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East Kent's Berkhof rebodied Reliances

In the early 1980s the two major British coachbuilders offerings, Duple's Dominant and Plaxton's Supreme models, were looking dated and rapidly losing share of the upper end of the market to overseas bodybuilders. Plaxton responded with the Paramount and this was enough for them to hold on to their position as market leader, but Duple's new models (Laser, Carribean, 320 and 340) failed to capture the imaginations of operators and the company sold out to Plaxton in face of an overall decline in the market.

Meanwhile, the influx of foreign models and the upgrading of National Express services to Rapide specification created a demand for higher specification coaches, and foreign bodybuilders made further inroads. Even Greenline, who had standardised on the Plaxton Supreme and Duple Dominant for AEC Reliances, Leyland Leopards and the first batch of Tigers, took some Berkhof bodied Tigers for higher specification airport services.

East Kent still had a sizable fleet of Duple and Plaxton bodied AEC Reliances although they had switched to Leyland Leopards in 1977 and took a small batch of Tigers in 1982. Given the need to upgrade the coach hire fleet used on National Holidays work, the surprise step was taken in 1983 to rebody 10 AEC Reliances with 1973 built Duple Dominant bodywork with Berkhof 'Esprit' bodies. Some 10-11 years previously the company had rebodied a number of square-looking Park Royal bodied Reliances with new Plaxton Panorama bodies, so maybe it wasn't such a surprise after all.

The Duple bodywork was removed by dealer Ensign, who also prepared the chassis for rebodying and undertook power steering conversions. The chassis were even allocated new 'EBC' chassis numbers by Ensign. Initially the "new" Berkhofs ran on National Holidays and private hire work, but later graduated to National Express work before being sold on. The Berkhof bodies must have been well built and the vehicles mechanically very sound, for some stayed in service until 2009 when the bodywork was 25 years old and the chassis over 35.

None remian in revenue earning service. The table below shows original registrations, rebodying dates and new registrations, and current registrations and owners where relevant.

Original registration Date rebodied New registration Current owner Current registration
HFN 28L 10/83 A197 PPU Bought by a preservationist in East Sussex in 2018. A197 PPU
HFN 53L 5/84 A198 TAR Last with Bowmans Coaches, Carlisle. Presumed scrapped, missing from DVLA database.  
HFN 56L 5/84 A199 TAR Burnt out  
HFN 58L 5/84 A200 TAR In the Stockport area. It is visible from the Carrington junction, of the M60 motorway. (Old report - subject to further confirmation.) A200 TAR
HFN 27L 4/84 A201 TAR Scrapped at Wigley, Carlton  
HFN 60L 5/84 A202 TAR


HFN 59L 6/84 A203 TAR Last known with Scotts, Tynedale (not in service, previously in preservation). For sale in May 2009, current status unknown. A590 JGU
HFN 57L 6/84 A204 TAR Gwenval, Drefach, Carmarthenshire (old report - subject to further confirmation.) A204 TAR
HFN 55L 6/84 A205 TAR Preserved with Bowmans Coaches, Carlisle A205 TAR
HFN 54L 6/84 A206 TAR Scrapped in 2010  

Thanks to the M&D and East Kent Bus Club for permission to use material from their news-sheets, and to club editor Nicholas King for the initial list of current owners. Also to Dave Robinson who regularly sends updates about AECs running in the Midlands.

One that got away. Demonstrating the original Duple Dominant bodywork carried by these Reliances is sister vehicle HFN 33L (8033), which retained its original bodywork and was seen at work in National white livery at Canterbury in March 1984.

The first of the Berkhof rebodies, A197 PPU (8197) was seen heading out of London, bound for the Kent coast, on a National Express service in April 1985. Originally registered HFN 28L, this vehicle became the pilot for the rebodying programme after receiving extensive accident damage in 1983.

A205 TAR ran for many years with Bowmans Coaches and is now preserved by them. Photograph from the Bowmans Coaches website, with kind permission of Andrew Bowman.

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