Delta delight

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Nick Larkin reports on a former Wilts & Dorest Optare Delta rescued and restored to its original livery

Go-Ahead Manager George Cooper has superbly restored an example of one of his favourite vehicles, a Wilts & Dorset Optare Delta.

“I’ve had an interest in transport for as long as I can remember,“ said George, who joined Go-Ahead in 2013 selling tickets at Salisbury station for the Stonehenge solstice bus service, and became a casual driver for the Tourist Coaches division as an escape from University studies.

He then participated in the Go-Ahead graduate management scheme and was seconded to the mobilisation team of Go-Ahead Ireland in February 2018 becoming Commercial Manager before transferring to Go-Ahead Group head office as Commercial Insights Manager.

The restored Delta looks superb alongside the preserved Optare Spectra. GEORGE COOPER

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Reveals George: “I grew up in Romsey, Hampshire and used to catch the Deltas wherever possible. They were my favourite vehicles – nothing else came close – and I’d always wanted to purchase and preserve one of these buses if ever one became available.

Wilts & Dorset purchased six in 1993, registrations L501-6 AJT, numbered 3501-6 respectively. 3501/2 were new to Poole Depot, 3503 to Lymington Depot, and 3504-6 were allocated to Salisbury depot. Whilst they did move around a little bit, 3504 remained at Salisbury all its life. “I did, however, attempt to follow each of them once they left Wilts & Dorset in case they found new homes to buy me some more time!”

George recalled: “One evening I was looking on Flickr for any recently uploaded photos of the Wilts & Dorset Deltas and one comment said there was a complete Wilts & Dorset one in Barnsley in case anyone wanted spares. Surely not!

“It was stored in the back corner of an overflow yard and had rows of buses parked in front of it. Thankfully the flow of buses in was obviously equal to the flow of buses coming out again and whilst scrap vehicles came and went, there was always at least one row of buses in front to ‘protect’ it.”

He added: “A couple of good friends and I went to Barnsley to look at the bus. Apart from some missing panels and a lot of the dash instruments and other electronics being missing, the bus was complete and whilst it had obviously been parked there some time was still in great shape. The deal was done, and the rest is history!

“I have found the challenge with a more ‘modern classic’ bus to be the electronics. There’s an interlock for every occasion (it certainly seemed that way when I first got it). There was an interlock somewhere preventing starting. It turned out to be the ZF gear selector which once reconditioned satisfied the interlocks such that permission to start was granted!

“As well as changing filters and other sundries, checking the bus once, twice, three times, refitting instruments, body panels, and giving the bus a good clean, it was time for MOT – that makes it sound like a five minute job… it wasn’t!”

The Delta’s first public appearance was at the Friends of King Alfred buses rally. A while later, a friend got in touch to say they had seen three Wilts & Dorset Spectras for sale and wondered if the Delta would wish to be reunited with an old Stablemate! A trip to Preston later to view the bus and do the deal saw L129 ELJ, 3129, a fellow Salisbury bus, in preservation. The Spectra is owned jointly by Steve Hursthouse, Chris Mills and George.

Both vehicles were sent to IH Services of Romsey for repaint into the Wilts & Dorset striped livery from the company’s era in management ownership.

The Delta received shaped nearside panels (the nearside panels were flat and put on to repair accident damage), a new rear body frame was fabricated, and new tyres were also purchased in line with the 10 year age limits.

George concluded: “It was a big project and there was a lot of work, but I’m delighted at how everything has turned out.”