A POTTED HISTORY OF GUY MOTORS 1950-End
New versions of the ‘Arab’ appeared in 1950 including the underfloor-engined single decker and the ‘Arab’ Mark IV with a new style of radiator grille.
The Arab Mark IV was developed for Birmingham Corporation, which took delivery of 300 chassis.
It was also produced as a 40 passenger single decker with an 18 ft. 5 inch wheelbase.
In 1950 a new version of the ‘Otter’ chassis for 30-seater body was introduced. It was similar to the ‘Vixen’ but had a heavier chassis and different sized wheels. London Transport ordered 84 ‘Vixen’ chassis, fitted with Perkins ‘P6’ diesel engines. During 1953 Guy developed a small rural bus for London Transport, based on the ‘Vixen’, but with some ‘Otter’ parts.
The ‘Otter’ passenger chassis was available with a 6-cylinder Perkins P6, or a 4-cylinder Gardner 4LK engine. The chassis weight in full running order was 2 tons 13¾ cwts. with the 4-cylinder engine, or 2 tons 14¼ cwts. with the 6-cylinder engine. The chassis had a 5-speed gearbox, and semi-elliptic front and rear spring suspension with telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers at the front and rear.
In the early 1950s the costs of passenger vehicle operation were continually rising. This created a demand for a lightweight chassis to reduce fuel consumption. As a result Guy developed the ‘Arab’ lightweight, heavy duty, underfloor-engined bus, introduced in 1953.
The ‘Arab’ chassis was powered by a Gardner 5HLW, or a Gardner 6HLW engine, with 4-speed plus reverse epicyclic, constant mesh gearbox.
Automatic chassis lubrication was available as an extra.
The chassis consisted of a strong, rigid assembly, consisting of two main channels, with channel section flitch plates inserted at the point of maximum stress, channel section and tubular cross members, and an extreme front channel, extended outside the frame to provide an exceptionally low step.
As in other Guy chassis, fitted bolts were used rather tan rivets.
The wheelbase was 16 ft. 4 inches, and the chassis was 8 ft. wide.
By 1954 Guy passenger vehicles were operated by 150 companies in the UK, and abroad, in 26 countries. During 1954 the company developed the first 2-axle trolleybus chassis with an overall length of 30 ft. for Walsall Corporation’s Transport Department. The department’s general manager, Mr. Edgley Cox had obtained permission from the Ministry of Transport to operate 2-axle 30 ft. long double deck trolley buses, which could seat 68 passengers. 15 chassis were supplied, and they were fitted with Willowbrook bodies. The new buses were a great success, and the law was changed the following year to allow the design to be used elsewhere.
In 1955 Guy Motors made what would eventually turn out to be a fatal mistake, the opening of subsidiaries in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. The company’s vehicles sold in large numbers in South Africa, a country which was greatly liked by Sydney Guy after he spent some time there recovering from pneumonia. Until then South African sales had been efficiently handled by a number of agents appointed by the company, but that all changed when Guy Motors sold directly to local vehicle operators.
A further development of the ‘Warrior’ was the vertical engined passenger chassis, built from 9 inch deep x 3 inch wide x ¼ inch thick, high tensile steel pressings. It had an alloy steel ‘I’ section front axle, a two-speed, fully floating rear axle, Bendix-Westinghouse air-hydraulic brakes, and cam and double roller steering gear. The suspension consisted of overslung semi-elliptic springs at the front and rear, with lever type shock absorbers at the front. It was powered by a Gardner 4LW engine, or a 7.685 litre oil engine. The chassis was suitable for 40 to 42 seater bodies. Another development of the ‘Warrior’ was the lightweight underfloor engined passenger chassis, called the L.U.F. for short. It was usually powered by a Gardner 5HLW oil engine, although other engines were available to suit individual requirements. The lightweight chassis was intended for 30 ft. bus or coach bodies, and designed for reliability, and a long working life.
Sydney Guy, the company’s founder, retired in 1957 after 43 years with the company. He died at his home in Albrighton on the 21st September, 1971. He was 86 years old.
In the autumn of 1958 Guy Motors introduced the ‘Victory’ high performance, maximum capacity, single deck bus or coach chassis. Versions were available for the home market, and also the European, and Commonwealth markets.
Guy also produced the ‘Seal’ lightweight single deck bus or coach chassis, available with a long or short wheelbase. The underfloor engined chassis was designed for use as a high performance, small capacity tourist coach, or as a small bus for feeder service routes. In the mid 1960s Guy Motors decided to build an advanced passenger chassis with air suspension, to give a smoother ride. The company had gained some experience after building a number of coaches with air suspension for Greyhound in America. The project was certainly bold, considering that at the time the company had limited financial resources, and so it had to be run on a shoe string. It began with consultation, during which Guy personnel talked to a number of bus operators to discover their future requirements for a low-height, double deck chassis. The outcome was that it should be 30 ft. long, 8 ft. wide, with a front engine, seating 78 passengers.
The new chassis, called the ‘Wulfrunian’ was a development of the Guy ‘Victory Airide’ single decker chassis, introduced at the 1958 Earls Court Show. The ‘Wulfrunian’ included many new features, some of which were not sufficiently tried and tested. It had anti-roll air suspension, independent front suspension, disc brakes, automatic transmission, few oiling points, and on paper appeared to be years ahead of the competition. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disaster for both Guy Motors and its customers. Operators purchased the ‘Wulfrunian’ because of the reputation of Guy ‘Arab’ buses, which were well designed, and extremely reliable. The same could not be said of the ‘Wulfrunian’, which rapidly got an extremely bad reputation. There were several problems including brake seal failure, trouble with the air suspension, disc brake overheating because of the constant stopping and starting, and some chassis fractures, which led to escalating warranty costs. All these could have been rectified, but Guy Motors did not have the financial resources to do so. Customers must have been extremely disappointed with the unreliable design, which resulted them having to replace the vehicles after a relatively short period of time. 137 ‘Wulfrunians’ were built, 126 going to the West Riding Automobile Company. The first two were purchased by Wolverhampton Corporation, one with an entrance at the front, the other with the entrance behind the front wheels.
1958 also saw the appearance of the ‘Warrior Trambus’ consisting of a modified ‘Warrior’ truck chassis which was designed at short notice for a Greek customer. The ‘Trambus’ was powered by an A.E.C. 6-cylinder, 135 b.h.p. engine, and had a 5-speed synchromesh gearbox, driving an open tubular type propeller shaft into the rear 2-speed driving axle, with electric shift control. The suspension used overslung semi-elliptic leaf springs, with double-acting hydraulic dampers at the front.
In 1960 the ‘Warrior II’ truck chassis was introduced. There were two versions, the 6-wheeled ‘Warrior Light 6’ with 3 axles, and the 8-wheeled ‘Warrior Light 8’ with 4 axles. Guy claimed that the vehicles had the largest payload for the lightest chassis, in the weight class, and also the lowest prices. The vehicles soon became very popular.
At the time, Guy Motors looked in good shape, the lorries were selling well, but there were two serious, and eventually, terminal problems. The first was the failure ‘Wulfrunian’, which was a disaster. The second problem, which continuously drained the company financially, was the company’s operation in South Africa, which was loosing £300,000 a year. This had been Guy’s first venture into the retail market. Many vehicles were sold on hire purchase, through finance companies, under a contract by which Guy was responsible for any losses to the finance company caused by default of payment. This was a common occurrence, which cost Guy dearly. Guy also offered a generous trade-in allowance which was far too high. Many old and rotten vehicles, only suitable for scrap, were traded-in at far too-high a price.
By October 1961 the two serious problems left Guy Motors in a precarious financial position. There was no alternative but to call-in a receiver.
At the time, Sir William Lyons, Managing Director of Jaguar was looking to expand the company, which had acquired Daimler in June 1960. Lyons, being an astute businessman realised that Guy Motors could be acquired relatively cheaply. He purchased it at the bargain price of £800,000. Guy Motors liabilities were disposed of in a clever way. One week after the takeover, the assets were transferred to a new company, Guy Motors (Europe) Limited. The liabilities remained with the now defunct Guy Motors Limited. On the Friday before the formation of the new company, all of Guy’s employees were told that they were sacked, and would be re-employed by the new company the following Monday.
Jaguar’s impact was immediately felt at Park Lane. The Guy directors were informed that although no money was available, they were expected to get the business out of its financial mess. Some were made redundant, and the others were told that they would now have a reduced salary, and loose their pension rights. The range of vehicles was rationalised, casualties being the 7 ton ‘Otter’ and some models in the ‘Invincible’ range.
A new and final development of the ‘Arab’, the mark 5, appeared in 1962. It incorporated a number of improvements including full air brakes with automatic adjusters, and a lower frame, 2½ inches lower than previous models. It was powered by a 112 bhp. Gardner 6LW diesel engine, with a 4-speed plus reverse constant mesh gearbox, or a fluid flywheel and semi-automatic box. The chassis had telescopic shock absorbers at the front and rear.
In 1964 Jaguar acquired Guy’s next door neighbour, engine manufacturer Henry Meadows. At this time Jaguar owned many of the best British companies and looked set to dominate the market. The same year saw the launch of Guy’s final truck the ‘Big J’ (Big Jaguar) was introduced as a replacement to the ‘Warrior’ and ‘Invincible’.
Another new product was the ‘Conquest’, a 36 ft. single deck, rear-engined passenger chassis, with full air-suspension, to provide outstanding handling qualities, and freedom from noise and vibration. It was ideally suited for the luxury coach market.
In 1965 the ‘Warrior Trambus’ was replaced by a new version of the ‘Victory’ chassis based on the ‘Big J’ truck chassis, with an AEC AV505, Gardner 6LX, or a Gardner 6LW engine. The ‘Victory Trambus’ as it was called, later became British Leyland’s standard heavy duty export bus chassis. At the time Jaguar was going from strength to strength. Its products sold well, and by 1965 its annual profit was £1.6 million. On 11th July, 1966 Jaguar merged with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) to form British Motor Holdings, a decision which would eventually have disastrous consequences for Guy Motors. Initially this had little impact on Guy Motors, where production continued quite normally. Unfortunately British Motor Holdings struggled to make a profit, often due to poor costing.
The labour government of the day thought that the troubles in the British motor industry could be cured by company mergers. Harold Wilson encouraged the merger of British Motor Holdings with the Leyland Motor Group. As early as February 1967 the Minister of Technology, Tony Benn, informed the House of Commons that the two companies were holding talks about a merger. This became a reality on 14th May, 1968 when the companies formerly merged to become the British Leyland Motor Corporation Limited.
In 1969 the final batch of ‘Arab V’s were delivered to Chester Corporation. They were the last Guy bus chassis to be built for the British market.
The ‘Big J’ continued to sell well, around 16,000 chassis were produced in all, at the factory, which for a while kept the factory open. Leyland had intended to close Guy Motors in the mid 1970s, but it remained open because of the demand for the ‘Big J’.
80 ‘Victory’ chassis, modified for double deck bodies were sent to South Africa in 1973. They were extremely successful and so a mark 2 version was designed with the front axle moved forward, in front of the entrance. The new chassis was supplied to operators in South Africa, and Hong Kong.
In 1975 the Leyland ‘Landtrain’ T43 was introduced, and many were built at the Guy factory, along with some Leyland ‘Marathon’ trucks, and a few ‘Crusaders’.
A new single deck version of the ‘Victory’ chassis appeared in 1978 with improved suspension and brakes.
By the late 1970s Leyland was finding it hard to compete with the growing competition from abroad. A rationalisation programme began, during which many of the group’s factories were closed. In 1981 the decision was taken to close Guy Motors because the factory lacked the facilities that modern truck production required.
Guy Motors was however, one of the few companies in the Leyland group that actually made a profit. Its order books were full for at least 18 months ahead, and its workforce was second to none. Sadly this not taken into consideration, and the factory closed in August 1982 with a loss of 740 jobs.
Guy vehicles were well known throughout the world. The company exported to 76 countries, and was well respected for the quality and reliability of its products.
If Guy hadn’t opened the South African subsidiary, it could all have ended very differently. Money would have been available to sort out the teething troubles with the ‘Wulfrunian’, and further developments would have ensured a continuing range of up-to-date designs.
The final nail was knocked into the coffin on Tuesday 5th October,1982 at an auction held in the works, during which the entire contents of the factory were sold off.
The 1047 lots included everything, from hand tools, drill bits, and lathe tools, to benches, cranes and hoists, forklift trucks, heavy plant, the contents of the offices, and kitchen equipment.
During the 10 days following the auction, the factory opened on week days from 8-30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. so that successful bidders could remove their purchases from the site.
This must have been a terrible sight for the hundreds of loyal Guy workers who had only recently lost their jobs.
Many people fondly remember the company and its products, which were once a familiar sight throughout the country. Luckily some of the vehicles still survive, and are owned by enthusiasts who keep them in first class condition. They are often seen at vehicle rallies, where they keep the Guy name alive. Hopefully this will continue for many years to come.
The senior management at Guy Motors always had an excellent working relationship with their employees, most of whom enjoyed their time in the factory. Because of this Guy had an industrial relations record second to none. There were no strikes in the factory.
Guy Motors was a good employer, and one of the first companies to voluntarily initiate holidays with pay for all staff. The company also ran a staff profit sharing scheme. All of the worker’s children were given an outing in the summer, and a party at Christmas. There was a welfare club run by a committee, and extensive sports and social facilities including football pitches, tennis courts, a hockey field, and a bowling green, on the sports ground which stood next to the factory.
The canteen stood in the centre of the sports ground and had an up-to-date kitchen and equipment to cater for 500 people. The building was also used for concerts, whist drives, dances, table tennis, and snooker. There was a garden of memory next to the playing fields, which served as a memorial to the fallen in both World Wars.
An Employees view of Guy Motors by Peter Edwards.
I suppose, looking back at things now, the end for Guy Motors started with the take over by British Leyland in 1968. For although on the surface things seemed to carry on as before there were already signs of things to come when the Big J emblem was replaced by the BL emblem, and BL working practices came into being such as the Union leaders having to travel to Lancashire to conduct negotiations on pay and conditions whereas it had always been done locally before, even under Jaguar.
During the fourteen years that I worked there as a storeman/forklift truck driver I can remember the thousands of different parts I issued for different vehicles, particularly all those to the CKD (complete knock down) department for packing to places like Kowloon and Hong Kong due to the fact that Guy’s had built up a reputation in the Far East and could supply any combination of gearboxes and engines that the customer required.
Quite simply Guy Motors was THE big name for trucks and buses in that area, second to none. It was in 1978 with the introduction of the Scammel Crusader that the black clouds started to appear on the horizon. Having been mostly developed by the highly skilled men in the development department at Guy’s, it went into production simultaneously at Guys and Leyland, but a portent of things to come, came in an order from British Airways for an initial 50 vehicles with the promise of a much bigger order if the vehicles came up to expectations. Twenty five were built at Guy’s and twenty five were built at Leyland, the only difference in them being that the chassis at Guy’s were sprayed black and those at Leyland were red.
With the vehicles having been delivered on time, the Leyland management approached BA bosses over their promise of the bigger order. They were told they could have it, but BA insisted that it was on condition that they were built at Guy’s. Leyland however would not agree to this and the order was lost. From that day onwards Guy’s became a thorn in the side of Leyland and the workers at Park Lane began to see the writing on the wall.
In 1980 the T43 Land Train nicknamed “The Marathon” was launched in a blaze of publicity at Guy Motors with a cold buffet laid on in the evening for those who turned up for the launch, the majority of the development once again having been carried out at Guy’s. Earlier in the year a new paint spraying plant was installed in the cab fitting area where the bare metal cabs were sprayed with undercoat before being fitted out, and attached to the chasses being built on a moving track, just below the level of the cab track.
With the installation of this plant we all thought that things had turned the corner but it was not to be because three months later a party of top management from Leyland came down to Guy’s, and I can remember the manager of my department coming to me, as it was part of my job to issue cabs to the cab assembly department, and telling me to get hold of the big fork lift truck and take a cab over to a building on the opposite side of the factory that was no longer used. When I got there I found the Leyland management team, the Guy management team, and a cradle of the type that the cabs fitted into when they went through the paint plant for spraying. I was told to lift the cab into the cradle which I did very carefully, and then I was dismissed. At that point I just thought it was to assure them that the design of the cradles was correct.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I saw on the news on the television, a film clip showing the same cradles going round a much bigger paint plant at Leyland with T43 cabs on them. I knew then that redundancy was not far off.
At the Commercial Motor Show in the latter half of 1980 a T43 Land Train was put on show by Guys, but it was listed as a Leyland vehicle, and those who turned up from areas abroad such as the afore mentioned China Bus Company from Kowloon were told that from then on they would only be able to buy buses made at Leyland. Needless to say Leyland did not get the orders and the whole of the Far East truck and bus empire that Guy’s had built up was lost.
The end finally came when Margaret Thatcher appointed Sir Michael Edwardes to oversee the restructuring of the whole of British Leyland. This was of course a disaster because he was in over his head as they say, and when he had finished, many of the smaller companies such as Guys, which had a full order book for the next two years were closed, and the inefficient Leyland plant was kept open.
Even at the end, Leyland management continued to show their contempt for the Guy Motors workforce when as part of the severance package, a big bonus was promised on condition that certain targets were met. As each month went by with the workers adhering to the agreement, things seemed to be going smoothly and we were told by Leyland management that we were on target to get the bonus, all we had to do was carry-on as we were doing. After about seven months the works convenor had a mysterious phone call from the Guy Motors financial controller, who had recently left the company having found a new position with another company under the terms laid down by the Redundancy Act. He asked to meet with the shop stewards in the nearby pub where he told them that the workforce had already reached their targets a month before, and if they did not lift another spanner until the factory closed, the bonus had already been earned. He told them that he could not inform them before because if he had been found out he could have been dismissed for gross misconduct, and would have lost his redundancy payment.
After that the workforce lost all respect for the management and simply turned up each morning with a couldn’t care less attitude. They went in simply to get their wages, and by the time that the majority of the workforce, myself included had left in July of 1982 there were still a lot of unfinished vehicles, and thousands of parts left in the factory. What happened at the very end I do not know, I was just glad to be out of the poisonous atmosphere.
The loss of not only a British Vehicle Builder with big exports, respected overseas for the way it did business, but also well respected by it’s employees for many a year during it’s lifetime!