In 1958, with the conversion of the tram routes to bus operation completed, it was envisaged that there would not be a requirement for any further replacement buses until 1964. With this in mind, Liverpool Corporation decided to evaluate a number of different types of 30 foot long, high capacity vehicles with the view of deciding which type of bus would be the most appropriate to order in large numbers to replace the first of the tramway replacement vehicles which would themselves be due for replacement from 1964 onwards.
Towards the end of the year, the Corporation ordered two totally different vehicles, an AEC Regent V (E1) and one of Leyland’s revolutionary rear-engined Atlanteans (E2) for delivery the following year. AEC, who were obviously very eager to gain the subsequent order, painted one of its six AEC Bridgemaster demonstrators into full Liverpool livery and placed the vehicle on loan to the Corporation who numbered it E3. However despite being delivered in December 1958, it did not enter service until 9th January 1959.
The Bridgemaster, registered 116 TMD by AEC in Middlesex, was AEC’s answer to the Bristol Lodekka. It was to the lower height of 13ft 5inches, compared with the 14ft 3inches that was the normal height for a full height double deck bus. This was achieved by the chassisless construction along with the off-set transmission line, which allowed a completely flat lower deck floor and rear platform, which helped loading and unloading. It was also unusual at the time in that it had independent coil suspension on the front and air suspension at the rear in contrast to the more traditional leaf-sprung suspension. Park Royal built a 76-seat body which introduced the luxury of heating on both decks.
E3’s initial stay in Liverpool was a very short one as after only a day’s operation on the 82D (Speke-Pier Head), the staff blacked the vehicle in a dispute over allowing standing passengers due to its higher than normal seating capacity (76 seats compared to 62 or 56 on all other buses in service in Liverpool at this time). As the vehicle was only on loan, E3 was demonstrated to Bury and Bolton Corporation, still in Liverpool’s colours. In the meantime, the union lost its case over the carriage of standing passengers and as a result E3 returned to Liverpool in October 1959.
After a month’s operation at Speke, it moved on to Garston, followed by Dingle, Edge Lane, Carnegie Road, Walton and finally Litherland, before finding a permanent home at Dingle until this garage closed in January 1965. After a brief return visit to Walton, Prince Alfred Road became E3’s final home.
Despite its unorthodox design, no further Bridgemasters were ordered by the Corporation, its lack of popularity due mainly to its rear air suspension which ensured bouts of seasickness among passengers and crews, and the extra seating capacity which made the conductor work harder!
E3 remained in service for a credible 14 years, not being withdrawn until June 1973. Throughout its time in service it seemed to spend more time in the depot than on the road as it was never popular with crews. Garage staff at Dingle cottoned on to this and parked E3 at the front of the depot, so when crews passed in a defective bus they would keep it instead of telephoning Dingle for a replacement vehicle, thus keeping depot's lost mileage down!
Fortunately E3 was purchased for preservation by a local enthusiast and Mersey & Calder member, direct from the MPTE. It is currently on long term loan to the MTT and is safely dry-stored at the Trust’s premises.