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During the mid 1960s Manchester City Transport started to look at replacement vehicles for the coach service between Manchester City Centre and the Airport. Previously, Leyland Tigers with various types of bodywork were used on this service. The replacement vehicles eventually chosen were Bedford VAL’s, then a relatively new model. These coaches were immediately recognisable due to the small wheel diameter and the double axles at the front. This latter feature often earned them the nickname “Twin steers”.The initial batch was for six vehicles and these were all supplied by the dealer, Shaw & Kilburn. The fleet numbers allocated were 201-206, a new series of numbers for the coach fleet. As the delivery stared in December 1966 and finished in January 1967, two different registration suffixes were required. Interestingly, the split was made with all three odd numbered vehicles taking the ‘D’ suffix, and the three even numbered vehicles taking the ‘E’ suffix. All had Plaxton Panorama 1 bodies, finished in attractive turquoise and white livery. Even though all were licenced to carry 52 passengers, the internal seating arrangement was subject to regular changes, initial seating was only for 47 (although 203 was delivered with only 45 seats and two tables). Mechanically, the coaches were fitted with the Leyland 0400 engine.After a successful period of operation, there was a requirement for further coaches to both supplement the Airport service and the now increasing private hire department. Once more, MCT turned to Shaw & Kilburn and a further six Bedford VALs were acquired in mid 1968. These vehicles carried the fleet numbers 207-212. Although carrying Panorama 1 bodywork, these differed from the first batch in the fact that they had Bedford 466 engines and were delivered from new with 52 seats.

With a fleet of 12 Bedford VALs, the original idea was that six would be allocated to the Airport service and six to private hire. The fleet would be renewed on a two year frequency. However, the absorption of MCT into SELNEC in November 1969 put a premature end to this idea.

However, an order for six replacement coaches (to replace 201-206) was already in place before the absorption, but this was reduced to only two vehicles by MCT in early 1969. The two replacement coaches, 213 and 214, were once again Bedford VALs (with the 466 engine), but now with the Plaxton Elite bodywork which had only be unveiled at the October 1968 Motor Show. As usual MCT was setting the trend with new vehicles.

All 14 Bedford VALs were transferred into SELNEC ownership and the majority were re-painted reasonably quickly into the SELNEC orange colour scheme. However, rather than the off-white colour normally used for the SELNEC livery, these vehicles continued using the standard MCT white paint. According to rumours at the time, this was to speed up the re-painting of the coaches, as only the turquoise had to change to orange! The livery was completed with SELNEC Express lettering, using the orange SELNEC flash. 

It is still unclear today as to which coaches were repainted. Photographic evidence exists showing all from 207 to 214 in SELNEC livery, but there has so far been no photographic evidence of any of the first batch being repainted and it is feasible that these coaches were withdrawn by SELNEC still wearing the MCT turquoise livery.

Having acquired a reasonably modern coach fleet, the VALs were used not only on the Airport service, but increasingly on private hire. Indeed, soon after the creation of SELNEC, the Airport service was restructured and the VALs were allocated to other work. One of the most important was the introduction of the Trans Lancs Express, linking Bolton with Stockport. The complete second batch of VALs were used to launch and run this service in the early days, later being supplemented with other coaches from the SELNEC fleet as they became available. The two Elites, 213 and 214, were also used for the introduction of the Hale Barns Executive Express, a service aimed at the increasing number of people commuting to and from Hale Barns and the vicinity for business purposes.

Gradually, the VALs were withdrawn from service with SELNEC, but the two Elites survived into Greater Manchester Transport ownership. The coach sector was always renewed faster than the service bus fleet. The first two batches of VALs were withdrawn between May 1971 and June 1972. The two Elites, by now renumbered 13 and 14 in the main GMT coach fleet, were finally withdrawn in April 1975.

All the VALs went to see further service, many with independent coach operators. Some went through more than one operator, but gradually the ex-MCT VALs were scrapped or ‘lost’ forever; with the exception of 205 (GNB 518D).

201/3/5 GNB 516-518D Bedford VAL14 Plaxton C47F* 1966
202/4/6 GND 111-113E Bedford VAL14 Plaxton C47F 1967
207-212 JND 207-212F Bedford VAL70 Plaxton C52F 1968
213-214 MND 213-214G Bedford VAL70 Plaxton C52F 1969
215 TRJ 101 AEC Reliance 2MU3RV Weymann C26F 1962
216 NXJ 376H Bedford VAS5 Plaxton C29F 1970
217-224 OND734-741H Seddon Pennine IV Plaxton C51F 1970
225-226 PVR 225-226J Bedford VAS1 Plaxton C29F 1971
227-234 RNA 695-702J Seddon Pennine IV Plaxton C51F* 1971
235-240 TNB 436-441K Bedford YRQ Duple C45F 1972
241-245 TNB 442-446K Bedford VAS5 Duple C29F 1972
246-247 TNB 447-448K Seddon Pennine T6 Plaxton C51F 1972
248-249 TXJ 535-536K Bedford YRQ Duple C45F 1972
250-251 TXJ 537-538K Leyland Leopard PSU5 Plaxton C53F 1972
252-255 TXJ 539-542K Leyland Leopard PSU3 Duple C49F 1972
201-214 were Manchester 201-214
215 was Salford 101
216 was delivered with registration KNK 375H
*203 was C45F; 234 was C47F
207, 211, 212 were transferred to SELNEC Cheshire as 207A, 211A, 212A in 1972
213/4/6, 225-229, 231-255 were renumbered 13, 14, 16, 25-29, 31-55 in a new coach series in 1973.
201 VXJ 737L Ford Transit (petrol) Deansgate C12F 1972
201 was renumbered 215 in 1973 and then 15 in the new coach series in 1974.

205 (GNB 518D)

Below is a list of 205's owners from new until present:

Manchester City Transport 8th December 1966
Geoffrey Charles Bickers, Ipswich 5th April 1973
Gateway Coaches, Chertsey 18th April 1977
Kevin Ellis, Telford & Peter Watts, Bury 7th July 1988
Kevin Ellis, Telford 1st September 1991
Cavern Tours, Liverpool 20th June 1994
Crown Coaches, Birkenhead 6th November 1998
SELNEC Preservation Society, Manchester 10th August 2002

205 went on to see service with Bickers Coach Company following withdrawal from SELNEC. It was painted in an attractive two tone green livery, and was used on various private charters. Once service with Bickers had finished, 205 passed to a company trading as Gateway Coaches in Chertsey. The green livery gave way to a two tone blue livery, in fact one of the colours not being far off the original turquoise colour of Manchester.Towards the end of 1986, 205 was on the move once more, this time to a new company in Yorkshire. This company was planning to start up a coach company using vintage buses and coaches, but unfortunately the business plan was not financially sound and the company was disbanded before they actually started operation.

However, many various vintage vehicles had already been acquired, 205 being one of them. Through the various enthusiasts grapevines, the Telford Bus Group (TBG) was informed of the existence of 205. The TBG is a group of bus preservationists, whose membership was very interested in Bedford VALs and had already started an unofficial register of the remaining examples. A field trip was arranged in June 1988 to view 205 in Yorkshire. Although looking in a worn condition, 205 was started up and ran reasonably well. A deal was made with the owner on the spot and 205 passed into preservation for the first time.7th July 1988 was a big day, the day on which 205 was to be towed from Yorkshire to Telford. Although the engine ran okay, only one out of the six brakes was operational, so towing was the only option. Peter Watts had the luck of steering 205 on a rigid bar tow to Telford, a somewhat frightening experience at times as we passed 60mph on the M18 and the rigid tow bar separated twice en route, the second time in the middle of the rush hour on the A5 in Cannock! Finally, 205 was at its new home in Telford. Restoration commenced almost immediately, and within a few weeks it was once more mechanically correct, and could move under its own power. More importantly, it could stop under its own power as well! An MOT was passed and the restoration could now continue on the bodywork and the interior.

By December 1988, 205 was once more in the MCT turquoise and white livery, all that was missing was the external lettering. Reference was made earlier to whether or not the first batch of VALs were ever painted into SELNEC orange livery and during the restoration of 205, traces of the original turquoise was found, along with the Bickers green, but absolutely no traces of SELNEC orange were found, thus strengthening the belief that 205 was never re-painted into orange.

We had been fortunate in the fact than the original destination blind was still fitted, bearing such wonderful destinations as Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and Parrs Wood, to name but a few! Also the original seats had survived, but in a very poor condition.

The first public outing was in April 1989 to the Spring Transport Festival at the Museum of Transport in Manchester. By now the Manchester coat of arms was applied, along with the correct lettering. The remainder of 1989 saw 205 attending several rallies and other events. The following two years were similar.

However, 1992 brought about changes. Peter Watts, being a part owner of 205, emigrated to France. The future of 205 was about to change. Being 800 miles away from a vehicle makes life difficult. He was also the owner of two other VALs and also Mancunians 2130 and 2139. In 1993 it was decided that 205, although an important vehicle, could no longer be kept by the TBG. Several other enthusiast groups were contacted, but no one was willing to take on 205.

With great regret, 205 was sold onto a dealer in Bromyard, who already had a new owner in mind. Some secrecy surrounded the new owner until eventually 205 was seen in Liverpool sporting the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour livery, being operated around Liverpool by Cavern City Tours. So 205 once more obtained the status of a commercial vehicle.

So it continued its new life until a minor problem with the cylinder head gasket took it off the road. By now Cavern City Tours had another two operation VALs, so 205 was not considered urgent to repair. Unfortunately, it became a “Christmas Tree” to keep the others on the road. Eventually, in early 2002, there was a rumour that 205 was to be scrapped to provide spare parts for another VAL and have part of its rear bodywork grafted onto a former stock car transporter VAL. These rumours proved to be untrue, but by now Peter Watts had started a dialogue with Cavern City Tours with the aim of rescuing 205 for the second time! Over a period of several weeks, many telephone calls and E-mails later, a visit to Liverpool was arranged. During this visit, a deal was struck with Cavern City Tours and 205 was now officially owned by the SELNEC Preservation Society . For the second time 205 had been rescued for preservation, Peter Watts negotiating both of the purchases!

For the time being, 205 has been towed back to the dealer in Bromyard, who originally sold it to Cavern City Tours. The dealer, Martin Perry, is also an enthusiast and he is now in the process of mechanically rectifying 205 to allow it to be MOT’d. Once this has been done, then 205 will join the other SELNEC Preservation Society’s vehicles in Wigan. Eventually, it will be restored back to a pristine condition.



201 - 206

(GNB 518D)


Plaxton C47F



Bedford Val 14



8th December 1966



10th August 2002



One of only six blue and white airport coaches, with twin front axels, ordered by Manchester City Transport.

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