Michelin Memories: The Vintage Bus, Part 1

Michelin Memories is an opportunity for our ex-employee volunteers to share some of their stories with you. In this series we’ll feature recollections from the team alongside images of the documents that sparked these memories off. We’d also be interested to hear about personal memories from our readers – get in touch and we’ll include them here. We’re looking forward to uncovering these stories hidden within the Archive on a regular basis – enjoy!

The Story of Michelin’s Vintage Bus (BIB 9878), Part 1

Memory contributed by Peter Harding

This replica bus was based on a normal control export model 5-ton carrying capacity Austin design, (a Leyland product), purchased from Kays of Stoke-on-Trent. It had a 6 cylinder diesel engine, a manual 5-speed gearbox and power steering. The body was built on the design of a 1920s era Southdown (Sussex) open-top, rear-staircase bus in a small workshop in Tean, just east of Stoke. It was painted in Michelin blue with cream lettering, decorated with white Bibs (Michelin Men) around the upper deck, and the interiors were stained and varnished. The seats in the lower saloon were upholstered in brown leather and the top deck seats made in a wooden lath construction.

In the early days

The mock radiator (which covered the vehicle’s original radiator) was made in Service W1, Michelin’s garage department at Stoke factory. The shell was 1/8” brass plate obtained from J Stores (the factory’s main general store) braised together and polished; the grill rods were 3/8” galvanised steel tube with ferrules built up on each tube to form a fake radiator. The ferrules were held in place by Loctite and a good push fit. The ferrules were produced using a die made by Peter Clough in FW department and the ferrule base was a brass tarpaulin eyelet pressed into the die. Most of the work on the radiator shell was carried out by John Arrowsmith and myself whenever we had a spare moment.

During the build at Tean, a W1 electrician went and fixed in the wiring for the head, side, rear and interior light, switches, etc. Whilst this was in progress, I spent time collecting the vintage items needed to kit out the vehicle: fluted glass bowl interior lights; brass covered light switches; suitable side and flashing lights; and flat-fixing rear lights. The headlights were acquired by Ian Clark (Head of Department) at a vintage car parts sale: they were a pair of 1900s French headlamps that fitted on a horseshoe bracket. They were 10 inches in diameter and were very battered but solid. The lamps were renovated by a restorer at Serc Radiators in Birmingham and came back like new! Next, a pair of flat sealed-beam units were fitted in the lamp bodies behind the original glass. The Morris Minor side flasher lights (indicators) were fitted to two brackets on the outside of the bulkhead. The next job was to make two brackets to attach the headlamps, a job for V2 department pipe-fitters and welders. They had to be exactly fitted to the front dumb-irons as there would be no way of adjusting the beams. The surrounds of the interior lights were plastic and needed to be brass to match the interior. However, brass-plating would not adhere to the plastic so gold plating was suggested – job done!

Starting retirement

All this took place in W1 before the bus was taken to the painters in nearby Tunstall. The firm (Stoker Bros), an old established coach painter and body builder, was to carry out the painting. One drawback though – the bus was too high to go through the doorway into the paint shop, by 4 inches! To get around this problem we went back to Service W and did some thinking. We found four old wheel rims (no tyres) with the correct wheel stud fixings. The original wheels were taken off, the rims fitted and it was driven in on old sheets of plywood ready to be brush-painted under the watchful eye of Sidney Stoker.

While all this was going on, over in Northern Ireland (in Ballymena) they had a car registration number BIB 9878. This number was transferred to the new bus. The bus also needed a mascot on the radiator. So, a large piece of brass (from J Stores again) obtained by the Publicity Department was machined to look like a radiator cap and a Bib man (aka Bibendum, the Michelin Man). About 4 inches high, was drilled, tapped and securely fixed to the false radiator.


That’s all for now – next month find out what the vintage bus got up to after its delivery to the Publicity Department.

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