RM1, the first prototype Routemaster was unveiled to the press and bus industry at Earls Court. It wasn’t a stunning debut, it’s single-box destination screen and square ‘flat front’ look compared unfavourably to it’s predecessor the RT, as did the huge LT bulls-eye where the radiator should have been (it was located underneath).

It wasn’t a unanimous success when it entered service two years later, drivers found it difficult adapting to it’s lightweight construction and semi-automatic gearbox. Along with three other prototypes it spent a short life in and out of service undergoing structural and mechanical alterations before being retired as a training vehicle at the end of the ‘fifties.

After five years of research and development the first production models finally entered service in 1959, initially replacing the electric trolleybuses in the suburbs before being entrusted to the busy central London routes, by which time other major cities had introduced the more modern front entrance Leyland Atlanteans and Daimler Fleetlines, the Routemaster now looking somewhat out dated.

It wasn’t until around 1963, after much tweaking and fine tuning that the Routemaster settled into the shape and design that we came to know, and Londoners came to love. For a while it was just another bus, sharing the streets with the RT’s until their withdrawal in 1979, coinciding with near full scale driver only operation across the rest of the country. I believe it’s at this point, nearly five years beyond it’s original life expectancy that the RM became became an icon, making London the only place where you could still ride an open platform bus with a conductor.

After several failed attempts to replace it with something more ordinary and functional, the last Routemaster in normal service rolled into Brixton garage at the end of 2005. Ten years later it’s successor, the New Routemaster is settling in on the capital’s streets, just as controversial and facing the same indifference from the press and industry as it’s predecessor, but many Londoners are taking to it and it’s enthusiastically received by visitors to the capital. A few original RM’s survive on a heritage route across London, sometimes sharing road space with their descendants allowing visions of past, present and maybe future icons of the London street scene.

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Happy Birthday RM1

Geoff Nash.

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