The prototype of the last generation of conventional rear-entrance double-deck London buses is RM1, the very first Routemaster, built in 1954 and brought into use after various modifications in 1956.
It still exists – and runs – in its 1960 condition at the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot: http://www.ltmcollection.org/vehicles/objects/object.html?IXtype=&_IXSR_=UnPctRYPqQC&_IXMAXHITS_=1&_IXFIRST_=20&_IXSESSION_=.
When you’ve seen one red bus you may feel you’ve seen them all, but this design was special. Conceived after the war, when the London Transport RT type was in production, the Routemaster was custom-designed for service in the capital.
Its designers, Arthur “Bill” Durrant, Colin Curtis and Douglas Scott, set out to supersede the RT, so the Routemaster was built of aluminium, three quarters of a ton lighter than the RT, with independent front suspension, a fully automatic gearbox and more powerful brakes. It seated 64, eight more than the RT.
It was intended to make the most of London Transport’s innovative Aldenham Bus Works, which ran a production-line overhaul system to inspect, refurbish and test vehicles in the shortest possible time.
2,876 of these splendid buses were built and nearly half of them still exist. Their sturdy construction and sound design meant that, despite their disadvantages of limited capacity and accessibility and the need for two-man operation, they outlasted newer vehicles and remained popular with passengers and crews.
It’s no accident that the New Routemaster, [http://www.tfl.gov.uk/modes/buses/new-routemaster] sponsored by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has earned a place on the streets of 21st-century London: six hundred of them will be in service by 2016.