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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Colin Curtis OBE, BSc (Eng), CEng, MIMechE, MIRTE

Matthew Wooll took this photo of Colin
(leaning on the wing of the bus)
holding his audience's interest at the
2001 RML40 event at Cobham Bus Museum
After a long period of ill health Colin Curtis sadly died this morning at Crawley Hospital, aged 86.

His name was synonymous with the specialist engineering development of London Transport road vehicles - a role which even survived into the London Regional Transport era by which time vehicles were owned by the operators themselves.

He joined in 1947 and despite the considerable technical advances over his period of influence he remained fixed on the benefits of saving weight, was determined to deliver designs which made maintenance and unit changes simple and fast to do, and pioneered the widespread use of hydraulics - notably, but not only, in the Routemaster's braking system.

He bemoaned the unstoppable rise in vehicle weight and was finally proved right when fuel costs started to really count in the economics of bus operation. By this time the amazing weight/passenger ratio of the RML had long been lost.

He was latterly dubbed - rather inaccurately - the 'father of the Routemaster' . He didn't like the term - if anyone was, it was Bill Durrant*. More correctly he was really the sole survivor of the team who worked with the prototypes and rose in seniority as the fleet grew and was developed.

After retirement from London Buses he ran his own consultancy and tried very hard to get his own 'Q-Master' design adopted by one of the commercial manufacturers. Sadly it never materialised.

He was active in the preservation movement - he had his own RF - and was Life President for what is now the London Bus Museum and the Routemaster Association. He wrote about his life and times in a book '40 Years with London Transport' although long since out of print.

His wealth of knowledge and experience was always in demand and he would give interesting and thought-provoking lectures until eventually, his health did not allow it.

I finish with a phrase my old friend used to me decades ago, but which has held true ever since and which, I must admit I have frequently repeated. When I asked him - some 25 years ago - what he felt about current vehicle purchasing policy in the context of what had been a series of unsatisfactory London bus types he forcefully said to me:

"When the Operating Department makes its b-----y mind up what sort of bus it wants [one-person or two-person crew; double-deck or single-deck; front door or open platform].....

"........We'll build it !!!"



......

* A A M Durrant CBE was Chief Mechanical Engineer (Road Services) London Transport for more than thirty years


14 comments:

  1. How sad to learn of this. Thanks for sharing the write-up, Leon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I worked with Colin over a period of just three months as a trainee in 1973. Such was the impression he made on me, that the memory has stayed with me ever since. His passion was infectious even though he was dealing with standard buses by then, for which he had a pretty low opinion!!

    You've summed him up so well. Thank you for posting this tribute.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am in Spain at the moment and even here the news has reached me that my old friend Colin Curtis has passed away. He has been plagued by ill health these last few years but throughout he has battled on determined not to let his ailments get in the way of his appointments schedule! It was not yet the time for the circle to have turned sufficiently to let his wise and common sense views triumph over today's only for profit driven bus business. In all the years I knew him I never once heard him put anyone down but always quick to apportion credit where it was due. I'll miss this true gentleman and my condolences go to his sister and family. Room for one more on top Colin.

    Colin Moon

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very sad to hear about this. Over the years I've learnt more about the world of London Buses from Colin's book, and from hearing him speak, than from practically any other source.

    In my limited encounters with him he was honest, tolerant of some of my stupider questions and always happy to share what he knew.

    Leon, I hope you don't mind, but the more I tried to write an obituary for Colin on LR, the more I realised you'd said it all far better than I could.

    So what I've done is quoted your article here, in full, with credit and a link back. I hope you don't mind.

    Best,

    John Bull
    Editor
    London Reconnections

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John

      I was touched to see my words quoted on LR and glad you felt them appropriate.

      Always feel free.

      Leon

      Delete
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