he Coventry Transport Museum had always had a close relationship with the city's bus service due to their engineering expertise, which often offered help and support in relation to the museum's commercial vehicles. In 1974 the local bus services were transferred to West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE), and they started to renew their fleet of buses. As a result, the last front-engined, rear-entranced bus (a Daimler CVG 6, fleet number 333) was withdrawn from service in Coventry, and the managers at the Coventry depot offered to completely refurbish the vehicle and very generously donate it to the museum. They even painted it in the former Coventry livery (Marshall Red, named after the former paint shop Superintendent) and Cream, despite the fact that WMPTE buses were now painted in Blue and White. This fantastic vehicle was presented to the museum in a high-profile ceremony very close to the museum's official opening in 1980, and was then proudly adorned with the museum's then official name - Museum of British Road Transport, Coventry in gold leaf lettering.
It was at that time that the museum made the bus service managers aware that they had always wanted to have an open-top bus which could help promote the city and the museum. In 1985 the bus service advised that they had a Daimler Fleetline bus for disposal which had suffered some damage to its front and top end, but was otherwise in full working order. It would be a donation and might be very suitable to be turned into an open-top bus. The Fleetline duly arrived and the workshop Technicians duly started the task of removing the roof and strengthening the structure to create the open-top bus. When frequently asked what they were doing, they jokingly replied that they were doing it for when Coventry City won the F.A. Cup, never believing the joke would soon prove to be reality!
In 1987, as Coventry City progressed through to the semi finals of the F.A. Cup, the then Lord Mayor (Winnie Larkin) convened a meeting to discuss how the City could celebrate the Football Club's achievements, particularly if they reached the Final. It was agreed that a City Parade would be appropriate and an open-top bus would be required. The museum advised that they were close to completing their open-top bus and this could be made available. Joe Elliot (better known as Mr. Coventry) and Graham Hover representing Coventry City F.C. visited the museum, and a deal was made to use the museum's bus. It was agreed the bus would be painted in Sky Blue and the words Well Done Sky Blues painted on the sides. The ground floor windows would be covered up so that the sponsors of the football club could display adverts.
The rest, as they say, is history. On the 16th May 1987 Coventry City defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the final with the score 3-2 after extra-time (still regarded as one of the best F.A. Cup Finals ever), and the city celebrated in great style. The front of the Sky Blue Bus already carried the legend Coventry City F.C. F.A. Cup - with an open space waiting to be completed. After the final whistle blew, the museum's sign writer added the word Winners - he had to wait until the result on the radio told him the score of the match. His choice was to either to add Winners or Finalists - happily, the result was to go Coventry City's way.
Thus the Sky Blue Bus was completely ready for the big parade the next day. The bus arrived early in the morning at Walsgrave to pick up the team from their overnight hotel, and started the journey into the City Centre. The route first took a trip in and around the Walsgrave Hospital buildings, so that the patients and staff could get a view of the team and the cup, and then it made its way into town. And what a journey it was! It was estimated that 200,000 local citizens (around two-thirds of the city's population) joyously celebrated as the bus went by. Because of the crowds, the bus only averaged around 4mph on its journey through the City Centre.
The route was along New Union Street, then around to Queens Road and Corporation Street. The Belgrade Theatre had scaffolding around it which was covered all over with fans, and as the open-top bus went past they jumped onto the bus like pirates boarding a ship. They were quickly shown the way downstairs and left by the front door. It was all in good fun.
As this was happening, someone fell in front of the bus, and the driver Barry Mapperson had a problem braking as there were so many people pushing it. Luckily, the person was dragged away from the wheels. At this stage the bus engine was turned off and the crowd pushed it all the way to Trinity Street. With the driver only using the brakes when people were in the way, at the end of the day his braking-foot ached! It was not until then that the police were able to get in front of the bus and make a clear pathway for the engine to be turned back on so it could get up Trinity Street and into Broadgate, which was chock-a-block with happy people.
Note about the Godiva Clock:
When the Lady Godiva clock and statue were being designed, city architect Donald Gibson saw a child's toy dog on wheels, and when it was pulled along the dog bobbed back and forth making look like it was galloping, because it was attached to a camshaft on the axle of the wheels - an idea that Gibson used on the now iconic Lady Godiva clock.
During the celebrations on the Sunday after Coventry City won the FA cup in 1987, over-exuberant fans got into the workings of the Lady Godiva clock, and because she rides out onto the balcony every hour the horse would swipe people. This was stopped, but the camshaft mechanism that makes the horse rock back and forth was broken. When it was repaired it was made slower and stops half way, and it no longer gallops but it glides - not really the same (please see the short film showing how it used to be).
Then on into the High Street where there were people on the roofs, standing on the edge, with no apparent fear of falling! Every vantage point was taken until it eventually arrived to more cheering crowds at the City's Council House where there was a Civic Reception for the players in Civic Centre 3, which had a large balcony so the players were able to show off the cup. Sadly, this building has now been pulled down.
Some weeks later the Sky Blues agreed that the F.A. Cup could be displayed at the museum, and visitors were delighted to take up the once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to have their photographs taken holding the F.A. Cup in front of the Sky Blue Bus. Please see my photograph on the right with the F.A. Cup with the bus in the background when I had a beard. Hundreds of people had their photograph taken with it. It was only available for a few days, but only cost a couple of pounds for the print.
The whole event and weekend is now, quite rightly, regarded as one of the greatest times in the city's history when the whole city came together in mutual celebration, and the Sky Blue Bus continues to take pride of place at the museum as a permanent reminder of Coventry City's great achievement.
I really do think that this socially important time in the City's history is worth celebrating in this way.
Paul Maddocks, 2022
Paul's super series of Transport Museum articles continues with: The Royal Cars.
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