Central SMT

Special Features Focus on : KCB on the Acquisition Trail

Contributed by Billy Nicol, February 2005

Shortly after the sale of Kelvin Central Buses to its management and employees in 1991, the company embarked upon a programme of reducing the direct competition it was receiving on local bus services from an increasing number of independent operators. The company was, at this time, considered to be vulnerable to competition and morale among the workforce was not what it could have been. However, once the privatisation process was eventually over, slowly but surely the company's fortunes began to be turned around, and a big part of the success came from the takeovers and partnerships which took place in the following years, all of which created a great deal of interest to those involved in the bus industry.

The first of numerous acquisitions took place on a modest scale in April 1991, when the sole local service of Ganal, Shotts (trading as John Smith) was taken over. The deal included not only the service from Shotts to Hamilton, but also the two vehicles normally used, a pair of Alexander Y-type bodied Leyland Leopards new to Eastern Scottish, one of which had spent most of its life with Central. These vehicles were used in the John Smith guise for the next six months, before the service was dropped. In the same month, Kelvin Central also took over the Coatbridge local service of Bruce, Airdrie, together with the peak-hour express services from Glasgow to Airdrie / Coatbridge. Four elderly Volvo B58 coaches were included in the deal, all of which were quickly sold on without being operated.

In early December 1991, a major takeover took place when the local services of Green's Coaches of Kirkintilloch were acquired. The company had been particularly successful in establishing a network of services linking Glasgow with various parts of Kirkintilloch, plus a Kirkintilloch town service, and had gained a good reputation for these. Although both companies had been operating a joint network of services since early 1991, this was still a significant acquisition and one that strengthened Kelvin Central's position in the Kirkintilloch area. Vehicles taken over included Leyland Leopards and Nationals, together with a trio of Bristol VRTs, two of which were placed in service.

1992 was a particularly busy year for Kelvin Central and saw the acquisition of a number of independent operators across its territory. In January, the small network of local services operated by Beaton of Blantyre, centred on the Glasgow / Hamilton areas, was acquired, although no vehicles were involved. At the same time, agreement was reached with Whitelaw, Stonehouse, an operator that had been particularly active during the previous year, having introduced several new services, mainly centred around Hamilton. A number of these were taken over by Kelvin Central, together with six vehicles, including three 1988 Leyland Tigers.

March saw further takeovers in Lanarkshire when the services of Coakley, New Stevenston and McKenna, Uddingston were acquired. The latter company in particular had been reasonably successful, having established a Glasgow - Motherwell service. Both operators supplied Mercedes minibuses to the Kelvin Central fleet, McKenna additionally providing some new types, including a pair of Talbot Pullman minibuses and a Reeve Burgess bodied Leyland Swift. Other vehicles purchased but not operated were three Dodge minibuses, new ironically to Central Scottish, and an ex-Lothian Leyland Tiger Cub.

Undoubtedly the most surprising of all the takeovers occurred in April, when the Glasgow-based Magicbus company was purchased from Stagecoach. The deal took effect from 10 April, shortly after the Conservative Party had triumphed in the General Election. Indeed, it was felt that this takeover was politically motivated, as it opened the door for a Stagecoach bid for Strathclyde Buses - whose sale was impending - without fear of monopoly issues. The takeover included the right to use the Magicbus name and Stagecoach livery, the Hobden Street depot in Glasgow, two local services and some school contracts. 24 vehicles were taken over, including six Alexander Dash bodied Dennis Darts which were only weeks old, three Northern Counties bodied Leyland Atlanteans new to Greater Manchester PTE and several Routemasters, including two rare forward-entrance examples.

Attention then turned to the western end of Kelvin Central's operating territory, and September saw the acquisition of three operators' local services in the Clydebank / Dumbarton areas. The most significant of these was the takeover of the services of John Morrow Coaches, centred around Clydebank but also extending into Dumbarton. Two high-profile Strathclyde PTE subsidised services, the Glasgow inter-station service linking Queen Street and Central stations and the Glasgow City Centre - Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre route, were included. Another consequence of this deal was that Morrow's planned Glasgow - Duntocher service did not start. Bristol VRTs and Leyland Nationals came with the services, but also the unusual rebuilt single-deck Leyland Fleetline - which Kelvin Central rejected at the time of the Green's takeover - joined the fleet. On a smaller scale, the Dumbarton local services of PJ Travel, Bearsden and McColl, Dalmuir were acquired, considerably reducing the level of competition in these areas. These takeovers provided another Leyland National and three Leopards, including a Duple Dominant bodied example new to Greater Glasgow PTE. A minor takeover in December 1992 was that of the local services of Gold Circle of Airdrie, although no vehicles joined the fleet.

Perhaps surprisingly, no takeovers occurred in 1993, but early the following year Kelvin Central once again hit the takeover trail. In March, the local service interests of McKindless of Wishaw were acquired in a deal that also saw six Leyland Nationals join the fleet. McKindless had come to the fore during the Central Scottish strikes of 1989 and had established a number of local services in the Hamilton / Motherwell / Wishaw corridor. Smaller Lanarkshire operators' services  acquired in the summer of 1994 included those of Munro Uddingston; Roadrunner, Motherwell and Red Lion, Uddingston. Munro supplied a pair of Mercedes minibuses and a Leyland Tiger, Red Lion a pair of Talbot Pullman minibuses.

In a surprise move in September 1994, Kelvin Central found themselves the subject of a takeover when they were purchased by the neighbouring Strathclyde Buses company. Undoubtedly the reduction in competition, coupled with the recent injection of new vehicles, had made the company a much more attractive proposition than at any time in the past, and evidence of the financial progress made by Kelvin Central's management was reflected in the fact that losses had been reduced from £5 million per year to £1.5 million.

The takeover of smaller operators' services was far from over, however, and in November 1994 the long-established services of Irvine of Salsburgh in the Airdrie / Shotts areas were taken over. Vehicle acquired included two modern Volvo B10M service buses and a pair of Mercedes minibuses. Another member of the Irvine family - Peter Irvine of Law - surrendered his Wishaw - Law service, together with a pair of ECW bodied Leyland Tigers to Kelvin Central in the summer of 1995.

The final takeover took place in May 1996 when Allander, Milngavie sold its network of services based around Balloch and Dumbarton.  Allander had taken these services over from Barrie of Balloch in 1988, and retained the Loch Lomond Coaches trading name. After a period of sustained competition, Allander and Kevin Central had been operating on a jointly-timetabled network since 1991, and from 1992 the Loch Lomond fleet had been garaged at Kelvin Central's Old Kilpatrick depot. The only vehicles acquired were two Alexander bodied Volvo B6s, which joined the fellow SB Holdings GCT fleet.

The takeover of Green's in 1991 brought a number of Leyland Nationals. 1122 (CCL779T) was new to Eastern Counties and is seen in Killermont Street, Glasgow on 10 January 1992.

A major acquisition in April 1992 was of the Magicbus, Glasgow operations from Stagecoach. This brought further Routemasters into the fleet, including 1922 (LDS67A, originally 274CLT), seen with its new fleetnumber at Easterhouse Shopping Centre on 6 August 1992.

Also acquired with the Magicbus operation were several full-height ECW bodied Bristol VRTs. These had been transferred to Magicbus in full Ribble livery. 1794 (LHG444T) is seen in Wellington Street, Glasgow on 14 May 1992.

An unusual vehicle acquired with the services of McKenna, Uddingston was this Reeve Burgess bodied Leyland Swift, 1091 (G727RGA). It is seen in Chalmers Street, Clydebank on 9 June 1992.