RESTORED AND RETRO BRISBANE ‘PANTHER’ BUS UNVEILED

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


QUEENSLAND Omnibus and Coach Society (QOCS) has unveiled its biggest project to date, recently: the restoration of a 1969 Leyland Panther Bus.

RESTORED AND RETRO BRISBANE ‘PANTHER’ BUS UNVEILED
Chip Hedges (L), son of Athol Hedges (whose company built this bus for the Council), and (R) Barrie Watt of Watt’s Bus & Coach Works (who undertook the exterior body refurbishment). Chip and his family donated $10,000 to the restoration.

As Brisbane marked the 50th anniversary of the end of its tram system on April 13, 1969, the QOCS unveiled its proudest project on the same day – the two-year-long restoration of a 1969 Leyland Panther bus.

The project, which cost AUD$100,000, was made possible through public donations of $80,000 with the club funding the rest.

With the trams gone after 84 years of service, Leyland Panther buses became the centrepiece of Brisbane City Council’s fleet, QOCS president Nick Wilson says.

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At a cost of $6.8 million, 340 Leyland Panthers buses were delivered between 1968 - 1970 and were by far the largest fleet investment in the council’s history.

Bus 722 was the very last of 204 Panthers delivered by supplier Athol Hedges to the council, hitting the road on April 11, 1969 as trams services came to an end.

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Restored back to its original condition to commemorate the milestone, the project is five times the amount the club has ever spent on a vehicle restoration, Wilson explains.

"In fact, the club has never restored a vehicle to this extent before. This was a complete interior and exterior refurbishment," Wilson added.

Once the flagship of their fleet, the bus was out of service for the past decade.

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BAD CONDITION

Stored outside in the weather saw the vehicle become unroadworthy, with entire sections of the body frame almost non-existent.

"The vehicle was in a terrible state; it was not just unroadworthy and unpresentable, but some windows were missing and the body frame was largely affected by rust," Wilson explained.

"We were actually a little bit shocked how bad it was because when you take the panels off and the windows out you really get the full picture of what’s there and what isn’t there.

"The vehicle was unregistered in 2013, but it hadn’t been used since 2009.

"We knew with this impending milestone we needed to do something for the 50th anniversary because that’s pretty significant."

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With only three owners during its history, the bus was taken over by the club in 2000 from the Brisbane Tramway Museum, with the council being the original owners between 1969 –1986.

The bus will now feature heavily at club events, such as the Teneriffe Festival and RACQ Motorfest in July, and Brisbane Open House in October.

With a total of 18 heritage listed buses to its name, the club now turns its attention to its most pressing issue, which is obtaining undercover storage for its heritage fleet.

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"This will be essential to avoiding another major vehicle refurbishment 20 years from now," Wilson said.

"This will be the only way Brisbane’s transport heritage can be preserved for decades to come.

 "With the support of council, I am sure we will be able to achieve this goal."

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VEHICLE BACKGROUND

Bus 722 was the very last of 204 Leyland Panthers manufactured by Athol Hedges between 1968 –1969, being the largest number of buses produced in Australia in such a short period. The Hedges family had contributed $10,000 towards the restoration of bus 722.

Stored away on December 24 in 1986, the vehicle was donated to the Brisbane Tramway Museum for preservation.

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In 2000, the museum gave its bus collection – including bus 722 – to QOCS.

The exterior restoration was done by Watt’s Bus and Coach Works, while Coachworks performed the interior works.

Restored to its original colours, the dark and light blue vehicle features an arctic white roof.

Launched outside City Hall on Ann Street at Stop 11 on April 12, the event saw councillors including Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner and vehicle manufacturer’s son Chip Hedges in attendance.

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"A lot of people recognised these buses because they operated from the 1970s right up to the early 1990s and a lot of people went to school on these buses, or rode them to work," Wilson explained.

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"They had a lot of childhood memories - and, in particular, one of the councillors went to school on those buses and he rode on bus 8C, so he was over the moon when he saw this on the vehicle’s destination board.

"It brings up so many memories of Brisbane at the time."

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