1922 Tilling-Stevens TS3A Petrol-Electric Open top Double Deck Bus   Chassis no. TS3A 2559 Engine no. 2174
Lot 1242
1922 Tilling-Stevens TS3A Petrol-Electric Open top Double Deck Bus
Registration no. XL 1204 Chassis no. TS3A 2559 Engine no. 2174
Sold for £216,540 (US$ 359,306) inc. premium
Lot Details
1922 Tilling-Stevens TS3A Petrol-Electric Open top Double Deck Bus
Registration no. XL 1204
Chassis no. TS3A 2559
Engine no. 2174


  • With its roots dating back to 1847, when young Thomas Tilling established a jobmaster's business in London and began running a horse-drawn omnibus service three years later, Thomas Tilling Limited was incorporated in 1897, with an issued share capital of £400,000 and a stable of around 4000 horses. Tilling is credited as the first operator to run omnibuses to a set timetable using fixed stops. The firm bought its first motor buses – a fleet of 20 Milnes-Daimler 34-seater open-top double-deckers operating out of the Peckham area – in 1904-05, and in 1911 introduced the first of a new type of vehicle – the hybrid petrol-electric TTA1 – to their fleet of motor buses. The advantage of the electric transmission, manufactured by the W.A. Stevens works in Maidstone, Kent, was that it used a petrol engine to drive a generator that supplied current to a motor driving the wheels, thus eliminating the need to change gear and making it simple to drive. It was an early form of "two-pedal control",

    In those transitional days, it was believed that horse bus drivers would find it easier to learn to drive a petrol-electric than cope with a clutch and crash gears. Tilling was offered the patent for the petrol-electric system by its designer Percy Frost-Smith for £3000 and the purchase was financed for Tilling by the London General Omnibus Company, with whom Tilling had had a "pooling agreement" since 1909.

    A new company called Tilling-Stevens was formed, and by 1921 the Thomas Tilling company had 150 motor buses operating on the streets of London. In 1922 the company ordered 166 new Tilling-Stevens TSA3 petrol-electric bus chassis from the Maidstone factory. The TS3A was a bigger bus than the TTA1 it replaced, with a 48-seat body carrying 22 passengers inside and 26 outside. Power came from a 5722cc pair-cast four-cylinder engine rated at 40 hp linked by a laminated spring connection to a compound wound generator supplying current through insulated cables to a series-wound motor coupled to an overhead worm rear axle by a cardan shaft.

    Promoted as "the vehicle without gears or clutch", the TS3A had a chassis price of £1165; among the other claimed advantages of the petrol-electric system were low maintenance costs and high tyre mileage, plus "many other telling points too numerous to mention". Intriguingly, road speed was not governed by engine speed, for on a level surface the engine and dynamo could be running at a low speed but developing sufficient electrical power to turn the electric motor at a higher speed.

    The Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric proved popular for passenger vehicles during the 1920s, and orders were received from as far afield as China and Melbourne, Australia. However, improvements in transmission design saw demand for petrol-electrics fade in later years, as their method of operation offered no advantage in fuel economy. However, for some applications like wartime searchlight lorries, the petrol-electric still had its uses. The Tilling-Stevens company continued to produce commercial vehicles until 1950, when it was taken over by the Rootes Group and manufacture ceased not long after.

    This actual Tilling-Stevens was delivered from Maidstone to the Thomas Tilling garage in Catford, London, in June 1922 and fitted with a 48-seater (22 inside, 26 outside) open-top body built on the trussed-girder principle for extra strength and freedom from vibration by Tilling's coachworks in Wren Road, Camberwell. It was registered XL-1204 and given the fleet number 935.

    It remained in service until 1931, when it was sold to a dealer named W.H. Cooper of Bethnal Green. London.

    Michael Banfield bought the Tilling-Stevens from a scrapyard on 17 February 1970: it was in poor condition, and while most of the lower deck panels, frame and roof were intact, they were by and large only usable as patterns. Fortunately, most of the fittings were still in place, and they were used when the body was completely reconstructed between 1972-79, during which period the engine was also rebuilt, with most of the original components being reused after overhaul.

    However, work was paused when Michael Banfield moved from London to Kent, and the Tilling-Stevens was put in dry storage without being completed. Nevertheless, new solid tyres were purchased and fitted, and period moquette material for the lower deck seats was purchased.

    In October 2007 the decision was taken to resume work, and it was found that despite careful storage, rust had accumulated between body and chassis, so the body was removed and the chassis sandblasted and given a protective paint coat before being finished in black.

    In the interim, much research had been undertaken about correct finishes for the bodywork, and many photographs of Thomas Tilling buses had been obtained, while correspondence had taken place with the London Transport Museum, the Omnibus Society and other authorities to ensure absolute authenticity. Moreover, surviving firms who had advertised on those buses had been contacted to ascertain the correct period colour schemes for their advertisements.

    The body was handpainted over the winter and spring of 2007-08, and was traditionally signwritten in July 2008 before receiving its final varnish coat. It was then rewired.

    It was restored as a bus serving Route 78, from Shoreditch to Lordship Lane, Dulwich.

    As the last known surviving example of the hundreds of Tilling-Steven TS3A buses operated in London by Thomas Tilling during the 1920s, this is a most important historic commercial vehicle and a most significant addition to any major collection. It was also Michael Banfield's last major restoration of a historic commercial vehicle. It was seen in action after restoration at the annual Guildhall cart-marking ceremony of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, of which Michael Banfield was an active Liveryman, and remains in running order. The bus's comprehensive file includes an old green log book and copies of contemporary press reports and an instruction book on the operation of the Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric.
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