1947 Bedford OB

Some loved them, some hated them - but private bus operators depended on them

1947 Bedford OB bus front with 1930 Pontiac car

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About This Bedford OB

Bedford OB, 1946 model, at Driver Bus Lines Glen Iris depot prior to restoration.
1947 Bedford OB, Glen Iris depot, June 1996

Our Bedford OB was purchased from the Victorian Bus Preservation Association in May 1996 and received a full restoration right back to the frame. When purchased, our OB was fitted out as a motorhome and had evidence of a second door behind the rear axle. It now represents #3 from the Driver Brothers fleet in 1947. Bedford OB #3 was publicly unveiled in November 2007 at the Historic Commercial Vehicle Show at Sandown in Melbourne.

This Bedford OB is powered by a Bedford 214ci, 6 cylinder petrol engine with a 4 speed constant mesh transmission. Bedford’s OB model designation signifies ‘O’ as the model series and ‘B’ for bus.

Bedford OB, during full restoration. Photo taken circa early 2000s
1947 Bedford OB, during full restoration, circa early 2000s

The Story

The origin of Bedford, General Motor’s UK division

General Motors UK initially built Chevrolet light trucks and buses for the UK market but in 1931, GM UK launched the Bedford range of local light trucks and buses heavily based on the existing Chevrolet chassis. Bedford’s origins date back to Vauxhall Ironworks, a company set up at Vauxhall, London in 1857 by Scottish engineer Alexander Wilson. Vauxhall moved to Luton, Bedfordshire in 1905 and was bought by American giant General Motors in 1925.

There is no known documentation as to why General Motors Vauxhall chose Bedford as the name of its new UK commercial vehicle brand, but it was most likely because of the location of Vauxhall’s Luton plant in the county of Bedfordshire, in the east of England.

The Bedford OB was designed as a successor to the 1930s Bedford WTB. The first Bedford OB was built in 1939 but stayed in production for only 2 months, with just 73 being built, when all of Bedford’s production was turned over to the war effort.

During the war years, in addition to truck production, Bedford produced 3,398 OWBs along with 5,640 Churchill tanks. The Bedford OWB was a war time austerity version of the Bedford OB combined with bodies that were even more austere. Bodies were designed by Duple and built by Duple, along with other coach builders, to Duple’s design.

1946 Bedford OB bus with Grice body, in Truck and Bus Transportation Magazine, November 1989
1946 Bedford OB with Grice body, Truck and Bus Transportation Magazine, November 1989

Post war production of the Bedford restarted at GM’s Vauxhall-Bedford, Luton UK plant in October 1945. Bedford built 12,766 post war OBs in the UK with ‘O’ series production finally ceasing in 1953. All were conventional (engine out front) with around a dozen being built in forward control layout (flat front/body over engine).

Unlike Australia where Bedford OBs were the most popular choice for private city route service operators, UK Bedford OB production catered for regional commuter service and charter operators. Bedford itself collaborated with Duple to develop the ‘Vista’ coach body for the Bedford OB chassis.

Australian bus body builders such as Syd Wood and Grice, initially built bodies on Bedford OB chassis with conventional layout, however this practice was curtailed with the arrival of General Motors-Holden’s own design body on the Bedford OB chassis.

Bedford OBs in Australia

General Motors-Holden Australia (GM-H) began offering Bedford OBs as complete buses in 1947. GM-H Australia imported the Bedford OB chassis from GM’s UK Vauxhall-Bedford division, designed the body, buit the body and began selling Bedford OBs as complete buses, rather than body-on-chassis.

The private bus market in Australia before and immediately after WW2 was dominated by conventional layout pre-war buses from US manufacturers, including Federal, White, Diamond T, GMC and Reo. GM-H itself had recently built complete Chevrolet buses.

GM-H promotional shot of a Bedford OB bus (prototype) front, photo taken 1946.
1946 GM-H promotional shot of prototype Bedford OB

But GM-H wanted an all-metal forward control bus, that was modern, different, and bold, with a design that would set a new benchmark in Australia.

A scale model of the Bedford OB was constructed in February 1946 by GM-H to assist with the building of a full-size prototype OB bus at GM-H’s Woodville, SA plant.

Bedford OB bus scale model built in 1946 by General Motors
Bedford OB scale model built in 1946 by General Motors

GM-H’s Bedford OB body styling was dramatic…with enclosed wheels, the use of aluminium bright work and of course a fully flat front, all quite radical for the day and so different to anything else on the market. The enclosed front wheels were to hide the narrow front track (width) of the 1930s Bedford OB conventional chassis design with the benefit of enabling the streamlined look that GM-H was after. The 1947 GM-H Bedford OB was an odd mix of 1930s British chassis design with modern Australian body style influenced by American styling trends!

GM-H decided to complete the modifications of the Bedford OB chassis locally at its Fishermans Bend, Melbourne VIC plant. Conventional Bedford OB chassis would arrive from GM’s Vauxhall-Bedford UK plant in CKD form where they were assembled and modified to forward control. To achieve maximum seating, GM-H moved the controls 12 inches further forward and to assist with quite heavy steering, fitted a locally cast 3 inch larger aluminium steering wheel with a 20 inch diameter.

Bedford OB brochure, 1946,
"Cheney’s proudly present BEDFORD buses and parlour coaches", 1947 Bedford OB brochure featuring the 1946 prototype (courtesy of Lil Pollard)

Compared to the conventional (engine out front) buses of the day, the Bedford OB looked more like a spaceship had landed! The all-around aluminium lower bright work styling feature appears to have been borrowed or at least influenced by GM USA’s unique Parade of Progress display buses used in Motorama shows throughout the USA at the time.

GM-H promotional shot of 3 Bedford OB buses.  The Bedford OB on the right was the only short wheelbase model built. photo taken 1946.
1946 GM-H promotional shot of 3 different size prototype Bedford OBs. The OB on the right was the only short wheelbase model built

A noticeable design difference between the scale model and the full-size bus was the addition of elaborately styled park light fittings on each side above the front bumper. These beautifully designed fittings were added to cover a protruding steering arm on the driver’s side of the bus, owing to the modification from conventional to forward control layout.

GM-H initially built all its bus bodies in-house. It is unclear whether GM-H began building Bedford OBs only at its Fishermans Bend, Melbourne plant or if some were built at GM-H’s Woodville, SA plant.

Construction of Bedford OB bus prototype in Adelaide South Australia. Photo taken 1946.
Construction of Bedford OB prototype in Adelaide SA, 1946
Construction of Bedford OB bus prototype in Adelaide SA. Photo taken 1946.
Construction of Bedford OB prototype in Adelaide SA, 1946. Note protruding lower end of steering column where the park light fitting was needed to conceal the steering column.

The impending introduction of GM-H’s new Holden motor car required all resources to be redirected to Holden car production. GM-H needed to find a different way of building bodies on its Bedford OB chassis. By mid-1948, GM-H began outsourcing the body building task to Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of which GM-H was a shareholder. CAC was located nearby to the GM-H Melbourne plant.

Building Bedford OB buses at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory, Fishermans Bend, VIC 1948.
Building Bedford OBs, Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory, Fishermans Bend, VIC 1948. Note aircraft production in the background

CAC was a builder of aircraft, but as WW2 had recently ended, CAC was looking for additional work to maintain its staff levels. The contract offered by GM-H suited CAC, so they began building buses right alongside aircraft production lines.

GM-H established exclusive distribution of Bedford OBs through its dealer network while withdrawing the opportunity for other bus body builders from building on the Bedford OB chassis. However, the similar Bedford ‘O’ series conventional truck chassis was still accessible by other bus body builders.

GM-H advertising from the period, promoted the Bedford OB as the ‘Forward control Bedford “Transit” …the better bus’, in 27 and 33 passenger variants on two different wheel bases.

1940s Brochure for GM-H’s Bedford OB ‘Transit’ Bus
Late 1940s Brochure for GM-H’s Bedford OB ‘Transit’ Bus
 1940s Brochure for GM-H’s Bedford OB ‘Transit’ Bus, double page spread.
Late 1940s Brochure for GM-H’s Bedford OB ‘Transit’ Bus
Bedford OB illustration, Greyhound Australia promotional advertising, late 1940s, The call of the open road.
Bedford OB illustration, Greyhound Australia promotional advertising, late 1940s
Greyhound Australia’s 1947 Bedford OB bus. Arthur R. Penfold, Greyhound Australia’s founder, is standing on the rear doorstep. Photo taken in Brisbane QLD, August 1947.
Greyhound Australia’s 1947 Bedford OB. Arthur R. Penfold, Greyhound Australia’s founder, is standing on the rear doorstep, Brisbane QLD, August 1947 (State Library of QLD via Brisbane Transport Museum)

The Bedford OB was hugely successful for GM-H in Australia with 932 produced (plus the Adelaide prototype) from 1947 until 1952, at which time it was replaced by the larger forward control Bedford SB series. The Bedford OB’s modern forward control layout combined with government post war currency restrictions limiting trade with the USA, resulted in the Bedford OB dominating the Australian private bus market, especially in the State of Victoria.

The Bedford OB was a work horse of a relatively basic design. Drivers and owners either loved them or hated them…sometimes at the same time. The high pitched whine of the transmission was perhaps its most notable and endearing feature, but above all it was cost effective and reliable, attributes sorely needed after WW2.

Driver Brothers purchased Bedford OBs after WW2 and continued purchasing Bedford OBs, SBs, VAMs and a single YRT until the 1970s with the last Driver OB still operating in commercial service in 1967.