It seems turning 40 is ‘the new black’ for a range of other age groups – just take your pick! Yet when test driving this mint 40-year-old Mercedes-Benz O305 Mark 1-1923 from the Sydney Bus Museum she still feels in the prime of her life.
FORTY AND FABULOUS? Absolutely! At a recent visit to the Sydney Bus museum this MercedesBenz 0305 Mark 1-1923 was chosen for a test drive out of the collection there for two reasons. We’d seen the Mercedes last year at Sydney Bus Show and thought it was in amazing condition – plus nostalgia took over.
The Mercedes was initially allocated to Kingsgrove and Tempe depots, where they had 49 of them in 1978. It operated there until the early 1990s, before becoming an early withdrawal.
Being in such perfect running order, we asked Andrew Chechlacz, operations manager at the Sydney Bus Museum, what the Mercedes is usually used for.
“A couple of weeks ago Transport NSW used it in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade. The reason they picked that bus was that it was built in 1978 and that’s the year the Mardi Gras began, so it was a 40-year celebration,” he explained.
He added: “It came to us in good condition; the guys at Kingsgrove did it up for us and the Bus Union paid for it to be repainted in its original colours. It goes like a rocket and when you drive it, it’s hard to imagine it is a museum piece. I think it could put a few new buses to shame being a powerful 11.1-litre. For a 40-year old bus it goes very well.”
What makes this bus special and unique is the livery it’s painted in – it was unique to the Mark 1 Mercedes. It’s an overall blue with a bit of white lining, which, apart from being smart-looking, is also a representative of the first Mercedes-Benz buses when they changed from a British-base chassis to European base.
The first thing you notice when you drive the Mercedes is the power with an 11.1-litre Mercedes-Benz six- cylinder diesel.
This bus certainly has ‘get up and go’ with a solid 200hp.
The one thing that was really impressive was the power steering; at any speed you could steer this old girl with one hand. Even at slow speed on full lock the pump didn’t struggle or lag – it always applied the right pressure.
Visibility was surprisingly good. There are plenty of mirrors for both good internal and external viewing. The glass area visibility was also unexpected as sometimes the older vehicles have limited visibility for driver and passengers. There were no issues with blind spots and obviously the Mark 1 is a very good example of workmanship and design for its era.
Internal noise was surprisingly better than expected. Being a rear-mount engine from a driver’s perspective, it was good. The naughty kids sitting down the rear might have a different experience, though.
The 1923 has dual-circuit air brakes with a spring-applied parking brake and, after driving for a short time, you get to feel how much pressure to apply to them. Yes, it’s a bit more foot pressure than a modern system, but it was a really wet day during our photoshoot and it didn’t take long to adjust and feel super confident with them even in the poor conditions. Going up and down the gears with the Mercedes-Benz W3D 080 automatic transmission was super smooth; there was no jerking and it seemed to know what gear to be in.
The’ refurb’ of this bus has been done impeccably. It really was a pleasure to be in. All of the original signage and details are amazing: the chrome bezels around the tail-lights and the Mercedes-Benz badging – every small detail is intact.
For many families back in the day who didn’t own a car, they’d catch buses just like this one every day. Driving one now, you could easily feel like an excited kid back in 1978 waiting with your family on Parramatta Road to hop on board.
The museum records show that the 1923 was withdrawn from service on January 10, 1992, with 580,00km on the speedo. For 1978, the Mercedes guys really had this bus down to a fine art when it was built, giving a truly nostalgic and impressive historical drive today.
Our nostalgia expectations were well and truly met.
…It goes like a rocket and when you drive it, it’s hard to imagine it is a museum piece.
It may be 40 years old, but the blissful Merc gives its younger counterparts a run for their money
Top left: A polite reminder for those hopping on board