West Coast Motors: 100 years of bringing people together (Part II)

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Down Memory Lane

A century after Campbeltown-based coach operator West Coast Motors was founded, bus enthusiast Lawrence Macduff, who splits his time between Kilmarnock and Dunoon, has penned a commemorate article delving into the company’s history from 1921 to the present day.

The piece, and several photographs also supplied by Lawrence, is being published in the Courier. Look out for the third and final piece in next week’s paper.

Wartime needs created additional traffic and pressures for the two main operators, thereafter, once into peacetime, West Coast Motors and its rival were able to modernise their fleets.

McConnachie’s stole a march by bringing Kintyre’s first double decker to the town in 1959, buying two more in the late 1960s which older residents may still remember. However, failing general economics resulted in West Coast acquiring this business in 1970. These ‘deckers never ran for West Coast and it would be more than 30 years later before such buses entered their fleet.

Liveries invariably provide a recognisable identity for any bus operator and West Coast is no exception. The flowering of the company’s one surely came to its climax in the 1950s with the flowing combination of ivory, red and maroon, set off by polished body trim lines and wheel embellishers. Styles continue to evolve but, in the opinion of this writer, no other Scottish operator has chosen a more distinctive colour scheme than West Coast which still uses two of those principal colours, ivory and red, which it bestowed on its buses 70 years earlier.

During the 1960s and 1970s, West Coast’s modern vehicles were typical examples of their time. In the latter period, new bus grants were obtainable under certain conditions resulting in some splendid coaches being purchased.

In post war years, the company gradually built on its service network in Kintyre and Mid Argyll. In 1949, it picked up the East Loch – West Loch Tarbert mail ship link from Tarbert-based Dickies then the Tarbert – Kilberry service from McEacherns in 1967, the Lochgilphead Tayvallich service from McLachans in 1971 and, perhaps somewhat prophetically, the Benderloch-based operations of McColls in 1982.

Without doubt, the most significant developments in West Coast’s history occurred in the 1985-87 period. During the 1930s, William Craig had attempted to introduce a direct Campbeltown to Glasgow service but failed in this ambition then and at later attempts. Finally, in 1986, these hopes were realised when the company became a joint operator, with Scottish Citylink, of the through service between the two locations.

The 1980s continued to see significant developments. Firstly the acquisition, also in 1986, of the buses and Mid Argyll routes operated by Lochgilphead-based Stag Garage. This was followed, a year later, by the purchase of the old MacBrayne garage in Ardrishaig, giving West Coast an excellent base in the area.

The early 1990s saw a further involvement in Oban when West Coast secured responsibility for the Oban to Glasgow service and by 1998 it had acquired the former Alexanders depot in Oban enabling it to build further on its already significant presence in Argyll.

Since 2000, the rate of change has quickened further. West Coast secured the Cowal and Bute area contracts and depots in 2004 and when Bowmans, the long-established Mull services operator retired in 2013, West Coast added this to its portfolio. Their Oban base allows vehicle and manpower deployments on Mull if needed. Of the major Argyll islands, only Islay remains independently served by the Mundell concern of Tarbert, whose lorries are also a familiar sight in the county.