The Plaxton Mini Supreme on Bedford CF 350 long wheelbase chassis
By John Wakefield
All photographs (c) The Busman unless stated
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The Bedford CFL 350 Plaxton Mini Supreme
The Bedford CF commercial chassis was available as an alternative to Ford's Transit, both in panel van & chassis cab form, including a twin rear wheeled CFL 350 long wheelbase version. Although the majority of these CFL 350 chassis were bodied as 35cwt trucks or Luton vans, a number went for PSV use & were bodied as a 17 seat mini coach by both Reeve Burgess (Reebur) & Plaxton. Around 180 of the Reebur version were made, but only 34 were known to have been bodied by Plaxton with their Mini Supreme coach built 17 seat body. In fact as mini coaches go the Mini Supreme is somewhat unique, but not unlike a smaller version of the J2 Plaxton Embassy 20 seater. The Bedford CFL/Plaxton 17 seater was coach built by Plaxton's Service Division's in both Scarborough (28) & Ware (6) to order only. As already mentioned Reeve Burges (later to become part of Plaxton) also offered a body based on the CFL 350 although it must be said that this was somewhat austere compared with Plaxton's, & used predominatley glassfibre to form the angular 17 seat body. The prototype Mini Supreme body on the Bedford CFL chassis, body No1 (NVY 219T) was built in May 1979 as a demonstrator, later sold to V & M of Grendon, Warwickshire. The last production body No41, was built on a CF2 chassis & registered in April 1982 as KVJ 291Y, it went to Hill of Hereford. The body numbering system used by Plaxton was somewhat erratic, with no No9 or 10, & gaps in the sequence between No's 29 & 34, (which were allocated to the later Mercedes L608 version), a duplicate was made of body No18 . The Plaxton body used a number of stock standard parts from the larger Supreme body, the windscreens are the same as fitted to the 7ft 6in wide Supreme bodies fitted to Bristol LH6L coaches supplied to Western National. Like the J2, the body had a large overhang at the front axle. The 7ft 6in wide body allowed almost full size seating configured with six double seats in three rows each side of a central gangway, and a traditional row of five at the back giving a large coach feel in a small vehicle. Another striking feature was the large deep windows which gave excellent vision for passengers, but from the outside giving a 'gold fish bowl' look. Operators could specify either petrol or diesel engines, most going for the 2 litre Opel built diesel, a four cylinder unit producing a modest 59 bhp at 4400 rpm, this coupled with a 5 speed ZF gearbox gave a maximum speed of 56 mph & a cruising speed of 50 to 55 mph on the flat, with speed falling off dramatically on hills. The 2.3 litre Opel petrol engine gave a better performance but at the expense of high fuel consumption. It was though much quieter than the diesel.
So who was the Mini Supreme aimed at? The small operator who needed a minibus for small party travel, hotel/airport transfers & tour feeder work. With the manual door converted to power operation the Mini Supreme would have made an ideal rural bus. One drawback & possibly the reason why so few were built were the high price, between £20,500 & £21,000 depending upon the specification. Being some three times the price of a standard van conversion, it is perhaps surprising that any were sold at all. Amongst the operators who bought CF Mini Supremes new were Shearings who operated three between 1979 & 1981, Hill of Hereford also bought three, & Sampson of Cheshunt had two. Most others went to Small independents or non-PSV users such as British Nuclear Fuels & The National Blood Transfusion Service for staff transport. As already stated all were configured C17F except one XBG 982W as a C13FL with a chair lift fitted for Littlewoods Rest Home, Glentrool.
SurvivorsOut of 34 built there are currently around 7 known survivors, others may survive (the author welcomes any information on these). Although there appear to be few strictly preserved Mini Supremes, Terry Jones of Vista Coachways, Yatton has one of the Shearings intake, RNE 692W. Stephen Golynia of Felix Coaches, Long Melford, Suffolk has 591 HNM (new to Herberts of Shefford) which is fully restored & in use as a PSV in the Felix fleet as well as attending local rallies as part of the Felix 'Heritage Fleet'. Felix owned JGV 313V from new, but sadly this ended its days as a school bus on the Isle of Man as CMN 61F but was scrapped in 1996. KVJ 291Y is the only survivor out of three bodied on the later CF2 chassis, it was acquired by Stephen Golynia, Long Melford for preservation in October 2011 from Tony Glew of Colchester, it had been withdrawn from his operational fleet for a few years, & was named Little Ben. KVJ 291Y was sold again in May 2012 to Alan Dixon of Annfield Plain Co Durham for further restoration & preservation. CNR 247T, ex Cresswell of Church Gresley, is roadworthy & passed to Kevin Biggerstaff of Sarratt in March 2012 for continued preservation. Other inactive ones are HIL 7081 (DJF 631T) now stored with Ron Greet & needing restoration, FVM 191V with Parsons of Margate under long term restoration, XBG 982W is under long term restoration with George Atkin in Lincolnshire.
Surprisingly, considering four times as many were produced, very few of the Reeve Burgess version seemed to have survived. Only one appears in PSV Circle Preserved Buses 2002, this being HGB 438T new to Kelly, Blantyre & listed as preserved with Savage, Rotherham. but as nothing has been seen or heard of it it may no longer be around , it was last licenced in 2000. For a full list of survivors see the main listing.
So how about the CF Mini Supreme as preservation project? Being small it would be easy to park in you driveway, & with the diesel engine giving up to 25 mpg it won't cost a fortune to run. It could also double as family transport to take the wife & family to the seaside. Most new parts for the CF chassis are still available from Adrian Bailey (0113 245 9569), but like many other limited production vehicles body parts are more of a problem. Although body panels can be remade from patterns & fibreglass mouldings unless very badly damaged can easily be repaired, no new spares with the exception of some minor parts such as marker lights are available from Plaxton, (01723 581500). As previously stated windscreens are 7ft 6in wide Supreme items & which may be still available from some PSV glass suppliers. If anyone knows of Bedford CF Mini Supreme spares, or a complete vehicle for sale, the author would be pleased to take details to pass on to owners. Tel 01223 843802 evenings.
Pay up to £1000 for a non runner, between £1000 and £3500 for a roadworthy example and up to £8000 for a really good to fully restored example with class 6 MoT. Out of the original 34 built only around 7 are thought to survive, most 'no hopers' have been rounded up & been broken for spares, this is having an effect on prices which are starting to rise on good examples, one sold in 2009 for £3500.
The author acknowledges data provided by Terry Jones in compiling this article.
Where are they now?These Bedford CFPlaxton Mini Supremes have not been seen for some time, Do you know where they are now, or what happened to them?NVY 219T last known as a caravan in Bournemouth area circa 1993AVJ 460V seen as a caravan parked in a driveway in Hereford December 2005FPA 213V last known as a caravan in Bridgenorth area by 2000Any info please to the web master or John Wakefield on 01223 843802
Telephone John Wakefield on 01223 843802
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