By Royal Appointment! The ex Royal Household's Willowbrook bodied Bedford VAS. Photographed at the 2004 Southend bus rally. Photo Ian Banks
The Bedford VAS
CLICK HERE FOR LISTING OF KNOWN SURVIVORS
A brief history
With the demise of the OB in 1951, Vauxhall Motors believed that the new 'Big Bedford' the SB, would be the chassis that bus & coach operators would welcome with open arms. This was not to be, although the SB initially with 33 seats, as against the OB's 29, would look to be a progressive move, for many, especially rural operators, it was too big. The 29 seater was the standard vehicle, & this is what they wanted. As a result many OB's
were kept in service long after their life expectancy.
It was not until 1961 that Vauxhall saw the error of their ways & re-introduced a 29 seat chassis to their range, the VAS (VA series short) with wheelbase of 13ft 8 inches, & small16 inch wheels. Initially available with two choices of engine, the VAS 1 with 300 cu inch diesel, & the VAS 2 with 214 cu inch petrol engine (an updated 28 hp unit) of 85 bhp. These were later up rated to 300 cu inch petrol in the VAS 3; & 330 cu inch diesel in the VAS 5. The larger power units performed better, and were carried forward into new 'P' series designations, as the PFK (VAS 3) & PJK (VAS 5). The smaller 214 petrol engine was though still listed as available is the PDK (VAS 2).
A four speed gearbox was standard on the early models, but a five speed box was later available as an option on the VAS 3 (PFK) & 5 (PJK) models. The top speed of the VAS was around 55mph (90 kph)
By the early 1970's the VAS was seen by many as a dated design, the protruding engine cowl & entry door behind the driver prevented the VAS from serving a useful role in modern bus & coach operations. Many VAS's were supplied with either Willowbrook, or Duple Midland bus bodies, for use with the armed services, police & local authority work. On the coach side Plaxton & Duple proved the most popular although a number of smaller
concerns also bodied the VAS.
As well as PSV applications, the VAS was also sold for use in applications such as ambulances, mobile libraries, prison vans, travelling shops, exhibition units & even armoured cars. The total number of VAS (PDK/PFK/P1K) is unknown to the author, but it continued almost to the end of Bedford in 1987.
The VAS in Preservation
With around seventy known to the author as preserved, or existing, & possibly many more of the later versions still around, the VAS would appear to be a popular choice for. preservation. fairly small, it will just about fit on the drive. Lets look at some preserved examples:
One of the oldest preserved VAS 2 coaches is ETC 760B a Plaxton Embassy originally new to Entwistle of Morecambe in 1964, but for many years in the loving care of Don' s of Dunmow, until December 2012 when it was sold back to a previous owner Goodwins of Manchester. Another later Plaxton, AUP 651L is operated by Brayford & Poole of Blackpool, who acquired it from Martin Babb of Minehead. It still retains its name 'Exmoor Heather'.
ALR 388B one of many Duple Midland bodied VAS's supplied to London County County Council is owned by Mr. Church of Cranleigh. In Scotland the VAS was popular as a post bus with MacBrayne & served the company on the many off shore islands. HGA 983D is preserved by the MacBrayne Circle in Glasgow.
One rarity is ex Royal Household VAS 3, now RBY 764K, but NLT 4 when it served as a staff bus at Buckingham Palace. With olive green Willowbrook body it also served in Germany with a BFPO children's charity before going to the Lakeland Motor Museum. After passing through the hands of four UK preservationists it was sold to a private collector in Kamp-Lintfort, Germany in April 2011. A late (1983) VAS 5 (PJK) JDY 888Y is still with Rambler of Hastings, it was supplied new to them, Fowlers of Holbeach Drove own a narrow, (7ft 6inch) Duple PJK, PEF 6F which was new to Weardale, & fitted with 31 bus seats for stage carriage work.
Not all vehicles are preserved as buses or coaches, many Willowbrook & Duple Midland bodied VAS's have proved popular as caravans. One notable example is EMM 456J with an Atkinson lorry radiator grille affixed to its front panel was seen in the late 1990,s as a caravan, it was new to the Metropolitan Police. Others such as RGF 990V ended its days as a control van for The Cambridge Gliding Club.
Buying A VAS
Expect to pay around £5000 - £6000 for a good Plaxton or Duple Coach, & around £1500 for a runner with MoT that needs some work. Restoration projects & caravans go for around £500.
WHERE IS THIS
Photo Martin Bott
A complete one off! Bedford VAS5 with a unique Duple Dom II derived body built for the Royal Household in 1985 with rear compartment to carry the royal dogs! Like many oddball vehicles it ended up the Belle Vue Auctions - as seen here but has not been seen since. According to the DVLA web site KLP 1D is still registered as a Bedford & was last licenced till March 2000 the known owners after the Royal Household are as follows:-
Bennett, Hayes End, London (psv operator) 11/96
AMC, Shepshed (dealer) by1/98
Neild, Thrapston, Northants (psv operator) 3/98
Hancock, Sheffield, South Yorkshire (psv operator) by9/99 sold in BCA Auction circa 2001
IF YOU OWN IT OR KNOW WHAT BECAME OF IT PLEASE LET US KNOW
If you have any information relating to any of the featured vehicles or know of any other vehicles, waiting to be rediscovered & could be featured on this website, please contact us by using one of the methods below
Telephone John Wakefield on 01223 843802
Email The Wakefield Files
Return to the Wakefield Files index
Copyright John Wakefield July 2004