Simanaitis Says

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TONY HOGG WROTE AN R&T road test of the London Bus, most appropriately in April of 1963. Curiously enough, the test took part not in London, but in San Francisco, to which the LTE delivered one of its Routemasters as part of that city’s London Week. Here are tidbits about this road test. “Just the thing for a family of 72,” R&T reported.

This and other images from R&T, April 1963.

Double-Decker. “The double-deck layout,” Tony described, “has been standard in London since the earliest days of the horse bus, because it offers a comparatively short, compact and high vehicle well-suited to London, where the city block is unknown, the streets narrow and congested, and economy in road space is essential.”

Forty passengers up top get a fine view. Back in the Twenties, the top deck was open.

The Logic of Driver and Conductor. “Admittedly,” Tony continued, “it requires a conductor as well as a driver, but it must be remembered that in London, the fares vary according to the distance traveled, and the conductor is busily engaged in issuing tickets and making change. As an example, a trip from ’ammersmith Broadway to ’ackney Wick might cost you only a tanner, but from World’s End to the Elephant and Castle could easily run you a bob.”

Tony explains, “By using a conductor to take the fares, it is possible to load the bus from the back and eliminate the necessity of doors, which are a great hindrance to a fast loading and unloading operation. The theory is that if you load in front without doors, sooner or later someone falls off and gets under the rear wheels, but by loading at the back this danger is eliminated. Also, from time immemorial, passengers have been mounting and dismounting while the bus is in motion between stops, and a seasoned Londoner can drop off the rear platform at 15 mph without losing either bowler or umbrella.”

The Routemaster “Skateboard” Design.  “The bus,” Tony said, “is constructed on a unitized chassis/body principle, and the power unit, steering, front wheels and controls form a ‘wheelbarrow’ unit which can be unbolted and wheeled away for servicing. The same system is adopted for the rear axle.”

Detuned Diesel Power.  A six-cylinder, overhead-valve AEC diesel of 9638 cc powers the Routemaster. It’s designed for economy, long life and (relatively) clean exhaust: Tony noted, “… it will deliver a steady 8 mpg at scheduled speeds in excess of 11 mph and will run for an average 175,000 miles of city operation before demanding major attention.”

The engine is offset to the left. The driver, with no fare duties, gets an isolated compartment to the right, what R&T called “offset monoposto.”

The LTE detunes the engine by reducing its injection pump stroke, “which has the added advantage of ensuring a clean exhaust,” Tony noted, “an essential feature in a city with an atmosphere which makes that of Los Angeles seem as clean as the driven snow.”

An Automatic Gearbox.  The Routemaster’s engine is coupled to a four-speed automatic, its gear selection by a stubby lever on the steering column. “Strangely enough,” Tony said, “the LTE has favored automatic transmissions for many years, and since the early Thirties has used an version of the ENV pre-selector box—a design used in several English race cars, such as the MG K-3 Magnette and the ERA. However, the Routemaster is the first series to be equipped with true, 2-pedal operation.”

“The controls,” R&T noted, “are sensibly proportioned and well laid out, falling—as they say—readily to hand.”

You’ll recall, with an ENV box, one’s pre-selection was activated by depressing the left of the three pedals. 

Accommodations. “Access to the top deck,” Tony said, “is by a curved and steep staircase, which has always been a potential hazard in double-deck bus operation, this being the reason ladies wearing heels usually choose to sit below.”

“On taking our seat,” Tony continued, “among any of the 40 on the top deck, or 32 on the lower deck, we appreciated the adequate hip and leg room, and admired the upholstery, which was a heavy and expensive woolen material trimmed in leather.”

How Far Can You Go? Will a double-decker tip over? “Actually, however,” Tony advised, “all new models have to undergo a tilt test to an angle of 28º when fully loaded on the top deck only. The Routemaster went to a chassis angle of 32º and a body angle of 36º before the wheels started to lift.” 

The Riding Experience. Tony noted, “The history of the London bus services is one of internecine warfare between rival companies, legal battles, piracy, fatal accidents, and the whole somewhat reminiscent of the American Old West…. Perhaps some excitement has been lost in the transition, because in the late Twenties at any busy bus stop one could still choose from several different companies, such as Thomas Tilling, the General Omnibus Company, or even a pirate company which painted its vehicle a chocolate brown, paid its crews on a commission basis, and was reputed to use a cheap brand of Russian gasoline, which even at that time was considered slightly subversive.” 

Gad. A Bolshie Bus! ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022


  1. Mike B
    October 29, 2022

    Interesting you have that picture of a double-decker next to a Mack in SF. In terms of raw performance, they’re very similar. The Macks were SF’s first diesel buses (all were gasoline or electric (trolley) before that, and the trolley buses are still around). They all had a 2-speed transmission, and most were geared for a top speed of 40-45; in typical city service, faster than that wasn’t required. A few were low-geared for steep hill routes, with a top speed of 30-35, and a few for freeway expresses topping at about 55. Hmmm … did an April Road Test ever get done on a trolley bus or streetcar? There were a couple of steam loco tests iirc. RT needs to publish a compilation of April “road” tests, including the one of the road, like they’ve done with Mr. Manney’s and Mr. Egan’s columns.

    • -Nate
      October 29, 2022

      I greatly miss the electric trolley bus’ .


  2. -Nate
    October 29, 2022

    SWEET ! .

    I don’t imagine they shipped it back home again, I wonder what ever happened with / to it ? .


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