Classic Buses Profiles


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Last updated 29 March 2018

This page is a profile of the early underfloor-engined coaches that Southdown Motor Services acquired between 1951 and 1961.

Southdown No.1726

For many people, the classic image of a post-war Southdown touring coach is that of their fleet of Harrington Cavaliers, which entered service in 1961, the very end of the period covered by this profile. Undoubtedly one of the great style icons of post-war coachbuilding, the Southdown Cavaliers looked at their best (in my opinion!) when wearing the cream and leaf green livery in which they were delivered. That livery was short-lived, but showed off the design to its greatest advantage, as demonstrated by No.1726 (one of four in preservation), seen here at the Maidstone & District and East Kent Bus Club's 60th anniversary event at the Kent County Showground, Detling in April 2012. Photo: Dick Gilbert.


Southdown had long held a reputation for quality coach services and, with the halfcab design considered somewhat old-fashioned by the early 1950s, and the remainder of their huge fleet of front-engined Leyland Tigers getting long in the tooth, it was natural that they would look closely at the new underfloor-engined coaches then coming on to the market.

In the decade from 1951, when they bought their first examples, and 1961, as the first of many stylish Harrington Cavaliers started to arrive, Southdown bought over 400 coaches, mostly Leylands but also some Commer two-strokes, and this is a profile of those acquisitions.

Often bulky and solid, sometimes almost brutish in design, they nonetheless reflected the styling of the 1950s, perhaps the coaching equivalent of the Standard Vanguard, the Hillman Minx or the early diesel locomotives, without venturing into the excesses of the Wurlitzer jukebox. The various body manufacturers had their products subtly varied by the company and thus became instantly recogniseable as Southdown vehicles, with their extensive window area and patterned brightwork on the front.

Services were operated under various titles, including "Beacon Tours" (named after Beacon Motor Services of Crowborough, acquired by Southdown in 1949), "Triumph Coaches", a Portsmouth company taken over in 1957 and whose smart blue and cream livery was applied to 21 Southdown coaches at various times through to the early 1960s, and "Buck's Coaches" of Worthing, whose cream / pale blue livery was applied to two Royal Tigers in the mid 1960s. The "South Coast Express" title was used for a fast coastal service from Bournemouth to Margate, operated jointly with East Kent and Royal Blue. "Linjebuss" was a Swedish tour operator who used a small number of Southdown coaches (in their blue livery) for tours of Britain.

What follows is an attempt to create a brief history of the type, in the form of records and images designed to give even the casual reader some impression of the development and contemporary styling of this varied and interesting fleet of coaches.

My thanks to all those who have helped with valuable data - too many to name I'm afraid.

As always, mistakes are inevitable and some relevant information may be missing so, in order to make it as accurate a reference as possible, I would of course welcome any additions or corrections.

Since the list is arranged in order of delivery, the fleet numbers in this list are not in sequence. For the benefit of those who may be looking for a particular vehicle or batch, the following lists in fleet number and registration number order, linked to the appropriate batch, may be useful;

Fleet numbers;

Registration numbers;



LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER  -  800-829 (Total 30)

Southdown 1800

This is numerically Southdown's first underfloor-engined coach, seen on an excursion in the mid 1960s. Repainted into this livery and renumbered from 800 to 1800 in 1962, it was to be sold for work on construction sites four years later - an ignominious retirement. Photo by kind permission of Cliff Essex.

Southdown 1806

The first ten of this batch had Duple Ambassador bodywork, with distinctive Southdown brightwork modifications. This is No.1806 (LCD 206), previously numbered 806, heading along Pevensey Road, Eastbourne, approaching the Southdown Coach Station in Cavendish Place after returning from a sunny day trip to Brighton in the summer of 1962. Looking typically smart, it still retains its original attractive cream roof, which it was soon to lose. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Southdown 1823

The second part of this batch had the Harrington Wayfarer coachwork, again seating a luxuriously spacious 26. Royal Tiger 1823 (LUF 823) is seen opposite Eastbourne Pier at the very end of its 'touring coach' life in the summer of 1961, touting for day-trip customers. It had been renumbered from 823 to 1823, but still retained its cream roof. Within a year it had followed general Southdown policy to paint the whole coach fleet all-over leaf green, which detracted from the character of the machines. It became No.1683 at the same time, and was downgraded from touring to general coach duties, increasing the capacity to 41 seats. 1683 was sold in 1966. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Southdown 1811

Here we see Royal Tiger 1811 (LUF 811) at Bognor Regis depot after having its Harrington body repainted into the all-over leaf green livery applied in 1961.
It was also renumbered 1671 around this time. Photo by kind permission of Cliff Essex.

Southdown 826 in Malta as BCY881 (photo: Peter Skerry)

Still active in 2006, although unrecognisable since being rebodied by Brincat, Southdown Royal Tiger No.826 (LUF 826) continued to work regularly in Malta as BCY881, and had been with the same owner since it arrived in 1972. Photo by kind permission of Peter Skerry.

Built 1951-52

Chassis: Leyland Royal Tiger PSU1/15, 30 foot chassis, with O600 9.8 litre engines.


800-809; Duple Ambassador C26C tourers with sliding roof and 'two-and-one' seating.

810-829; Harrington Wayfarer I, C26C tourers with sliding roof, intended for long-distance coach cruises.

Notes: Southdown's first 30-foot underfloor-engined coaches. This batch were all later renumbered 1800-1829.

The Harrington-bodied examples were repainted all-over leaf green in 1961/2, converted to C41C, and renumbered again as 1670-1689.

LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER  -  1500-1539 (Total 40)

Southdown 1533 at Pool Valley, Brighton

Royal Tiger No.1533 at Pool Valley, Brighton, prior to its rebuild to front-entrance in 1961. (Photo: Roy Marshall collection via East Pennine Transport Group)

Built 1952-53

Chassis: Leyland Royal Tiger PSU1/13

Body; East Lancs DP40R and DP40C. Later converted to B39F and B41F.

Notes: Although spending much of their lives as buses, these vehicles have been included in this list of coaches because the original bodies were intended to be "dual-purpose", i.e. bus or coach.

LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER  -  1600-1649 (Total 50)

Southdown 1609

Three different types of bodywork were fitted to this batch, the first twenty examples receiving Duple Ambassador coachwork with additional typically Southdown brightwork and a small destination box on the front roof. After retirement by Southdown, No.1609 was acquired by Lough Swilly in 1965 and renumbered 105. This view, taken in Letterkenny, Co.Donegal on 21 Sept 1969, shows it in Lough Swilly service. Photo with thanks to John Bristow, via Shane Conway.

1640 (LUF 640)

All-Leyland 1640 (LUF 640) on a Hayling Island service. Twenty five of the batch looked like this. Photo: copyright Keith Harwood.

Southdown 1649

Leyland Royal Tiger No.1649, the last of the batch, has just disembarked its passengers after a run up to Victoria Coach Station in London, in 1962. This 41-seat coachwork style was known as the Duple Coronation Ambassador, and was only built during 1953. The coach was sold in 1966. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Built 1952-53

Chassis: Leyland Royal Tiger PSU1/15.

Bodies as follows:

1600-1619 Duple Ambassador C41C with sliding roof, for express services.

1620-1644 Leyland C41C with sliding roof, for express services. Similar to the 'Roadliner' design.

1645-1649 Duple "Coronation Ambassador" C41C with sliding roof. This was basically the Duple Ambassador, but some 1953 models were named 'Coronation' to celebrate the Queen's coronation that year. These bodies were somewhat heavy and an unpopular option (East Kent bought two, but that may be all).

Notes: 1619-1644 were converted to dual-purpose DP41C around 1961 with larger destination indicator boxes, but remained in coach livery. The route numbers, when required, were shown on boards positioned over the front registration plate.

LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER  -  1650-1680 (Total 31)

Southdown 1662

Leyland Royal Tiger No.1662 (NCD 662) sits outside Southdown's Royal Parade garage on Eastbourne seafront in the summer of 1962. Typical of the company's general purpose coaches of the period it has a distinctive Southdown styling, and survived 12 years in service. Royal Parade garage is now sadly replaced by a block of flats. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Southdown 1650 in Malta 2006

Amazingly, the first of the batch survived into the 21st century in service! Here is the chassis of 1650 (MUF 650) working in Malta in 2006, attached to an Aquilina body and registered DBY306, despite claiming to be a Leyland Leopard. Peter Skerry kindly sent the photo and confirmed the chassis number. A surprising discovery.

Southdown Royal Tiger No.835

Royal Tiger No.835 roaring into Brighton in the mid 1950s (note the overhead trolleybus wiring). The Duple body, still in its original C26C luxury touring configuration is slightly unusual in that it has a Leyland Royal Tiger badge on the front, instead of the more common Southdown logo. (Photo: unknown)

Martin Cory writes "The picture of the Southdown Royal Tiger 835 is not at Brighton at all, but is actually at what is now called the Lombard Roundabout in Croydon, at the junction of Thornton Road and Purley Way (the A23) and Canterbury Road and Mitcham Road. The trolleybus wiring overhead was for London Transport route 630 that ran along Mitcham Road, on its way from West Croydon to Harlesden. At the time the picture was taken "Lombard" was not there, so I don't actually know if the new roundabout had a name in the early 1950s. Lombards were certainly there by the early 1960s, although they have gone now, but the building and the roundabout name remains."

But Jonathan Sheard says "J J Geary and Sons was (and still is) a Brighton furniture business, so methinks that Brighton is correct after all."

Martin Cory has the last (and undeniably correct!) word; "Sorry, but both Jonathan and you are wrong. J J Geary are indeed a furniture and upholstery shop in Brighton, but they are in Newark Place which is a "back street", and not anywhere near a roundabout! I would refer you to the website of David Bradley - look at route 630 and then look at picture number 556. You will see Geary's clearly in the background, and a trolleybus on route 630 passing by. It is quite obviously the same location as your picture. The style of the "keep left" signs and the lampposts on the roundabout (although the tops have been replaced in the later photo, with sodium lights instead of white ones) also confirms it. I lived in Canterbury road throughout the 1950s and indeed bought my first bike from Geary's in 1957. The man who ran it then was called Jack Hayward, but he kept the Geary's name as it was well known."

Southdown Royal Tiger No.1839

Differing slightly from NUF 75 above, NUF 79 (also with a Duple body, but this time with 41 seats) is seen in the 1960s after its renumbering to 1839. The chromework and radiator grille are different, it has roof quarterlights (largely blocked by stored luggage!), and a Southdown badge on the front rather than the Royal Tiger emblem. This vehicle took part in the 1956 Brighton Coach Rally, winning the Concours d'Elegance class. (Photo: unknown).

Paul Holden tells me that the location of this picture is near the rear entrance to the old Bognor Regis bus station. Thanks Paul.

Built 1953-54

Chassis: Leyland Royal Tiger PSU1/16

Body: Duple C41C with sliding roof.

LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER  -  830-834 (Total 5)

Built 1953-55

Chassis: Leyland Royal Tiger (830-833 were PSU1/15, 834 was PSU1/11)

Body: Harrington Wayfarer C26C tourers with sliding roof.

Notes; All renumbered as 1830-1834 around 1960.

LEYLAND TIGER CUB  -  1000-1074 (Total 75)

Tiger Cub 1060

Tiger Cub 1060 (RUF 60) at Crawley. This coach ended up as a contractor's bus with Wimpeys. Copyright Keith Harwood.

Built 1954-56

Chassis: Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/2, with 5.76 litre 'O.350' engine.

Body: Beadle C37C and C41C

Notes: The Tiger Cub was introduced from 1954 as a response to the increasing weight of the various Royal Tiger designs previously acquired. Fuel efficiency increased, but so did noise! 1009-1017 were tourers.

COMMER TS3 / BEADLE INTEGRAL  -    1-25 (Total 25)

Southdown No.10

Not the greatest of pictures, I'll grant you, but it does give some idea of the styling of these two-stroke Beadle/Commer TS3 integral coaches which Southdown acquired in 1956-57 and used largely on express services from London to the coast because of their fine turn of speed! This is No.10 (TCD 10), picking up passengers at the Cavendish Place coach station in Eastbourne in 1961. Photo Dick Gilbert.

Built 1956 (Nos. 1-5) and 1957 (Nos.6-25)

Chassis/Body: Commer TS3 (3-cylinder opposed-piston 2-stroke diesel) integral build with Beadle Mk.OE II "Rochester" C41F bodies (Nos. 1-5 were C41C).

Notes: The last of these were sold in 1969.

LEYLAND TIGER CUB  -  1075-1129 (Total 55)

Southdown 1123

Beadle-bodied Leyland Tiger Cub No.1123 (UCD 123) parked at Cavendish Place coach station in Eastbourne in the summer of 1961. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Triumph Coaches T1099

Tiger Cub T1099 (SUF 899) in full Triumph Coaches livery sometime between 1958 and 1966. Does anyone recognise the location? Photo: P.Yeomans Collection, by kind permission of the PSV Circle.

Paul Statham kindly sent me the following; "The clue is the destination shown, Nottingham, as these cars (they were always referred to as that by Southdown) were used every weekend on Forces leave services, one of which was to Nottingham. In the background, you can see trolleybus overhead, and I think that there was a Trent depot next door to a Nottingham Corporation trolley depot, so I believe that is the location. The date is fairly easy as, because the leave services travelled during the night, all the coaches used (the Triumph-liveried ones plus about 10 regular Southdown cars) were fitted with a second fog/spot light on the offside within about a year of delivery, thus dating it to no later than December 1958". Thanks Paul.

Vic Smith sent me further information in Nov 2015; "Paul is in the right area but I can identify the precise location. The bus and lorry are parked in the Ice Stadium car park on the west side of Lower Parliament Street. On the opposite (east) side of Lower Parliament Street can be seen the front of Cartergate Motors (Ford Dealers), which was sited between the trolleybus depot and the omnibus depot. All features are visible in this image. The omnibus depot is extant as Manvers Street Depot seen on the left of this picture." Thanks very much Vic.

Built 1957-58

Chassis: Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/2, O.350 5.76 litre engine.

Body: Beadle C32C, C32F, C37C and C41C

Notes: Eight of these were operated by Triumph Coaches, Southsea, and painted blue and cream.

COMMER TS3  -   26-40 (Total 15)

Southdown No.31

"I know I'm late, but I was caught in traffic..." pleads the driver perhaps, when Southdown Commer Avenger No.31 arrives at the coach station at Cavendish Place Eastbourne in 1961. Coaches had to drive right through the garage and out the other side to reach the passenger embarkation area to the right of this picture. This depot finally closed for PSV business in 2002, having had thousands of fascinating vehicular visitors through the years. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Built 1959

Chassis: Commer TS3 Avenger IV.

Body; Burlingham C35F (modified Seagull design). Southdown's first Burlingham acquisitions since the 1930s.

COMMER AVENGER  -  41-55 (Total 15)

Southdown Commer Avenger No.52

Commer Avenger No.52 returning from an H.M.Forces service in the 1960s. The distinctive 'gaping mouth' of the Harrington Crusader was unmistakeable. Michael Rolfe informed me that it is turning into Southdown's famous Hilsea Bus Garage on the northern outskirts of Portsmouth. (Photo: unknown)

Built 1959-60

Chassis: Commer Avenger IV (Commer TS3 two-stroke engine)

Body: Harrington Crusader C35F

Notes: The original cream roofs were repainted light green around 1962-63.

LEYLAND TIGER CUB  -  1130-1144 (Total 15)

Southdown No.1141

This is Tiger Cub coach No.1141 (XUF 141), the only survivor of the batch, passing through Patcham on 1 May 1994. The bodywork is almost a standard Weymann Fanfare design. Mark Piper emailed me to say that he was on this coach at the time! His father (an ex Southdown employee) had just completed its restoration and was on his way to Brighton to take some old friends out for a trip to Beaulieu Motor Museum in it. Thanks to Mark for the info. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

In August 2014 I received another interesting email from Mark's father, John Piper; "Browsing through your feature on Southdown coaches you show a picture of me driving my preserved coach on the London to Brighton run on the 1 May 1994; I served my time as an apprentice at Portslade Works in 1959 for 5 years, returned as Assistant Chief Engineer in 1972, and I was especially proud to have preserved this coach which I purchased from Eagle Coaches, Bristol in 1992." Thank you John.

Built early 1960

Chassis: Leyland Tiger Cub PSUC1/2

Body: Weymann Fanfare C37F

Notes: A further ten identical vehicles were delivered in 1962. The original cream window surrounds were repainted light green around 1962-63.

LEYLAND LEOPARD  -  1700-1729 (Total 30)

Southdown No.1722

The Southdown Harrington Cavaliers were probably the company's best known coaches of the era, and this is No.1722 (2722 CD), seen here sailing through Patcham like a galleon, on the 1994 Historic Commercial Vehicle Society London to Brighton run. Four examples survive in preservation, and they are all (appropriately) based in Sussex. Photo: Dick Gilbert.

Built 1961

Chassis: Leyland Leopard L2T, O.600 engine, 30' long, 8' 2.5" wide, air suspension.

Body: Harrington Cavalier C28F. Most (if not all) reseated to C41F later.

Notes: Originally with cream roofs, they were repainted with light green roofs from 1962.

LEYLAND LEOPARD  -  1730-1744 (Total 15)

Southdown Leyland Leopard No.1739

Southdown Leopard No.1739 (8739 CD) in the 1960s. Photo: T.Knowles Collection, by kind permission of the PSV Circle.

Built 1961-62

Chassis: Leyland Leopard L2, O.600 engine, 31' 5" long, 8' 2.5" wide. The last two (1743-44) were Leopard PSU3.3RT, 36 feet long.

Body: Harrington Cavalier "315" C28F or C31F. Many later became C41F. Nos.1743 & 1744 were Cavalier "36", C49F.

TOTAL 401  ( with 9 survivors - 826, 828, 1141, 1650, 1703, 1708, 1722, 1724 and 1726)


For more Southdown buses see;

Southdown Leyland Tigers (1) - pre-war coaches

Southdown Leyland Tigers (2) - pre-war buses

Southdown Leyland Tigers (3) - all post-war vehicles

Southdown Guy Open-toppers

For many other buses, have a look at all the other profiles on the Classic Buses menu page.

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