Classic Buses Profiles


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Last updated 23 October 2017

Another look at some delightful vehicles from the past. On this page we remember the 1940s Southdown Guy Arabs, and those that were later converted to open-top.

For those that remember the south coast of England in the 1950s and 60s, this atmospheric picture conjures up memories of ice cream and sand castles. Southdown Guy Arab No.419 (GUF 119) wanders back down Eastbourne sea front after a trip on Route 197 to Beachy Head and Birling Gap. The facades of typical Eastbourne hotels look out over the sea, with the bandstand to the left of this picture and the pier behind the camera. 419 will work its way eastwards along Grand Parade to Royal Parade, where the service terminates, and a 1920s Southdown garage (closed in 1972) is its home.

Roger Hardy took this picture in (probably) 1962. My thanks to him for letting me use it.



In 1943, Southdown Motor Services started taking delivery of a batch of 'utility' Guy Arabs, that eventually totalled 100. It took three years to deliver them all, and four different body manufacturers were involved, Northern Counties, East Lancs, Weymann and Park Royal.

Most had 54-seat highbridge bodies, and they could be found all over the Southdown area of operation. In an attempt to avoid confusion between those that would go under low bridges and those that wouldn't, highbridge buses were given an 'H' suffix after the fleet number, and lowbridge examles were suffixed 'L'. Later, 33 had conversions to open-top configuration (32 for passenger work, and one as a "tree-lopper"), and many of these then served until the 1960s. They were used mainly for seafront services along the Sussex coast, but also sometimes ventured inland to areas such as the spectacular Devil's Dyke, north of Brighton.

No.421 at Pool Valley, Brighton

No.421 prepares to depart Brighton's Pool Valley on Route 27 to Devils Dyke on 29 July 1961. Photo by kind permission of Nigel Lemon.

Although withdrawals commenced in the late 1950s (and a large number could be seen in Light's scrapyard in Greystone Quarry, just outside Lewes, in 1962) seventeen of these conversions survived until they were replaced by Leyland PD3/4s in 1964. I was informed by Paul Statham of Portsmouth that one survived, in Denmark, but we weren't sure which one. Now, thanks to Adrian Clarke, we know that it is No.451, and I can add the excellent news that it has returned to the UK for restoration in its home county of Sussex.



Through the 1950s and early 1960s Southdown operated seven sightseeing routes which regularly used the open-top Guy Arabs. They were as follows;

Route 27: Operated from Brighton (Pool Valley) to Devils Dyke

Route 31: Operated from Brighton (Pool Valley) to Devils Dyke (hourly in summer)

Route 97: Operated from Eastbourne (Royal Parade) to the Top of Beachy Head

Route 102: Operated from Arundel to Devils Dyke, via Goring, Worthing, Shoreham, Brighton and Patcham. This was reputed to be the UK's longest open-top route - 34 miles.

Route 102A: Operated from Shoreham (Greenways Crescent) to Goring via Worthing.

Route 149: Operated on Hayling Island; Eastoke Sandy Point, Beachlands, Eastney Ferry.

Route 197: Operated from Eastbourne (Royal Parade) to Beachy Head and Birling Gap.

No.426 at the Top of Beachy Head

Guy Arabs 426 (GUF 126) and 467 (GUF 167) loaded with happy trippers at the top of Beachy Head in the early 1960s. Photographer not known.

The Southdown service to the top of Beachy Head had been part of a long-standing agreement between them and Eastbourne Corporation which kept the Corporation buses strictly within the town limits. This gave Southdown the right to operate a service (Route 97) from their Royal Parade garage (closed in 1972) on the seafront near Princes Park, which wound up the steep hairpins to the top of Beachy Head or, in the case of the Route 197, onward to Birling Gap, returning via East Dean and through the town centre.

The history of this route dates back to the first world war, during which local coach operator, Chapman & Sons, started regular sightseeing trips to the top of Beachy Head using a variety of antiquated vehicles. During the 1920s Dennis 'charabancs' were used, and the charter of one of their vehicles (seating 15 or more) for a trip from their town office to Beachy Head and Birling Gap in 1930 was three shillings and sixpence.

In the mid 1920s Southdown began to establish itself in the town, and was operating similar 'charabanc' tours all over Sussex. Scheduled Southdown bus services also commenced in 1929. As a result of the Road Traffic Act in 1930 Southdown found itself in a strong position to bid for additional licences, and Chapmans were furious to learn that their traditional rights to operate to Beachy Head had been awarded to Southdown. Seeing little future against such heavy opposition, Chapmans then sold out to Southdown, who acquired their fleet, spares and properties.

A protracted argument then broke out between Southdown and Eastbourne Corporation who appealed against the licence award to operate to the top of Beachy Head and, for a while, the two organisations operated alternately for two week periods each. The Corporation were, at the time, charging a fare of 8 pence from the Pier to Beachy Head. The heated dispute was finally resolved by the commissioners on the understanding that only single-deckers were permitted to be used by Southdown.

In order to accommodate a greater number of passengers on the then-new Route 97 without contravening the single-deck limitation, Southdown in 1934 acquired two glamorous six-wheel Leyland Tiger TS6T 40-seaters with folding roofs, followed by two similar TS7T models in 1935. Due to the additional chassis length permitted for 3-axle buses, Southdown were able to carry more people yet stay within the law.

These machines can only be described as fabulous! They had very stylish Short Bros. bodywork with a centre entrance, and were converted from petrol to diesel in 1940. Here is a quick glimpse of two of them at the top of Beachy Head on Route 97 (photo copyright unknown). In the foreground is No.552, one of the two TS7T models of 1935, with No.551, a TS6T delivered in 1934, on the right. I feel they were the most attractive vehicles ever operated by Southdown, and it's such a shame that none of them survived.

The services were restarted in 1945 after wartime curtailment and the boost in post-war holiday traffic soon meant that the service 97 was operating hourly throughout the year, and every 15 minutes during summer peaks. Route 197 ran every 30 minutes. The 6-wheel Tigers had to be supplemented with more conventional 4-wheel models to keep up the pace. In 1952 the restriction on the use of double-deckers was lifted and open top conversions of 'utility' Guy Arabs began to appear. This made sense for Southdown, but unfortunately resulted in the retirement of the glorious six-wheeled single deckers.

Due to the extremely steep route and hairpins up to the top of Beachy Head, it was found necessary to fit all Eastbourne-based Arabs with the more powerful Gardner 6LW engine. Even in 1960, the service was still operating throughout the year, and every 30 minutes in the summer, but the appeal was declining. In 1964 the last of the Guy Arabs were retired and replaced by new Leyland PD3/4 'Queen Marys' with removable roofs. These distinctive Southdown buses acquired numbers in the '400' series of the buses they were replacing, and they continued to operate the route through the 1970s until, in 1983, Eastbourne Buses finally started regular services to the top of Beachy Head.

These days the old '97' service is run by Eastbourne Buses only. Now numbered Route 3, it traverses an even longer route, starting at the Sovereign Centre in what is now a thriving area, but had previously been a vast, unused shingle wasteland beyond Princes Park. From there it runs along the front, past the Pier and Holywell, and then up to the Top of Beachy Head. The old Southdown Royal Parade Garage has been demolished and replaced by a block of flats.

Much swapping of bodies took place during the lives of these vehicles, and the details are listed below when known. Several buses were upgraded from the Gardner 5LW to the more powerful 6LW engine on conversion to open-top, a necessity on such as the Beachy Head and Devils Dyke routes due to the steep hills.

The fleet lists below examine first the entire batch as delivered, and then take a closer look at those that were converted.

Particular thanks go to Adrian Clarke for providing a vast quantity of information, which has been a great help in getting the facts straight.

As with my other lists, mistakes are bound to creep in, 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.

No.439 climbing Devil's Dyke on 1 September 1963. Photo by kind permission of Cliff Essex

FLEET LIST (as delivered)


No.419 opposite Royal Parade garage (closed 1972), Eastbourne in 1962. (photo Dick Gilbert)

GUY ARAB    -    400 - 499 (Total 100)

Built 1943 - 1946 (Last ones delivered March 1946)

Chassis: Guy Arab II Utility ( except 400 & 401, which were Arab I ). Three quarters of them had Gardner 5LW engines, the remainder had Gardner 6LW engines. Chassis numbers are marked 'Ch:'.

Bodies: Various 'utility' - see below for details. Seven delivered in 1944 had lowbridge bodies with side gangways in the upper deck. Some early vehicles also had East Lancs highbridge bodies taken from pre-war Leyland Titan TDs.

TOTAL 100 ( with 1 survivor )


FLEET LIST (converted to open top)


GUY ARAB    -    408 - 499 (Total 33)

Southdown Guy Arab No.437

An interesting photo of No.437 (GUF 137). It looks quite smart, so it may well be soon after its conversion to open-top in 1959 - it was withdrawn in 1964, so only spent 5 years in this guise. The London Transport bus stop on the right shows that it is well away from its normal operating area, and Paul Snelling tells me that the picture was taken at Tattenham Corner, so this is almost certainly a private hire trip to the races at Epsom, probably on Derby Day. What is the upright board at the back on the upper deck - a windbreak? The RAC motorbike on the left gives the picture a nice period touch. (Photo: unknown)

No.437 in Brighton

No.437 (GUF 137) again, this time on more conventional duties as it passes Old Steine, Brighton at the start of the lengthy route 102 on 29 July 1961. Photo by Nigel Lemon.

Built 1943 - 1946

Chassis: Guy Arab II Utility, mostly with Gardner 6LW engines.

Bodies: Various - see below. Some had windshields on the upper deck, some didn't. Although 32 were used for passenger service, one (460) had its roof removed for use as a "tree lopper" at Bognor, so it has been included in the list.

TOTAL 33 ( with 1 survivor )


And here is that 1 survivor. This image of 451 is taken from a postcard kindly sent by Thomas Christensen, from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Thomas writes; "The bus was servicing the 'Museum Triangle Route' between the two cities Sakskøbing and Maribo, around 1965. There still is a steam train route from the Harbour Bandholm to Maribo ( In the sixties there was also a steam ferry sailing from Sakskøbing to Bandholm." Thanks very much Thomas for the picture.

So where is it now? Undergoing a complete rebuild in Worthing, West Sussex.

Current owner Ian Richardson very kindly invited me to visit the restoration in July 2011. It's going to be a long hard slog to get the job done, by individuals who are still learning some of the necessary skills, and funded by personal contributions. This is restoration in its most raw form and I wish Ian and his colleagues the very best of good fortune in their recreation of 191, the last surviving example of 100 charismatic buses. Photo by Dick Gilbert.

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 coaches 1951-1961

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

SOME QUICK LINKS WITHIN THIS WEBSITE;  Home   Email   Links   THE COMPLETE WEBSITE MENU   Events Diary   Halfcab list   Small-Ads   Classic Irish Buses