The RT-type bus is, to many people, the classic London bus, even though the Routemaster has since claimed, greater fame due to its being the last of the line. What makes the RT have a special significance for me is that it was the bus that my mother and father met on when they worked as a conductor and driver, respectively, in the 1960s.
The RT could be described as the ‘father’ of the Routemaster, being its direct predecessor and a remarkable bus in its own right. With a total production run of nearly 7,000 (more than double the number of Routemasters), the RT family was on London streets from 1939 to 1979 and the type was London’s standard bus of the 1950s and 1960s.
The RT was developed before WW2 with the prototype appearing in 1939 (RT1 has survived and is one of the stars of the London Bus Museum’s collection). Designed jointly by London Transport and AEC, the RT – with its advanced, streamlined styling, bright interior, comfortable seating, smooth new diesel engine, air-brakes and pre-selector gearbox – set new standards for the bus industry as a whole and confirmed London’s place at the forefront of bus design.
A further 150 RT buses were delivered in 1940/41 before the War put a stop to production. After the War, production resumed on a grand scale – AEC built nearly 4,700 more with a further 2,100 from Leyland. This was the largest fleet of standardised buses the world had ever seen and this record has not been broken since.
For anyone who went to work or school by bus in London, its suburbs and the surrounding countryside in the 1950s/60s and into the early 1970s, the chances are, you travelled on an RT.
The last RTs were not withdrawn from London service until 1979, meaning that the type was on the streets of London for some 40 years.