Open top buses in Torbay

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Two generations of open top bus in Torbay. Stagecoach Devon Scania 15329 John Hayes (left) and Devon General "Sea Dog" Atlantean 925 Admiral Blake.

Devon General first operated open top buses in Torbay in 1919 but reintroduced open top buses on tourist routes in 1955. New buses were introduced in 1961 which were known as 'Sea Dogs' because of the names they were given, but these were later replaced by those of 'Warships'.


One of the buses converted in 1955

A service of open top trams was introduced by the Torquay Tramways in 1907 on a network around Torquay that included Beacon Quay, St Marychurch and Babbacombe. The following year saw an additional route along Torbay Road which terminated near Torquay railway station, then in 1911 it was extended to Paignton.[1] The Devon General Omnibus and Touring Company started operations in south Devon in 1919 with two bus routes from Exeter to Torquay. These were operated with the usual open top buses of the era.[2] In 1922 Torquay Tramways bought Devon General, although it was operated as a subsidiary and the motor buses already owned by the tramway company were transferred to the omnibus company.[3] The tram network was closed in January 1934.[1]

In the 1930s a few seaside resorts started to see open top buses operated as tourist attractions on their seaside roads.[4] More resorts started such services in the years following World War II. In 1955 five old buses had their roofs removed for services in Torbay and one more was converted for Exmouth, another resort served by Devon General. They entered service on 19 June and a new sea front route was started on 19 July.[5] These proved a success and so a larger fleet of new buses were delivered for service in 1961. They were launched at a naming ceremony on 11 May 1961. These were 'convertible' buses that could operated as open tops during the summer and with roofs during the remainder of the year, although after the first winter they were usually stored during the winter as putting the roofs on caused some damage. It took half an hour to fit or remove a roof using the mechanism that had worked a bus washing machine which had recently been superseded. When not in use the roofs were stored on three mobile racks made from old bus chassis from which the bodies had been removed.[6][7]

Devon General was privatised in 1986 and became a part of Transit Holdings. This company preferred to operate minibuses and the open top fleet was reduced to just one vehicle. This was transferred to a new Bayline operation, which covered services in Torbay and Newton Abbot, in 1992.[8]

Bayline was sold to the Stagecoach Group in 1996,[9] and became part of the new Stagecoach in Devon operation in 2003.[8] Stagecoach brought a revival of large buses instead of minibuses, and a larger fleet of open top buses was established.[10]


The view from the top of a bus at Broadsands

The first route to be introduced in 1955 was the 12A from St Marychurch through Babbacombe, Torquay, Paignton and Goodrington to Broadsands. To reach Paignton's sea front at Preston the bus had to pass under a very low railway bridge. A licence for the route was only granted on condition that buses would come to a stop before passing under the bridge, the conductor would then have to instruct passengers on the top deck to remain in their seats and then stand at the top of the stairs to see that they did.[5]

From 1959 a second route was operated. The 12C followed the same route as the 12A from St Marychurch to Goodrington but then continued to Churston and Kingswear instead of turning down to the sea front at Broadsands.[11]

The larger fleet of "Sea Dogs" available for the 1961 season allowed two further routes to be added. One was the 12B, which was already operating with conventional buses between Brixham and Kingswear. The second was a new 12D which followed the usual route from Babbacombe to Goodrington then continued through Churston to Brixham.[7] Devon General routes were renumbered in 1975 which saw the sea front services numbered from 120, and additional buses allowed a Torquay to Dawlish Warren service to be offered the following year.[12]

Today just two seasonal services are operated by different operators, with a third offering a scenic tour from Torquay.

Service Route Operator
22 Paignton to St Marychurch Stagecoach South West
100 Paignton to Totnes Dart Pleasure Craft[13]
Sightseeing tour English Riviera Sightseeing Tours


First buses[edit]

Devon General's first buses were AEC YC type with roofless double-deck bodies typical at the time. A second-hand AEC B-type was bought from the London General Omnibus Company in 1920 but was rebuilt after a few months. The Torquay Tramways purchased six AEC K-type double deck buses in 1921 which were transferred to the Devon General fleet the following year. Double deck buses delivered from 1929 were fitted with roofs and by 1932 the open top buses had been sold or rebuilt as single deck vehicles.[14]

Fleet Registration Chassis Name In service Operator
1 T 6942 AEC YC Sir Francis Drake 1919– ca.1928 Devon General
2 T 6944 AEC YC Sir Walter Raleigh 1919– ca.1927 Devon General
3 T 6946 AEC YC Sir John Hawkins 1919–1926 Devon General
11 LF 8399 AEC B 1920–1921 Devon General
13 TA 1004 AEC K 1921–1926 Torquay Tramways
14 TA 1005 AEC K 1921–1926 Torquay Tramways
15 TA 1006 AEC K 1921–1926 Torquay Tramways
16 TA 1168 AEC K 1921–1926 Torquay Tramways
17 TA 1169 AEC K 1921–1926 Torquay Tramways
18 TA 1170 AEC K 1921–1926 Torquay Tramways
71 T 8328 AEC B 1926–1932 Devon General
72 T 6946 AEC YC 1926–1932 Devon General

Devon General[edit]

927 Sir Francis Drake

The six old buses rebuilt to open top form in 1955 were 21-year-old AEC Regent Is with bodies by Short Brothers.[15] These were replaced by nine Leyland Atlanteans with convertible Weymann bodies in 1961. These were all given the names of historic sailors and known as "Sea Dogs".[6][16] In 1976 two AEC Regent Vs with Willowbrook bodies had their roofs removed and were added to the open top fleet.[17]

The Sea Dogs were replaced in 1978 by nine new Bristol VRTs with 74 seat Eastern Coach Works convertible bodies.[18] Two of the VRTs were allocated to Southern National when Western National's Somerset and Dorset operations were divested in 1983[19] but five continued to operate at Torbay until the end of the 1990 season.[20] After this a limited open top service was operated with just one bus.[21]

Fleet Registration Chassis Name In service  Comments
203 OD 7490 AEC Regent 1955–1961
205 OD 7492 AEC Regent 1955–1961
210 OD 7497 AEC Regent 1955–1961 Operating for Nostalgic Travel in Newton Abbot.[22]
218 OD 7505 AEC Regent 1955–1961 Initially based at Exmouth.
219 OD 7506 AEC Regent 1955–1961
224 AUO 90 AEC Regent 1955–1961
507 507 RUO AEC Regent V Prince Regent 1976–1978 Operating with Chepstow Classic Buses[23]
508 508 RUO AEC Regent V Regent Princess 1976–1978 Preserved[24]
925 925 GTA Leyland Atlantean Admiral Blake 1961–1977 To Western National Admiral Hardy in 1977 (see below).
926 926 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Francis Drake 1961–1975 To Western National (see below).
927 927 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Martin Frobisher 1961–1978 To Southern National as Admiral Hardy,[25] now operating with by Chepstow Classic Buses.[23]
928 928 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Humphrey Gilbert 1961–1983
929 929 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Richard Grenville 1961–1983
930 930 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir John Hawkins 1961–1983
931 931 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Thomas Howard 1961–1983 Preserved by Rubicon Classic Travel, Bristol[26]
932 932 GTA Leyland Atlantean Earl Howe 1961–1983
933 933 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Walter Raleigh 1961–1982
934 VDV 134S Bristol VRT Golden Hind 1978–1983 Became Southern National Thomas Hardy in 1983[19] now preserved near Bristol by North Somerset Coaches.[27]
935 VDV 135S Bristol VRT Triumph 1978–2001 Renamed Exeter in 1987,[20] now used by a catering company in Leicestershire.[28]
936 VDV 136S Bristol VRT Revenge 1978–1991 Renamed Torbay in 1987,[20] it is now used for cutting trees by East Yorkshire Motor Services.[29]
937 VDV 137S Bristol VRT Victory 1978–1983 Transferred to Western National, now preserved by West Country Historic Omnibus and Transport Trust.[30]
938 VDV 138S Bristol VRT Warspite 1978–1992 Renamed Illustrious in 1987,[20] now in service with East Yorkshire Motor Services.[31]
939 VDV 139S Bristol VRT Renown 1978–1992 Renamed Ark Royal in 1987.[20] Sold to East Yorkshire Motor Services but exported to Italy in 2009.[32]
940 VDV 140S Bristol VRT Invincible 1978–1992 Sold to East Yorkshire Motor Services but exported to Italy in 2009.[33]
941 VDV 141S Bristol VRT Illustrious 1978–1983 Transferred to Western National, now preserved by Cornwall Bus Group.[34]
942 VDV 142S Bristol VRT Hermes 1978–1983 Became Southern National Lawrence of Arabia in 1983,[19] now operating with Chepstow Classic Buses.[35]

Western National[edit]

937 Victory (in winter configuration)

From 1971 Devon General became part of Western National but services around Torbay continued to operate in the old name and buses were sometimes moved between the fleets for short term loans or on a more permanent basis. Two rare Bristol LDLs in the Western National fleet had their tops removed from 1972/3 for operation at Penzance[36] and one of these was swapped in 1975 for Sir Francis Drake,[37] and the other in 1977 for Admiral Blake.[14] When the nine "Warship" VRTs were ordered for Devon General, two more were ordered for Western National. Both Atlanteans and VRTs also operated seasonal services at Weymouth.[19] Western National's usual livery for open top buses was white and green, although Sir Francis Drake retained its red and white scheme.[36]

Fleet Registration Chassis Name At Torquay Comments
925 925 GTA Leyland Atlantean Admiral Blake Now operating with Devonian Motor Services.[22]
926 926 GTA Leyland Atlantean Sir Francis Drake Preserved in Eastleigh.[38]
1935 VDV 752 Bristol LDL Admiral Boscawen 1975–1978 Now with Quantock Motor Services.[39]
1936 VDV 753 Bristol LDL Sir Humphry Davy 1977–1978 Now with Quantock Motor Services.[39]
943 VDV 143S Bristol VRT Ark Royal Sold to Badgerline in 1993, exported to Italy in 2010.[40]
944 VDV 144S Bristol VRT Vanguard Sold for scrap in 2001.[41]


18306, new for 2017 season

By 1996, when Devon General was sold to the Stagecoach Group, the open top fleet at Torbay had been reduced to just one vehicle, but the new owners quickly boosted this by drafting in additional Bristol VRs from other parts of the group. The first two (936 and 937) came from Sussex Coastline in 1996[10] and three more (932 to 934) arrived in 1998 from Bluebird in Scotland but came without their roofs.[42] A heritage vehicle, in the shape of Leyland Titan PD1 LRV 992 was also sent from Portsmouth to Torbay and was often used on scheduled services alongside the Bristol VRs.[43]

Most of the Bristol VRs were withdrawn after the 1999 season, although 936 and 937 were sold to Dart Pleasure Craft to operate services in connection with their boats on the River Dart.[44] Eight Scania N113s were then transferred from London. Their roofs were removed on arrival but five (numbers 15322 – 15326) were done in such a way as to be convertible back to roofed buses.[45] and they generally operate in this form, open top services being in the main provided by 15327–15329.[22] They are all named and, like the Leyland Atlanteans of 1961, are named after British sailors. The Scania's were withdrawn from use on 3 November 2013 (The closing day of Devon Cliffs holiday park), 15329 being the last in service. They were replaced by an Alexander ALX400-bodied Dennis Trident 2.

Fleet Registration Chassis Name At Torbay Comments
932 UWV 605S Bristol VRT 1998–1999 [46]
933 UWV 608S Bristol VRT 1998–1999 Exported to USA in 2000.[47]
934 UWV 609S Bristol VRT 1998–1999 [46]
935 VDV 135S Bristol VRT Ark Royal 1978–2001 Now used by a catering company in Leicestershire.[28]
936 UWV604S Bristol VRT Illustrious 1996–2000 Operated by Dart Pleasure Craft until 2016[46]
937 UWV614S Bristol VRT Invincible 1996–2000 Operated by Dart Pleasure Craft until 2016[46]
15322 J822HMC Scania N113 Sir Alexander Cochrane 2000–2010 Now a Mobile Play Barn
15323 J823HMC Scania N113 Sir James Saumarez 2000–2011 Sold to City Sightseeing Paphos, Cyprus
15324 J824HMC Scania N113 Sir John Borlase Warren 2000–2011 Withdrawn
15325 J825;HMC Scania N113 Sir Philip Bowes Vere Brook 2000–2012 Now with 2-way travel, Scunthorpe
15326 J826HMC Scania N113 Edward Pellow 2000–2012 Transferred to Farm Bus of Staffordshire
15327 J827HMC Scania N113 Sir Home Popham 2000–2011 Withdrawn
15328 J828HMC Scania N113 Sir Sidney Smith 2000–2012 Scrapped in June 2014
15329 J829HMC Scania N113 John Hayes 2000– 2013 Scrapped in 2014
17701 ML02RWO Dennis Trident - 2014-current Replaced J829HMC at Exmouth
18306 WA05MHF Dennis Trident Gary 2017-current Used on Route 22 St Marychurch to Paignton from 2017
19992 LRV992 Leyland Titan 2014-current Used on Route 22 St Marychurch to Paignton from 2014

Independent operators[edit]

Wallace Arnold kept an open top Leyland PD3 at Torquay for many years. It was used on local tours and shuttle services in connection with its longer distance operations.[48] It even travelled to Lisbon on one occasion.[49] Dart Pleasure Craft started services in 2000 using Bristol VRTs (two of which were obtained from Stagecoach Devon). More recently Devonian Motor Services and English Riviera Tours have introduced a wider variety of bus types on new routes. One of Devon General's former "Sea Dogs" is in the Devonian fleet.

Operator Fleet no. Registration Chassis Name Comments
Dart Pleasure Craft[22] 1 UWV 614S Bristol VRT Frankie Ex-Stagecoach Totnes Steamer Quay - Rail River Link 1 (UXV614S).jpg
Dart Pleasure Craft 2 UWV 604S Bristol VRT Ex-Stagecoach
Dart Pleasure Craft 3 WTU 467W Bristol VRT Paignton River Link 3 WTU467W.jpg
Dart Pleasure Craft 4 Bristol VRT Former Devon General bus, in service 2015 Paignton Great Western Road - Rail River Link 4 (VDV138S).JPG
Devonian Motor Services[22] 925 MSJ 499 Leyland Atlantean Admiral Blake Former Devon General "Sea Dog" Plymouth Hoe - Devon General 925 (now MSJ499) offside.jpg
Devonian Motor Services 934 GJZ 9571 Leyland Atlantean Black Prince Paignton Devonian 934 GJZ9571.jpg
Devonian Motor Services 935 A146 OFR Leyland Oympian White Lady Paignton Devonian 935 A146OFR.jpg
English Riviera Sightseeing Tours[22] BYX 304V MCW Metrobus Sold English Riviera Tours BYX304V.jpg
English Riviera Sightseeing Tours JTD 395P Daimler Fleetline Sold English Riviera Tours JTD395P.jpg
English Riviera Sightseeing Tours FFY 403 Leyland PD2/3 In service Torquay station - Riviera Sightseeing Tours FFY403 nearside.jpg
Wallace Arnold[48] BUF 425C Leyland PD3 Uncle Wally No longer at Torbay

See also[edit]


  • Folkard, Leslie (2007). Devon General: a fascinating story. Devon General Society. ISBN 978-0-9555514-0-6. 


  1. ^ a b Oppitz, Leslie (1990). Tramways Remembered: West and South West England. Newbury: Countryside Books. pp. 31–38. ISBN 1-85306-095-X. 
  2. ^ Morris, Colin (2006). Glory Days: Devon General. Hersham: Ian Allan Publishing. pp. 16–19. ISBN 978-0-711031-28-9. 
  3. ^ Morris, Colin (2006). Glory Days: Devon General. Hersham: Ian Allan Publishing. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0-711031-28-9. 
  4. ^ Kraemer-Johnson, Glyn (2007). "Beside the seaside". Classic Bus (91): 24–31. 
  5. ^ a b Folkard, p. 179
  6. ^ a b Devon General "Sea Dog" Atlanteans. Torquay: Devon General Omnibus and Travel Company. 1961. 
  7. ^ a b Folkard, pp. 198 –199
  8. ^ a b Lidstone, John G. (January 1993). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 45 (454): 30. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  9. ^ "Devon companies sold by Transit Holdings". Buses. Ian Allan. 48 (492): 7. March 1996. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  10. ^ a b Lidstone, John G. (September 1996). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 48 (498): 40. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  11. ^ Folkard, p. 191
  12. ^ Folkard, pp. 239–240
  13. ^ "Buses". Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Folkard, pp. 267–272
  15. ^ Folkard, pp. 276–277
  16. ^ Folkard, p. 292
  17. ^ Folkard, p. 294
  18. ^ Witton, A.M. (1978). Buses of South-West England and the Channel Islands (2nd ed.). Manchester: A.M. Witton. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-86047-122-5. 
  19. ^ a b c d Curtis, Martin S. (1998). "Some open-topers I have known". Buses Yearbook. Ian Allan Publishing: 97–104. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Spencer, Barry W.; Druce, Colin (February 1991). "End of an era in Devon". Buses. Ian Allan Publishing. 43 (431): 66–68. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  21. ^ Billington, Colin (2006). West Country Bristol VRs. Colaton Raleigh: West Country Historic Omnibus and Transport Trust. p. 25. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f "Devon". The Open Top Bus Site. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  23. ^ a b "Wales". The Open Top Bus Site. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  24. ^ "Vehicles in Preservation". Devon General Society. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  25. ^ Folkard, p. 243
  26. ^ "Avon". The Open Top Bus Site. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  27. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV134S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  28. ^ a b "Illustrated History for VDV135S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  29. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV136S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  30. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV137S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  31. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV138S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  32. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV139S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  33. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV140S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  34. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV141S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  35. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV142S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  36. ^ a b Morris, Colin (2008). Western National Omnibus Company. Hersham: Ian Allan Publishing. pp. 78–84. ISBN 0-7110-3174-6. 
  37. ^ Folkard, p. 240
  38. ^ "Hampshire". The Open Top Bus Site. Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  39. ^ a b "Vehicle fleet hire". Quantock Motor Services. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  40. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV143S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  41. ^ "Illustrated History for VDV144S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  42. ^ Lidstone, John G. (August 1998). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 50 (521): 47. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  43. ^ Lidstone, John G. (October 1999). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 51 (535): 47. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  44. ^ Lidstone, John G. (July 2000). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 52 (544): 55. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  45. ^ Lidstone, John G. (September 2000). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 52 (546): 51. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  46. ^ a b c d "Illustrated Fleet History – Devon General". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  47. ^ "Illustrated History for UWV608S". Bristol Commercial Vehicles Enthusiasts. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  48. ^ a b Lidstone, John G. (August 1997). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 49 (409): 49. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  49. ^ Lidstone, John G. (April 2002). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 54 (565): 50. ISSN 0007-6392.