The Bristol K types

MPM 500 - the last Bristol K type of all
From the private collection of Martin Nimmo
HAP 992 near Shoreham Harbour
From the private collection of Martin Nimmo

The Brighton Hove and District Omnibus Company was late among the nationalised bus operators to introduce the more modern Bristol Lodekka types. These were only ordered finally for trolleybus replacement in 1959. Until then, for something like twenty years, the BH&D had ordered Bristol K type doubledeckers, with around 56 seats and open rear platforms (and no heaters!). These were the buses we all travelled on – unless we were lucky enough to be on a Corporation bus or trolleybus route or spent the extra on the protected fares that Southdown were forced to charge.

Variations of the K type
Although mechanically fairly similar to one another, the K type had a number of variations, some of which were obvious to passengers. These included the open-topped vehicles, converted in the BH&D workshops, the convertible open-topped vehicles, some with fairly translucent roof panels, and in the 1950’s the first wider (8′ instead of 7’6″) red and cream buses.

All ended their days in the scrap
The final batch was delivered in 1957, registered MPM 493-500 and numbered 493-500; these were, unusually, only 7’6″ wide, intended for the St James’ Street routes. In those days St James’ Street was worked in both directions by buses and trolleybuses. They finished their days in the early 1970’s under Southdown ownership, many of them on route 55 to the farthest reaches of Brighton to the East. Unfortunately all ended their days in the scrapyard, as open-back buses were by that time out of fashion. None of the K types lasted long into Southdown times, and none were repainted in green and cream.

The sole survivor
The only survivor is a KSW bus (8′ wide) HAP 985, which is today owned by the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Co., which occasionally ventures out in special service or attends bus rallies. I last saw it a couple of years ago running on the long route to Tunbridge Wells one afternoon!

Comments about this page

  • Looking at those pictures brings back memories. The look, the sound – and even the smell! It was always interesting as a kid to go down to Conway Street, Hove, where the bus garages were, to see all the different models lined up for cleaning and refueling. There was a also a special breakdown vehicle that went out to rescue anything that had broken down. It appeared to have a bus-type front and a crane on the back.

    By Pat Benham (17/07/2008)
  • The breakdown vehicle was EAP 4 (given the number W4), which was indeed a cut-down Bristol K5G double-decker from about 1948. I well remember the next bus in the series, EAP 5, in daily service in the early 1950’s on service 15B. It always seemed to have the same crew, including a very nice “clippie”. The only drawback was that the rear platform was a little bit high for a six-year-old!

    By Martin Nimmo (23/07/2008)
  • One of the highlights of staying at my Grandmother’s house in Steyning during the late 50s and early 60s was the bus ride into Brighton on the Southdown number 22; especially if we could sit in the front row upstairs. Living in rural Dorset it was very exciting passing Shoreham Harbour and Portslade before arriving in the fleshpots of Brighton.

    By Simon Palmer (10/08/2009)
  • Although I did not drive a ‘K’ type in service, I did in fact learn and pass my PSV in one. This was in the late 1970’s. A beautiful machine to drive and steering so light it could have been power steering. I think I may have been one of the last to learn on the old ‘K’ - the registration number could have been 424 or 444.

    By Bob Golby (psv KK57891) (20/08/2009)
  • Hi Bob Golby; just a bit of info for you. Slightly off topic in the first instance regarding the best buses Brighton ever had (The ‘K’ types). I remember a cream livery Lodekka (Open topper) which was a learner bus which had a reg of SPM 21 or Spm 22. However getting to the point I passed my PSV test on FNJ110 which had a chassis number of 428. This was a devil of a bus as it had a 7′ 6″ chassis attached to an 8′ body [the same as FNJ 101 (419) through to FNJ 111 (429)]. The previous learner bus was KSW5 which had a reg of EAP 4 (396). This was converted later as a breakdown vehicle (W4) by pouring two ton of concrete in the rear end of the vehicle so it would hold the ground when towing or digging other buses out of the snow. After FNJ 110 (428) had its day the company introduced GPM 902 (442) as the learner bus. This bus had a regular service on the 43 / 43A / 44/ 44A. I drove it a couple of times as it was based at Whitehawk garage on overtime. The next in line was KAP 551 (477) which was once again a service bus on the 5 route on 5×3. I believe that this was driven on ‘B’ shift by Tony Farncombe before he was issued XPM 47 (47). Tony always insisted that he had his own big ball gear stick knob fitted on his service buses. I believe the original knob came from an AEC vehicle. I can only agree with you that on 442 and 447 the steering was terrific. I can only offer you my opinion that the ‘K’ types were far superior to the early Lodekkas, one could drive them anywhere, even up a wall if you wanted (Ha Ha). Thanks for jolting my memory.

    By Sid Berry (01/10/2009)
  • I remember driving the K types for BH&D between 1967 and 1969. If the passengers only knew how bad the brakes were. Often remember standing on the brake pedal with both feet, which was covered with a riveted on leather pad, and bum out of the seat, to bring a full bus to a stop down the hill to the back of the market. When we put a defect sheet in at the end of the day it always had ‘adjust brakes’ on it. This was done, but if you had the late shift they were getting poor again by the time you took over at ‘box time’. I seem to remember they also had a ‘clutch stop’ which enabled a faster gear change (crash box, of course) especially on going uphill. This also needed regular adjustment and made them much more of a pleasure to drive. I know the Lodekkas which followed had this feature. These of course had the heater radiators above the cab in the top deck which often leaked hot water into the cab – nice. Getting back to the ‘K’ type, it was not appreciated at the time but the simplicity of them would make them a pleasure to drive today. I would love to drive one now.

    By Richard Grey (02/10/2009)
  • K Type Experience: I was happening to have a look at some old bus photographs just recently and I came across a photo of a “K” type with the registration number of LNJ 488 (Chassis No 488). It was a bus allocated to the 3A/40 route. The running code for this service was 3Ax6. The chap that normally drove the bus in those days during 1968 was Cyril Benchley. Cyril was enjoying a rest day on the August bank holiday Saturday that year and I was given the vehicle to drive as his replacement for that day. As I recall it was a sunny day (unusual for a bank holiday) and the town was very busy as per the norm. I was driving this bus in a westerly direction through the town, and I had a full standing load capacity. At this juncture, I will have to explain that when these K types were on an upward slope or heading up a hill, first gear had to be engaged to pull away from the standing position. (When on the flat it was normal to pull away in second gear.) To get into second gear, we drivers had to do what was known as a “snatch change” as the gearbox had no synchromesh. Hence, it was called a “Crash Box”. Anyway….. on leaving the New Road stop heading uphill westwards with this standing load of passengers on board I approached the traffic lights at the Clock Tower junction heading into Western Road. They turned to red. I stopped and waited for the green light and put my gear stick into first gear. The lights turned green and I pulled away and did a “snatch change” to get into the second gear. This time it was different…. as I snatched the gear stick, it came out of its socket in my hand right across the junction of West Street and the quadrant where the Clock Tower is situated. I was stuck in neutral absolutely bunging up the junction with 68 passengers on board on this sunny bank holiday at about midday. The traffic mayhem was considerable and the bus was not cleared away by the tow truck for about an hour or so. I hasten to add that the snatch change that I made did not go wrong as I learned later that the bolts near the ball joint at the bottom of the gear stick in the gearbox had sheered away. I definitely earned my pint of mild and bitter after work on that day to calm the nerves.

    By Sid Berry (14/10/2009)
  • I too learned to drive on k type Bristols and they were lovely machines; my badge no was KK47502.

    By simon storrs (16/12/2009)
  • RIP 449/454/460… the three Ks that I used to catch regularly on the 5 or 19 from Brunswick School to Coleridge Street in 1959/61 to attend Goldstone Junior School and then on the 11 service to Dyke Road for the Grammar School…. you say that they were nice to drive, I say they were nice to ride too. Although I loved the Lodekkas when they arrived with their big wings instead of a radiator and shiny red and cream livery, the Ks were the “daddies” and would be there for ever of course! Sad that only one was preserved….

    By Tony Hagon (08/10/2011)
  • I occasionally used the 14 route in the early ’50s and there was one K type that seemed to have more guts than the others. Could this have had a supercharger or some other boosting device fitted? I think it was HAP (?) John Snelling

    By john Snelling (11/01/2013)
  • Does anyone know how the clutch stop actually worked and what was the difference in technique between a snatch and a clutch stop change? Were they one and the same thing or not?


    By John Davison (06/12/2015)
  • Hi John,

    I’m no expert on buses or their driving techniques but I do know a bit about gearboxes. Originally, gears had dogs (like castellations) on the face of them (as opposed to the teeth around the circumference) and you engaged two adjacent gears by getting the dogs to marry up. Until the invention of the syncromesh, getting the dogs to interlock was only possible if the two gears were rotating at the same relative speed – hence if they weren’t the gears would ‘crash’. To get the gears to engage you had to try to match the speeds of the two gears (viz the engine speed and the wheel speed) to enable them to interlock. The proper use of the clutch made this possible, but you had to use skill as the gear controlling the wheel speed would be constant, whilst the engine revolutions had to spin the other gear at a speed near enough to match it. Sorry for the convoluted answer, but it’s not easy to explain in layman’s terms! Regards

    By Andy Grant (08/12/2015)
  • To technically explain the mechanics of the clutch stop would take far too long here. Suffice it to say it was a brake mechanism to slow the clutch centre plate, sometimes referred to as a disc, (or plates, in the case of a multi-plate clutch) down to meet the engine flywheel speed in order to achieve a smooth (er!) gearchange before the days of full synchromesh gearboxes when most only had a synchromesh device on third and top gears if at all. It followed on from the days when any professional driver would have learnt the art of ‘double de-clutching’ between changing gears when this was more correctly known as changing speed due to there being little throttle control on early engines. A ‘snatch’ gearchange (also know as a ‘racing change’) was usually between first and second gears and was made by ‘snatching’ the gear lever straight across the gate without waiting for the engine revs to die down. You had to be very positive about this in order to avoid an awful crunching noise due to the difference in speed between the engine and transmission! ….The crashing from the crash box!  Probably the only way to do the Clock Tower turn into Queens Road. Similarly to Sid’s experience above, I had a gear lever shear off above the ball joint while doing a snatch (‘racing change’!) on a 1935 Austin 10 which I had tuned up to go a bit better than normal. BXH9 if I remember correctly. Fortunately I was not too far from home and the journey was completed in second gear! So the snatch and the stop change were definitely not ‘the same thing’! One of our mechanics had joined up at the outbreak of the War and was sent on an Army vehicle driving course. The instructor was only a young bloke and was amazed that his new recruit could double de-clutch. “Blimey mate, you can double de-clutch!” As he had yet to perfect this himself.

    How did you chaps get on with the pre-selector boxes as fitted to some? Mostly made by Self Changing Gears up at Coventry I believe and often known as the Wilson type box after their original designer. Also fitted in their smaller version to many cars of the 1920s up to early 60s such as Daimler & Lanchester, Armstrong Siddeley, Riley, some MGs and a few other makes including ERA racing cars. Sometimes used with friction clutch but mostly with a ‘fluid flywheel’ forerunner of the modern torque converter as used in automatic transmissions. You could do a full throttle change up the box without lifting off the accellerator giving these staid cars super performance ‘off the lights’! My father acquired one of these larger Wilson boxes which he was going to use in a special consisting of a Daimler Benz V12 engine, previously used to drive a generator for a German wartime searchlight, the Wilson type box, Citroen suspensions all fitted into a tubular chassis with very light bodywork. This interesting project was never completed as we left Brighton for pastures new in Kent. The engine was sold and someone in Norfolk was going to fit it into an Allard but we never heard any more about it although it was probably the only one in UK and went like the proverbial stuff off a shovel when tested in an old Railton chassis. That escapade is another story though!

    Whilst on the subject of BH&D Buses; Does anyone remember Vic? I don’t think I ever knew his second name. He was our body repair man and cellulose sprayer at Bristol Garage in the early fifties and when he left us, after a fall-out with one of the mechanics I think, became a conductor on some of the Kemp Town routes. He showed me all I know about re-spraying cars and I remember him telling me that black was the hardest colour to match as there were so many shades of black going back to the time when 90% of cars were black, not only Fords! I often used to see him later on the bus into town.

    By Tim Sargeant (09/12/2015)

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