1148 was rescued by the famous 4 (David, Ken, Lee & Steve) on a mission of madness to the South of France!
AFJ750T was one of three Bristol VR's new to Western National in the spring of 1979 to Camborne depot. Unlike many of its sisters, 1148 would not be transferred to Plymouth for use on the joint services network but instead would remain in West Cornwall for its entire working life. The bus would become well known locally by its all over advertisement liveries for Flambards theme park of Helston which were carried in four guises up until withdrawal in 2004. The vehicle was exported by Mark Wilson to Brittany in 2007. The story is best told through the following extract which was published in Bus & Coach Preservation:
"I contacted Mark Wilson who said the vehicle was sold to a supermarket in the Eastern region of the country but he no longer had any details of the sale. Various emails back and forth to other enthusiasts both in the UK and France came to nothing until I was put in touch with Maurice Bateman via Paul Bateson. He told me of a VR near Bordeaux which was unidentified which could be AFJ750T and attached some photos for me to analyse. WNOC VRs were unique in the respect that they had luggage racks behind the stairs and a seat fitted above the front nearside wheel arch. This bus had both, and the stickers on the windows were First spec. No other WNOC VRs were reported exported to France which meant it had to be AFJ750T. The bus had been re-registered BB-173-JS and was in use as static accommodation at a Chateau. I contacted the Chateau to see if the bus was still there and if it might be available for sale. A month passed with no reply in which time I had all but lost hope when unexpectedly I received a reply. I was invited to make an offer which was accepted. Being in lockdown, I was unable to see the bus so further details and photographs were sent to me and they explained that the bus was not at risk so I could take my time and come over when restrictions were relaxed.
Steve Cocks expressed an early interest in going ‘on a road trip’ to go and see the bus. Lee Shephard and Ken Grimes were too which formed the team. We set off on July 24th from Plymouth for the crossing to Brittany and drove down in the ‘pimped up Transit’ filled to the brim with spares to Bordeaux where we would stay the night and see the bus the following morning. Our aim was to inspect the bus and then I would make a decision if I would buy the vehicle or not (which in all honesty, was never really in doubt!) and we would then set about trying to get it working and see if we could get her back to the UK. Amazingly, the fuel tank was full, engine oil full (and the correct colour!) and with a new set of batteries fired up first time after a four-year slumber. The chassis was in surprisingly good condition. The tyres were a little worse for wear and we replaced one. The hand break valve would not lock so we replaced that and the front horn had to be re-wired. A few bulbs later and by and large we had a fully working Bristol VR! The bus was wired into the mains which powered a number of lights both inside and outside of the vehicle along with an air conditioning unit on the upper deck. All of this had to be removed. Now free we were able to move the bus and were fortunate that we had a private road at our disposal. We were now confident that we would be able to bring the bus back to the UK. Steve being the mechanic would remain on the bus throughout the journey to Roscoff and the van behind would act as our support vehicle. We set off on Monday 27th at 09:00 and made Roscoff by 20:00. The bus drove faultlessly to our amazement. We had come prepared for hose failures etc but it is always better to be looking at than looking for when it comes to parts. The fun wasn’t over yet however, as in the morning we found five immigrants who had tried to hide themselves upstairs when we were inspecting the bus. Fortunately we were near the port and the border authorities and the local Police were most helpful and we then proceeded onto the ferry, albeit a little shaken! The remainder of the trip went without incident and the bus made it to Plymouth where it is now in storage where it is awaiting re-registration which at the time of writing is ongoing."
Neglected from the article was a minor incident of arriving at the bus on the morning of the ferry crossing back to the UK to find five migrants hiding under the beds on the upper deck!
It is intended for 1148 to be restored into its second Flambards guise as carried from 1990-1995. Restoration has now commenced. The upper deck has been stripped out ready for refurbishment and the side panels have been removed. The timber inserts were found to be in very poor condition, with the majority either virtually non-existent or badly rotten requiring removal. The frame is in the process of being cleaned up. The lower frame section on the nearside connected to the outriggers requires attention due to damage sustained during its life. New wood has been delivered and is in the process of fitting. Three of the roof panel sheets require replacement.