LWB377P – the last of the Vanhool trio.
Of the many Volvo Ailsas operated by Black Prince, 3 of them had unusual Vanhool McArdle bodies. In 1989 former South Yorkshire PTE Volvo Ailsas LWB380/388P joined the Black Prince fleet, coming from Blue Triangle, Bootle. Initially, they ran ‘as acquired’, but it wasn’t long before they received fleet livery. LWB380P was outshopped in the 21st Anniversary livery, whilst 388 received standard red and yellow fleet livery. The bodies on these buses had a reputation for body corrosion, which saw the end of 380 by 1992, but 388 fared somewhat better. It received a refresh and lasted until October 1994, when it was sold to the 388 Group in Sheffield, for preservation. This bus has been under major restoration for many years now.
In 1993 2 Ailsas were acquired from Powells of Wickersley. One was Alexander bodied former Maidstone and District LKP385P (also now preserved), and the other was the final Vanhool of the trio, former South Yorkshire LWB377P.
In 1996, former A1 Service Ailsa/Vanhool PSJ825R was also acquired, but this was never operated. This passed to the A1 Vanhool Group in Sheffield for preservation, in May 1996. They returned the bus to the road and retained it until July 2011. It is now at the GVVT, Glasgow.
Black Prince had completed several special projects over the years, and Ailsa 377 is certainly one of them. When purchased, the bodywork on 377 was in very poor condition and a great deal of work was carried out, replacing a lot of the body frames and repanelling from top to bottom. It was then superbly outshopped in the ’25 Year Anniversary’ livery that it still wears today. Such was the extent of the work that was done on the bus by Black Prince, DC was quoted as saying at the time ‘If I had known how bad it was going to be, I wouldn’t have done it!.
In 3 years of operation, Ailsa 377 covered approximately 180,000 miles, and was last operated in March 1997. 377 was purchased for preservation by Trevor Heaton on 13th March and driven back ‘home’ to Sheffield.
377 was stored at various locations over the years, the first 7 years of which were outside, where unfortunately the condition of the bus had deteriorated. In 2004 it was moved undercover, which slowed any further deterioration. Over the years’ Trevor had gathered a lot of parts for 377’s eventual restoration, so that in his retirement, he could attend to the vehicle.
377 had been stored with the South Yorkshire Transport Trust - (SYTT) for many years. In September 2014, the SYTT learned that Trevor had become seriously ill with Leukaemia, so the volunteers there set to work to resurrect 377 as a surprise for him, but as the job progressed it was obvious that 18 years of inactivity had seriously taken their toll on the bus, as it was in a much worse condition than the initial inspection had concluded. Sadly, Trevor passed away in November 2016 before the work could be completed
Come the new year 2017, the work to re-commission 377 continued. Progress was slow due moving the entire vehicle collection to better premises, which was a massive distraction for many of the SYTT’s volunteers. But, eventually, 377 finally made its first trip out in July 2018 (a test run around the block a few times), initially with clouds of smoke from the exhaust! Nevertheless, all seemed relatively OK, so it was taken back into the workshop to have a few more jobs and service items done.
The bus has had an enormous amount of work carried out on the running gear and underside, more details of some of the work can be found by visiting - https://www.flickr.com/photos/34647504@N02/albums/72157680420603055
The work on the bodywork, has been kept to ‘essential’ work only, to retain the original Black Prince livery. The skirt panels have been repainted, but the rest of the bus in the original livery as applied in March 1994. 377 of course is not pristine – it’s a little faded in places and it retains many of the battle scars that it got whilst running around Leeds. We think if 377 had been retained by Black Prince and tested for another year, now with its fresh wheels and skirt panels, what you see today is about what it would have looked like. There is still an ongoing program of work on to improve 377 generally.
When purchased for preservation, it was never expected for 377 to run again in Black Prince livery, but the fact that it has been stored so long now makes it a ‘time capsule’ back to the mid 90’s. It would have been a terrible missed opportunity if 377 had been repainted after all this time, without considering the bigger picture. With the recent Black Prince revival, there will be a lot of people that will want to see 377 again in its ‘Black Prince’ guise.
377 has been out and about locally since its return to the road. Inevitably, with something that had been stood so long there would be a few problems that would surface. It had a fuel starvation issue which was traced to a blockage, and the water pump gave up the ghost. With this now sorted we plan to make several trips back to West Yorkshire in 2019.