Central SMT

The Central Story

1960 - 1975 : The Golden Years

The classification is, of course, purely personal and subjective. Apart from anything else, it just happens to coincide with my own childhood and teenage years. Yet in many ways the company was at the height of its powers during this time.

The new decade began with a further bout of corporate activity. A new state-owned company, Scottish Omnibuses Group (Holdings) Ltd,  was formed in 1961 to take control of the British Transport Commission's bus operating subsidiaries in Scotland. The BTC was itself wound up in 1962 and the new Scottish Omnibuses Group became part of the Transport Holdings Company. The group was renamed the Scottish Bus Group in 1963 and in 1968 it became part of the new Scottish Transport Group, making it a purely Scottish entity. Following the creation of Highland Omnibuses Ltd in the 1950s and the break-up of the Alexander empire into the Midland, Fife and Northern companies in 1962, the Scottish Bus Group settled into a stable structure of seven operating companies.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Central itself was still pursuing an expansionist agenda. It acquired the local independent Laurie of Hamilton - better known as Chieftain - in 1961, taking on board a mixed bag of low- and highbridge Leyland Titans, including some ex-London Transport RTLs. This acquisition was part of Central's strategy to benefit from the rapid expansion of the new town of East Kilbride, the most successful Scottish example of its type, intended to accommodate the so-called Glasgow overspill. Central intensified the town's links with Glasgow and introduced the 201/3/4 group of services linking East Kilbride with the Lanarkshire heartland and Monklands.

Also acquired with the Chieftain fleet were a pair of Leyland Atlanteans, making Central SMT one of the first operators of the type in Scotland. They lasted comparatively long in the fleet for a non-core type, but gave rise to no new orders. They offer a fascinating glimpse of what might have been. During this time, Central also bought new a fleet of thirty Albion Lowlanders. They were to suffer a humiliating departure, being withdrawn after 2-3 years of service and despatched to Highland and Alexander (Fife).

The decline of the Leyland Titan, the rejection of the Lowlander and the refusal to be tempted by the Atlantean's charms all allowed the company to pursue its intense love affair with the invincible Bristol Lodekka. By the late 1960s, the Lodekka fleetnumbers had reached BL356 and Central operated many variants of the type : LD, FSF, FLF, FS and the extended FLF. For a time, it looked as though Central's satisfaction with the Bristol product would carry forward logically into the future. The company took delivery of an innovative new type, the VRL, in 1966 - a rear-engined Bristol, with the power unit longitudinally mounted at the offside. A further delivery of 20 ECW-bodied VRs came in 1969, but these were more conventional VRTs, with transverse rear engines. Central clearly regarded them as direct successors to the Lodekkas, for it numbered them in a common series.

All this was to change in 1973, however. The Scottish Bus Group as a whole decided that the Bristol VRT was not at all to its liking and arranged a one-for-one swap with older Lodekka FLFs belonging to various subsidiaries of the National Bus Company.

Although Central was at this time a predominantly double-deck fleet, the Leyland Leopard single-decker was to make its first appearance in the fleet as early as 1961 and gradually grow in numbers - a fact that will be very significant in the next chapter of the Central story.

For me, though, the abiding memory of the Golden Years will always be the incredibly intensive network of high frequency, crew-operated routes reaching almost every corner of Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire, largely operated by the magnificent fleet of red and cream Bristol Lodekkas. As the company entered the second half of the 1970s, however, signs of impending change were beginning to appear.