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 Omnibus 152 - June 2003


In Search Of An 'SON' On Malta by Roger F. de Boer

One of the purposes of my return to Malta in March 2003 was the hope of identifying the BMMO chassis - referred to in the 1980 PSV Circle list as “this mysterious bus” - which had carried the old licence number 1977 (current number DBY 429). I had, in fact, photographed 1977 on my first visit to Malta by land and sea in 1977, which I had found mildly amusing.

There had been a report that a photograph of the BMMO chassis exported to Malta had been seen - and it was thought to have been an ONC - but my source was uncertain.

There are three to four hundred route buses on Malta so that the chance of riding on 1977 was restricted except that sight of the roster (once Police-controlled but now under the Public Transport Association) could narrow things down. I did not choose to preview that rota however and quite by chance when returning to Valletta bus station, no sooner had I alighted from the previous bus, I saw 1977 coming down the slope in service and lost no time in jumping onto it (this was on the Saturday). It was plying the no. 40 route to Attard via Msida and Birkirkara. Here I was travelling on a 65-years old chassis powered by a Leyland 401 diesel engine whose pull was excellent. Only the body - now some 45 years old - was determining its withdrawal from service in the next 2/3 months. Already a new bus was being built by Scharnif of Luqa on an MAN chassis. The driver, who was not the owner on this occasion, drove with the usual Maltese tenacity, and skillfully took avoiding action when a gang of tearaway teenage cyclists attempted to ride along the road against the bus in the narrow street of a village. After a few minutes rest at the terminus, I returned on the bus to Valletta on the 75 route via St. Luke’s Hospital (at 3.45 p.m. many buses head for that place to synchronize with visiting hours). Back at Valletta asked the driver whether he had seen a photograph of the bus with its original English body, but his reply was in the negative.
Apart from old photographs there is another possibility to identify a vehicle’s origin; that is from the files held in the Licensing Office.

Things had changed since 1978 when I was allowed access (but to the dead bus files only) when those records were held at the Police Headquarters in Floriana. I had managed this concession then through acquaintance with a Maltese lady at my office who had attended the same school as the then Assistant Commissioner of Police. Now those records had moved to a different building and were controlled by another government department. There was no influential help now; I was on my own.

On this March 2003 visit I had the good fortune to meet a Maltese bus buff through the auspices of a South Wales enthusiast with whom I had originally corresponded regarding the Maltese Scammell Scarabs; Farsons in particular. He directed me to the Licensing Office - still in Floriana - but otherwise unrecognizable as such to tourists for there was no identification outside the building except for three letters A, B and C jutting out of its walls. (The locals of course would know what it was).

On entering office A (it is now Monday) I was informed that it was office B which I required for the information which I sought. At the customer services counter I was advised to write in (this was my last whole day on Malta before the holiday ended) but when I suggested I might write the letter on the spot, I was handed two pieces of paper with carbon insert for the purpose. I soon wrote the letter mentioning that this was my 22nd visit to the island. The helpful staff then said that the matter could be dealt with unofficially and if I would care to wait about a quarter of an hour the file would be brought for my inspection, for it had to be fetched from some distance from the office where I had entered.


Although a replacement for DBY429 was in build when Roger de Boer visited Malta in March, the much-rebuilt ‘SON’ was still running on 26 April 2003 - this time on route 44. [photos:- Mike Greenwood]

These old files could have been in danger of destruction since the vehicle records are now kept upon computer, but the Maltese appear to have had the foresight to have retained these old records. On production of the file I was then guided to a desk on the other side of the counter in order to peruse it in greater comfort (than in the public area). Once I had the file in my hands it was not long before on enclosure no. 89 the answer to the quest was satisfied. In July l958 the chassis with English registration GHA323 was released to a Mr. Brincat of the Strand, Sliema. It was bodied by Barbara of Luqa and entered service in July l959. It was already twenty years old when imported, being built in l938. It had been rebodied by Nudd Brothers in 1950, and amongst the Midland Red garages it had served were Hereford and Shrewsbury. With BMMO engine when new it carried a Gardner one by the time it reached Malta. It was only to have one alteration to its body when its front and back were “modernised” by its first owner. He also had its front axle changed, and when the second owner (father of the present one) acquired it the rear axle was altered to suit. Then followed a success­ion of engines: Perkins R6, Perkins 3654 V8, Leyland 400 to the present one.

This information was obtained in the morning - in the same after­noon “1977” was found again in the Bus Station lay-by. This time the owner was aboard and was greatly interested to learn of its English number. Moreover, he led me to believe that sixteen seat frames now on the bus were the originals from GHA323, although subsequent research indicates that this is not the case.


DBY429, once 1977, but originally GHA323, on route 75 from St.Luke’s Hospital to central Valletta in March 2003. [photo:- Roger de Boer]

Editor’s note:- Roger is not alone in his efforts to identify the Maltese “BMMO”. John Seale visited Malta on business for BMC (UK) Ltd. in June 2002, and asked local agent Charlie Micallef of International Auto Centre, Qormi, if he could check the chassis number of DBY429. A few weeks later, Charlie phoned John to tell him he had inspected the SOS with bus operator and mechanic Tony Falzon of Etienne Garage, Qormi. He had looked for the chassis number on the front nearside sidemember, where it should have been, only to find that at some time a replacement spring had been fitted with a much larger hanger bracket than the original. The replacement bracket obscured part of the stamped letters BMO, and completely obscured the number, thus making identification impossible. The bus was still running in late April 2003, when photographed by Mike Greenwood. We would appreciate any further news of GHA323.




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