Wilmslow Road bids farewell to African Friends

Tri-axle double decker busRegular travellers along Wilmslow Road will have noticed an increasing number of low-floor Magic Buses in service, and with their introduction in 2010 comes the end of operation for the twenty tri-axle double decker buses that started their lives in Kenya before moving to the rather different environs of Fallowfield. They’ve led an interesting existence, so we take a quick look back at their adventures.

An order for ten tri-axle Dennis Dragons with kit-built bodywork by Duple Metsec was placed by Stagecoach in June 1994, presumably with options for a further ten. They were bought for Stagecoach’s operations in Nairobi, an experiment into the use of high-capacity double deckers within the Kenyan capital moving large numbers of people around. The bodywork was assembled in Kenya, and the buses worked in Africa for around three years.

Unfortunately, the buses did not stand up well to the heat and altitude. Stagecoach sold its 95% stake in Kenya Bus to a management-led consortium in October 1998, due to problems with the condition of roads and heavy unlicensed competition. The twenty double-deckers were imported to Britain for further use but required significant investment: strengthened bodywork to repair the damage caused by road conditions in Nairobi, new heating systems to deal with the cooler climes, new cushioned-bench seating was installed and new engines too – the Gardner engines replaced by Cummins L10 units.

Painted blue, the Dragons found a home on the low-cost Magic Bus services along Wilmslow Road. Their high capacity (92 seats in their latter years) meant that they could carry lots of students along this busy route serving the university, and they were to spend most of the next 12 years running up and down through Rusholme, Fallowfield and Withington. A brief excursion took place in Spring 2004 when the vehicles were reseated with high-back seats and branded for the newly-launched Megabus.com network. Several stretched their legs on express intercity routes from Manchester for a number of months, but eventually returned to local Magic Bus duties (albeit with nicer seating) as delivery of purpose-built coaches took place. Other Magic Bus routes in the city saw the vehicles in use at various times, but their spiritual home was on the 142 and 143 routes.

The Dragons were phased out of use this year, with the last example withdrawn in early November. Nineteen of the type were sent to Ensign Bus dealer awaiting sale and further use, with one sold to a local organisation.

Apologies to Clem Snide for misappropriating their song title!

[Image credit: “P7257667” by Ingy the Wingy on Flickr]

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About James McCollom

Web geek and public transport user
This entry was posted in Buses and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Wilmslow Road bids farewell to African Friends

  1. IR says:

    This is a real shame, bus travel is now so boring with all the Enviros (which are nice comfortable buses, just boring because they are so many of them) and these Dragons always bought a smile to my face.

    What was interesting is when they first appeared I thought they were a lot older than the plates suggested, the window fittings etc all looked at least 30 years old. Did they use second hand parts when building the bodies I wonder?

    No doubt they will be replaced by yet more bland Tridents and who knows maybe the early 56 plate Envros will end up with the blue liverly.

    Does anybody know why these were phased out? I admit although I liked to see them I hated traveling on them, the seats were far too close together. Fallowfield Oxford Road was turtore I would have hated to go out of Manchester in them!

  2. mh says:

    IR i agree, a massive shame. now Stagecoach only have the Volvo Olympians left from the “last generation” and, no doubt, they will be next to get the bullet.

    They are most likely being withdrawn due to the shift to “all-low-floor”. As a driver with stagecoach, i noticed the last 3 years have been the biggest shake-up, with virtually the entire fleet being swapped for “nice” new buses. In 3 years all the B10’s have gone, all the Merc Vario’s, all the step-entrance Darts (which is no bad thing), and now, virtually all the step-entrance ‘deckers.

    Real shame….

  3. James McCollom says:

    Government legislation means that step-entrance buses will have to be withdrawn from front-line service, double-deckers by 1 January 2017. Stagecoach have presumably calculated that it is better for them to meet this deadline earlier, and that they may as well get some resale value.

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