VDV 798 (SR798) is a 1957 AEC Reliance with Weymann 41 seat bodywork.
Historically important as one of the first Devon General buses to be purpose-built for one-man-operation, SR798 is from a batch of fourteen: SR793 to 806 (VDV 793 to 806).
Fitted with well-appointed bodywork, these buses were designed with one-man-operation in mind and carried ticket and change-giving machines. The driver’s cab had an external sliding door as well as access into the saloon and a rear boot was provided to deal with parcels traffic. Six of the batch (SR 801 to 806) had ‘sunshine’ roofs and a PA system for potential use as coaches.
Delivered during May and June 1957, the buses entered service running local routes from Brixham and Torquay depots, but as newer buses arrived, they were dispersed to other depots. In 1964 798 worked at Moretonhampstead depot on Service 29 to Exeter. In 1965 it ran from Newton Abbot, Torquay and Witheridge, whilst it spent 1966 to 1969 mostly at Brixham and Torquay, with another spell at Witheridge in 1968/69. 798 ended the decade back at Torquay.
Withdrawals of the batch started in 1969 and all were gone by the end of 1972.
798 was withdrawn from service by Western National in February 1971 and by July had moved to the long-established West Wales fleet of Richards Bros., where it went on to give good service until 1975.
It was then purchased for preservation by the West of England Transport Collection and stored at Winkleigh. Some paint stripping was carried out on the roof, but nothing further. In 1977 its sister vehicle 796 was purchased by Philip Platt from Premier Travel as a source of spares.
In the 1990s 798 was sold to a preservation owner in the West Midlands, but by 1994 he had decided its restoration was beyond his capabilities and 798 was repatriated to Devon and stored.
By 2007, 798 was owned by Philip Platt and renovation started with the replacement of woodwork in the driver’s cab and rear boot areas by a skilled carpenter, and the renewal of corroded and damaged steelwork. By 2009 replacement of the rotten flooring was underway and the steering, suspension and front axle were renovated. During 2016 Philip Platt gifted 798 to the DGOT; sadly he passed way at the end of that year.
It was decided to recommence renovation on 798 and during 2017 the side panels and much of the roof were stripped of paint, and brake assemblies overhauled. New tyres were purchased for the front, cylinder heads were skimmed and rubber sourced for the entrance doors, wheel arches and window surrounds. The seat frames were stripped and primed.
The tempo of work increased in 2018. Millmans donated the wheels and tyres from Grey Cars 1 RDV, and the overhaul continued of 798’s engine. Unfortunately its mechanical condition proved to be much worse than anticipated and many parts such as pistons, rings, bearings and the compressor had to be replaced. Heater pipework had to be manufactured new, and replacement moquette for the interior also sourced.
Work on the interior included painting the seat frames, affixing new sidewall and seat back coverings, renovating the inspection traps, and laying new floor covering, whilst the exterior saw paintwork rubbed down and primer applied. By 2019 the radiator had been overhauled and refitted, along with the fuel tank and air tanks, and the seats were back in place. 2020 saw restoration work suspended during lockdown, but a final push in 2021 to tackle the remaining mechanical issues enabled 798 to make its public debut at the ‘Devon General Remembered’ Running Day at Tiverton on 5th September 2021.
The DGOT trustees are incredibly grateful to Sam Merrifield for leading the project to restore 798.