Springbok Bus Roots

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



Most of the negative effects of apartheid I witnessed through the windows of a bus including the big march when the Bantu people marched on the central police station to present their pass books during the Sharpeville and Langa riots of 1960.  While undoubtedly apartheid bore most harshly on blacks, it also created inconveniences for whites. 


As I recall in Cape Town the buses could operate for all races during peak services.  During off peak services a double-decker bus was segregated as follows:  upstairs - all races; downstairs rear longitudinal seats - blacks only; downstairs front two rows - whites only; downstairs central seating - all races.  Fold over boards above the windows in the lower saloon told you where you could sit.  I have been punished for arriving at school late, not because I missed the bus but because the bus left without me with empty seats reserved for non-Europeans! 


After World War Two City Tramways continued to buy Daimler chassis for double and single-deckers as well as moving towards buying Leyland Titan and Tiger chassis.  By the mid 1950s all new deliveries were of the Leyland marque although this changed again in the 1960s.  Undoubtedly amongst the most impressive buses I have ever seen were the twenty 3 axle Daimler CVG6/6 double-deckers with Weymann 64 seat bodywork delivered in 1949.  They worked the northern routes to Bellville and Kuils River – proposed trackless tram extensions - and made a most impressive sight as they rounded the Parade with their deep throated Gardner engines and fluid flywheels.  Unlike the other Daimlers, these beauties were fitted with wide radiators, normally associated with Daimler's CD650 model, thus adding to their aura of power and size - an impression only as they have been reported as underpowered.  The chassis was essentially Daimler's trolleybus chassis and along with thirty Guys built for Johannesburg from 1958, they were the only traditional three axle British half-cabs built after World War Two.  Coming from a sober, God fearing home, I had my opportunities to ride these buses to and from Sunday school picnics.  It almost made all that singing and praying worthwhile.  As an aside, I am probably the only Welshman to be kicked out of a church choir for not being able to sing. 


A CVG6/6 - CA 17918 - has been preserved in Johannesburg's James Hall Museum of Transport.  

Also delivered in 1949 was another fairly distinctive batch of buses which were the Leyland Titan PD2/3s fitted with standard Leyland built double-decker bodies.  Distinguishing features were lack of sun visors, much deeper destination blinds and the number blind fitted after the name blind at the front so that the conductor could change both blinds at the front from outside.  They were garaged at Ebenezer Road and seemed to work mainly on the A and B routes - Fresnaye, Bakoven and University Estate.    


Along with these Leylands, Daimler CVG6s with Weymann and Bus Bodies bodywork were taken into stock up until 1952.  Between 1955 and 1960 Leyland Titans - both OPD2/2 and OPD2/9 models - with Bus Bodies double-decker bodywork were taken into stock.  These bore a resemblance to the MCW "Orion" model.  The slotted visors had gone apart from those above the windows and the driver’s door in later deliveries was of the sliding rather than the swinging variety.   The bonnet side was quite plain and bore a narrow strip with the legend "Leyland Titan Diesel". 


I will always remember that morning in 1960 while I was waiting for an E4 on the Parade when around the corner came City Tramways brand new Leyland Atlantean.  A full fronted double-decker diesel without radiator, four leaf doors protecting the front entrance and the engine mounted in a pod protruding at the rear of the bus!   This magnificent impression was heightened by gleaming paintwork unsullied by advertising. 

“Tropical" slider windows were fitted to the Atlantean i.e. the top two thirds opened instead of the more usual one third.  This then appeared to be the way to the future.  Unfortunately I never managed to ride on this bus although I did notice it being trialled on the 6 & 7 Gardens trackless route.  The only occasion, I might add, that I did see a trackless route operated by a diesel bus.  I was blissfully unaware that the appearance of the Atlantean was to herald the beginning of the end for my favourites - the trackless trams. 


The Atlantean was demonstrated to other South African operators but remained the sole example of its marque in the City Tramways fleet.  City Tramways did not take kindly to the rear engined double-decker including later intakes of Daimler Fleetlines - overheating, fuel economy and maintenance access being cited as objections.


The conversion of trackless trams to diesel buses was carried out using a mixture of front entrance Leyland Titan PD3/5s, and secondhand RT/RTLs ex London Transport.  The Titans were fitted with full fronted front entrance Bus Bodies bodywork complete with concealed radiators - St Helens pattern.  In my somewhat biased opinion, by far and away the most handsome looking buses to wear the St Helens front end!  However all of this was in a future that did not belong to me, my interests having been involuntarily transferred to the South Pacific and a fleet of immaculately maintained red and cream AECs belonging to the Christchurch Transport Board.