Production problems within the British Leyland group of companies in the early 1970s meant that the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (MPTE) could not order sufficient Leyland Atlanteans for its fleet replacement and had to resort to ordering alternative chassis types instead.
Amongst the types ordered were fifty Bristol VRTSL6G chassis with East Lancs bodies, the first of these arrived in October 1974, the remainder being delivered over the following twelve months. Numbered 2096-2145, the batch was shared between Garston and Walton Garages. These were not the only Bristol VRs to enter service with the MPTE as fifty-nine VRTLH6Gs, also with East Lancs bodies, (fleet numbers 2026-2049 and 2051-2085) had been ordered by Liverpool Corporation shortly before the PTE took over in 1969.
Unfortunately none of the original batch of Bristol VRs still exist, the last being scrapped in 1985. However one of the later batch, 2122, has survived.
The first few examples of the batch (2096-2103) had been delivered in the Liverpool Corporation-inspired green with cream window surround livery. 2103 was repainted before entering service, and 2102 eventually had the honour of being the last MPTE bus to carry the LCPT green in service. 2104-2145 arrived in the newly introduced Verona green and Jonquil livery. This batch of fifty VRs was two feet shorter than their predecessors and, unlike the earlier models, had no centre exit.
The seventy-five seat bodies were similar to those carried by the PTE's three batches of East Lancs bodied Atlanteans delivered in 1973 and 1976/7. This style featured a distinctive stepped window line on the nearside of the vehicle with the window over the front wheel-arch lower than the other side windows to allow the side route number box to be below the upper deck floor level.
Unlike most Bristol VRs, which had a straight rear end profile to the body, those delivered to the MPTE featured an engine bustle similar to the Leyland Atlantean. However the Bristol VRs could easily be distinguished from the Atlantean by the radiator grilles mounted below the windscreens at the front of the bus.
2122 arrived in February 1975 and was allocated to Walton throughout its short and uneventful service life, working mainly on routes 20, 20A and 21 (Aigburth-City-Fazakerley), 25 and 85 (Garston-Walton) and 30 (Netherton-Pier Head). The Bristol VR was not highly regarded by the PTE's engineering management, mainly because of being relatively non-standard compared to the more numerous Leyland Atlantean. The first example of the short Bristol VRs was withdrawn in 1984. Merseybus, who took over most of the MPTE's services on the de-regulation of bus services in October 1986, declined the opportunity of operating Bristol VRs and so 2122 and the remaining members of the batch were withdrawn and stored by the MPTE at the recently closed Prince Alfred Road Garage and advertised for sale.
A number of the batch were sold by the MPTE for further service in 1986/7 including some to Fareway, a new operator on Merseyside who used them on routes in competition with Merseybus. 2122 was sold to Wirral Borough Council for conversion into a mobile workshop. After a few years' use it passed to the Wirral Play Council and was converted into a children's playbus. It continued in this role until the early part of 2001.
The Merseyside Transport Trust acquired 2122 in August 2001 because of its importance of being the last known survivor of the MPTE's one hundred and nine Bristol VRs and also the last complete non-Atlantean second generation double-deck bus delivered to the MPTE.
Although the interior has been stripped of all its seats and other original fittings whilst it was a playbus, the restoration will not be too difficult as the Trust had obtained a set of the correct type of seats and some of the other fittings that will be required a number of years ago.
Restoration of 2122 started again in late 2010 with the playbus fittings and many internal panels removed.