Plaxton looks ahead as it celebrates the past

Plaxton invited operators of its coaches new and old to attend a celebratory event in Scarborough last week. The response saw 42 vehicles present

Coaches old and new were present at the Scarborough event, including some unusual models

New to the coaching calendar for 2019 – and with a re-run already in mind for 2020 – was a rally organised by Plaxton for operators of its coaches old and new. It took place at the Scarborough factory on Thursday last week (8 August).

Open to invited guests, the event attracted a credible 42 entries and 500 visitors. It was followed by a road run around the town taking in Marine Drive and a celebratory dinner that was attended by 200 people.

Entries painted a varied picture of Plaxton’s more recent history. It is 112 years old in 2019. In particular, many restored examples of its Panorama and Supreme ranges from the heyday of British coaching were present.

Later models – from the Paramount, Excalibur and Premiere ranges – were also to be seen, while a strong showing of its current-day line-up was on display. Bookending the model range was a modern-day Panorama, Plaxton’s double-decker flagship on Volvo B11RLE chassis.

Celebrating Plaxton

“This event was held to reward some of our loyal customers and to show them that we are in the coach market for the long term,” says Richard Matthews, Retail Sales Director of Plaxton parent Alexander Dennis (ADL).

“Many of our key customers have supported the rally by bringing coaches along. That gives an indication of what Plaxton means to them,” he adds.

York Pullman and subsidiary Wrays of Harrogate assisted by providing transport for attendees

Support was also in evidence from all levels of ADL and Plaxton. Held during the Scarborough factory’s summer shutdown, many staff volunteered to act as marshals and members of senior management from across both organisations were also present, including CEO Colin Robertson.

Addressing the evening gathering, Colin described the coach industry as “being like both a village and a close family,” adding that ADL remains proud to be associated with it. Concluding the event was the presentation of seven awards for vehicles judged to be the best of those entered.

Hardware on show

The oldest coach on display was an Austin K8 with 14-seat Venturer bodywork. In the livery of Scotts Greys, it dates from 1952. Other chassis marques common in the industry of yesteryear represented in the line-up included AEC, Bedford, Bristol, Ford, Leyland and Seddon.

From the latter manufacturer, Leicester operator GH Watts showed its Pennine IV with Panorama Elite II bodywork. The front-engined coach is powered by a Perkins V8, which made itself known during the road run. Bibby’s of Ingleton displayed its well-known Pennine VII with a Supreme body.

GH Watts of Leicester entered one of two Seddon Pennine-based coaches that were present

The ‘Chinese six’ Bedford VAL was also represented, with a 1963 example carrying early Panorama bodywork from Johnson Bros Tours complemented by a slightly newer example operated by Kenzies Coaches of Shepreth.

Two centre-door coaches recreated an element of the former Glenton Tours fleet. An AEC Reliance with Supreme III bodywork was entered by Coopers Tours of Killamarsh, complemented by a newer Volvo B58 with Supreme IV coachwork, owned by York Pullman subsidiary Dodsworths Coaches.

Predictably, Volvo featured strongly among newer exhibits. Its Euro 6 chassis were present, but the B10M was also to be found. An early example, and one that still earns its keep, was a 1982 coach with Supreme IV bodywork recently purchased by Henshaw’s Executive Travel of Moreton-in-Marsh.

Dodsworths also showed a B10M with a Premiere 350 body, while Henry Cooper Coaches was rewarded with an award for its imposing tri-axle B12T with Excalibur bodywork; a rare sight in 2019.

At the smaller end of the scale, Perry’s Travel of Malton made the short journey with a late-model Cheetah-bodied Mercedes-Benz Vario, while York Pullman and its subsidiary Wrays of Harrogate each entered a Cheetah XL, built on the Atego chassis.

Another good year

Although Plaxton held last week’s event as a thank you to existing, established customers, the company says that future business looks strong. 2019 is shaping up to be another good year for the Scarborough plant.

In particular, ADL’s investment in new models – which has established a range that is the most extensive in the UK market – is paying dividends.

Commercial Manager Mark Ballam reports that several new or returning customers have come into the fold. He also points out that the versatility of many of Plaxton’s products is proving appealing, with the ability to redeploy coaches onto different duties later in life an attractive selling point.

The oldest entrant was this Austin K8 with Venturer bodywork that dates back to 1952

Promoted as part of the event were examples of the manufacturer’s used stock, while also present was ADL’s high-specification Enviro400 double-decker bus demonstrator.

Fitted with a wide variety of passenger amenities, the type has become popular with some coach operators as a short- to medium-distance private hire vehicle where high capacity is required but a double-decker coach cannot be justified.

Overall response to the rally from attendees was positive, with many appreciating the social side as much as the opportunity to gather coaches from down the years. News is awaited whether the event will return for 2020 – but if it does and you run a Plaxton, keep an eye out for the date.

Awards recognise the best coaches in their class

Seven awards were presented following the rally, with judging overseen by long-serving Plaxton man Kevin Wood.

Sharpes of Nottingham’s Supreme IV-bodied Volvo B58 was judged best coach in its age group

Taking home the accolade for best in show was Johnson Bros Tours’ 1963 Bedford VAL with Panorama bodywork, one of two entries from the Worksop operator. The other was a Volvo B58 with a Supreme IV body. The VAL also claimed the award for best coach from before 1964.

Another VAL claiming silverware was the example entered by Kenzies Coaches, which triumphed in the category for coaches built between 1965-1979.

Sharpes of Nottingham won the award for best entry from between 1980-1991 with its immaculate Supreme IV-bodied B58. The coach is no stranger to silverware and it came out on top in a competitive category.

Of entries built between 1992-2010, the Excalibur-bodied B12T owned by Henry Cooper Coaches was triumphant. In the category for entries from between 2011 and the current day, Country Lion was victorious for its Elite-bodied Volvo B11R.

Another B11R-based model claiming an award, this time in the People’s Choice category as voted for by attendees, was one of Acklams Coaches of Beverley’s three Elite-i interdeckers.