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Authentic Restorations
In: Blog Category One

Authentic Restorations

18th February 2022

I am extremely passionate about authentically restoring and traditional coach painting preserved buses and coaches back to like new in many cases. But what does an authentic restoration really mean?

It is so fulfilling working on old vehicles mechanically and cosmetically. The before and after photographs and the look on my clients faces when a job is completed, it’s what I love. It is so important to our clients that their classic bus or coach is authentic in its restoration, it’s one of our shared values so I wanted my first blog post here to be about authentic restorations. What does the term “authentic restoration” mean to you?

What is Authentic?

Authentic means “of undisputed origin; genuine”, to me this means an undoubted beginning.

From my experience authentic can mean a lot of different things to enthusiasts and owners I work with.

It might mean “as new condition” or “as I remember them” as some buses had a long life and worked for different operators throughout their time in service so can often be remembered in different liveries.

Preserving a bus or coach is an exciting prospect, whether it is for your own enjoyment and pleasure or for a hire and reward business.

There is often lots to consider when restoring a bus or coach. Choosing the livery from a certain period in time of the vehicles life can often be a big point of discussion between me and my clients. Some feel worried that if they don’t choose the correct period…who defines correct…the paintwork won’t go down very well at rallies with enthusiasts.


“Ash knows how I work and how I want things to be completed. He has great enthusiasm and an eye for detail"

Jonathan Jones Pratt

Recreating Memories

In life many of us often want to recreate memories of happy times and relive the nostalgia. Riding on the bus to school is a popular memory I hear repeated often and being able to recreate the look, smell and sounds of the bus to be as was, is something very special. In order to recreate those joyous memories it means restoring the bus or coach to exactly how someone remembers it at that period in time and that may not necessarily be how the vehicle looked originally from new. In order to be authentic does this mean the bus has to be painted in the livery originally from new?

To me an authentic restoration is all in the owner’s perception, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that the vehicle has to be restored to the first original livery and specification. You might own an AEC Regent or Bristol Lodekka you remember in NBC livery. I personally grew up in south London and recall London RT’s in grey relief and East Kent AEC Regent V’s at Margate Seafront in NBC livery.

HLJ 44

One of my favourite authentic restorations to date is HLJ 44 for it’s current owner Jonathan Jones Pratt. HLJ 44 is a Bristol K6A with stunning ECW Bodywork and a AEC 7.7 Engine. HLJ was new in 1949 to Hants and Dorset Motor Services Ltd Bournemouth fleet number TD895. It then went on hire to London Transport working from Amersham Garage it has been in preservation since 1977. When I was asked to restore HLJ it came to me unrestored inside, and had a few interior fittings that weren’t original. Such as lighting, the panels between the seat cushions and backs, cross head screws and the exterior had been spray painted.

The Authentic Restoration 

When Jonathan asked me to restore HLJ it was really important to him that the bus be revived to its original “as new” spec.

Jonathan said “For me she is unique, to own a bus that operated in LT territory in Tilling green is something so different, to see her running with LT spec and LT bulls eye etc is just wonderful. I am a great believer that we should protect and invest in heritage, I believe the UK has something we should be so proud of and wish to promote. Our heritage and past values of life can be described as nothing more than beautiful. If you are going to do something you need to do it right, it’s all about the small details on restorations, and that’s what gives you the end result. The restoration was done to how she would of looked when new, right down to blinds, interior etc, she is 100% spot on, a real gem in the collection”.

The start with the interior was stripped out, the ceilings sanded down to bare metal, this is a good base for painting. All windows removed before painting commenced and new rubbers were ordered.

The exterior was sanded down to a smooth finish ready for painting. Williamsons of Ripon was the preferred choice of paint for this vehicle at the time as requested by Jonathan.

The interior was treated to a full re-trim of all the panels and window capping’s with green rexine. We varnished all of the wood and fit new floor lino and tread. The platform was re-fitted with wood slats and varnished.

I believe if you can’t get some jobs exactly original then you can create things to be as authentic as possible and still in keeping with the era. We usually work with local suppliers who are used to our requests to create exact copies of parts and little details be it in wood or metal if we can’t recreate in our workshop.

All of the platform and staircase was re-painted, the handrails were powder coated black as were the seat frames in correct mid-brunswick green and all the handrail joins and ends were re-chromed. The chassis was cleaned and painted silver.

Then on to the exterior, which I traditionally brush painted for a deep mirror finish. This is always my favourite part when you can step back and look at the bus glimmer and gleam like new with such depth in the paintwork. Jonathan carefully chose the period adverts which were then sign written on the panels as were the fleet numbers and other details. These were all authentic to the period for the batch of Bristols HLJ was a part of.

The time it takes to perfect all of the details in a restoration, really does show in the beautiful finish when you see HLJ in person.

This Bristol having been in running order required nothing mechanical except a new exhaust tail pipe as the old one had a piece of flex. All bright work was re-chromed and polished.

Jonathan said “I plan to have some fun with HLJ. Ashley is a great friend of mine, someone who was always excited with nut guard rings! As you know Bristol’s don’t have this luxury, that said Ash knows how I work and how I want things to be completed. He has great enthusiasm and an eye for detail, I am very proud to be working with Ash, after all he is helping me achieve something that I am very proud of, the vintage collection is where my heart and love sits, to see the collection coming together as it is shows the commitment all round, we are no doubt lucky enough to have one of the best around, my plan is for Ash to go through them one by one which we are achieving and to have them mechanically and presentational spot on, I want them to be all like KFM 767 the bus that started all of this legacy.

Finally I was always a fan of spraying but after seeing Ashley’s painting I would recommend sticking with the brush! He is a fantastic painter who has skills of the bygone age, his business that he now owns should be something he is very proud of, to be doing something he loves too and helping to bring smiles to the owners faces after seeing the love being placed into these restorations must be very satisfying.”

Certain aspects of all restorations have to be researched such as the adverts and unless you are fully in the know it is always great to have some bus and coach enthusiast friends on hand to help you research those finer details.

Authentic Research

The younger the vehicle the easier the research, nowadays we have clearer colour photographs so we are able to see every tiny detail. There is so much information out there and photographs to use as a reference. Use sites like Flickr, books and magazines and of course preservation groups and societies are almost always able to recall things and provide proof.

Owners often seek advice and information about the history of their vehicles from other enthusiasts and owners. There are still unseen photo’s and evidence out there waiting to be discovered 🧐

The life of a bus can sometimes be a complex one to research. It isn’t just a case of finding any photograph of your vehicle and having it restored to look the same as that photograph. The photo could have been taken during its period of service with a second or even a third operator.

One of the operators could have restricted the blind display or ran it without wheel trims, altered the interior and so on.

Buses and coaches have long lives and some often wear different liveries throughout. So which version of the bus is authentic? Or aren’t they all authentic and just to different periods? This is all part of the research fun and going back through the life and history of your preserved vehicle. A treasure hunt.

When a client comes to me and asks for the bus to be authentically restored to its time at a specific operator because that is how they remember them growing up or travelling to school we help them research the details so we get the restoration exactly how they remember it.

Multiple Operators

It is all down to the personal preference of the owner and I enjoy helping them research and decide which period to choose if they don’t already have an idea.

It is fascinating restoring a bus or coach with many layers of paint still on and stripping it down to see the livery history its like an archeological dig or carving at the Jurassic coast.

You find that the black and white photo you think was taken from the start of a buses life maybe wasn’t. As you strip and sand down the paintwork you discover a black line for example. The photos you find don’t show it so maybe it was there only for a while before repaint?

I owned an AEC Regal III coach and when stripping back the paint I found that it wasn’t in the operators standard livery when new. Upon further research I found that was because the coach was actually a demonstrator originally.

Stripping Back The Layers

I love re-creating originality back into a vehicle, whether it is certain panelling, particular chrome work or a traditional bus paint job as most buses and coaches from certain eras were brush painted from new.

There is always a lot of hard work to be done, but all a very rewarding process. Reviving the vehicle and bringing it back to life, mechanically, cosmetically and authentically like it is rolling off the production line like HLJ, there is nothing better than that. It’s why I love the bus and coach preservation industry and am always grateful to say that my business is all about restoring the past for my clients, to preserve vehicles for the enjoyment of their family and friends and future generations to come.

Is having your bus or coach authentically restored important to you? I know it still is to many and it’s always a pleasure to see others truly take the time and care to get a restoration authentic.

Here are some simple ways you make your bus or coach restoration more authentic:

  • Removing cross head screws with slot head screws depending on the age of your vehicle
  • Sourcing the right shade of paint
  • Sourcing the correct moquette. This can be a significant investment to have a particular style reproduced so make sure to contact other bus/coach owners who would also use the same style to see if they have any spare you can purchase or if you want to group together to pay for a new run for all of your buses/coaches at once
  • Sourcing or redesigning the correct blinds
  • Hand painting authentic sign written adverts
  • Research the history of your bus or coach from old photographs, literature and enthusiasts

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