We go retro in Au­gust as Tech­ni­cal Writer Paul Aldridge checks out an im­mac­u­lately re­stored and su­per-rare 1947 Den­nis Lancet J3 in Perth, the project be­ing un­der­taken by the Bus Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of West­ern Aus­tralia

Tak­ing a drive down mem­ory lane with the Bus Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of West­ern Aus­tralia


AA visit to the Bus Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of West­ern Aus­tralia at White­man Park is sure to thrill any bus en­thu­si­ast or trans­porta­tion his­to­rian, but the op­por­tu­nity to meet and in­ter­view some of the pas­sion­ate vol­un­teers that op­er­ate the not-for­prot BPSWA made vis­it­ing this unique col­lec­tion of her­itage buses an even more spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.

The BPSWA is much more than some older guys tak­ing care of a col­lec­tion of old buses.

They have re­ceived na­tional recog­ni­tion for the work they do in the preser­va­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of the so­cial and engi­neer­ing her­itage of the his­toric buses used in West­ern Aus­tralia, and the im­por­tance of this col­lec­tion is ac­knowl­edged as one of na­tional his­toric signicance for Aus­tralia.

“Our aim is to pre­serve West­ern Aus­tralian bus his­tory for cur­rent and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and ev­ery­thing we do is geared to­wards achiev­ing that,” says Colin Dav­i­son, one of the many knowl­edge­able vol­un­teers I met with.

For me, a usual test drive is the op­por­tu­nity to learn about the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and de­vel­op­ments in the bus in­dus­try and ex­pe­ri­ence the lux­u­ries of some very im­pres­sive ve­hi­cles. But this her­itage eet was im­pres­sive for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons.


Built in 1947, the Den­nis Lancet J3 was one of three half- cab buses im­ported from Bri­tain by the West­ern Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment Rail­way for their road ser­vices when a lot of coun­try trains were no longer vi­able and buses were used to ser­vice out­ly­ing smaller com­mu­ni­ties in­stead.

This bus is signicant be­cause it is the only orig­i­nal sur­viv­ing half-cab bus.

This Lancet J3 was ini­tially was based in the Northam area and in the 1950s was sent to Banksi­adale where the gov­ern­ment rail­ways

had a tim­ber mill to cut sleep­ers and other tim­ber for the rail­way.

The bus trans­ported mill work­ers be­tween their homes and the mill.

Af­ter a re caused the clo­sure of the sawmill in 1961, the Lancet J3 was sold by the WAGR and used as a school bus be­tween Fair­bridge Farm and Pin­jarra. Its next life saw it con­verted and the in­te­rior stripped to be­come a mo­bile home.

It was then ac­quired by BPSWA mem­ber Terry Duke in Al­bany in 1982. This was a lucky ac­qui­si­tion as the owner was about to re­move the me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents and place the body on a bush block. The bus was driven to Perth and par­tially cos­met­i­cally re­stored.

It passed through a suc­ces­sion of var­i­ous BPSWA mem­bers be­fore be­ing do­nated to the so­ci­ety in 2003.

Over the next seven years it was fully cos­met­i­cally and me­chan­i­cally re­stored to its for­mer glory.


Now sport­ing the Larch Green, Eau de Nil and Cream colours, it has a re­place­ment Den­nis en­gine made up of the parts of four sal­vaged and rare Den­nis 06 en­gines.

It is a rare bus both be­cause it does have an orig­i­nal Den­nis en­gine and be­cause of its signicant role in West­ern Aus­tralia’s trans­port his­tory.

When I ar­rived I had the pick of what bus to test drive, but the Lancet J3 cer­tainly stood out with its great green paint job and large grill.

The old bus cer­tainly is im­pres­sive – the restora­tion has been done so well it feels all orig­i­nal. Be­ing in­side the old bus cer­tainly trans­ports you to an­other time. My par­ents could have taken a bus like this to school. It seats 34 pas­sen­gers, has over­head lug­gage racks, wind­ing win­dows with cur­tains, and a side, driver and rear door with ex­ter­nal chrome pram racks on the rear.

The rare Den­nis 6-cylin­der diesel 7.6-litre en­gine is ver­ti­cally mounted along­side the driver and I ex­pected the noise from the en­gine to be louder than it was. Al­though we didn’t leave the at roads of White­man Park and I only got the bus into fourth gear once, you could feel the bus would eas­ily han­dle high­way driv­ing.

The gear changes where smooth at the be­gin­ning un­til the gear box and en­gine heated up. I was ad­vised the clutch was ready for an over­haul. The old bus has Arm­strong steer­ing and it would denitely take us mod­ern-day bus driv­ers a bit of get­ting used to and a strong arm.

I guess, though, in 1947 there weren’t as many cars on the road and life moved at a more civil pace.


The so­ci­ety has been likened to a men’s shed, as most of the vol­un­teers are re­tired men that come here to the BPSWA for lots of rea­sons. Some love the old buses, some

come for the com­pan­ion­ship and friend­ship, and some just en­joy the work and the im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal work they do.

The vol­un­teers have a com­mon goal – they all want to see im­por­tant trans­port his­tory pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. They have just suc­cess­fully signed a 10-year lease with in­creased land area, which is a great ad­di­tion to help them achieve their goals.

I thor­oughly rec­om­mend all bus en­thu­si­asts, if you are trav­el­ling to West­ern Aus­tralia, to take the time to go visit the BPSWA and see the great work these vol­un­teers are do­ing to pre­serve our trans­port his­tory.


The BPSWA com­menced in 1969 when the rst Perth trol­ley bus sys­tem was clos­ing down and a group of en­thu­si­asts de­cided to form a club to pre­serve the his­tory.

“One thing led to an­other and in the early days they aimed their work solely at the preser­va­tion of trams and trol­ley buses, but in 1972 an of­fer came through to pre­serve a diesel bus, Num­ber 81,” Colin says. “This was our  rst bus. Later cir­cum­stances led to the split­ting of the two sec­tions into two separate or­gan­i­sa­tions, and this is how the Bus Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety be­gan.

“The so­ci­ety is run by a com­mit­tee. We have a pres­i­dent, a vice pres­i­dent, a trea­surer and sec­re­tary as the main ofce hold­ers, and we have a com­mit­tee that sets which bus will be re­stored next and to what level.

“We al­ways at­tempt to re­store the buses to an op­er­at­ing level but the rar­ity and avail­abil­ity of spare parts plays a large part in that process. If parts are un­avail­able, we re­store ve­hi­cles solely for dis­play pur­poses.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion is self-funded and at present has two main streams of in­come for nan­cially sup­port.

“On week­ends we use some of our buses to run ser­vices in White­man Park, which is a 4000-hectare park­land north of Perth. The park pays us to run the ser­vice and this has the added benet of keep­ing the buses ac­tive,” Colin says.

“The other in­come comes from scrap re­cy­cling. For any buses that we have stripped for spare parts, we break up the re­mains and sell for scrap and re­cy­cling.

“We col­lect dead bat­ter­ies from busi­nesses that sup­port us and re­cy­cle those as well.”

I asked if they hire out the eet for spe­cial oc­ca­sions or events as I could see them fea­tur­ing in tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials or movies. How­ever, he ex­plained that this is very lim­ited as they need to keep op­er­at­ing costs at a min­i­mum, there­fore the buses are reg­is­tered un­der a con­ces­sion 404 li­cence, so any out­side us­age is re­stricted.

The BPSWA has more than 60 buses in the col­lec­tion, but over a third of those are to be used for spare parts rather than restora­tion projects. Eigh­teen of the buses are op­er­a­tional and can be driven, and they do have some await­ing restora­tion that have come here di­rectly once their bus ser­vice days have ended.

“We gen­er­ally pur­chase our buses for very rea­son­able prices – some­times at scrap metal prices,” Colin says.

“Quite a few have been do­nated by pri­vate own­ers or bus en­thu­si­asts that re­alise the scope of own­ing and restor­ing his­toric buses and then pass them onto us.

“We have a broad ex­per­tise range avail­able to us and the knowl­edge that makes restor­ing these ve­hi­cles much eas­ier than it is for in­di­vid­ual en­thu­si­asts. We get spare parts by buy­ing buses that are too far gone to re­store but with ser­vice­able units like en­gines and gear­boxes.

“Some­times it’s not about keep­ing buses run­ning but up to a show­able stan­dard.”

Vol­un­teers come from all walks of life.

“Sur­pris­ingly, we have a few school teach­ers that have great mem­o­ries of school ex­cur­sions so have an afnity with the buses. We have bankers and a broad range of dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries here, but by far the most come from the pub­lic trans­port sec­tor – mostly ex-bus driv­ers and tech­ni­cal peo­ple.

“The vol­un­teers come from a range of dif­fer­ent age groups but mostly are re­tired.

“All of the his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge needs to be passed onto younger gen­er­a­tions to en­sure we keep the his­tory go­ing.

“This is chal­leng­ing as the younger vol­un­teers have busier lives and less free time to ab­sorb the his­tory, so pass­ing on the knowl­edge is cer­tainly a quandary.”

The so­ci­ety opens on a Tues­day and reg­u­larly has 20-25 vol­un­teers. Not all are in the work­shop. Some work on ad­min­is­tra­tion, ar­chiv­ing and store­keep­ing.

While Colin doesn’t have a favourite in the eet, “I am par­tial to the Ley­land Pan­ther 988 be­cause in my driv­ing days the Pan­ther was al­ways a very pop­u­lar bus”.

Clock­wise from top left: The cabin is fairly sparse; A rare bus in­deed; The leather seats came up well in this restora­tion

Clock­wise from top left: It was all hands on deck dur­ing the restora­tion; A few in the fl eet; The en­gine is still kick­ing; A lovely drive

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