The red London bus, Beefeaters, red phone boxes, Coldstream Guards and Tower Bridge – all conjure up a tourist’s snapshot of London. More than that, though, such is the strength of their cultural symbolism that the Giles Gilbert Scott-designed telephone box and the Routemaster double-decker bus almost define Britishness.
The AEC (Associated Equipment Company) Routemaster was developed in association with London Transport from 1947 onwards by a design team headed by Arthur Durrant, while the simply styled bodywork was created by industrial designer Douglas Scott.
Durrant, Scott and their team set out to create a low-maintenance bus with some unique features for a vehicle of its type. Wartime aircraft production methods were used, such as a stressed skin of lightweight aluminium alloy to cover a metal body frame. This design eliminated the need for a large and heavy conventional chassis as used in previous double-deckers, thereby reducing both weight and fuel consumption.
As with its predecessors, the Routemaster’s engine was mounted at the front which enabled the rear to be very low, with an open deck to the pavement. This allowed boarding and alighting away from bus stops and, with a conductor on duty, ensured minimal boarding time and increased efficiency. As well as shaping the body, Douglas Scott designed the interior with its hard-wearing moquette fabric and a vivid design that looked inviting both in strong daylight and under tungsten lighting.
The first RM1 Routemaster came into service on 8 February 1956 on route 2, Golders Green to Crystal Palace. Alterations after this first run led to an entirely new 9.6-litre diesel engine, while revisions and variations over the years included lengthening (the RML version), an open top deck and front entrances. The basic design remained in service until 2005, however, a remarkably long period of usefulness. A total of 2876 Routemasters were built of which 1280 survive to this day, many used as heritage transport vehicles the world over.