Central SMT

Special Features Focus on : Registration Plates

Contributed by Gordon Stirling, November 2004

Everyone in life has their weaknesses, be it bus timetables, destination screens, telephone directories and the like. With this in mind I feel it is, after 44 years, time to come out. My weakness is number plates, with a special fondness for bus number plates.

Growing up in Viewpark, Uddingston in the 60s and 70s meant being spoiled with hundreds of Bristol Lodekkas, Leopards and the odd Fleetline or Ailsa. The fascination for buses seems to have been evident in the cradle. When my mother travelled by bus during pregnancy, she confesses that I would kick like mad, so the bus thing seems to have kicked off before I entered the world. However, my dear mother denies that I was conceived on a bus.

Viewpark in the 60s was well served by Central SMT. Heavy industry provided much employment for Viewpark people and the masses would travel to "the Craig", Clydesdale Tube Works, Caterpillar and other factories. Viewpark's local bus services included service 97 (Burnhead - Uddingston), popular with the Tunnock's workers and the Grammar School kids. Service 26 (Birkenshaw - Uddingston) also served Viewpark. Does anyone have a photograph of a 26 or 97 taken in Viewpark or Uddingston? It seems none of our wonderful photographers dared venture into Viewpark to record the transport scene. I was often tempted, but was put off by the fear of being lynched.

To go forth intae the Toon involved a journey on the 40, 43, 44, 240, 241 or the green bus 35. My personal favourite was the 240. Indeed I had a bogie with '240 GLASGOW' painted on the front. My pals were bewildered : "Are ye aff yer heid?"

So what's in a number plate? Our illustrious webmaster reckons every picture tells a thousand words. The number plate also tells a story, albeit a brief story. For me personally, the glory days of Central SMT were personified by the GM area code. In October 1952 the Motherwell and Wishaw boundary was extended to include the CSMT Head Office and from that date the licensing of CSMT vehicles was transferred from Lanarkshire (VA and VD) to Motherwell and Wishaw (GM). The first Central bus to be licensed with a GM number plate was 1953-registered Leyland PD2 L467, allocated registration number GM5867. The CSMT Traffic Managers appeared to enjoy a good relationship with the local Licensing Office, which allowed the bus registration number to correspond with the bus fleet number, e.g. FGM303D and BL303 (the D suffix was issued in 1966).

The classic GM mark continued until 1974, when another shake-up of the Licensing Offices took place. The last GM plate to be issued to CSMT was PGM251M, on a 1974-registered Bedford YRQ. The famous FLF Lodekka / VR exchange of 1973/4 created a bit of variety in terms of foreign number plates. ONG360F, KDL143F or LBL850E were a complete mystery to me as a fourteen-year-old, plooky youth, who thought he was the only bus enthusiast in the world.
To demonstrate some of the variations in plates used by CSMT in the final years of its existence, I will use some images from my own plate collection, gathered over the years.

An original front number plate from Leopard T60. Acquired from Thomas Muir scrap yard. Plastic letters mounted on an aluminium plate. Issued 1968.
Another original plate acquired from Thomas Muir. T85 had a pressed aluminium plate. Issued 1969.
Original plate from D14. This bus survives at SVBM in Eastern Scottish livery. The owner had a new plate made to complete the restoration a few years ago. The rear plate involved applying white letter transfers onto a glass plate, painting the edges black so that the 3 small bulbs in the recess illuminate the plate at night. Issued 1971.
Original rear plate from Leopard T287. The 'black figures on a white or yellow reflective plate' design was introduced by DVLA circa 1966/7, but CSMT did not adopt this style of plate until the AGM..L Leopards of 1973. Issued 1977.
Original plate from Leopard T401. The battered plate survived until the bus was withdrawn a few years ago. Bus broken up by Jack Dunsmore, Larkhall. Issued 1980.

The present day registration number scheme has lost the plot, in my opinion. The DVLA now operate a very lucrative business selling cherished numbers. Needless to say, our beloved GM plates now sell for thousands. Father Alex Strachan, owner of B87 which is currently under restoration at SVBM, would like to reunite plate GM9287 with the bus. The plate is presently on a private car, believed to be a Peugeot 406. If anyone can identify the owner, please get in touch via the feedback button. Apparently, Strathclyde Regional Council sold off the GM plates on their playbus fleet in an attempt to raise funds. Central SMT Lowlander plate EGM1 survives in the Kirkcaldy area, transferred by Thomas Muir & Sons, Breakers.

Reference: PSV Circle Fleet History PM2 : Central SMT Ltd