Central SMT

Special Features Focus on : Lodekka Looks

Contributed by Douglas G MacDonald, November 2003 (and following on from the previous feature on back ends)

If it was an insult to be visually compared to the rear quarters of an omnibus, would it be any more complimentary to be facially described as being akin to the front of such a vehicle? In the case of many bus types, the answer would have to be a resounding no, but perhaps the Bristol Lodekka would provide some form of flattery! A handsome vehicle which had a distinctive ‘face’ and classic lines contemporary to its époque, even this bonnie bus had to undergo beauty treatment before becoming pleasing to the industry and public eye.

The front-end styling of the prototypes was based on an exposed radiator grille, like the K type, but much bigger and downright ugly! When it came to the pre-production models there was a marked improvement, in the shape of a longer but narrower grille with large slats, and the makeover was complete by a further alteration to the grille.

Central took delivery of the first of over 120 LD models in 1955. B1–10 came with the long rad, but B11-19 were delivered wearing the shortened, squarer grille, which was to become Bristol’s standard until 1963. The last handful of LDs from the ’55 order differed in two ways. Not only did they carry the long rad, but they had coach seating, reducing the capacity to H29/27R, primarily for use on the 242-244 Limited Stop and other longer-haul services. Thereafter, the short grille became instantly recognisable until CSMT’s last LD (B129) and on into the FSF deliveries, and it was B160 which was the first of the Central fleet to have had another makeover – Bristol’s new metallic, wavy-line grille, complete with Lodekka legend along its base. This, of course, also became standard all the way through the remainder of the company’s intake of 350+ Bristols in FS, FSF and FLF guises.

Apart from the actual grille, one other cosmetic item should be mentioned - the silver strips on either side of the radiator filler cap. The early deliveries didn’t have such heavy make-up; the later ones did, but often lost their extra good looks through time.

The following photos put the company’s Lodekkas full-face into the enthusiast’s mirror. As you’ll see, there could be anomalies too - long rads replaced by short versions, and even the reversal of this situation. Why would a newer, small-mouthed Lady Lodekka end up with a long face? Central’s respected and long-serving former manager John Whittle offers the likely explanation : Traction House engineering staff had their own fibreglass moulds for making replacement front sections for accident-damaged LDs, and initially the ‘plastic surgeons’ used the long rad.

The non-standard destination screens were a  give-away to Central’s youthful Lodekkas, but as a young lad, I actually learned to identify the various vehicle marques by their radiator grilles - not just Bristols, but the range of Leylands, Arabs and Lowlanders, etc. Comparisons of modern-day pin-ups to the glamour girls of another era may be wrong to make, but surely, even in the 21st century, the distinctive demeanour of a revolutionary bus-beauty would still hold her own against the supposedly sleek and sophisticated models on show on our streets today.

The first of a long line, B1 is captured heading for the coast on a children's outing. The youngsters in the Lodekka would have had a far more comfortable journey than those being carried in the elderly Leyland 'decker behind B1!

Despite the 'Wishaw 41' display, B5 is running back empty through Motherwell to Airbles/Traction House. The Bristol logo was incorporated in the grille surround, but a separate scroll was attached to the slats. Many of the LDs ended their days minus this embellishment - it had either fallen off and never been re-fitted, or perhaps even had been pinched! Also of note is the Ford Thames van operated by another vanished local name : Glencairn Laundry.

Ladies with varying looks! Laying over at Lanark stance, B11 and B12 show off their respective fashion fronts!


Staying with Lanark, and a busy scene which captures the era of the LD. The Leyland Lad (L555) about to set-off on trunk-route 240 is very much the odd-man-out in this shot. Nearest the camera is B23 with its original front fittings.

Changed days : B23 again, but now carrying a standard short grille. The bus still carries Central fleetname and number decals, but she has actually ended her Lanarkshire days, having moved north in 1969 to give a further 4 years service with Highland. B23 was one of the Famous Five to have coach seating.

Snapped when almost new in 1957, B62 emerges from the gloom of Glasgow's Waterloo Street terminus into the sunshine for a 240 trip to Lanark. Note the metallic cowling strips on either side of the filler-cap.


Same bus, new look. Minus her mascara (the black lining-out), B62 rests up at a wintry Lanark, sporting her retro replacement rad.

B98, from Central's 1960 intake, picks up passengers just beyond Hamilton's New Cross before beginning the ascent up the hill to Meikle Earnock. The buildings in view are still extant, but with newer occupiers! The side-panel ad was the successor to the 'Haig in every Home' strip.

Loading at Lanark on the 242 Limited Stop, B112 shows off another facial feature not found on most of her Central sisters. The small, circular vent above the off-side headlamp was more prevalent on Bristol deliveries to other SBG companies.


B136 is caught on camera in the winter of 1977, on the cross-county service 204 from Hairmyres Hospital (East Kilbride) to Coatbridge. The rad grille has to be a Traction House Production - there's no Bristol badge, no edging on the grille, and the vent holes don't square-up!

The restyled fleetname and 'Anderston X' indicates this view of B156 leaving Wishaw was taken post-1971. As evidence of my earlier statement, the Bristol scroll on the rad slats has gone.

The smile on the face of B166 is somewhat cracked as she runs along Glasgow's Clyde Street. This bus was one of the first batch to bear the last style of grille, but the Lodekka plate is in danger of falling off!

'Sisters are doing it' ... A pair of FS models bought new in 1964 sit side-by-side later in their Central lives in the depot yard at Clydesdale (Bothwell Road) Garage.