In 1921, the entire fleet of the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) were made up of buses and charabancs built on petrol-electric Tilling-Stevens chassis. Most of these were the TS3 chassis, in various lengths, but a small number of the older TTA2 chassis remained. Due to shortages following the First World War, some of these chassis were converted lorries that had been acquired from the War Office in 1920.
The company was looking to modernise its fleet and maximise the seating capacity of their vehicles. With this in mind the Chief Engineer, Mr LG Wyndham Shire, modified a Tilling-Steven TS3 chassis to take his own design of double-deck bodywork. Modifications to the chassis involved relocating the controls to allow the drivers’ seat to be moved forward, alongside the engine, and fitting a re-designed engine.
The modified chassis became known as the Tilling-Steven FS (“Forward Steer”), and following the prototype in 1922, an additional 55 examples were built. Some of these were built on new chassis, while the remaining were converted from existing chassis in the fleet.
The bodywork was an open-top double-deck design with front entrance and staircase, which could easily be converted to single-deck if needed. Seating on the upper-deck was in knifeboard layout, with a long double-sided bench running down the centre of these vehicle, thus passengers sat facing sideways. It was claimed at the time that is layout was for safety reasons, which probably referred to the reduced risk of people being hit by low tree branches at the side of the road.
The prototype started life as a lorry owned by the War Office, and it was one of thirty-nine acquired by BMMO in 1920. Such was the urgent need for vehicles after the end of the war many of these ran as “lorry-buses” with the most basic of seating and canvas roofs and sides. However, this vehicle was not used as such and with the lorry bodywork removed the wheelbase was extended to 15′ 0″ and it was fitted with new B29F single-deck bodywork built by Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon. The vehicle was acquired without a registration number, so BMMO registered it as OE3151 and it entered service in 1921. This registration number had previously been used by BMMO on a Tilling-Steven TS3 new in 1919, but that vehicle was sold to Potteries Electric Traction Limited of Stoke-on-Trent in February 1920, making the number redundant.
In 1922 the bodywork was removed and the chassis modified to make the prototype Tilling-Steven FS. As mentioned above, this involved relocating the drivers’ controls to a forward position alongside the engine, thus freeing space in the lower-deck which taken by the staircase. The modified engine was a development of the existing Tilling-Stevens design with re-designed cylinder heads, and was given the name; BMMO “Wonder” of 1922!
When new, the bodywork feature an open-cab design giving the driver no protection at all from the elements, however this was soon replaced with an enclosed cab that rather ruined the appearance of the vehicle. The prototype remained in service until 1928 when BMMO announced they were to withdraw all of their double-deck buses. At this time it was sold to a travelling showman.
Following the prototype, an additional 40 examples of the class were acquired new between the end of 1922 and early 1924. The first five of these were built on new chassis and entered service from May 1922 with registration numbers OK1237-1241.
In 1923, another batch of 35 examples were built on new chassis, and these entered service in 1923 and early 1924 with registration numbers HA2242-2276. While these vehicles carried the lowest numbers in the “HA” sequence that would later dominate the fleet, they were not the first as that honour goes to the small batch of Garfords that entered service in 1922 (with registration numbers HA2318-2331).
From 1923 no more new examples of the Tilling-Stevens FS chassis were ordered, but from that year an additional fifteen examples were constructed using overhauled and converted TS3 chassis. Many of these needed to have their wheelbase extended to 15′ 0″ as part of the conversion to allow the double-deck bodywork to be fitted, but all retained their original registration numbers from their time as single-deck buses or lorries.
In 1928, BMMO announced they were to withdraw all of their double-deck buses and concentrate the fleet on new “luxury coach-buses”, which they claimed were “most comfortable and capable of doing 40 m.p.h. on a clear road”. Between 1928 and the end of 1929 the entire class of Tilling-Steven FS were withdrawn and most of the chassis were scrapped, but a small number were sold. The double-deck bodywork was originally designed to be converted to single-deck if needed, and so many were overhauled and converted to B30F layout, then fitted to SOS chassis to create the SOS “OD” class.
It is easy to understand why BMMO chose to withdraw the class, as when compared with the single-deck SOS designs being built at the time they were hopelessly outdated. The Tilling-Steven FS still ran on solid tyres and had petrol-electric transmission, which quickly fell out of fashion after the end of the First World War, so came from a time when such vehicles were not permitted to go faster than 12 m.p.h. by law. In contrast, the new generation of SOS single-deck buses had pneumatic tyres and gearbox transmissions, which as the announcement highlighted, could reach speeds three times higher. This was also an era when BMMO were building buses to the highest standards of finish, so the newer buses would have been significantly more comfortable to ride in.
The decision to ignore all types of double-deck buses was, in hindsight, a bad one. Single-deck vehicles were not able to cope on the rapidly expanding network in busy urban areas like the Black Country, so just two years later BMMO went back to the drawing board and built their first double-deck bus to modern standards, the SOS “DD(RE)”.