Some loved them, some hated them - but private bus operators depended on them
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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. 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.
General Motors-Holden Australia (GM-H) began offering Bedford OBs as complete buses in 1947.
Of the 12,766 Bedford OB chassis built at GM’s Vauxhall-Bedford, Luton UK plant, all were conventional (engine out front) with around a dozen being built in forward control layout (flat front/body over engine).
GM-H Australia imported the Bedford OB chassis from GM’s UK Vauxhall-Bedford division, designed the body and began selling the Bedford OB as a complete bus, 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, such as Federal, White, Diamond T, GMC and Reo. GM-H itself had recently built complete Chevrolet buses.
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 General Motors to assist with the building of a full size prototype OB bus at GM-H’s Woodville, SA plant.
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 1946 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.
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.
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 as a result of the modification from conventional to forward control layout.
GM-H initially built all of 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 its Woodville, SA plant.
The impending introduction of GM-H’s new Holden motor car required all resources to be redirected to Holden car production, so 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.
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.
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.
1930 Pontiac 29-6
1946 Bedford OB
1947 Bedford OB
1948 GM PD 4151
1948 White 798-12
1954 Flxible Clipper
1959 Bedford SB3
1961 GM PD-4106
1968 GMC PD 4107
1972 MCI MC7
1976 MCI MC8
1983 GM Denning
1984 Eagle Model 10
1988 Denning Landseer
1989 Eagle Model 20
1977 Kenworth W925
1950 Dodge Pick Up
1962 Ford Thunderbird
1968 Ford Fairlane
EX HERITAGE FLEET