ABC’s look back at a ‘Reflections’ article about one of Australia’s great buses
DENNING’S 40FT Mono Coach has many ‘comfort components’ that go a lot further than just skin deep. The tandem drive with lazy axle, for instance, coupled to advanced airbag suspension provides a stability and ride unattainable by previous standards.
That’s how the Denning publicity brochure described the Magnificent Australian coach. Gigantic luggage capacity to keep the passenger areas clear and uncluttered, tinted panoramic windows, draw curtains and so it went on. And indeed it was such an advance on earlier Australian coaches and indeed so much different from its American contemporaries.
Alan Denning and Len Molloy founded AB Denning in 1958. They started in a small factory in Annerley Road, Woolloongabba, Brisbane. The main business was ambulances, hearses and the fitting of windows to panel vans. Later they moved to a new site at Fairfield Road, Yeerongpilly and it was here that the first of the distinguished lineage of coaches was constructed.
After several years Alan Denning bought a factory in Raynham Street in Rocklea. Here Denning won a contract to construct 136 Brisbane City Council buses but found the site restrictive and it proved impossible to build the Council buses there satisfactorily. In concert with Pressed Metal Corporation of Sydney Denning built a larger factory in Landseer Street, Acacia Ridge. The manufacturing plant occupied an area of almost three hectares with the production facility measuring 3273 sq m. Production of a single Denning Monocoach took over 2000 hours to build and trim, and the work was all done on site.
Many readers will remember the famous class of 340 Leyland Panthers that carried both Denning and Hedges bodywork. Some of these Panthers lasted in Council service well into the 1990’s and can even be seen today as mobile homes. (Are there any still in passenger service?)
It was at this factory that the council contract was completed. Later the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Leyland Australia. Denning concentrated on building top of the range luxury coaches that became well known both in Australia and New Zealand.
The company became Australia’s largest builder of luxury coaches and at one stage was building at a rate of more than one a week. The Denning Mono coach became Australia’s market leader and at one stage over 120 major coach operators were using the type on front line express and touring work. Despite the fact that Denning had built hundreds of urban bus bodies it was undoubtedly the Mono that was one of the most famous.
During its development the Monocoach had been rigidly tested under all types of operating conditions to meet both legislative and current practice standards of engineering. The Monocoach integrated construction concept was introduced in 1962 and the design attracted continual improvements over the ensuing years.
Its major success came from two areas. It was a simple design using proven components, thus ensuring reliability and easy replacement. Secondly Denning provided a high class back up service around Australia thus ensuring that operators and passengers were kept on the move. Denning established eleven service centres in the major capitals as well as Newcastle, Wodonga, Mount Isa, Cairns and Alice Springs. The company also prided itself that it was a 24-hour service.
The Monocoach’s success also came because, whilst standard components were used, it was flexible enough to be able to be tailored to suit individual operators’ needs. It was available in four different configurations for length and seating capacity and built with either single or twin rear axles. The largest unit, at 12.5m could seat as many as 53 passengers with 9.14 cubic metres of luggage in sealed bins.
Ride originally was a combination of leaf and air suspension. However by 1978 full air bags were available. The Monocoach gained a reputation as a go-anywhere coach. In its prime it could be seen on long distance express across the country and companies such as Australian Pacific and McCafferty’s based its core fleet on the type.
Many readers will see the Monocoach as a relic of the past, however in its day it was the latest and best you could buy. To illustrate this some of the quotes with regard to its design features make interesting reading in comparison to what is considered the minimum standard today.
“Step into the drivers cockpit. Make yourself comfortable, the seat is adjustable in nearly every possible way. It would satisfy even the fussiest driver.
The dash wraps around you, revealing all its instruments and gauges. It’s the nerve centre for controlling all vehicle functions. It lets you know exactly what’s happening especially down the back where 300 horses of turbo diesel is working away, even though you can hardly feel it or hear it.
There are the little touches that have been considered. The lock up glove box, a map pocket, a flashlight, a First Aid kit and a Fire Extinguisher nearby, a dust cover for the stereo cassette AM/FM radio.
There is probably one simple word to describe the feeling — ‘Command’, and in this technical age it’s a nice feeling.”
Passenger Safety & Comfort
“The ride quality of Den Air suspension is not just magic. It has been the result of extensive testing so that whether on the highway, or dirt track, the passenger saloon is immune from the hard and rough riding.
There is, on tap by means of overhead consoles, an effective air-conditioning vent, and for those long night time runs, individual reading lamps. Seats are lightweight and comfortable and adjustable from an alert upright position to a lay back recline position.
No problems or worries with baggage. There is plenty of room overhead for the camera bag. And there is heaps of room underneath in the bins, for the larger bags.”
Pleasures of Buying a Denning Coach
“When you buy a Denning coach you arebuying more than just a vehicle, or for that matter a name. Denning Coaches are built in Australia, for Australian conditions. Apart from having to be durable, the vehicles have to be practical for easy maintenance and servicing. Denning chose all steel construction for the chassis and frames, the proven and reliable Detroit diesel engines and many other well-known standard components.
The coaches are strong, tough, reliable and of course very comfortable to ride in. As an owner of a Denning coach you also have the opportunity to have a big say in customising your vehicle to suit your fleet.”
“So when you buy a Denning coach you are investing in a proven product that will last for many years to come and retain its appeal.”
You can almost feel the pride in the product from those words. And retain their appeal they certainly did.
Many of course have now gone; converted into mobile homes or into parts and scrap. Now in the twilight of their careers they mainly find use on secondary services. To illustrate the longevity of the originals, some of them were still operating express services for McCafferty’s in SEQLD until late last year. There are still many running with smaller coach operators around the country. Some still get out on the open road but many are now confined to schoolwork, an expensive option with a GM V6 or V8 coupled to a Spicer or Fuller manual constant mesh gearbox.
But in their time they were the kings of the road. Nearly every operator set the standard of their express coach and touring fleets on the Monocoach or its equally distinguished contemporary, the Austral Tourmaster.
As with all Australian models the choices are few and far between. The only model of the Denning Monocoach currently available is produced by the Melbourne based company Weico.
This well detailed model is once again to the Australian preferred scale of 1/87 or commonly called HO. This is fi ne as the scale ties in well with European based models so an Australian based fleet can be made up with both urban and long distance units from manufacturers such as Wiking and Herpa (which also produce a Setra by the way).
The Weico model is an excellent representation of the original. It is easy to assemble, even with limited modelling skills. It carries an older air conditioning pod and is supplied with lettering to make a McCafferty’s unit.
Therefore if you wish to get one of these fine models the choice of operator is almost limitless, as it seems that almost every operator had one at some stage or another. Some were even fitted with wheelchair lifts, an interesting conversion?
Whatever you decide, whether on your desk or at home, a model of The Magnificent Australian — The Denning Mono Coach would never be out of place.