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Historically important as one of the first Devon General buses purpose-built for one-man-operation, SR 798 is from the 1957 batch of fourteen AEC Reliance buses: SR 793 to 806 (VDV 793 to 806). Fitted with well-appointed 41 seat Weymann bodywork, they were designed with one-man-operation in mind and carried ticket and change-giving machines.  The driver’s cab had an external sliding door as well as access into the saloon and a rear boot was provided to deal with parcels traffic.

Courtesy of the Bus Archive, click on the thumbnail to see  the order that Devon General placed with Weymanns:

AEC accounted for all of Devon General’s fleet intake in 1957, with thirteen Regent double deckers also supplied, one of which – VDV 817 – is in the DGOT collection. The Reliances had loud and resonant straight-through exhausts like the Regents and shared the same engine, mounted horizontally, but they had air brakes rather than vacuum brakes. Six of the batch (SR 801 to 806) had sliding ‘sunshine’ roofs and a PA system for potential use as coaches.

Delivered during May and June 1957, the batch entered service running local routes from Brixham and Torquay depots, but as newer buses arrived, they were dispersed to other depots. The ‘SR’ prefix to the fleet number was dropped after 1962.

The official allocation list for 1st September 1964 shows 798 at Moretonhampstead depot for Service 29 to Exeter. In 1965 it ran from Newton Abbot, Torquay and Witheridge, whilst it spent 1966 to 1969 mostly at Brixham and Torquay, with another spell at Witheridge in 1968/69. 798 ended the decade back at Torquay.

Withdrawals of the batch started in 1969 against the arrival of the OTA-G registered AEC Reliances. Nine went to the Premier Travel company in Cambridge and one to a building contractor. Four survived into Western National ownership in 1971, but all were gone by the end of 1972.

798 was withdrawn from service by Western National in February 1971 and by July had moved to the long-established West Wales fleet of Richards Bros., where it went on to give good service until 1975.

It was then purchased for preservation by the West of England Transport Collection and stored at Winkleigh. Some paint stripping was carried out on the roof, but nothing further. In 1977 its sister vehicle 796 was purchased by Philip Platt from Premier Travel as a source of spares.

In the 1990s 798 was sold to a preservation owner in the West Midlands, but by 1994 he had decided its restoration was beyond his capabilities and 798 was repatriated to Devon by lowloader.

By 2007, 798 was owned by Philip Platt and renovation  started with the replacement of woodwork in the driver’s cab and rear boot areas by a skilled carpenter, and the renewal of corroded and damaged steelwork.   By 2009 replacement of the rotten flooring was underway and the steering, suspension and front axle were renovated.  

With the setting up of the Devon General Omnibus Trust in 2013, the trust purchased AEC Regent 503 and this vehicle became the focus of the renovation effort, leaving 798 in storage. During 2016 Philip Platt gifted 798 to the DGOT; sadly he passed way at the end of that year.

With work on 503 at an advanced stage, the DGOT decided that renovation should recommence on 798 with a view to having it restored for the 2019 centenary of the the founding of Devon General.

During 2017 the side panels and much of the roof were stripped of paint, and brake assemblies overhauled. New tyres were purchased for the front, cylinder heads were skimmed and rubber sourced for the entrance doors, wheel arches and window surrounds. The seat frames were stripped and primed.

The tempo of work increased in 2018. Millmans donated the wheels and tyres from Grey Cars 1 RDV, and the overhaul continued of 798’s engine.

Unfortunately 798’s mechanical condition proved to be much worse than anticipated. Many engine parts such as pistons, rings, bearings and the compressor had to be replaced. Heater pipework had to be manufactured new, and replacement moquette for the interior also sourced. Work on the interior included painting the seat frames, affixing new sidewall and seat back coverings, renovating the  inspection traps, and laying new floor covering, whilst the exterior saw paintwork rubbed down and primer applied.

By early 2019 the radiator had been overhauled and refitted, along with the fuel tank and air tanks, and the seats were back in place.

Feb 2018

Feb 2018

Feb 2019

Feb 2018

Photo : R H G Simpson