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SNAPSHOT 153: 1939-1951 Bedford OB with Duple body

The Bedford OB coach with Duple body in this week’s Snapshot almost certainly dates from the early post-war period.

Bedford Vehicles was formed in 1930 and was the commercial vehicle arm of Vauxhall Motors, and was so named because the Luton plant was based in Bedfordshire.  Scottish marine engineer Alexander Wilson founded the original company in Vauxhall, London, in 1857 to make pumps and marine engines, and manufactured its first car in 1903.  Vauxhall Motors became part of General Motors in 1925.  The first Bedford truck was built in 1931, based on a Chevrolet design (up to that point GM had assembled trucks in Britain from parts made in Canada.)

With little product development in the commercial vehicle arm in the 1960s and 1970s, GM’s products fell further behind their competitors, with the final nail in the coffin being the loss of military contracts to Leyland in the early 1980s.

Bedford’s heavy trucks business was sold by GM in 1987 to AWD Ltd, with the Bedford name being used on light commercials and vans.  The Bedford name stopped being used in 1991.

The Bedford OB, the successor to the Bedford WTB, was introduced in 1939. It had a 14 ft 6 inch wheelbase, could carry 26-29 passengers and was powered by a 27hp 3519cc petrol engine with 4 speed gearbox, fully floating rear axle and vacuum servo-assisted hydraulic brakes and had a top speed of 40mph.  Throughout its life it was renowned for its characteristic gearbox whine.

73 OB coaches were built before WWII interrupted production and the Bedford factory was turned over to the war effort, making Churchill tanks. Post-war production was at the Bedford Dunstable plant and over the model’s life 12,766 were made until production ceased in 1951.

There are about 180 still in existence.

Turning now to the coachbuilder: Duple was formed in 1919 by Herbert White in Hornsey, London as Duple Bodies and Motors (Duple was chosen as a name to represent the idea of vehicles having a double purpose, with bodies being interchangeable from cars to vans).  In 1929, having at this point produced over 250 bus and coach bodies, the company moved to a new factory in Hendon and with expansion over the next ten years grew to employ about 800.  Duple’s war efforts were in the manufacture of the fuselage for the Halifax bomber.

Post-war was the heyday period for Duple, and into the 1970s the company developed new products and expanded to new sites: Kegworth in 1952 following the purchase of Nudd Brothers, Loughborough in 1955 (and the purchase of Willowbrook in 1958) and Blackpool in 1960 with the purchase of H V Burlingham.

However, changes in legislation in the 1980s led to a decline in the company’s fortunes and it was sold in 1983 to the Hestair Group (who already owned Dennis).  This ownership was short-lived, and in 1989 the Duple business was closed down.

The Duple OB body was developed jointly with Bedford and was a modified version of Duple’s Hendonian body.  The body was ash framed, reinforced with steel, and had a hardwood floor with softwood tongue and groove boards. The cab area was finished in aluminium chequer plate.  Seating came in a choice of two options, 27 (£1,314 10s) or 29 (£1,325 10s), with overhead luggage storage and rear boot space.

Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive

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