003, when it was sold to Lodge's Coaches of High Easter, via EnsignBus. Lodge's ran 73 in their smart cream and light blue livery until January 2015, when it was purchased by Stephen Whiteley, directly from the Lodge family, for preservation. They had maintained the vehicle exceptionally well.
The restoration of 73 back to March 1995 condition was recently completed (2016), and the vehicle now looks like it has just rolled out of the Crossgates factory-check out the history of M73WYG and M75WYG by clicking on the links.
Of the four Vectas, only 73 and 75 survive-73 is restored in West Yorkshire and 75 is preserved in the North East, thanks to lifelong Optare enthusiast, Joseph Makepeace.
74 was unfortunately destroyed in a fire when it was owned by Stotts of Oldham, and 71 was exported to Ireland and cannot be traced.
130 Optare Vectas were built between 1991 and 1997, and as far as we in the Black Prince family are aware, there are only 4 known survivors...one ex-demonstrator example is beautifully preserved with Mortons, Basingstoke, whose owner started his career at Reading Buses, with a fleet of Optare Vectas!.
.....The Anglo-German Mercedes-Benz 0405/Optare Prisma
A major chapter in Black Prince history began when, in March 1996, the company purchased 577 (N577EUG), an Optare Prisma, based on the highly successful Mercedes Benz 0405 chassis.
Mercedes Benz had attempted to make inroads into the British single deck bus market before, collaborations with Alexander and also Wright bringing limited success.
Optare and Mercedes-Benz came up with a unique collaboration, marrying the proven chassis, and the German manufacturer’s front end design, with Optare’s Alusuisse body construction system and family type rear styling of the era. The "Prisma" also proved to be a rather powerful beast, with the six cylinder OM447h normally aspirated diesel engine developing up to 157kw (214bhp) at 220rpm.
Black Prince 577 was an early model Prisma and was an immediate success, bringing new standards to the trunk X49 service on which it was a regular performer.
Learn more about N577EUG, on the page dedicated to the now preserved vehicle, by following this link, N577EUG.
577 gained a new stablemate, when it was joined in February 1998 by another former Optare demonstrator, 441 (P441SWX), which sported high specification seats, tinted glass and the latest turbocharged 12L engine.
This bus had clocked up a good deal of mileage touring several of the major operators in the UK, including WMPTE and Ipswich Buses. The bus arrived in Morley in Optare’s house silver and blue demonstrator livery. In this guise it ran for a few weeks, before receiving attention in the paintshop and emerging in an attractive version of fleet livery, with maroon skirt, red stripe (in the same style as the blue stripe on the Optare livery) and yellow upper.
The reliability of this pair of buses impressed the engineering department so much that, in total, the company gathered a fleet of 8 Prismas from a variety of sources.
Other than 577 and 441, three came from the defunct Tillingbourne, Cranleigh operation (201, 202 and 203), one from Hendersons of Hamilton (905), and a further two purchased brand new in July 1998 (901, 902).
On delivery, 901 and 902 were painted in liveries designed by our very own Bradley McMullan, bearing the names “Bradley 1” and “Bradley 2” respectively, an event which even hit the local press. The two new Mercedes were the first S-prefix reg buses to hit the road on 1st August 1998.
The Prismas were dispersed to a number of operators in August 2005 after Black Prince closed. 441, 577 and 202 went to Red Kite of St Helens for schools work; 901, 902, 201 and 203 went to Lincolnshire RoadCar, where they were internally refurbished, had electric destination displays fitted, and eventually became part of the Stagecoach Lincolnshire operation.
Odd man out was 905, which was bought back by Hendersons of Hamilton, who had clearly realised what a mistake they had made by selling such a great bus in the first place! That bus now resides in Cyprus. Thankfully, three of the Black Prince Prisma buses have been secured for preservation, indeed 441 and 577 are back in full Black Prince livery looking and sounding as good as new, while as of 2016, work is underway to restore 202 back to its former glory.
An Optare Delta demonstrator, F792DWT, was trialled by Black Prince for two weeks in December 1990, working mostly on the X51, but it did not lead to any vehicle being purchased.
The trial of an Optare Excel on the X49 was equally unsuccessful.
The last Delta manufactured, T273EWW, ran with Black Prince for a couple of weeks in April 2000, when it was supplied by Optare to cover the repair of 577, which had been involved in an RTC. It ran in allover white and saw service mostly on routes 53 and X49.