XL171 was new in 1956 as fleet number SL171 and allocated to Garston garage, it was one of a batch of six Leyland Royal Tigers with Crossley single-deck bodywork that was completed at Edge Lane Works.
Basically the Leyland Royal Tiger is mechanically similar to the many PD2s operated by Liverpool Corporation, powered by the legendary Leyland 0.600 9.8 litre engine with vacuum brakes, four-speed syncromesh gearbox and high ratio rear differential, giving a cruising speed of around 50 mph.
Four (SL171-174) of the six were built as experimental One Man Operation (OMO) dual door (front entrance, rear exit) 40 seaters for trials on the 66, 77 & 88 routes. The other two (SL175/6) had a front entrance/exit only and had a fixed destination indicator showing PRIVATE in place of the usual roller blind number and destination boxes. These two buses were generally used on private hire work and on the Mersey Tunnel Night Service.
In 1952 Liverpool Corporation took over the responsibility for providing the City Centre Liverpool Airport feeder service from British European Airways. With the service came four Duple bodied petrol engined Bedford OB coaches which were numbered B1- B4.
Following the abandonment of the OMO experiments, SL171-174 were transferred to Dingle and took over the Airport service from the Bedfords, which by this time had become totally unsuitable for the service. In 1961, SL171-174 were dispatched to bodybuilders M.C.W. who rebuilt the four buses into half-deck coaches by removing the roof and extending the structure upwards. This design then gave them an enormous boot under the raised rear portion. They also had lantern style windscreens and a one-piece rear window, which was to a very similar design to that fitted to Ford Anglias of the period!
Webasto fuel heating was also fitted keeping the stationary vehicles warm with ducted warmed air. To complete the internal transformation, fluorescent lighting and high-back seating trimmed in red moquette was fitted.
They were painted in an attractive dark and light blue livery and carried boards proclaiming "Liverpool City Airporter". To complete the transformation they became fleet numbers XL171-174. Whilst the four coaches had been away being rebuilt, a Crosville coach was hired for the Airport service.
The Airporters returned to Garston garage in January 1965 when Dingle closed but in August 1966 they were made surplus when the 586 service was introduced, (this was a limited stop service between the City Centre and the Airport and it used five of the L700 batch Leyland Atlanteans fitted with luggage racks).
Afterwards, the Airporters saw little use except the occasional private hire or the Lime Street Station to Princes Landing Stage service connecting with the Isle of Man boats & Irish ferry services. However during a severe vehicle shortage in 1968 they were used on peak hour service duties some being noted on route 85!
After passing to the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive on its formation in December 1969, they continued to be used on private hires and the IOM service and in 1972 some were painted normal fleet green and cream. XL171 was transferred to the reserve fleet in February 1973 and was finally withdrawn on 1st January 1974.
All four of the former Airporters were sold to local community groups in 1974 for further service. XL171/3 to Liverpool Community Transport, XL172 to Cantril Farm Community Centre and XL174 (repainted blue) to Orrell Park Community Centre (this could be seen in a layby outside the community centre opposite Orrell park station for a number of years!) The Mersey & Calder BPG acquired XL171 for preservation in 1977 in very poor condition, XL173 was also obtained for spares and was soon broken up.
Following the poor standard of maintenance by the community groups, the vehicle was stored awaiting mechanical parts that were required, a replacement clutch assembly and engine parts being obtained.
In 2007 we were approached by FOLA (Friends of Liverpool Airport) about the possibility of displaying 'The Airporter' at the 75th Airport Anniversary celebrations in 2008. Arriva very generously repanelled and repainted XL171 at their Bootle bodyshops. It was later moved to Arriva's Speke depot by tow truck for some mechanical work to take place prior to MOT so that it could be used on a shuttle between the old and new airports. Unfortunately time ran out but XL171 managed to attend as a static exhibit, returning to Burscough by tow truck again.
From 2009 to date XL171 has been receiving some major restoration both internally and externally. The interior is now around 95% complete with just the cab to be done. Externally the chassis has been fully cleaned and resprayed silver. The boot area has had the rotten steelwork and the metal floor subrame replaced. Still to complete is the new wooden boot floor and rubbling down and repainting of the boot area.
Over the winter it is hoped to get the windscreens rechromed and hopefully we should see the Airporter ready for the road in the near future. Thanks are due to the many MTT members who have been involved in various stages of the restoration, Arriva for the sponsoring of the bodywork , Arriva staff at Bootle body and paint shops for the high standard of restoration work, and Arriva Speke depot for their help with mechanical and electrical work.