Sunday 25 October 2015

Follow Up Dennis Domino Post

On Wednesday I posted a feature on the Dennis Domino, in particular the one I drove in Kent in the early 90's, C53 HDT (see here). Following my post the current owner, Iain Bostock-Frith, got in touch via Flickr with one of the most incredible and heart warming stories involving a bus you will ever read. It gives me such pleasure to reproduce it here - especially as Iain confirms I'm not going mad and it DOES have a semi automatic gearbox - and if anyone out there can help Iain with sourcing parts etc then please get in touch and I'll let him know. Since initial contact Iain has sent some additional pics of 53, which just might end up as the blog mascot at this rate!

A sparkling Dennis Domino about to leave South Yorkshire for Kent
Hi my name is Iain Bostock-Frith, I have owned and saved many a SYPTE bus in my time, but I wanted to share this with you, my story of my old friend, the Dennis Domino, I hope you will find it of interest!

I grew up in Sheffield, was born in 1982, as the Dennis Domino was launched in 1985. Originally built as B plates, the batch were all intended to be registered B-FET, the batch ran from 41-54. The whole batch, apart from 45, entered service late, so the C plate affix was applied, B45FET was the first one for South Yorkshire, and entered service first, therefore kept its B45FET plate the whole batch was intended to have.

They all entered service spread across the SYPTE fleet, as fully automatic buses, with Avon Maxwell transmission and a Perkins t6 engine.

Deregulation soon came upon us, and the Domino, being a prototype Dart therotically, and heavy fuel consumption, was soon in trouble, especially when the Dodge minibus came along being much cheaper to buy and run.

The entire batch were hired out for trials with Mersey Bus & Yorkshirerider. In 1988 the whole batch were to be repainted into Little Nipper livery, and down seated so the Dodge minibus drivers could drive them, as before the whole batch were 33 seaters initially, decker drivers got decker rate for driving them.

The whole batch were down seated to 25 seats (standard minibus) and a standing area created on the OS of the bus, with hanging straps to hold onto!.

The batch were all converted at SYPTE's Greenland garage, at this time the Domino was experiencing a lot of issues with the compressors and gearboxes, as Avon Maxwell went bust, thus who supplied the gearboxes.

This led to the wipers being converted to electric from air, to relieve the pressure on the compressor, and this is also why the wipers are off set.

The gearboxes were then converted to semi automatic, same as an Atlantean that SYPTE ran, it kept the same gearbox but the operating system became more able to get parts for due to Avon going bust.

My memories start from this era, from 1988 being only 6 years old, going to town with my dad, the Dominos ran on the M10 from Wybourn to Norton, and I lived at Heeley Green where the bus dropped us off literally behind the house.

The sound of the whining engine, and the sheer uniqueness of these buses led to my love for the Domino, many a day I looked out the window listening to one come bouncing along and whining, the buses were named the bouncing bombs by drivers.

By 1991 the entire batch were withdrawn, mainly due to poor fuel consumption and part avalability, and were replaced by dodge minibuses.

Most of the batch, bar 45,48,49,50 & 53, were sold to Stevensons for further service.

Amazingly, 53 was re allocated back into service for a contract at Greenland garage, and ran into late 1993 when Mercury bought 53.

I worked at Greenland on work experience, and at the age of 15, after my obsession well known by friends for the Domino, I was told that 53 had come up for sale after Mercury sold out in 1995, this is where my story, and 53's started.

The unque 33 seat interior of 53
I went down to Kent to see 53, with a friend and saw it laid up, albeit in a bit of a state as a lot of parts were missing, I bought 53 at the age of 15, nearly 16 and had the bus towed to Sheffield to live in the, what was, the Sheffield Bus Museum, ironically where 53 sat withdrawn back in 1991.

The press soon got hold of it, and went wild, a 15 year old buying a bus was unheard of, I ended up on Calendar News, Sky News, the papers, and even on radio in Japan!, my parents also were on TV.

But sadly I sold 53 in 1997/8, I had left school, discovered partying and that became more of a attraction than a bus that I was too inexperienced and young to fix, and life went on.

Sadly in 2011 my father died, I had saved a further 30 odd buses in the 20 years I didn't have 53, and something always kept saying to me, 53 , why did I sell it.

So after 20 years nearly, I contacted the guy I sold it too, and indeed 53 survived, in dry storage in and due to my history with it, the owner was willing to sell it back to me. I went to see 53, and it was untouched, after all these years it was exactly how I left it, my school books I hid on it, my old clothes I worked on it in, were all there like the bus was saying, were have you been?!.

53 had a lot, a lot of issues, the engine was in bits, loads of parts were removed, electrics disconnected lights missing, and a lot of unique parts gone, but I was determined to finish what I started.

The hunt was on, and as I had gained a lot of mechanical experience by now, the engine side wasn't too expensive to rectify, Perkins were still around, but this proved costly, as 53's fuel pump drive had snapped, and thus having a bodged compressor coupling fitted, the whole lot was smashed.
Wipers were missing, the whole rear electric isolator was missing, the dash was half gone, all interior lights gone, the door mechanisms and pipes ripped out, all the front panels either missing or damaged, motors for the wipers heaters all missing.

These buses are so unique, rare and virtually impossible to get bits for, I cannot express how many hours and thousands of pounds it's taken to get 53 just to start, the amount of leg work for parts is untrue, but there laid a gem, a help I never thought I would get, or imagined, and that fell in the hands of Alton towers!

C42HDT was sold from Stevensons, to Alton towers to act as theme for the ride, I contacted Alton Towers who said they would help, and indeed they did!
I went there and pointed out all missing items I needed, albeit the bus was missing a engine and gearbox, but the rest was there, and was removed and sent to me to get 53 back on the road!

Months have gone by, as electricians, mechanics and myself tried to fix cut airline wires, you name it it needed doing, even having to have parts made and re manufactured to fit, re worked pulleys and couplings had to be done to match the original design

53 had a major service and top end rebuild, and sprung into life and fired up first time in 20 years, the air system rose, it was amazing, after all this time I was getting somewhere.

More time was needed fixing cut pipes, dodgy electrics, but a few weeks ago, 53 attempted to drive, and it did!, albeit in 1st and reverse only, but I'm at this stage now, where 53 is really coming along.

More seals and electric works are needed to the gearbox, but I'm confident 53 will be on the road next year, I cannot express how hard it's been, but 53 is the only Domino left with its original 33 seats, and I'm lucky that the chassis is in fantastic condition.

There's been blood, sweat and tears, the bus has nearly broke me financially many a time, so why do you ask?, Well The bus will be going back into little nipper when it's done, to relive the bouncing bomb moments of 1991, and to drive the bus to my dads resting place and say, dad, after 20 years, here he is!

Still poorly but on the way back
 There's not much I can add to that remarkable story, but if anyone can help get this unique little bus back on the road them please get in touch. Let's make Iain's deeam of showing 53 off to his dad come true. Thanks for getting in touch, Iain - the bus world needs more people like you.

PS I drove Dodge minibuses too and absolutely despised them!


  1. Are people still interested in 53? I am the current owner and i can send some new pictures over as it now.

    1. Blimey I'm interested if no one else!! Sorry - not checking comments as much these days!

  2. Where do I start with this bus Ian you're never forgiven for your teenage mistakes - JJ