Britain’s Leading Coachbuilder 1970 - 1990
Technological advances were moving the industry forward at a rapid pace and by 1974, the decision had been taken to move away from the traditional timber framed coach construction to an all steel frame. Elite would form the styling basis of the evolution but it’s replacement would usher in totally new construction methods and as such was designated a completely new model. The Supreme was launched on full sized coach chassis in 1975, having made a token appearance a year earlier on a number of small coach chassis.
The styling was undoubtedly Plaxton, the curves of the Elite were retained but subtly updated and a new interior followed in 1976. Supreme followed on where Elite left off and demand for what had become the premium coach of it’s generation continued to grow. By 1980, Supreme had emerged into it’s first metamorphosis as the Supreme 4 and it’s success in a newly de-regulated coach market continued but operators were seeking something different and with such a significant share of the UK market, Plaxton coaches could hardly be described as exclusive! Ironically, with so many European coachbuilders having developed models which had been based around Plaxton’s trademark features, it was to these that customers cast glances for inspiration and Plaxton’s position was under threat. This set the stage for the next radical move, a range of models which could maintain the popular market share Plaxton had won but also offer something even more exclusive to satisfy those operators seeking to add value to their service with something different.
The initial response was launched in 1977, the Viewmaster, a design based closely of Supreme but built 250mm higher, allowing a higher seat line for improved passenger visibility and greater locker capacity. It sold in increasing numbers, particularly after coach de-regulation but it was moving further away from the initial inspiration of the Elite which had set the basis for the design and it was generally regarded as Plaxton’s first taste of this type of coach and in particular, this new and emerging sector of the coach market.
Development of a range which would encompass all of the requirements of the coach market of the future commenced in 1980, the result was easily Plaxton’s biggest single departure from it’s roots, radically evolving the style of previous generations into a truly modern coach which would see the company through the next decade and beyond.
The Paramount was launched in November 1983, a basic two model line-up, 3200 and 3500, differentiated by the overall height of the body, the model designation equating to the height in millimeters – i.e. 3.2m high for the mainstream markets and an imposing 3.5m high variant to satisfy those seeking something more for their high-profile tour or express operations. Whilst the initial appearance seemed to have taken it’s styling inspiration from elsewhere, with a return to flatter side windows with square corners and a more square overall appearance, closer examination revealed that the gently curving vertical side profile had been retained along with that of the frontal shape. The style of the rear was carried over from the final evolutions of the Supreme with a single piece window, it was however totally new with only the light clusters being common.
Paramount was thrust into a market distorted by the turmoil of de-regulation, the ending of the bus grant, a general downturn in the UK economy and the lowering of trade barriers with Europe making imports from the continent more affordable. Nonetheless, Paramount set the standards by which many others were judged and with a wide range of specifications available from the two basic styles, continued the success of it’s predecessors. Against this turmoil, the UK coach market was declining but Paramount maintained and then extended Plaxton’s position as the UK number one. Two successive evolutions of the model resulted in the Paramount 3 in 1987, it was this which is perhaps the best known as a result of a collaboration with Volvo who were seeking a wider share of the UK market and who had courted the newly privatized National Express who were seeking a standard vehicle to use across their entire network. The result was the Plaxton Expressliner, a Paramount 3500 with a body and chassis specification designed in close collaboration with National Express and tailored to meet the specific needs of their operation. Around 450 were built and their use in such high profile but nonetheless intensively demanding service, proved the engineering integrity and manufacturing skills of Plaxton in what had by then become an intensively competitive market in an ever more global economy. Just as previous generations of Plaxton coach had set their successors a tough challenge to emulate, so Paramount was no different and the successor would need to be radical in many respects.
Plaxton’s mainstream coach market was being augmented by diversions into the growing market for low-cost buses to meet the needs of the bus market, de-regulated in 1986. The initial response was the Beaver, built by Plaxton’s associated small bus division, Reeve Burgess, at the plant in Chesterfield.
Beaver was to prove Plaxton’s longest running model, commencing in 1987 and still forming a significant element of the portfolio today. It also reintroduced Plaxton to a mainstream bus sector whose primary focus at that stage was on reducing costs. Beaver fitted the bill admirably and went on to enjoy massive success both at home and abroad, significant numbers being exported to Ireland, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Many subsequently passed from UK operation to other territories abroad and examples are known to have operated in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Malta, Cyprus and India.
The Beaver was in danger of becoming a victim of it’s own success, such was the rapid rise in popularity on many routes, so the capacity was being placed under strain and a new generation of Midi-bus was emerging, little bigger in overall size but capable of accommodating more passengers by more efficient use of floor space and greater standing capacity. For the future, Plaxton would need to re-assess the needs of the bus operators and come up with a model equal to the Beaver’s success.
Page 1 : 2