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DR817 is representative of the 23 open-platform rear-entrance AEC Regent V double-deckers purchased by Devon General between 1955 and 1957 for use on Exeter city services. At the time, the council and the police would only countenance rear-entrance buses on city routes.   

AEC launched the Mark V version of their long-running Regent double deck chassis at the 1954 Commercial Motor Show. The range included a new ‘medium weight’ variant, designed for lightweight bodywork, with the complete bus intended to weigh less than 7 tons. The aim was to offer improved fuel consumption, and it featured the AV470 engine from the AEC Mercury lorry range, rated at just 103 bhp on its economy setting.

The new model also introduced a restyled wider bonnet design for incorporation into the bodywork. After taking AEC’s demonstrator Regent V 88 CMV on trial, Devon General went for the new medium weight model in a big way, quickly ordering 20 for delivery in 1955: DR760 to 779 (ROD 760 to 779), 10 for 1956: DR 780 to 789 (TTT 780 to 789), and 13 for 1957: DR807 to 819 (VDV 807 to 819).

The chassis designation was MD3RV, standing for ‘Medium weight, Double deck, synchromesh gearbox (3), Right-hand drive, Vacuum brakes’. 59-seat bodywork was provided by Metro-Cammell to their new ‘Orion’ design, which emphasised its lightweight credentials in its sales brochure. A new, more informative style of destination display was introduced on these vehicles.

Reg. Charity No:  1153451                                    Twitter: @DevonGeneralOT

At the 1956 AGM the Devon General Chairman reported that due to ‘production difficulties’ only 12 of the vehicles ordered for 1955 had been delivered (2 coaches and 10 double decks). Delivery of the ‘ROD’-registered Regents therefore stretched into 1956.

The 23 Regent Vs for Exeter city services were DR770 to 779 (ROD 770 to 779) and DR 807 to 819 (VDV 807 to 819). The other 20 had platform doors (and heaters!) for country service work and, to highlight this, in 1958 these were given DRD prefixes, only for fleet number prefixes to be abandoned altogether at repaints after 1962.

These early AEC Regent Vs had straight-through exhausts which lent a sports car note to their acceleration. They were quite noisy, a fact referred to in the accompanying letter from the ACV Sales Area Manager to Devon General’s General Manager in 1956. At least the ‘Man from the Ministry’ considered the exhaust note was a “nice healthy sound”! (Thanks to The Bus Archive for the letter).

817 was delivered on 28th June 1957 and entered service at Exeter depot on 1st July, contributing to the displacement of the AEC Regent IIIs from the city routes.

She spent most of her career on Exeter city services, although the official allocation lists show her on Service 2A to Dawlish Warren during the Summer of 1966, a Traffic Spare at Sidmouth depot during the Summer of 1968, and based at Brixham depot for Service 12B to Kingswear during the Summer of 1969. No doubt 817’s lack of heaters or  platform doors was felt to be less of an issue on such seaside outings.

817 passed into Western National ownership in 1971, but was withdrawn in the April and was soon purchased for preservation by Philip Platt.

817 was stored at the Winkleigh premises of the West of England Transport Collection, where a start was made on her restoration. The onerous task of rubbing down and preparing the exterior for repaint began in 1973, and following steam cleaning and silvering of the chassis, 817 was restored to traditional Devon General livery in 1975.

817 went on to take part in many bus rallies and running days, including the 65th and 75th Devon General anniversary celebrations, interspersed with time in store. With Phil’s untimely death in 2016, his collection of buses came on the market. Fortunately for the Trust, it was able to acquire 817 following a very generous donation from an individual DGS member.

In March 2017, 817 appeared at the Exeter Bus Station Closure Running Day, which Phil had been planning. The DGOT pressed ahead with the event as a fitting memorial for him and the Trust’s team of volunteers completed a repaint of 817 just in time.

These days, 817 continues in fine fettle and is expected to take part in the DG centenary celebrations during 2019.