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Eastern Coach Works

ECW logo

Eastern Coach Works can trace its roots back to 1912, when United Automobile Services was founded in Lowestoft to run local bus services. United began a coach building business in the town in 1920. In 1931 the East Anglian operations of United were sold to the new Eastern Counties Omnibus Company, who inherited the coachworks.

By now it was concentrating on building bus and coach bodies and had a workforce of over 600 people. In July 1936, the works were separated from the bus company into Eastern Coach Works. At its peak ECW had 1,200 employees on its 30 acre site, off Laundry Way (later renamed Eastern Way).

In May 1940, the factory received Government orders to stop production. It was thought, following the outbreak of World War II, the east coast would be an early target for a German invasion. So all vehicles were moved from the site to stop them falling into enemy hands. As a result of this, 950 staff were laid off. By 1947 production was back to pre-war levels.

ECW was nationalised in 1947. For the next 18 years, its business was mainly building bus and coach bodies mounted on Bristol chassis, for state-owned operators (mainly in the Tilling Group).

In 1965, the state-owned Transport Holding Company sold a 25% share in ECW to Leyland Motors, which enabled ECW to sell to municipal and private bus companies again. In 1969, ECW became part of a 50/50 joint venture between the new National Bus Company and British Leyland.

The joint venture ended in 1982, when British Leyland took control of ECW. However, de-regulation in 1986 and privatisation of the NBC resulted in a dramatic fall in orders for new full-size buses. As a result, Leyland closed the plant in January 1987. The factory was then demolished and the site it stood on is now a retail park

ECW coachwork for the Bristol RELH chassis
Bristol and ECW engineers worked closely together on any new design. It was a long-held tradition at ECW that they gently evolved their body designs for each new chassis, rather than radically designing new coachwork. The design for the new RELH coach body was an update of the coachwork ECW had built for several years on the previous Bristol MW. As a result, the design of Ruby, even when new, looked rooted in 1950s coach design. The prototype Bristol RELH had five window bays. The last two rearmost also being slightly shallower.

All future production models of this coach had four, longer window bays, giving it a much sleeker look.

As the rear engine had taken-up the luggage space in the boot, ECW designed these coaches with deeper re-enforced interior overhead suitcase racks.

From 1946 ECW bodies were constructed using aluminium alloy frames, which were light, yet strong and did not rust. ECW frames were known for their long and trouble-free service-life. However, one little drawback in ECW construction was the amount of hardwood used in some parts of their coachwork (which rotted after many years in service, needing expensive replacement).

ECW made extensive use of glass-fibre for front and rear panels; roof domes; side locker doors; luggage racks; and the front dashboard.

All BRISTOL RE's with ECW bodies were hand painted and varnished (spray painting was only introduced in the late-1970s).

From 1963 to 1970, ECW built 413 mark-1 coach bodies on Bristol RELH chassis. Today, just 25 survive with 14 roadworthy.

Period luggage
521 ABL in VCS

In 1962 Bristol and ECW launched the prototype Bristol RELH coach, registered. 521 ABL, it was delivered to South Midland, the Oxford coaching unit of Thames Valley. Here it is pictured in Victoria Coach Station, London, when pretty new.

521 ABL in VCS rear

View a short YouTube clip about ECW by a retired employee.

ECW craftsmen

Pictured (above) are three ex-workers from the ECW factory in Lowestoft. We met them whilst at the East Anglia Transport Museum on the weekend of 8/9 July 2017, when there was a celebration of ECW coachwork - thirty years after the factory closed.

British companies that supplied parts to ECW:

  • Chapman - driver’s pedestal A.D. seat.
  • Clayton Dewandre – two saloon floor heaters (under seats).
  • Formica - window panel inserts.
  • Kelbus – destination blind winding equipment.
  • Lucas - exterior light units.
  • Philips - interior fluorescent lighting units.
  • Rawlings - two 'Vortex' roof-mounted ventilators.
  • Rexine - leather cloth material used on interior side walls.
  • Simms - electrical control panels and switches.
  • Smiths - overhead jet-style air vents (under luggage racks).
  • Treadmaster - cork/vinyl flooring.
  • Weathershields - two opening sky-lights.
    • Below are some 1960s magazine adverts for some of the suppliers listed above. Click on an image to enlarge it, read the caption and scroll through.

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