Volvo Ailsa B55

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Volvo Ailsa B55
West Midlands PTE bus 4775 (JOV 775P) 1976 Volvo Ailsa B55 Alexander AV, Birmingham, 1982.jpg
West Midlands PTE Alexander AV bodied Volvo B55 in Birmingham in 1982
Manufacturer Volvo
Production 1974-1985
Body and chassis
Doors 1 or 2
Floor type Step entrance
Engine Volvo TD70E/TD70H
Transmission Self-Changing Gears/Voith
Length Various
Width Various
Height Various
Successor Volvo B10M Citybus

The Volvo Ailsa B55 was a front-engined double-decker bus chassis manufactured in Scotland by Ailsa, Volvo's British subsidiary in which it owned 75%,[1] from 1974 until 1985.


First Glasgow Alexander RV bodied B55 in Bridgeton in August 2005
Preserved Maidstone & District Motor Services Alexander AV bodied B55 in July 2010
Preserved former London Transport Alexander RV bodied B55 V3 in April 2008
Cardiff Bus Northern Counties bodied B55 in June 2002

The B55 was designed with a front-mounted engine that still allowed a front entrance position suitable for one-person operation. In this sense there was a common goal with the earlier, unsuccessful, Guy Wulfrunian. It was fitted with the Volvo TD70 engine, a compact turbocharged unit of 6.7-litres. The rest of the design was relatively simple, with beam axles and leaf springs. A Self-Changing Gears semi-automatic gearbox was used. It first appeared at the 1973 Scottish Motor Show.[2][3]

The most popular bodywork was the Alexander AV type, replaced by the R type from the earlier 1980s. The Falkirk based Alexander factory thus meant that the Alexander bodied Ailsa B55s were entirely built in Scotland, a significant factor in securing Scottish orders (notably from the Scottish Bus Group, Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive and Tayside Regional Council) especially given the ease in securing locally sourced spare parts and repairs.

A prototype lowheight Ailsa, designated B55-20 (instead of the standard B55-10), was built for Derby Borough Transport in 1975.[4][5]

In 1977, an improved Mark II version appeared, with two transmission options offered, a Self-Changing Gears pneumocyclic unit and a Voith D851 with retarder.[6] It was followed in 1980 by a Mark III version, for which the Ailsa name was dropped.[7][8] This continued to use the Volvo TD70H turbocharged engine, and utilised a Volvo truck rear axle in place of the previous troublesome axle.[9] Air suspension was also an available option. In 1981, a 3-axle version was developed to meet the demand for 3-axle buses in Asia.[10]

Following the end of production in 1985, the Ailsa B55 was effectively replaced by the mid-engined Volvo B10M Citybus.


The Ailsa B55 type was particularly popular with the Scottish Bus Group, although it is notable that of all the constituent divisions, Northern and Lowland were the only ones never to adopt the Ailsa into their fleets.[4][11] Strathclyde PTE was a significant buyer of the Ailsa, but not until the introduction of the Mk III. By far the most enthusiastic supporter of the Ailsa was Tayside Regional Council who bought 161 examples for use on their Dundee city services between 1976 and 1984, with four different body types, Alexander AV and RV, Northern Counties and East Lancs.

The B55 was popular with the passenger transport executives, with significant purchases made by West Midlands and South Yorkshire and to a lesser degree Merseyside and Tyne & Wear.[3][4][12] Other customers included Cardiff Bus, and the National Bus Company subsidiary Maidstone & District Motor Services. Ayrshire independent operator A1 Service, whose operating area included the Ailsa plant in Irvine, also purchased several of the vehicles new, increasing its fleet, where it could, through the purchase of used vehicles.

As part of its Alternative Vehicle Evaluation programme, London Transport took delivery of three Mark III vehicles in 1984. The programme was intended to evaluate alternative vehicle types for future fleet replacement in London, which, at that time, was purchasing Leyland Titans and MCW Metrobuses.[13][14][15]

The most interesting of the three vehicles was fleet number V3. This vehicle maintained the usual front entrance door, but had an additional exit behind the rear axle and a second staircase adjacent. This had the advantage of improving passenger flow during loading and off-loading at peak times. But the second staircase created a blind spot for the driver and the vehicle was restricted to crew operation. The vehicle remained unique, although London Buses rebuilt the rear, removing the doors, but leaving the staircase in place. After a fatal crash on a stormy night in which V3 crashed into a Mini and turned over on its side, the bus was sold for scrap. V3 was rescued from a scrap dealer by Black Prince Buses and extensively rebuilt, retaining both staircases. In March 2006, it was purchased by Roger Wright's London Bus Company and can now be seen restored to London condition at rallies and running days across Southern England.[15]

No further orders for new B55s were placed by London Transport, but numerous second-hand examples were purchased from the South Yorkshire and West Midlands PTEs in the late 1980s.[15]

A solitary Ailsa chassis was bodied as a single-deck bus by Marshall for Strathclyde PTE. Later, the same operator created a second single-decker, by converting an Alexander-bodied double-decker, the upper deck of which had been damaged.

A number of 2-axle Ailsa B55 were sold overseas. Indonesia received 320 buses between 1981 and 1985.[16] China Motor Bus in Hong Kong received eight between 1975 and 1978 (six out of these eight buses were destroyed by fire).[17][18] One B55 was exported to Singapore as a demonstrator for Singapore Bus Services and another to Bangkok.[19][20]

A total of three 3-axle Ailsa B55s were built for export, two were sold to China Motor Bus as demonstrators, and the third was exported to Indonesia.[21]

In all, just over 1,000 B55s were built, 890 of them being bodied by Alexander.[22] Of the remainder, 64 Ailsas received unusual Van Hool McArdle bodies built in Dublin - 62 buses for the South Yorkshire PTE and two for A1 Service, Ayrshire.[23] Northern Counties bodied some for Derby Corporation.[24] and Cardiff Bus, a total of 35 were also bodied by East Lancs Coachbuilders for Tayside and a small number were also bodied by Marshall for Strathclyde and Derby Corporation.

The last significant number of Ailsas in service in the UK were operated by Cardiff Bus, who had 18 in regular service in 2007.[25] They were withdrawn at the end of 2007.[26] However, as at February 2014, ten Ailsas remain in service for school work, school contracts and rail replacement with Edwards Coaches of South Wales.


There are now around 30 Volvo Ailsas in preservation, with the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust having five.[27] The Sheffield based 388 Group have 2 Van Hool bodied examples, one of which being A1 Services.PSJ 824R.[28] With Tayside being the most prolific buyer of the Ailsa, there are also a significant number in various stages of restoration with Tayside Vintage Vehicle Society, and two preserved examples regularly visit rallies and events throughout the country, WTS 273T and the open top WTS 272T. A number of Cardiff Bus Volvo Ailsas have been preserved, one such example being NDW412X, owned by the 302 Group.


  1. ^ Volvo buts control in Ailsa Commercial Motor 30 June 1972
  2. ^ Over 90 per cent British content in Ailsa decker Commercial Motor 2 November 1973
  3. ^ a b SBG orders 40 Ailsas Commercial Motor 7 June 1974
  4. ^ a b c Alisa sells 1975 production Commercial Motor 21 February 1975
  5. ^ Low-bridge Ailsa decker Commercial Motor 12 December 1975
  6. ^ Options Commercial Motor 29 September 1978
  7. ^ New name for Ailsa Commercial Motor 27 July 1979
  8. ^ Double Volvo launch Commercial Motor 4 October 1980
  9. ^ Volvo threat to BL in city-bus market Commercial Motor
  10. ^ Volvo's Irvine plant thrives on worldwide travel Commercial Motor 12 May 1984
  11. ^ Volvo buses Commercial Motor 29 May 1982
  12. ^ Tyne sells off Ailsas Commercial Motor 3 August 1979
  13. ^ LT's off-the-peg buses Commercial Motor 30 July 1983
  14. ^ Volvo deckers arrive in London Commercial Motor 16 June 1984
  15. ^ a b c The London Transport Volvo Alisas Ian's Bus Stop
  16. ^ Volvo wins share of new Jakarta order Commercial Motor 29 June 1985
  17. ^ Ailsa for Kowloon Commercial Motor 17 November 1978
  18. ^ British B55 weans praise in Colony Commercial Motor 1 December 1979
  19. ^ £1.1 million sale Commercial Motor 8 September 1978
  20. ^ Bangkok likes deckers Commercial Motor 16 February 1979
  21. ^ Yes to jumbo underframe Commercial Motor 28 March 1981
  22. ^ Volvo B55 Bus Lists on the Web
  23. ^ First Irish-bodied Ailsas Commercial Motor' 2 April 1976
  24. ^ Derby's trad deckers Commercial Motor 2 March 1979
  25. ^ Cardiff policy changes Commercial Motor 24 August 1979
  26. ^ Last Ailsa Day Archived 2007-12-16 at the Wayback Machine. Cardiff Bus
  27. ^ Stock List Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust 23 September 2014
  28. ^ Home The 388 Group
  • Jack, A.D. (1997). Volvo Bus: 25 Years of Progress. Venture Publications Ltd. ISBN 1-898432-52-X.
  • Booth, Gavin (1983). The British Bus Today and Tomorrow. London: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-1296-2.
  • Townsin, Alan (1985). The British Bus Story - The Late 'Seventies - The Calm Before the Storm. The Transport Publishing Company. ISBN 0-86317-150-8.

External links

Media related to Volvo Ailsa B55 at Wikimedia Commons

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