is a builder of bus and coach vehicle bodies based in Scarborough, England. The Plaxton of today is the successor to a business founded in Scarborough in 1907 by Frederick William Plaxton. It became a subsidiary of Alexander Dennis in 2007.
The business was founded as a joinery workshop, and expanded into building contracting. As a building contractor, Plaxtons built a number of notable buildings in Scarborough. Soon after World War I Plaxtons diversified and began to build charabanc bodies on Ford Model T chassis. Of more importance at the time was the construction of automobile bodywork. This included bodywork for Rolls-Royce, Sunbeam and Daimler, but principally for Crossley car chassis. This activity continued through the 1920s, but the depression of 1929-1933 created difficulties for manufacture of luxury automobiles. As a result, the manufacture of charabanc, and later coach bodies became more important through the late 1920s and early 1930s. Customers during this time tended to be local to the Scarborough area, Scarborough being a popular seaside resort.
Coaches of the 1930s
By 1936 the company felt justified in construction of a large new manufacturing facility in Seamer Road, Scarborough. This allowed increased production, and Plaxtons became popular with many independent operators throughout Northern England. Many of these operators purchased their vehicles through independent dealers, rather than directly from the factory. In this regard, Plaxton’s sales were through Lancashire Motor Traders Ltd of Manchester and Arlington Motor Co Ltd of London. The company became known as F.W. Plaxton & Son by 1937, as the founder’s son, also named Frederick William joined the company at the age of 18. FW Plaxton junior was to be known as Eric to avoid confusion with his father.
Plaxtons built a number of different coach designs through the 1930s, until settling on a distinctive house style. The style typically consisted of a very rounded front profile at the windscreen area with side windows that sloped backwards at the front, were upright at the centre, and sloped forward at the back. Bodywork for the Bedford WTB chassis was particularly distinctive, sloping severally from the bottom of the front wheel arch to the roofline, leaving the “bullnose” radiator grille protruding. The rear also sloped prominently. The WTB chassis was very popular choice for operators at that time, together with the Dodge RBF and SBF. Leyland and AEC chassis were also popular for larger coaches, notably the Leyland Tiger and AEC Regal.
On the outbreak of World War II in 1939, coach production halted and the factory was turned into a munitions factory under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Many records from the early years were lost when an incendiary bomb set fire to the Seamer Rd factory in 1943 causing much damage. As the factory was under control of the Ministry of Works, production continued in the open air whilst a replacement was constructed. Some adjacent land was loaned by a market gardener who subsequently joined the board years later.
Production restarted at the end of 1945, and in 1951 the business was registered for the first time as a private company, Plaxtons (Scarborough) Ltd.
Two new models were exhibited at the 1950 Commercial Motor Show, with names instead of model codes for the first time. The Envoy was for traditional front-engined chassis, and featured a full-front cab with a vee-pattern windscreen, and aluminium trim across the lower part of the radiator grill extending round squared-off front corners to the wheel arches. The Crusader, which could be built on front-engined or the new underfloor-engined chassis, had a more upright front profile, with curved glass panels at the windscreen corners, and in most cases an enlarged side window with sloping pillars between this and the entrance. On front-engined chassis the Crusader employed the Envoy’s front trim. Both Envoy and Crusader were produced to the new maximum dimensions of 30 ft (9.1 m) by 8 ft (2.4 m), and many examples were originally fitted with rear wheel spats.
The Envoy was short-lived, perhaps partly because of the obsolescence of most of the chassis types for which it was intended, while the Crusader was rapidly overtaken by a further new underfloor-engined model – the Venturer. The Venturer combined the front of the Crusader with more restrained and conservative styling, and proved so popular that it wasn’t long before a version was produced for front-engined chassis (mostly lightweight Bedfords and Commers) with a rather more raked frontal appearance. By the time the Mark II version appeared at the 1952 show, the Venturer was Plaxton’s standard model.
The Venturer II had a common front profile for all models, together with a standard dash panel featuring a four-part radiator grille with a central cross within an oval outline which also embraced the headlamps. A rear-end revision marked the launch of the Venturer III in 1954, and the following year a version was produced for underfloor-engined chassis with the entrance ahead of the front axle. This required a return to a more vertical front profile, and meant that there were now three variants of the Venturer – front engined, underfloor-engined with a centre entrance and underfloor-engined with a front entrance. This three-variant approach, established with the Venturer, continued throughout the life of the succeeding Consort model and into the Embassy era, although the relative importance of the three versions varied significantly over the years.
The Consort was first shown at the 1956 Commercial Motor Show. It was a development of the Venturer, but in place of the previous oval the four-part grill was now enclosed by a near-trapezoidal outline (though actually hexagonal), wider at the top than the bottom, with the headlamps outside. Trim was revised to be much squarer in outline, featuring ribbed brightwork, and the curved rear quarter lights, first standardised on the Venturer III, were now incorporated into the main window line. However, a year later the Consort II was announced, re-introducing the oval grill outline of the Venturer – but now surrounding a plainer grill with chrome flash across the middle – while the trim lines so recently squared up were softened once again. The evident popularity of the oval- shaped grill then ensured its survival as a Plaxton hallmark for many years to come.
In 1957 the founder of the company, F.W. Plaxton Senior, died, and was succeeded as Chairman by his son Frederick Jnr, though known as Eric.
In 1958 Plaxtons were approached by Sheffield United Tours (SUT) with a requirement for a new crisper design of coach body. The result was the first Panorama body. The main feature of the Panorama design was the large, fixed rectangular side windows. A vertical front from the contemporary Consort II design was used, with the door ahead of the front axle. The 1958 Panorama was entered into the British and the Nice coach rallies, winning top awards at both events. The first six Panoramas, designated “Panorama Pioneer” by SUT, were built on AEC Reliance chassis and seated 36 passengers.
The production version of the Panorama, with 41 seats as standard, was introduced at the 1958 Commercial Motor Show, as an addition to the existing range, available in one form only – on underfloor-engined chassis with the entrance ahead of the front axle. In common with the new Consort III and IV, it had a new silver-effect dished oval grill with a chrome flash through the middle, and a curved windscreen with a central division. The original Panorama’s short window immediately behind the entrance door was removed and encapsulated into the first bay, and the difference in level between the waistline and the rear window was accommodated by a stylish “kick-up” at the rear. The design then received minor modifications over the next two years.
Consort IV variants with the entrance further back, together with the smaller Consort III, were able to use a windscreen with even greater curvature, but it was the Panorama which was the trend-setter, becoming a strong influence on the development of British coach styling for years to come.
1960s and 1970s
Plaxton became a public company in January 1961.
For the 1961 coaching season the Consort IV evolved into the Embassy, the main change being that the windows now tapered inwards towards the roof rather than being vertical. At the same time a new version of the Panorama was created, using the same shell as the Embassy but with fewer window pillars.
The new Panorama boasted a completely new front, featuring a slight peak overhang above the windscreen (which was now optionally undivided), a small grill at the bottom of the front panel, and for the first time double headlights. Embassy bodies on underfloor-engined chassis shared some or all of these features, depending on the entrance position. However, because the standard offering in the underfloor-engined sector was now the Panorama, most Embassy bodies were built on lightweight front-engined chassis – particularly the Thames 570E and Bedford SB. In this form, with the entrance behind the front axle, the Embassy retained the dished oval grill and wrap-around windscreen of the Consort IV. The rear of both Panorama and Embassy comprised a two-piece curved glass window that wrapped around to meet the rearmost side pillars, and the lights were contained in a single unit with a fin-like top rather like the rear of the Ford Anglia 105E saloon.
36-foot (11 m) versions of both models were introduced, on Leyland Leopard and AEC Reliance chassis, as soon as legislation allowed, and were 8 feet 2.5 inches (2.502 m) wide. The first 36-foot coach in Britain was a Panorama delivered to SUT in 1961. However, while the extra length gave a real boost to the Panorama’s appearance – with the falling roofline making the vehicle look even longer than it actually was – the extension of the Embassy by two additional window bays was less satisfactory. So much so that when a “multi-windowed” Embassy II, in the livery of Bloomfields Coaches of London, appeared on the newly introduced Bedford VAL 36-foot chassis at the 1962 Commercial Motor Show, the reaction was so negative than no more of this type were built.
Alongside the Bloomfields VAL on the Plaxton stand was a further revised Panorama. This was an altogether much larger looking vehicle than before, with deeper windows all round, the waistline curvature radically reduced to a point where it was almost straight, a new rear window interchangeable with the windscreen, and a reduction in the number of window pillars on 36-foot versions. Because of the adverse reaction to the “multi-windowed” Embassy, from 1963 all 36-foot Plaxton coach bodies used the new Panorama shell, with windows of large size whether fixed or opening, although, as previously, the Panorama name was restricted to underfloor-engined coaches with fixed glazing and entrance ahead of the front axle. Of the non-Panoramas, by far the most popular model was the new production body on the Bedford VAL chassis, which retained the large oval grill because of the front-mounted radiator, and was simply named Val.
The Embassy name was now being used for what were effectively two separate models. For underfloor-engined chassis there was a 36-foot body using the Panorama shell (built mainly for the Wallace Arnold Group), and for 30-foot (9.1 m) and shorter front-engined chassis the original short-windowed body was updated with a pronounced reverse-rake peak over the windscreen as the Embassy II. For the 1964 season the latter was substantially redesigned as the Embassy III, catching up in several respects with the development of the Panorama, but introducing a new near-rectangular grill which signalled the beginning of the end for the familiar Plaxton oval.
1965 Plaxton Panorama on Bedford VAL chassis
The Plaxton coach range which appeared at the 1964 Commercial Motor Show had been extensively revised with assistance from the Ogle design consultancy. Waistrails were virtually straight, and rooflines distinctly shallower. On the new Panorama (later to become Panorama I), a wide chrome trim band wrapped around the front and encompassed the first window bay on either side. The trim then swept upwards to the roof line and neatly terminated on the air scoop at the roof line. The window pillar on the first bay was noticeably thicker than the others and gave the impression of size that managed to enhance the appearance of the whole vehicle. The front grill was revised and basically split in two horizontally. Twin headlights were on each side of a panel that contained ventilation louvres at the top with the lower part being the actual grill that spanned the width of the vehicle. This grill was to become standard with little change until the Supreme IV of 1978. Again a bit of a Plaxton that was instantly recognisable and a familiar sight throughout Britain. The rear featured two large 9″ circular rear lights each side arranged vertically, and the entrance door was now the forward in-swinging type.
For the first time the Panorama was offered on all chassis types, including Ford R226 and Bedford VAL, looking particularly well-suited to the latter, where the chrome trim on the first window bay harmonised with the twin steering axles below. There was even a Panorama for the Bedford SB and Ford Thames 570E, although here the thickened window pillar was absent, and the chrome trim did not extend across the front of the vehicle.
In addition to the Panoramas, a more basic series of models was offered, with windows of similar size, but with simpler trim and top sliding vent windows instead of forced air vents. Initially these were built on Bedford and Ford chassis only and named variously as Val, Vam (on the new Bedford VAM chassis) or Embassy IV. However, when the Panorama was renamed Panorama I for the 1967 season, the less expensive “bread and butter” models became available on all chassis types as the Panorama II. The Panorama I in particular sold extremely well.
Plaxton Panorama cab on a Bedford SB3 chassis mobile cinema unit
The Panorama cab was used in 1967 on a government commission of seven Bedford SB3 chassis mobile cinema units. With the height of these units being nearly 13 ft (4.0 m) the roof of the cab opens up into a very unusual looking perspex dome extension, somewhat altering the usual sleek lines of Plaxton’s Panorama. One of the seven units still remains in preservation, having been restored as a vintage mobile cinema.