Britain’s Leading Coachbuilder 1970 - 1990
The success of Panorama set Plaxton with a new and even greater challenge, to produce a new design which could emulate the success of Panorama and set the standards for the 1970’s. To do this, Plaxton looked outside the industry, the Ogle Design Partnership had a sound reputation for styling a wide range of items during the image conscious 1960’s and Plaxton briefed them with a view to producing a coach which would follow Panorama’s success with even greater things.
The result was the Panorama Elite, a coach which drew inspiration from some of the most stylish automotive designs of the day and expanded even further the “Panoramic” window concept. The basic design revolved around a series of gently curving arcs, apart from the longitudinal and vertical glazing lines, there was barely a straight line to be seen, replaced by subtle and gracious curves, many so subtle that they were barely perceptible as such to the naked eye but each marrying gently into a truly striking vehicle. The vertical side profile cast a continuous arc from top to bottom, side windows following the same profile, the first coach in the UK to offer this and a major departure from the slab sided designs which had hitherto been the norm. Windows followed the same curve, in turn allowing the upper glass line to continue upwards enlarging the size of the glass to allow even greater visibility and continued the pattern by eliminating the square corners, replacing them with a smooth radiused finish to each. With so much departure from established practice, it was a difficult task to continue the established Plaxton lineage but such was the attention to detail of the design that the evolution from Panorama was undeniable, the result was truly Plaxton.
The Elite followed Panorama in setting the styling trends which the entire industry would follow for the next generation. The success also propelled Plaxton past Duple, whose own designs were looking decidedly dated in comparison, to become the number one UK coachbuilder, by 1973 commanding over 50% of the market. Duple set out to emulate the success of Elite, Frank Ford, a former leading light at Plaxton had become Managing Director of Duple and set the company the task of designing a credible competitor. The result, the Dominant of 1973, was a pale imitation of the real thing and Plaxton’s position as number one was confirmed.
The Elite was arguably the most stylish coach the UK has ever produced, in the 40 years since it first appeared, styling and engineering standards have changed radically along with the fashions of successive generations, but the Elite still maintains it’s place at the top table of the products which have shaped the bus and coach industry. It’s been said that had the Elite been exposed to the public in the same manner as the famous Routemaster then it would probably have overtaken it as the icon which defined our industry to a world audience.
From 1968, Government grants were available to bus operators who ran vehicles on regular services, the aim was to improve the standard of the vehicles which formed the country’s basic transport infrastructure. The grant conditions laid down basic specifications which the Elite was readily adapted to meet, offering a coach which was suitable for bus work but with up to 50% of the cost paid by the government. This swelled the number of potential buyers, by the time production ceased in August 1975, around 6,000 had been built to three subtly evolving generations. Such was the attention to detail and the basic soundness of Ogle’s original, that each evolution would stamp it’s own mark whilst maintaining the undoubtedly classic lines of the original and the final version, the Elite 111, is widely recognized as being the finest generation of a true classic.
The bus grant scheme had also spawned a new service bus design, the Derwent, and as a result Plaxton built up a whole new customer base among bus operators, both within the state-owned National Bus Company and the smaller independent and municipally owned fleets. The Derwent was the precursor of what would later shape Plaxton several generations in the future but with coach production booming, it was clear from the outset that the available capacity would fall to coach and a sound and popular model though it was, Derwent was destined to take little more than a support role.
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