503 RUO (503) is a 1964 AEC Regent V with Willowbrook 69 seat bodywork.
Devon General was a big user of the Regent V, buying 91 of them in 2 periods, from 1955 to 1957 and from 1962 to 1966. It resumed buying Regent Vs in 1962 as it needed 7 rear entrance versions for its Exeter city services fleet. Bodied by Weymann, they featured a number of improvements over the earlier examples, including heaters and fluorescent interior lighting.
In the intervening period Devon General had pioneered the rear engine Leyland Atlantean, taking 56 of them between 1959 and 1961, mainly for use in and around Torbay. Offering a high capacity of 75 passengers, they were well suited to busy routes.
For its less demanding routes the company stuck with the trusty Regent V, with its traditional front engine and manual gearbox, but switched to front entrance bodywork for its 1963 order. 16 x 27 foot long Metro-Cammell bodied MD3RV models arrived, making Devon General one of the last customers for the MD3RV.
The early Atlanteans were experiencing significant teething troubles at the time and so for its more demanding routes the company decided to select the 30 foot long heavyweight version of the Regent V, the 2D3RA model.
The chosen bodybuilder this time was Willowbrook, which hitherto had only provided single deckers and coaches for the company. Eight Regent V chassis were ordered from AEC for delivery to the bodybuilder by September 1963. The 8 buses were numbered 501 to 508 (501 to 508 RUO), which started a new numbering sequence for double-deckers. Delivery of the completed buses was due by March 1964; 503 arrived on 27th February 1964.
503 is representative of this batch. Initially based at Torquay, it soon transferred to Newton Abbot where it ran on Service 11 to Buckfastleigh. From 1968 it saw regular service on the scenic ‘2’ coastal route to Exeter via Teignmouth and Dawlish, along with the 1965 Park Royal –bodied Regent Vs.
Repainting of the batch into NBC poppy red livery took place between 1973 and 1976.
In 1976 507 and 508 were converted to open top for use on a new summer service between Torquay, Teignmouth and Dawlish Warren, taking the names ‘Prince Regent’ and ‘Regency Princess’ respectively. However, they did not see much use in their new role and were withdrawn in 1978. 507 is still extant with a commercial operator, but 508 was exported to California.
Withdrawal of the rest of the batch began in late 1979 and when the coastal route was converted to one man operation in March 1980, 503 operated the very last duty for a Newton Abbot-based Regent V. The RUOs were all withdrawn that summer and most were scrapped, but fortunately 503 was secured for preservation by a Surrey based enthusiast.
503 returned to Devon in 1982 when it was acquired for continued preservation by Colin Shears. In 1995 it was sold to Ron Greet of Ipplepen and its restoration commenced with renewal of the window rubbers, a brake reline and attention to the bodywork in readiness for repaint.
Unfortunately, this was not completed and, after being parked outside for a while, it was acquired by a local preservationist with the aim of completing its restoration.
In late 2013 it was acquired by the Trust and its restoration is now almost complete.