DUPLE and Thomas Harrington (Part 2)
In 1965 it was decided to close the factory. Although not a part of the Rootes Group, the operations were owned by a Rootes family investment company. Production ceased in April 1966 after which Plaxton purchased spares, stock in trade and goodwill. The Cavalier (1959–64) and Grenadier (1962-6) luxury coach bodies for underfloor-engined chassis jointly won the Classic Bus reader poll as the most stylish coach of all time. Many Harrington vehicles are preserved and Harrington devotees have a gathering of their own. There were huge numbers of small to medium sized professional coachbuilders in existence around Britain as Thomas Harrington & Sons Ltd moved into its new Hove factory. The management of Harrington’s decided that two things were necessary to stand them in good stead in this crowded market. The first was building good relationships with blue-chip customers, and the second was to produce designs with a distinctive Harrington ‘look’. Instances of the first were their long-term supply to high–class coach firms in the private and large company sectors. Such private customers included Grey-Green of Stamford Hill, London, Charlie’s Cars of Bournemouth and Silver Star of Porton Down. The large firms included the Tilling Group’s North Western Road Car Company of Stockport and BET-group member Devon General of Exeter, but perhaps the most enduring relationship of all was as supplier to the local BET coaching powerhouse Southdown Motor Services
The Cavalier was initially offered at 30 ft long by 8 ft wide to fit any suitable under floor engine chassis. As was normal with Harrington the previous Wayfarer Mark 4 coach remained available (if requested) for the next couple of years, but it was clear the advantage was with the Cavalier. By the time Lloyds of Nuneaton’s 3857UE was shown at the 1960 Commercial Motor Show at Earls Court 68 Cavaliers had been sold to seven BET fleets, ten independents and local charity St Dunstan’s Home for the Blind. These were mainly on AEC Reliance, but Charlie’s Cars of Bournemouth took six Albion Aberdonian, East Yorkshire took five on Leyland Tiger Cub and Ellen Smith of Rochdale took the sole Leyland Leopard. The Cavalier was a clear success already, with a number of influential customers well out of Harrington’s heartland. Sales were both more geographically widespread and in many cases to customers who had not taken Harrington bodies before. The output from Hendon on equivalent chassis that season was 81.
Between January and November 1961, 114 Cavaliers were sold; there were repeat orders for the Cavalier from eight operators including St Dunstan’s. Of the six BET operators three were new customers for the style, both of the largest taking Leopards for their most prestigious touring duties. Southdown’s first order was for forty bodies and Ribble Motor Services, who had favoured local builder Burlingham for the past decade took 35. The largest repeat order was from Northern General who again took ten touring coaches, this time on Leopard, and independents adding further Cavaliers were Abbott of Blackpool, Ellen Smith of Rochdale, Flight of Birmingham and Harris of Greys. The most important new independent customer was Yelloway (a conquest from the Duple group) taking six Reliance’s.
In terms of chassis on which to build Harrington’s fortune had definitely swung in the direction of Farington, with 86 Leopards and a Tiger Cub being bodied in contrast with only 26 Reliance’s, the Albion Aberdonian had been discontinued the previous year, so it would from now on be a straight fight between Lancashire and Middlesex.
Duple’s 1961 season total for the Brittania on its final facelift was 77, all but five on Reliance. The Donington had got bigger windows and Brittania-like trim but between them the expanded Duple group were building not only the Brittania and the Donington but also the Viscount and the Seagull 70, the differences were not just skin-deep either, all the Duple bodies had steel-reinforced hardwood frames, also Plaxton’s structural method, The Loughborough-built Donington and Viscount both used frame-sections made from rolled steel tubes, whilst Burlingham’s bodies (like those of Harrington and Yeates) were of jig-built aluminium.
Plaxton had refined the Panorama with subtler detailing and inward sloping pillars above the waistrail for the 1961 season. Like Harrington they also offered a more conservative option, in their case an Embassy body with twice as many side windows.
A more conservative option definitely wasn’t Yeates’ style, instead they introduced a more radical one, if the Europa was insufficiently in-your-face they could offer you the Fiesta, now with trapezoid glazing. Yeates was always going to be a minority choice, and as Yeates sold everyone else’s coachwork (their core business being dealership) perhaps they wanted it that way. 1961 proved though that on the premium chassis, Harrington was now second only to Plaxton, although Duple vastly outstripped either (and the Burlingham operation they now owned) in the market for lightweight day-trip coaches.
During 1961 the legal maximum width and length limits for buses and coaches was relaxed, new maxima were 36 ft by 8 ft 2½in, to take effect from January 1, 1962. Leyland and AEC had suitable models on the stocks by the end of the year whilst continuing production of the shorter-wheelbase models. These could legally carry a slightly longer body than 30 ft and the first 1962-season Cavalier delivered in December 1961 (a repeat order for Keith Coaches of Aylesbury on Reliance) was the first Cavalier 315, so called because it was 1 ft 5in longer than the previous model which enabled Harrington to fit 43 of its own seats into the coach, rather than the previous maximum of 41. Duple and Plaxton had offered a 43-seat plan within the older length limits, but their seats were a bit skimpier on padding and even so came close to infringing legal minimum length requirements.
During 1962 the original Cavalier was still offered as was the Cavalier 36, to the new maximum length. The 315 carried most of its extra length in a longer first side window, whilst the 36 ft version had this plus an extra shallower window just aft of the first bay which unlike the rest of the side glazing had a horizontal lower edge, the waistrail now resuming its dip at the third bay, this saved on the cost of extra tooling and made the Cavalier a truly modular range of coach bodies although it certainly did not look that way, the longer first bay window, to the same depth as the windscreen and with a forward sloping pillar made the front of the 315 coach look better balanced. Although the longer version was not as happy as the extended Panorama, tending to look slightly ‘droopy’ it neither looked as fussy as Blackpool’s Continental, or Addlestone’s Castillian nor was it quite as distracting as the Europa or Fiesta at the new length.
Harrington’s cleverness in construction was necessary for as well as three variants of the Cavalier Old Shoreham Road had to find space for car and minibus conversion work, production of Mark 2 Crusader and bus bodies on AEC Reliance and Albion Nimbus chassis. It was perhaps good news that Maidstone and District had finally been weaned off the Wayfarer Mark 4 and that model could be buried after a good innings. Still the end of the Wayfarer Mark 4 meant that the less timid customers would be wanting something more up to date than even the revised Cavalier Also plans came from Luton for a Bedford chassis for the new maximum length market sector; this was going to be radical in concept and not suitable to the Cavalier outline, nor that of any Cavalier Mark 2, still less would it suit an extended Crusader, so not only was the factory floor busy so were the designers in the drawing office. In its final year the 30 foot Cavalier sold 17, all on Reliance. Maidstone & District took ten, South Wales two and Trent Motor Traction, another BET firm, took 5, one of which was a replacement body on an accident-salvaged chassis built in 1958.
13 of the 31 ft 5in version were sold, all too existing customers. In the BET group Southdown took 3 more Leopards, Greenslades had three Reliances and Thomas Brothers of Port Talbot added a further Reliance; of the independents Glider ways took another Tiger Cub, Keith of Aylesbury, Harris of Greys and Summerbees of Southampton took more Reliance’s. A further Reliance was sold to Stanley Hughes, the Bradford dealer, who leased it for the 1962 season to Wallace Arnold Coaches of Leeds.
As well as these 30 short Cavaliers a further 26 of the 36 foot model were sold. Harrington also sold-off RNJ900, the original Cavalier demonstrator, replacing it with a 36-foot Reliance 470 registered VPM898, which in turn was sold in 1964 to Hall Bros of South Shields.
There were two different sorts of long AEC Reliance, the 470 (type 4MU) used the 7.68-litre engine of the shorter version, at a peak rating of 130 b.h.p, whilst the 590 (type 2U) used a 9.6-litre 140 b.h.p engine as in the export AEC Regal VI chassis.
Southdown chose two 49 seater Leopards to the new length, whilst Greenslades added to its collection of Cavaliers with three Reliance 590s and a new BET customer was Neath and Cardiff Coaches with two long Reliance 470s, seating the maximum 51.
The independent buyers of the Cavalier 36 in its first season placing repeat orders for the style were Abbot, Ellen Smith, Yelloway and Hawkey of Newquay and new Cavalier customers included Grey-Green, Hudson of Horncastle, Ayres of Dover, Liss & District in Hampshire and Straws of Leicester, formerly a Plaxton loyalist. Grey Green had its first 36 foot Cavalier on express service a month after the length was legal. The benefits of longer coaches were clearer for express services than for tours, especically tours to more remote scenic areas. Yelloway’s 36 footers had an option peculiar to the operator of additional destination displays over the second and fourth nearside windows. For express work there was also an optional destination box in the roof dome, as well as Yelloway, Grey Green were among the operators who specified this.
Fifty seven Cavaliers sold new was exactly half the 1961 performance but the coach market was in a downturn, in comparison Duple sold only nineteen Britannias on short Reliance’s and four on short Leopard, two of the A.E.Cs and one Leopard had old-fashioned central entrances. Blackpool built no further Seagull 70s but built 27 of its 36 ft Duple (Northern) Continental on Reliance’s, 12 on Leopard (including six for Ribble) and one Royal Tiger Worldmaster (a cancelled export order) for Happiways of Manchester. In the 1963 season the Cavalier faced internal competition from the Grenadier (see below) but 21 of the 31 ft 5in version and 49 of the 36 ft were sold. Existing customers who placed repeat orders for the short Cavalier were Southdown (4 Leopard L2), Greenslades (another Reliance), Grey Green’s orders included a short Reliance and ten Leopard L2 and Harris of Greys, Summerbee of Southampton and McIntyre of Aberdeen all took further Reliance’s, Harris’ being a rebody of a 1958 chassis damaged in an accident. New customers for the 31 ft 5in Cavalier were Munden of Bristol (Leopard L2) and Crump of Pinner (Reliance). A new option was fixed side glazing and forced ventilation. Southdown having this on its Leopards. All but one of the BET customers for the long Cavalier had taken the style before, Neath and Cardiff had two Reliance 470 and East Yorkshire four Leopard PSU3, Ribble had 22 on Leopard PSU3 with the new forced ventilation option, the other three were for a newly acquired Ribble subsidiary, Scout Motor Services of Preston, to the same specification as the Ribble examples. Grey Green had one Leopard PSU3 and one Reliance 470, the latter with forced ventilation. The other repeat orders from independents were from Yelloway who took 5 Reliance 590 with the jet-vent system, as well as the additional side destination screens and Ellen Smith, also of Rochdale, with a Leopard fitted with 45 reclining seats, Yelloway standardising on this luxurious option on its Reliances, the short ones seating only 37 as a result. New purchasers of the Cavalier 36 in its second season were Anglo-Continental of Tunbridge Wells (5 Reliance 590) Valliant of Ealing (4 Reliance 590) and Regent of Redditch with a single Reliance 590.
In 1963 Duple had three new styles for underfloor-engined chassis, the Alpine Continental was a longer-windowed version of the Continental whilst the Dragonfly was a 36 ft central entrance coach, both were built at Blackpool, the latter having a steel reinforced hardwood body frame. For the shorter A.E.Cs and Leyland’s the Britannia was finally replaced by the Hendon-built Commodore, which was a modification of the mass market Bella Vista body being 1 ft 10in longer with a front entrance and a maximum capacity of 45. Total Continental/Alpine Continental sales were 17, while only six Dragonflies were built, two Leyland demonstrators on Leopard and four for BET coach operator Samuelson of Victoria. The Commodore was also a sales disappointment, eight Reliance and three Leopard L2 being sold. Willowbrook however were gaining express-coach orders for its version of the BET-standard single Decker. In coach form four main bays were fitted as was fixed glazing and forced ventilation and there was an optional solid coach door and brighwork grille. Marshall and Weymann also built BET style express coaches. In contrast Plaxton had a further revised Panorama, with barely perceptible waist curvature and only three main side window bays on the 36 ft body, the dome was refined and thinner trim strips were used producing a body of unusual restraint for a Plaxton, it was an instant sales success. Ribble, for one, placing large orders.
Another competitive body was Alexander Y type, first shown in 1961, which in coach form had four trapezoid windows on each straight-waisted side and double curvature glazing front and rear. As well as selling massively to the Scottish Bus Group, BET fleets who took the style from 1962-3 were North Western and East Midland, followed in later seasons by Trent, Potteries, the Northern General Group, Hebble, Yorkshire Traction, Yorkshire Woollen and Stratford Blue, whilst three independents purchased the style over its lifetime, Scottish co-operative Wholesale Society had four Reliance’s, Venture of Consett took 12 Reliance’s and 26 Leopards, with eight more on order when Northern took them over, whilst Premier Travel of Cambridge had sixteen on Reliance. BET favoured steel-tube body framing and, as introduced, the Y type featured this Alexander’s reverting to aluminium framework from 1972/3.
The 1964 season short Cavaliers for BET fleets Greenslades (10 Reliance) and Devon General Grey Cars (8 Reliance) were notable in being to 7 ft 6in width and having Grenadier style dash panels. Grey Green took eleven, Leopard L2, Crump of Pinner took another Reliance and Hutchings & Cornelius with one Reliance became the last new customer for the Cavalier. 31 of the short version were built in its final season. There were eleven of the longer version, six were for Yelloway on Reliance 590, Grey Green took four Leopard PSU3, Valliant of Ealing had two Reliance 590 and Ellen Smith took a 49 seat Leopard PSU3. The only BET customer was Thomas Brothers of Port Talbot with a 49-seat Reliance 470.
In 1965 Yelloway took the last six 36-foot Cavaliers on Reliance 590. In all 359 Cavaliers had been built, one 30 ft demonstrator, one 36 ft and 357 coaches sold of which 199 were 30 ft, 65 31 ft 5in and 93 36 tethered were 99 30 ft Cavaliers sold (plus a demonstrator) on AEC Reliance 2MU chassis, 87 on Leyland Leopard L2T, seven on Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/2T and six on Albion Aberdonian MR11L.Cavalier 315 sales totalled 37 Reliance’s and 28 Leopards. Cavalier 36 sales comprised 39 Leopard PSU3, 52 Reliance 590 (2U) and 13 Reliance 470 (4MU) plus the demonstrator, which was sold after a year to Hall Bros. of South Shields who became a loyal Grenadier customer.
To supplement the Cavalier for the 1963 season the Grenadier was introduced, initially available on the longer chassis it was outwardly similar but a tauter-looking body, the structure was similar but the glazing was revised employing one fewer window per side and dipping less toward the rear. A larger windscreen was fitted with a more prominent peak; only the rear glass was carried over from the Cavalier. Revised front and rear GRP mouldings were employed, that at the front accenting the horizontal and carrying a larger destination box, that at the rear having horizontal rather than vertical light clusters. The forced-ventilation set up was standard, intakes for it being fitted in the front peak rather than in Plaxton-style air-scoops on the roof, these changes adding further to the cleanliness of line, the bright trim was of a similar layout to that of the Cavalier, the skirt mouldings being carried over virtually unchanged. Although roof quarter glazing was a common option on Cavaliers the less rounded roof-line of the Grenadier ensured Grenadiers with this option were rare.
The first two Grenadiers were a Reliance 590 for Harris of Greys and a Leopard PSU3 for Grey Green, both of which were shown at the 1962 Earls Court Commercial Motor show. In the initial season a further 36 ft Reliance 590 went to Abbott of Blackpool, two Leopards to Gliderways of Smethwick, five to Northern General (the only BET order) and a unique 33 ft Grenadier went to Hawkey of Newquay on a Reliance 590 with specially reduced front and rear overhangs, it was registered 900SAF and sat 47.
For the 1964 season a 31 ft 10in option for the shorter chassis was introduced. 39 of these went to six BET companies and seven independents, previous Harrington customers were North Western, Southdown, Trent and Timpson of Catford. Southdown specified the dash panels of the Cavalier on their batch. The return of North Western was maybe a surprise as they were a major supporter of the 11m Alexander Y type, but they obviously wanted something shorter (and a bit classier) for their extended tours, their two Leopard L2 had illuminated offside and nearside name badges under the second bay.
The two new BET customers were Western Welsh and Black & White Motorways of Cheltenham, both taking short Reliance’s. Straw of Leicester had previously taken the Cavalier and specified a Cavalier dash on its Reliance, conquest sales for the short Grenadier in the independent sector were to Jones of Aberbeeg, Birch Brothers and Motorways Overseas, both of London, Roman City of Bath and Wye Valley of Hereford; the first three operators took Reliance’s and the latter two Tiger Cubs, Roman City’s was a rebodied 1954 ex-Ribble coach whilst Wye Valley’s two new examples had 45 coach seats, not possible using Harrington seats, so Plaxton seats were purchased and fitted. For the long Grenadier there was only one BET purchaser, Maidstone & District taking five Reliance 590. BOAC took two of the same for its Glasgow-Prestwick Airport service.
The independent buyers were Abbott of Blackpool, Barton Transport Ltd, Bermuda of Nuneaton, Gliderways, Hall Brothers of South Shields, Jones, Keith of Aylesbury and Motorways Overseas. Of the 32 built 5 were on Leopards. All 27 Reliance’s were of the 590 type, Barton’s 979-988 (979-88 VRR) having Cavalier type windscreens and a roof mounted destination box as well as air operation for the coach door, enabling use as a bus. Hall Bros had an illuminated name badges on the nearside under the first bay on its three Leopards and sole Reliance 590. This was the final year of the dateless registration plate system and two classics were on Grenadier-bodied Reliance’s, Keith Coaches had 1234PP whilst the first of Maidstone & District’s carried 3294D. A change to legal regulations to come into effect from 1965 required additional emergency exits on bodies seating more than 45, on the Grenadier 36 the offside first bay, just aft of the drivers window, was to be fitted with a top-hinged exit door for its final two seasons.
Southdown headed the BET list for short Grenadiers taking another ten to its style on Leopard L2, North Western had a further three L2 and Samuleson of Victoria (their garage is now the Arrivals terminal for Victoria Coach Station) took four L2, the other BET purchasers chose the Reliance, Timpson of Catford taking four and their subsidiary Bourne & Balmer of Croydon taking two.
Private sector customers were, on Leopard, Grey Green (4) and Jones, Aberdeen (1), Ekcersley of St Helens took a Grenadier body on a reconditioned 1954 Tiger Cub chassis whilst Gliderways had two new Tiger Cubs, the rest were on Reliance, Bowen of Birmingham had three, and one each went to the following: Green Luxury, Walton-on-Thames, Harris of Greys, Hutchings & Cornelius, South Petherton, Rickard of Brentford and Warburton of Bury. The sole BET customer for the 36-foot Grenadier was Black & White Motorways of Cheltenham, taking five Leopard PSU3. Private-sector Leopard buyers were Hall Bros, South Shields (4), Lacey’s of West Ham (1, the 1964 show coach) and Ellen Smith (1). The Reliance list was headed by Barton Transport whose 1001-10 featured a destination box below the windscreen in lieu of the illuminated name badge, allowing the fitment of a standard Grenadier windscreen but they retained the power doors, they were registered BVO1-10C and featured Reliance 4U3RA air-suspended chassis, a very rare option on the home market; the only other air-sprung chassis to receive Harrington bodies were the initial Ribble and Southdown batches of Cavalier bodied Leopard L2T. Steel-sprung Reliance 590s went to Valliant of Ealing (four with top-sliding windows in lieu of forced vents), Motorways Overseas, London, Surrey Motors of Sutton (3 each), Regent of Redditch (2), Beavis of Bussage, Gloucestershire (one), Bermuda of Nuneaton (one) and Hawkey of Newquay (one). The 1965 sales list also included a 51-seat Reliance 470 for Hutchings and Cornelius.
Closure had been announced at the time of delivery of the 1966 examples, there was one batch at 31 ft 10in comprising four Reliance’s for Greenslades. The 36-footers comprised 15 Reliance 590 for Maidstone and District, 8 with top sliders for Devon General’s Grey Cars operation and a final six Leopard PSU3 for Grey-Green. Greenslades FFJ13D was shown in a valedictory appearance for Harrington’s at the 1966 Brighton Coach Rally. It bore plaques proclaiming it the final Harrington body built.
192 Grenadiers were built, one to 33 ft length, 82 to 31 ft 10in and 109 to 36 ft. Two of the shortest versions were on rebodied Leyland Tiger Cub, and four on new Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/12T chassis, 34 on Leyland Leopard L2T, and the remaining 42 on short-wheelbase AEC Reliance 470 2MU3RA. Of the 109 to 36-foot length, eleven were built in 1963, seventy-one in 1964, seventy-seven in 1965 and 33 in 1966. Of those, one was a Reliance 470 4MU3RA, 68 were Reliance 590 2U3RA and ten were air-sprung Reliance 4U3RA, the total on Leyland Leopard PSU3 was 30.
The sole 33 ft version was on a modified Reliance 2U3RA. During 1961 Vauxhall Motors told British coachbuilders about their new design to be produced from the end of 1962. The Bedford VAL was a twin-steering chassis with a long front overhang designed for an entrance ahead of the steering axles, a unique feature of the type was that the wheels were only 16-inch in diameter, which in turn reduced the floor height of bodied examples, the radiator was mounted at the front and immediately behind it was the 125 b.h.p Leyland O.400 engine. The Harrington Legionnaire was a square-rigged body with straight waistrail and five deep windows per side, one less than the Duple Vega Major and one more than the Plaxton Val. It also differed from the Cavalier and Grenadier by having plated window surrounds, there was a large brightwork grille and twin headlights, a Grenadier style front windscreen was used with a similar sized one at the rear. Above the windscreen was a destination box or illuminated name board and above that a prominent peak.
At the rear the illuminated name board was inside the rear glass and this was fitted the other way about to the front, meaning the first and last pillars had a pronounced forward rake to them whilst all the others were vertical. The Cantrail was flat above it was a roof section of very shallow curvature. The mark two which followed in 1964 for the final two seasons omitted this flat cantrail and had a roof of compound curvature, which reduced the tall square effect of the original but reduced space in the overhead luggage racks. The Legionnaire was built on the Bedford VAL, the more conventional Ford Thames 36 and there were also two specials on Guy Victory tram bus chassis. The Legionnaire took its fame from the 1969 film The Italian Job. The ending of the film involves a MkII Legionnaire (ALR 453B) hanging over a cliff in the Alps, as the driver had took the coach into a skid and lost control. A remake model can be seen at the De La Warr Pavilion art gallery.