Home » You Can Own The Actual Double Decker Bus Used By Paul McCartney And Wings

You Can Own The Actual Double Decker Bus Used By Paul McCartney And Wings

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There is a special kind of wonderment around the double-decker bus, at least for Americans. There are two whole floors for activities packaged in something rather tall and lanky. But unless you’re taking a sightseeing tour of Chicago or traveling between two cities, Americans don’t have much exposure to these creations. Now, you can own perhaps the most famous double-decker bus in the world. This 1953 Bristol KSW5G carried Paul McCartney and the band Wings on their 1972 ‘Wings Over Europe’ tour and now you can own it. The groovy Bristol runs, drives, and has its own music stage, and I don’t want to know what shipping it across an ocean would cost.

While Americans might not have much exposure to buses with multiple decks, they are a European icon. While vintage photos of American cities are dotted with GMCs and Flxibles, it’s hard to picture a place like London without giant red double-decker buses running around. Transport For London still uses the double-decker as the backbone of its fleet and they’re still bright red, too.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

This particular bus wouldn’t exist if Paul McCartney were just about any other rockstar. When most would tour from place to place using private aircraft, McCartney chose a bus for a 7,500-mile, nine-country road trip of a lifetime. Now, someone gets to continue the journey. It’s going up for auction later this month!

Decades Of Rich Bus History

Paul Linda

Of course, I love a good bus, so before we get to the McCartney and the band, let’s talk about bus stuff. I would wager that when most Americans picture a double-decker in Europe, they have images of the AEC Routemaster. The Routemaster is a legend and I bet many Londoners couldn’t picture the history of the city without it. But the Associated Equipment Company was far from the only constructor of tall buses.

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The first double-decker buses dated back to the mid-1800s and were simply horse-drawn carriages with two decks. Over time, these would evolve into the buses we know today. In case you were curious, double-decker buses are still favored in many regions of the world for combining the seating capacity of an articulated bus with the maneuverability of a single-deck bus. A double-decker can fit through tight streets where an articulated bus might have to re-route. Of course, don’t expect a double-decker to win a race against a more svelte bus, or to make its way under infamously low bridges.

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A Bristol Tramways tram – eBay Seller

As the Bristol Archives notes, the Bristol Tramways Company was formed in 1875 by Sir George White. In those early days, Bristol Tramways ran a horse-drawn tram between Upper Maudlin Street and Blackboy Hill in Bristol, a city in England. In 1887, the company merged with Bristol Cab Company to become the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company. As technology advanced, so did Bristol. The horse-drawn trams became electric trams in 1895 and in 1906, Bristol started running motor buses.

Those first buses were based on chassis from other companies such as Thornycroft. However, Bristol found that these buses weren’t reliable enough for its service. Bristol figured it could build better buses on its own, and began development and production of its own buses. Early Bristol-built motor buses were single-deck units with four-cylinder engines and by 1941, buses became such a boom for Bristol that the last tram ran that year.

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A 1933 Bristol G – Julian Walker

Bristol Tramways had been a part of the Tilling Group since the early 1930s and in 1943, Bristol Commercial Vehicles was created as a subsidiary of Bristol Tramways. One of the changes brought on by being under the Tilling Group umbrella was the standardization of powertrains and Bristol buses began being fitted with diesel power. The Tilling Group, and with it Bristol Commercial Vehicles and other firms, became nationalized in 1947.

The Bristol K-type series of buses began production in 1937. They became legendary in part because of their simple, yet rugged design. Bristol provided the chassis while a large number of coachbuilders placed a body on top. Reportedly, most Bristol K-type buses had bodies from Eastern Coach Works.

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A 1939 Bristol K5G – Stephen Rees

Road tests of K-type buses suggested that the units had good performance characteristics from smooth-running engines to easy gear changes and brakes up to the task of stopping tall buses. Of course, we’re talking about a bus here, so don’t expect BMW E39 performance. A Bristol K6B hosted in Classic Bus Tests had a top speed of just 34.5 mph, and it took over 30 seconds to get there. But it sounds like the K-type was a solid piece of transport.

The Bristol KSW

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In 1950, the legal limit on the length of a double-decker bus opened a little from 26 feet to 27 feet. In response, Bristol announced the KS, which replaced the original K-types with a slightly improved model. A KS tossed some of the extra foot into the passenger compartment and the rest into the engine bay, which allowed the new bus to be outfitted with an 8.4-liter Gardner 6LW diesel. The previous K-type with an Eastern Coach Works body had an engine bay just a smidge too tight.

In addition to the KS, Bristol also unveiled the KSW. A KS was 7’6″ wide while the KSW gained a little more girth for a full 8′ of width. KSWs were easily identifiable with their white steering wheels and models with an Eastern Coach Works body featured aluminum-framed bodies. This bus was another popular Bristol entry and 1,116 units were built between 1950 and 1957.

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1972 Wings Tour Bus

One of those KSWs would end up becoming one of the most famous double-deckers to be put on the road. When it was time for Sir Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Henry McCullough, and Denny Seiwell to tour as Wings, they could have taken planes like just about any rockers would. But Sir McCartney was a fan of buses and he wanted to go a different way. From Car & Classic:

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This isn’t just a bus, however. This is the famed psychedelic Wings tour bus, resplendent in its Beatles Yellow Submarine/Magical Mystery Tour inspired artwork that was home to Sir Paul McCartney, his family and the band Wings during its 1972 European summer tour which saw the gang traverse 7,500 miles through nine different countries at a pivotal moment for the band. The “Wings Over Europe” tour would mark Wings’ rise to superstardom, going on, as they would, to release five consecutive number one albums over the course of the next ten years.

10 Top Deck 01

Eschewing the usual private jets and luxury limousines of the rock star set, McCartney would hand pick WNO 481 as his steed of choice for the tour, immediately cementing its place in the rock and roll and automotive history books. A fan of buses in general McCartney specifically wanted one for the tour, stating: “If we’re gonna be in Europe in the summer going to places like the south of France it’s just silly to be in some little box all day gasping for air so we came up with this idea to have an open deck, upper deck kind of thing. We’ve got some mattresses up there so we can just cruise along, fantastic, it’s great, just lie around and get the sun.”

More than merely a means to an end, a tool to simply move the band from point A to point B, the bus would incorporate C,D and E too as it became a living and working space for McCartney and Wings. It was a creative carriage where the band could rest, collaborate and write and it’s not inconceivable that future hits were written from within, including the iconic James Bond theme “Live and Let Die” recorded later that same year.

The bus started life as a 1953 Bristol KSW 5G with an ECW body and a closed top designed to fit under lower bridges. It began running bus service in early November 1953 in Chelmsford. The bus, registration WNO 481, was then modified in 1965 by the Chelmsford Garage to become an open-top bus for coastal sightseeing.

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1972 Wings Tour Bus

Later, it would be turned into the ultimate tour bus. Artist Geoffrey Cleghorn, also known for work with Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, modeled the bus’s groovy design after the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album cover. The “magic” bus was designed to symbolize love and peace as Wings traveled across Europe. Of course, as noted earlier, the open upper deck was outfitted as a lounge so the band didn’t have to be trapped in a metal cube on warm days.

This bus and the 1972 Wings Over Europe tour helped Wings become superstars. To elaborate further on that, Wings had 27 Top 40 hits in the United States and five No. 1 albums. Those hits included Band On The Run, Jet, Junior’s Farm, Listen To What The Man Said, Maybe I’m Amazed, My Love, and Silly Love Songs. That’s impressive for a band that Sir McCartney formed in just 1971.

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Of course, Sir Paul McCartney himself was an icon from his time in the Beatles and as a solo artist. His achievements include being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice and being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Sadly, the bus didn’t have the greatest life after the 1972 Wings Over Europe tour. After the tour ended, the bus returned to regular service as a transit bus. Then, the bus ended up in several private hands before eventually seeing itself on display at a rock cafe in Tenerife back in its Wings paintjob. Eventually, the bus would end up abandoned outside and discovered in a sad state in 2017.

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1972 Wings Tour Bus

The bus was brought back home that year and in 2019, the current owner of the bus took it to a shop in Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, where it would undergo a three-year restoration process.

The restored bus, which was faithfully restored to what it looked like in 1972, was unveiled in November 2022 during the NEC Classic Motor Show in Birmingham. A crowd of 90,000 got to celebrate 50 years since the famous Wings tour by seeing the very bus that carried the band through Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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The restorers of the bus went through the painstaking task of giving the bus a level of detail as close to its 1972 spec as possible. Denny Seiwell even donated an original tour case to the cause. The interior features named seats for each of the bus occupants, plus wooden bunk beds that the group’s children would have used on the trip. As noted earlier, the upper deck lounge was replicated.

When the bus was parked at the Federation Village stand of The Federation Of British Historic Vehicle Clubs during the NEC Classic Motor Show, bands played on the “The McCartney Stage” on the bus roof. The Beatles’ 1969 Rooftop Concert inspired the bus-top stage.

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Power comes from a 6,975 cc Gardner 5LW inline five naturally aspirated diesel. That should be making around 78 HP and it’s backed by a four-speed manual transmission. Depending on exact configuration, these buses had top speeds of 31 to 40 mph. It’s unclear how fast this example goes. One thing’s for sure, and it’s that you won’t be using this on an American interstate anytime soon. Stick to country roads.

If going that slow isn’t going to deter you, Car & Classic will be selling this psychedelic bus from April 22 to April 29.

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Bring a lot of cash, because Car & Classic expects the final price to be in the ballpark of £200,000 when the hammer drops. In addition to the bus, you’ll be getting its website, print-ready 3D models on Sketchfab, a Flickr page with over 1,300 photos, and the Facebook page for the bus. If you’re not in Europe, you’ll then have to figure out how to get the bus from the UK to wherever you live.

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Despite its lack of speed, I love this magic bus. Vehicles like these have stories to tell and even if you don’t care about that, the graphics and the roof deck are awesome alone. It would be awesome to cruise America from the top of this groovy machine. Just don’t be surprised if you’re passed by the local farmer on his tractor.

(Images: Photographer(s) for Car & Classic, and the 1972 Wings Tour Bus Flickr, unless otherwise noted)

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Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago

So glad to see it was rescued at one point. And so sad that there is no friggin’ way that I could ever afford this. A real, and true Holy Grail this bus is. Just imagine what this bus could tell you if it could talk…

Thanks Mercedes.

Last edited 1 month ago by Col Lingus
Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 month ago

Driving an old slow London city bus all around Europe is truly a great and noble undertaking.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago

It’s a Bristol bus, that’s the other side of the country from London.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 month ago
Reply to  Phuzz

I thought the Bristol company delivered busses to London as well?
Anyway, taking city busses out on the open road is a slooooow experiece 😉
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Commercial_Vehicles

Winsome Badger
Winsome Badger
1 month ago

The one time my dad drove a double decker bus he crashed into a yacht.
The insurance claim was interesting…

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
1 month ago

I don’t want to know what shipping it across an ocean would cost.”

If they sell it on Amazon, Prime members can get free shipping!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago

If you’re ever near Sacramento stop by UC Davis. Unitrans bought a few OG London double deckers back in the 1960s and has had them in service ever since as well as a few more modern ones.

The public are welcome to ride for a small fare of $1.75 for a single ride, $7.50 for a 10 ride pass or free if you’re a UCD student or over 60:

Our Buses

Unitrans is well-known for our three historic London doubledecker buses as well as four modern doubledecker buses. The doubledeck buses run on six lines (B, E, F, G, J, V) in regular service during the academic year, and their times are noted on the printed schedule. One of the historic London doubledecks has been converted from a diesel engine to run on clean natural gas. Unitrans’ CNG doubledeck is unique in North America, and perhaps in the world.

https://unitrans.ucdavis.edu/about/general-information/

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago

Is that John Lennon on the right in the last picture?

What a great era that must have been. I’m just a bit too young to have been a hippie. How cool is that bus??!! The closest we have now to that much whimsy and color are a few high-mileage Harlequin VWs. We have traded Band On the Run for gangsta rap, and are much poorer for it.

Pappa P
Pappa P
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

Tha dammed kids and their new fangled rap music!
I don’t even understand it, like they’re just talking! That’s not even music!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

I could argue that The Beatles, basically, introduced Kidz Bop to the world with Yellow Submarine,
and we are all much worse for it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

Is that John Lennon on the right in the last picture?

Negative. He and Paul were not on the best of terms at that time. Something, something Yoko Ono.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rad Barchetta
Jeep Liberty, MY LEG!
Jeep Liberty, MY LEG!
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

“Gangsta rap?” 2004 called, they want their lingo back. It’s Hip-hop. Shitty hip-hop but taxonomically hip-hop.

Hip-hop is another casualty of the same beast that took down rock, going from DIY shows to corporate-produced “protect my investment” vibe, just that the suits figured out the kids want to hear an f-bomb and aggression to simulate some of the edge, the rawness, instead of dissolving into anodyne “yacht rock” as so many bands/acts did in the late 70s.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jeep Liberty, MY LEG!
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago

Gangsta was 1990s, hardly 2004. :p

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

Gangster rap? I wish, but this isn’t the ’90s! I loved the ’60s music in high school, but then I just grew away from it and haven’t even wanted to hear most of it since—especially the Beatles. Come to think of it, it was partly supplanted by gangster rap. Don’t let the boomer propaganda fool you—the cool stuff we remember was largely made by the preceding generation and the protests for rights were largely just excuses to spread VD and do drugs. If that assessment was wrong (and my boomer mother would have agreed in disgust with her generation and my father in celebration because he’s a sociopath), it seems unlikely the generation as a whole would have gone on to become what they did.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris D

We have traded nothing. We have both. Isn’t variety grand?

J Wamsley
J Wamsley
1 month ago

Hey Mercedes, great article! I really enjoy this type of niche writing. Love to think of the band just chilling up on the roof like little kids while the bus toddles through the countryside.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

Love this story. Always fascinated by history crossovers.

Except for its top speed (can you even call it speed), this would be a groovy Autopian caravan.

Lastly, I can never think of double decker busses without recalling a bit from the Des O’Connor Show, circa 1970. Can’t recall the actors name (he was an older British comic), but every week he’d interrupt O’Connor at an inopportune moment in the show by walking on stage with his hands clasped out in front calling out, “I say, I say, I say, guess what I’ve got in my hands.” An exasperated O’Connor would roll his eyes and guess something ridiculous. The guess I remember was, “A double decker bus,” whereupon the old gent would peer between his thumbs, look surprised and say, “You looked!“ and storm off stage. What can I say, it killed in 1970.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
1 month ago

If I had the funds I would buy it. Minor issue there.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
1 month ago

I knew a few folks back in the day had Bristol buses. Even in the hippy convoy community they had a rep as being a cut above. Albions had hardcore fans too.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago

If we all pitch in, do you think we could we win this for Adrian?

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

My guess is that Adrian is more of a fan of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band:

https://noticias.coches.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Facel-Vega-Ringo-Starr-02.jpg

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Oh, yeah, that’s indeed mighty nice & luxurious but what about his hatchback Mini? While that Mini might have been customized for Ringo to use for his drums it’s still a lot more plebeian than a Facel Vega.
https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEjd5HlciiOkZwswzmP67Lhhf4V8QUdfvvU8YPU3ykxsObpAD7EH3wan-BItlAfa9dflvCwrwi4hHUfYp-RYcznglCH7WleHRcYwsXmVlEOmhMtBNsVPtqeyGau7Dm2STC-n6rga7VnSbQyh/w393-h418/LLO+836D+Ringo+Starr+Mini+3.png

Last edited 1 month ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 month ago

But the Facel Vega’s interior suites him so well with all its glorious knobs and switches.
Drummers need things to do with their hands while they drive.

Last edited 1 month ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

You know, for all the jokes about drummers (and last pick of groupies), Ringo and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd seem like the happiest members of their respective mega bands—without the clashing of egos leading to petty grudges, they can sit back and actually enjoy their fame and fortune.

Totally not a robot
Totally not a robot
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Not sure Adrian would be very thrilled about having to accept a gift from us peons.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago

Especially a gift with so many colors.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

If we all pitch in, do you think we could we win this for Adrian?

Why? He’s got a Ferrari. Clearly he’s rolling in that sweet sweet Autopian contributor dough.

Or maybe its cheddar over there.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

It was a joke as Adrian has stated he doesn’t like the Beatles.

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