Springbok Bus Roots

1950s Motor Buses & Trackless Trams of Cape Town, South Africa


Public transport in the city of Cape Town in the 1950s consisted of a mixture of buses, trackless trams and an electric suburban rail network operated by multiple units.  All very British as the majority of buses were double-deckers and the suburban railway rolling stock was of the slam door variety.  Cape Electric Tramways (1949) Ltd had a virtual monopoly on bus services on the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats as well as in Port Elizabeth, the Cape Provinces second city.  The majority of Cape Town's bus services were provided by the group’s City Tramways trackless trams and a large fleet of motor buses, exclusively of Daimler and Leyland manufacture.  City Tramways buses were painted in a livery of mid to dark "tramway" green around the windows, guards and wheels and light “tramway" cream on the body panels.  The cream panelling was used for overall advertising in an effective manner that did not entirely negate the operator's livery – only one advertiser per bus.  Roofs on all buses were silver and a common distinguishing characteristic of City Tramway buses of that era were the slotted sun visors that were fitted to the passenger windows.  City Tramways services terminated widely throughout the city with concentrations of motorbus operations around the perimeter of Cape Town's Grand Parade between the front of the city hall and the railway station.  Trackless tram services were concentrated on Adderley and St George's Streets.  All buses were crew operated and there was a diminishing band of conductresses; probably the residue of war time operations.  One conductress in particular always wore slacks (pity!) and had long hair worn in a net - attractive in a very WWII sort of way. 


What appear as extra sets of park lights in the drawings are in fact front reflectors, a requirement that came in during this decade as I can remember my father having to apply silver reflective tape to the front bumpers of his Morris 8.  At the beginning of the decade turn indicators were electrical trafficators that gave way to mechanical arms painted white with a red stripe and reflective glass in the centre of the disc.  These retracted both vertically and horizontally, depending on the bus, and gave way in the later 1950s to small double winking orange lights.


Out on the Cape Flats Golden Arrow Bus Services provided services from the commuter rail links to the Bantu settlements.  This company started in a small way in the 1920s and by 1956 had taken over the Cape Electric Tramways Group as the dominant partner.  Today City Tramways and its distinctive green and cream buses are but a memory as Golden Arrow reigns supreme.  Golden Arrow operated Daimler and Leyland double-deckers similar to City Tramways but minus those distinctive sun visors and the destination number was mounted centrally above the name blind on pre 1956 deliveries.  Livery was light cream around the windows and red orange on the body panels with silver roofs - again very British, reminiscent of Brighton Corporation.  Appearance was always smart as these buses were not sullied by overall advertising.  Not being a Bantu or resident of Pinelands, the European suburb served by Golden Arrow, I never had cause to travel on one of these buses, however I was frequently driven past the depot where a hazy memory suggests I saw a half-cab tractor and articulated single-decker.  PSV Circle Booklet WWK 6 suggests it was either an ERF tractor unit with a passenger trailer or a solitary Guy Arab single decker that were operated during the early 1950s.


The South African Railways Road Motor Service (Padmotordienste) operated a number of long distance services out of Cape Town using CCF Brill coaches to a design not unlike New Zealand Railways Road Services earlier Bedford SBs.  The link is even stronger - identical CCF Brills were operated by Trailways in the USA.  They sported the exact livery applied to the first NZR SBs!  Like NZRRS Bedford Omnicoaches, the CCF Brills were ubiquitous and long lived; a report of 1972 stating that after twenty five years service over half the fleet of 113 was still active. My drawing is destined for Hermanus, a seaside resort to the east of Cape Town much favoured by my grandparents.


For services into areas not served by the railway system and where roads were un-metalled to a low standard, SARRMS developed the use of heavy duty three axle truck chassis with bus or bus/truck bodies capable of towing a heavy duty goods trailer.  Thornycroft and Albion as well as Henschell were the favoured brands however such magnificent beasts were not seen in the centres of civilisation such as Cape Town.  On holiday in the Drakensberg National Park in Natal province I can recall seeing these vehicles making their daily visit in a shower of red dust.  To satisfy the requirements of apartheid, such vehicles were divided into two or three saloons with separate entrances.  Mail could be posted via a letterbox on the outside of the vehicle.  These buses are worthy of inclusion here because to my mind they are the archetypal South African bus, as was the NZRRS Bedford SB to New Zealand or the London RT is to England.  The illustration shows a 1958 Albion Royal Scot powered by a massive 15 litre engine capable of 67 mph.

SARRMS Commer Commando used on SA Airways services

SARRMS also operated a local service from the city to points around Cape Town's fairly extensive port facilities and Durbanville to the north.  This service was taken over by City Tramways in 1954 together with the eight Albion Venturer double-deckers used on the service.  Like NZRRS the SARRMS operated petrol engined buses long past petrol's economic viability as a bus fuel – only government departments could afford such a luxury.  These Albions were in fact the last British double-deckers built with petrol engines.  They were quickly re-engined  by City Tramways and repainted from the SARRMS maroon and grey livery.  In 1956 the Albions were transferred within the group to Port Elizabeth.


In addition SARRMS operated a service from the South African Airways offices near the main railway station to Cape Town's Wingfield Aerodrome.  The service was operated by Commer Commando deck and a half normal  control Park Royal bodied coaches.  These were part of a fleet of 20 similar vehicles operated for SAA.  They were always smartly turned out in airways blue and silver livery.  315 of these vehicles were supplied to Britain's Ministry of Supply and then on to a variety of users such as the RAF, BOAC, BEA, SAA, Ansett etc.  In 2014 Oxford Diecast released a 1/76 scale model in RAF livery and it is hoped that a SAA version will be released at a future date. 


Table Mountain has been served by an aerial cableway since 1929.  To my eternal regret, I never managed to travel on the cableway to the top of the mountain.  The service to the lower cable station was via route 3 Kloof Nek trackless tram and then by normal control bus to the cable station.  I have a memory of this bus parked on the The Parade painted in City Tramways green and cream with the words Table Mountain Aerial Cableway above the windscreen. PSV Circle Booklet WWK 6 suggests it was a 1938 Dodge owned by the Cableway company.  It was replaced in the late 1950s with a VW Microbus factory finished in maroon and grey and later painted blue with the word "Cableway" along the sides.  Other bus operators in or near Cape Town that I can recall were Mamre Transport whose grey liveried bonneted Leyland Comets served the country to the north of the city and Paarl Transport which provided local services in this wine growing district.  They operated distinctive double saloon (blacks and whites) Leyland OPSs.  Livery was orange and white and entry to the saloons was via twin open centre entrances.  Living in Oranjezicht, a predominantly Jewish area of Cape Town, an afternoon service took the boys of the district to the synagogue to study for their Barmitzvah.  The vehicle used for this service was a battered old bonneted V8 that was driven like the clappers by a black man.  The only other buses I can remember in Cape Town were the trucks converted to buses at weekends by black operators providing charter services.