The BMMO C5 coach is without doubt the most famous class of vehicle built by Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services). This notoriety is thanks to the opening of Britain’s first motorway on Monday 2nd November 1959, the M1, linking Birmingham and London.† This had prompted BMMO to re-engineer the basic BMMO C5 coach design earlier that year, producing farsighted versions built specifically for high speed motorway work, namely the BMMO CM5 and CM5T.
† In terms of strict historical accuracy, the M1 didn’t go to Birmingham, and at the time it opened came to a sudden halt in the middle of nowhere at Crick in Northamptonshire, roughly where the M6 to Birmingham now begins.
On Thursday 1st May 1958, the prototype BMMO C5 coach entered service at Birmingham (Digbeth) depot with the registration number 722BHA and fleet number 4722. This prototype vehicle was basically the last scheduled production BMMO S14 lightweight bus upgraded for coach duties, and thus featured the same basic integral body framework and mechanical specification.
External changes in specification over the standard BMMO S14 included two-piece rounded windscreen, single-blind destination box, new grill design and an outward opening passenger door that was located ahead of the front axle for the first time on a BMMO coach design. At the rear, curved glass and a top-hinged boot replaced the centre emergency exit, which moved to the offside and was fitted with a foldout step. Other changes included hopper ventilation above the side windows, full-width wrap-around bumpers and nut rings at the front and rear, and polished aluminium mouldings all round that included the “Midland Red” fleet name below the side windows. Glass fibre was used wherever possible to reduce weight, and this included a single-piece moulded roof, similar to those only fitted to the S14 towards the end of the production run.
Inside there was extra sound proofing, and the vehicle was fitted with 37 plush coach seats finished in multi-coloured floral moquette, while mechanical changes were limited to the fitting of double-wheels on the rear axle.
Shortly after main production of the type C5 began, the prototype vehicle received a number of minor upgrades to bring it into line with the design changes made to the production vehicles. The most notable of these was the replacement of the rounded front windscreen, which suffered from reflection problems, with a “lantern” style windscreen that became the type’s most distinguishing feature. Other changes were made to the front grill and the moulded aluminium side fleet names which were replaced with the “Midland Red” winged logo.
The prototype vehicle remained in service with the company, at a number of different depots, until the end of 1970, when it was stored and finally withdrawn in January 1971.
Main production of the BMMO C5 began in 1958 and by the following autumn, the first batch of 24 examples had entered service. The production vehicles featured some detail changes, such as the Dutch lantern style windscreens, but overall were similar to the prototype. This first batch was built as the standard version of the C5 coach with 4-speed manual gearboxes and the normally aspirated version of the BMMO 8.028-litre engine.
Initially, drivers did not like the early C5 coaches from the first batch that were fitted with the 4-speed manual gearboxes, as they were not up to the performance of the older BMMO C3 and C4 coaches. However, after BMMO developed the motorway versions, they upgraded these existing vehicles with 5-speed overdrive gearbox and performance was improved.
Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) had originally intended to build the second batch of forty BMMO C5 coaches to the same specification as the first batch, with a normally aspirated version of the BMMO 8.028-litre engine and a four-speed manual gearbox.
However, in anticipation of the forthcoming opening of the M1 motorway, BMMO used one of the first vehicles from this batch, fleet number 4801, to develop an experimental high-speed version. These experiments were successful enough for the company to build the remainder of the batch as a mixture of the standard C5 coach design and the high-speed CM5 and CM5T Motorway Express versions.
Following the success of the M1 motorway services to London, the network was soon expanded with a number of vehicles that had been built new as the standard BMMO C5 coach being converted to motorway specification. For details of these vehicles, see “CM5 Conversions” below.
‡ Fleet numbers 4805–4808 were built as type CM5, without a toilet, but were soon converted to type CM5T.
Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) applied for the necessary licences to run “Motorway Express” services from Birmingham to London in early 1959, when it became clear there would be no upper speed limit for coaches on the forthcoming M1 motorway. For these services, the company developed the CM5 and CM5T versions of the BMMO C5 coach.
In developing the motorway express versions of the type C5 coach, BMMO engineers at Central works took an early unfinished vehicle from the second production batch of BMMO C5 coaches, fleet number 4801 (registration number 801HHA), and experimented with fitting turbochargers, thus this vehicle became the prototype CM5T coach. The standard BMMO 8.028-litre engine was fitted with a CAV turbocharger, increasing the power output by 37bhp, and a five-speed “crash” overdrive gearbox replaced the standard four-speed unit. Engineers also upgraded the differential, changing the ratio from 4.78:1 to 4.44:1.
The Prototype underwent extensive testing at the MIRA test track near Nuneaton, in both semi-finished and completed forms, and achieved speeds of up to 85mph. This speed was extremely impressive as the legal speed limit for coaches prior to this time was 30mph, and the average family car struggled to reach 70mph. BMMO officially listed the top speed at 76mph, with a surprisingly fugal fuel consumption of around 15mpg.
Following successful testing, BMMO built a further nine type C5 coaches, numbers 4802–4810 (registration numbers 802–810HHA), to motorway specification, classified as types CM5 and CM5T. The M1 motorway opened on Monday 2nd November 1959, and in what is arguably the company’s proudest moment, these vehicles entered service on that day operating the countries first high speed motorway services between Birmingham and London.
With the introduction of the motorway express services, BMMO cut the journey time between Birmingham and London by almost two hours, to just 3 hours 25 minutes, however even this proved to be conservative as journeys were completed in just 2¾ hours. These services were so successful that BMMO expanded their network with the addition of Coventry to London services on Thursday 1st September 1960, and to provide enough vehicles for the expanded network a further eight vehicles from the second production batch of BMMO C5 coaches were built to motorway express specification. These vehicles were numbers 4800, 4812 and 4813, built as type CM5, and 4811, 4814, 4815, 4826 and 4830 built as type CM5T. Mechanically the CM5 and CM5T types were identical to each other, the difference being the CM5T version was fitted with a rear toilet, and thus reducing the seating capacity to 34.
Initially all the new “Motorway Express” services, and thus all the BMMO CM5 and CM5T vehicles, operated from Bearwood depot, but later as the network expanded, Motorway Express services were operated from other sites, mostly Birmingham (Digbeth) depot and Nuneaton depot.
The Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (Midland “Red”) expaneded their Motorway Express network further with the building of the M5 motorway, allowing new service X44, running between Birmingham and Worcester via the M5, to start on 20th July 1962, the day the new motorway opened. This allowed running time between Worcester and Birmingham to be reduced from 93 minutes to just 50 minutes, which was quicker that the railway at the time.
For the new service X44, BMMO needed more vehicles built to motorway specification, and so four standard BMMO C5 coaches were returned at Central Works and converted to CM5 specification. These vehicles were fleet numbers 4833, 4834, 4836 and 4837. Later, the Coventry to London services were extended to service Nuneaton and an additional six standard C5 coaches were also converted to CM5 specification for use on this route. These were fleet numbers 4779, 4822, 4823, 4831, 4832 and 4835.
To increase flexibility, certain coaches were converted to type CS5. This involved various engine tweaks to increase performance without resorting to the expense of fitting a turbocharger, thus allowing them to run Motorway Express services at times if required. However, some CS5 conversions were also carried out on CM5T coaches that were being downgraded towards the end of their lives.
Coaches converted to CS5 type were numbers 4774, 4777, 4779*3, 4784, 4785, 4786, 4794, 4795, 4796, 4801, 4802, 4805, 4806, 4811, 4822, 4823, 4826 and 4837. These vehicles were all refitted with C37F seating, without toilets, except numbers 4806 and 4811, which remained as C34Ft.
*3 Fleet number 4779 was later converted to type CM5, see above.
With the introduction of the larger BMMO CM6T motorway-coaches from February 1965, and the acquisition of 49 Leyland Leopard type C7 coaches later the same year, many of the BMMO C5 coaches were downgraded and adapted for bus work. The conversion involved fitting revised destination gear, converting the passenger door to power-operation opening inwards and, where necessary, removing the turbocharger and usually the toilet. Converted vehicles received overall red BMMO bus livery and reclassified as type C5A.
Bus-service drivers were no doubt disappointed at the removal of the turbochargers; however, in true Midland Red style some examples slipped through the net and operated with toilets for a short while. In addition, the conversion carried out on fleet number 4778 (registration number 778GHA) in July 1966, involved the fitting of a hinged, centre-folding entrance door, known as a “jack-knife.”
Type C5A conversions were carried out on 45 vehicles by BMMO at Central Works in Edgbastion, beginning with number 4804 (registration number 804HHA) in 1966. In 1970, fleet number 4806 (registration number 806HHA) was converted to one-man operation, with most of the remaining type C5A vehicles also being converted soon after. The type C5A was not considered to be a very good service bus, and the following extract from the minutes for a meeting between union officials and local management gives an example of some of the issues.
It is the committee’s [Evesham depot union] opinion, this type of vehicle is not suitable for service work. They complain that the gangway is too narrow. We [local management] agreed to a point with this complaint and have agreed to keep this vehicle on suitable routes where overloading is rare.
Extract from meeting minutes, Evesham depot, 9th Dec 1966.
Being a coach converted for bus work also gave the class a bit of an identity crisis, and again this matter was raised at Evesham. The wording of the minutes, describing it as a “delicate question,” also highlights the privileged status that coach drivers enjoyed.
The question was brought up regarding this vehicle on Private Hire and Long Distance. Does a Driver have to be a Coach Driver to take this type of vehicle out on Private Hire or Long Distance? Our answer to this delicate question to be given later.
Extract from meeting minutes, Evesham depot, 9th Dec 1966.
For the record, the answer to the above question was finally given five weeks later.
Whilst the vehicle when used on service work may be driven by any member of the driving staff, we consider that when used at the week-ends on Long Distance or Private Hire this does necessitate the use of a Coach Driver because of the class of work upon which it is engaged.
Extract from management letter to Evesham union, 18th Jan 1967.
The standard BMMO C5 coach was a solid design, but based on the lightweight BMMO S14 bus it was nothing remarkable. However, by developing the CM5 and CM5T Motorway Express variations, BMMO turned this humble coach into a truly magnificent vehicle that is universally agreed to have been ahead of its time. This showed the world BMMO engineers, based at their small assembly facility in Birmingham, to be incredibly talented and able to compete with major manufactures of the time, such as Leyland and AEC.
Motorway Express services were very successful for BMMO, and this can largely be credited to the successful design of the Motorway Express versions of the type C5, and the foresight of using a specially prepared high speed vehicle. To some extent though, the type CM5 and CM5T was a victim of its own success as in 1962, just three years after the introduction of the design, BMMO began developing a larger capacity vehicle to replace them, the BMMO CM6T.
By the mid 1960s, the lager type CM6T had replaced the CM5 and CM5T Motorway Express variations, but as these vehicles were still relatively young, BMMO downgraded them for lighter coach services as types CS5, and bus work as type C5A.
Minor changes to the type included the fitting of twin headlights and a fog light on the offside, making the front view of the vehicle symmetrical as previously only a single fog light on the nearside had been fitted. Initially only the CM5 and CM5T Motorway Express versions had this modification, which was probably more for style than visibility, but later a small number of vehicles in standard C5 specification also received the upgraded. Vehicles not converted to type C5A by 1968, and thus not in overall red bus livery, received the newer version of the company coach livery of red body and maroon roof with white centre.
Withdrawals began with number 4774, which ended life as CS5 specification in February 1970. By the end of 1971 all but one of the BMMO C5 and its variations had been withdrawn, many no doubt with huge mileage to their credit. The last example to be withdrawn was 4830, which survived until July 1972. This vehicle had replaced BMMO C1 number 3309 as the BMMO directors’ coach, and remained as type CM5T specification throughout its whole life and presumably had much lower mileage than the other vehicles in the class.
One indication of the notoriety the type gained was the amount of toy makers who modelled them from the time they were new, and Corgi has recently modelled the BMMO CM5T again so the legend lives on. In addition, many magazines featured the technical details of the vehicles; the police no doubt studied these too as they didn’t really have anything to catch one! Stories of police officers asking the driver of a CM5T, and later a CM6T, “What’s under that?” have passed into Midland Red folklore.
Apart from the various Corgi models, only numbers 4819 and 4780 are known to have survived for preservation, both vehicles that remained in standard C5 specification throughout their service lives. For further details of these vehicles, see the “BMMO C5 – Preserved” page.
Certain information in the BMMO C5 section was originally recorded by Arthur Homer, former body superintendent at BMMO’s Central Works. Special thanks to Arthur’s family for allowing us to use this unique information on this website. Other information in this section has been compiled by Mark Tunstall of the Worcester Bus Preservation Society.