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Malta’s Old Buses

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Malta 2021

The origin of the Maltese bus service dates back to 1905. The buses were often owner-driven, thereby fostering a friendly rivalry leading to the heavily-customised buses endearing themselves to the public at large. Unfortunately, age took its toll on a good number of these buses thereby bringing about their replacement by modern models. Despite their discontinuation, quite a few were sent to the UK and restored by enthusiasts there while a number of these are still in use for tours and other events around the Islands. In 2021 the latest of many issues, the subject being Malta’s old buses, was produced. The 30c stamp shows a 1953 Ford Thames (registered as Bus No.2501), with coachwork by Joseph Micallef. It worked the Sliema routes in its two-tone green livery until 2011, when it was painted in the yellow and orange livery seen here. It is still being used as a vintage city tour bus. The middle stamp is a 1950s Bedford OB, coachwork by Michael Debono, originally registered as Bus No.3119, later changed to Y-0676 and rebuilt in 2011. It also serves as a vintage city tour bus with the registration plate ZXY676. The 86c stamp shows a Ford Thames chassis and cab with coachwork built by Michael Barbara in 1953. Following decommission, it was rebuilt and repainted in the attractive red and blue Zabbar route livery. Currently another a vintage city tour bus. It was first registered as Bus No. 3299, then FBY732, and finally FXY732.

Malta 2011

The History of Buses in Malta began in 1905 when the first vehicles were imported to run between the capital, Valletta, and St. Andrew’s. They began to dominate local transport in the 1920s, eventually leading to the demise of both the Malta Tramways service in 1929 and the Malta Railway service in 1931, which together had been the mainstay of public transport since the turn of the century. On the 2nd of July 2011, Malta’s iconic buses, reminiscent of another age, were withdrawn from service and a new era of public transport began. The set of 20 stamps above, issued by MaltaPost in 2011 and entitled ‘Malta Buses – The End of An Era’, marked the event and depicts vehicles that were in operation over the years.

Malta 2013

In 2013 MaltaPost continued its series of ‘Malta Buses – The End of An Era’ with the issue of six stamps illustrating some of the Island’s most iconic buses which are no longer in operation. The stamps are from reproductions of original artworks by Maltese artist Cedric Galea Pirotta. This set includes the first buses to have operated in Malta and Gozo as well as those that were used by the British Services and the British European Airways (BEA) and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

Seen top left above is a Malta Police Bus – When the British Royal Air Forces withdrew from Malta in the 1970s, the Maltese Police Force obtained four short Thames ET6 buses with bodywork built in Malta by Frank Aquilina in the 1950s. Thames, a British-based chassis builder was part of the Ford group. The MP54’s were later replaced during the 1980s.

Top middle is an “Airport Bus” – These unusual looking coaches with bodywork by Park Royal of England, were built on Commer chassis and were released in the late 1940s. The raised-up rear section allowed space for the stowage of luggage underneath the seating area. These vehicles operated shuttles between Malta’s airport in Luqa and hotels in Valletta for overnighting passengers. Initially operated by British Overseas Airways Corporation, in 1949 these Commers passed to the Malta Airways Company, and then in 1954 to the newly formed Malta Aviation Services. Both buses survived until the 1960s, with one remaining in use as late as 1969.

Top right is one of four double deck buses built by Thornycroft , a United Kingdom based vehicle manufacturer. This together with a single deck version, and another which was fitted with a lorry body to carry passengers formed part of the first bus fleet to operate in Malta. The operation started in 1903, running between Valletta and Sliema, but is not believed to have lasted very long, and the vehicles were certainly no longer in use by 1911.

Bottom left stamp, one of Malta’s best known buses was “Maggie”, a Magirus-Deutz O3500 which was fitted with locally-built bodywork by Michael Debono. It was withdrawn in 2003, but unlike many such buses was retained for future preservation and restoration, and is now in the care of the organisation Heritage Malta.

Next, believed to be the first bus to have operated in Gozo, the “Victoria Hire Service” bus was built based on a Ford chassis. Released in around 1925, it was withdrawn and replaced in 1934.

Bottom right is a Royal Armed Forces Bus. The British Armed Forces made use of a number of buses over the years to transport personnel around the island. During the 1950s and 1960s one such bus was the Bedford SB, built with very basic bodywork. Bedford, also a British-based chassis builder formed part of Vauxhall Motors, itself part of General Motors. The Bedford bus depicted here shows what a Royal Navy bus would have looked like. Once no longer required by the Armed Forces, these Bedford SB buses were sold off locally. The bodies were scrapped and new locally-built bodies were fitted. A number of these survived and were in daily use until July 2011.

Malta 1996

A 1996 Malta stamp set “Mechanised Transport” showed four buses with a background featuring old bus tickets. “Diamond Star”, Bus No. 1990 first served in the 1920s. The 5c is a Stewart Bus no. 434 “Tom Mix” (1930s), the 14c shows Bus No. 1764 “Verdala” (1940s) and
30c “Front Control” Bus No. 3495 (1960s).

The impact these old buses have had on Malta’s cultural identity is great. And over the years Malta’s postal service has certainly done its best to make sure the traditional buses of Malta and Gozo are not forgotten.

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