The open-topped bus that Muhammad Ali rode on during his famous visit to Tyneside in 1977 has been restored to its former glory thanks to a Nexus worker’s labour of love.
Steve Griffin, a Metro maintenance technician with a passion for classic cars, was part of a team of public transport enthusiasts who saved the vintage bus from the scrapyard in 2016.
And six years later their hard work has finally paid off.
After clocking up thousands of hours in the workshop the 1960s Leyland Atlantean is back on the road – and back in tip top condition.
Steve is part of the North East Bus Preservation Trust who painstakingly restored the bus, which was used to transport Muhammad Ali around the region during his visit.
They have even returned the vehicle to the iconic silver paintwork that was added to in 1977 mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
Steve, 63, of Whickham, said: “We are delighted with this project, which has preserved a little piece of bus heritage in our region. The many hours of hard work that we all put in have really paid off.
“It has taken a lot of work to restore the Leyland back to its former glory. We had great support thanks to a lottery grant which allowed us pay for the bodywork, but the rest was all done in our own spare time.
“There is an amazing story behind this vintage bus. Muhammad Ali’s visit to the north east in 1977 was iconic, so we were truly honoured to have had the chance to restore the bus that he so famously travelled on when all those huge crowds turned out to great him.
“We are all current or former transport industry people, so we have a passion for public transport and its heritage. These are the type of buses many of used to work on in our professional lives. This bus is unique. There isn’t another quite like it.
“We acquired the bus in 2016 when the Dublin city tours operator said it was available, but we had to take it straight away,he even delivered it for us, arriving, unexpectedly, at 9pm one Sunday evening.
“Initially we unaware that it was the Muhammad Ali bus. It was only when we had two similar buses and had to decide which one to restore that I did a bit of digging.
“I knew that model had been used to drive Ali around the North East and research showed it was this bus. I noticed the registration number was the same as the one Ali had travelled on, so that was when we knew we had that one on our hands – and it was the point that we knew we simply had to restore it.”
The crowning glory for the project arrived during the Platinum Jubilee weekend when the Leyland was showcased for crowds at Bents Park in South Shields.
Steve added: “We made sure the bus was repainted in its famous silver and yellow colours from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Lots of people of a certain age will have a blast of nostalgia when they see it drive by.
“We were thrilled to get the bus back on the road over the Platinum Jubilee weekend and take it back to South Shields for people to see.”
Muhammad Ali visited the north east in July 1977 to raise money for a South Shields boxing club.
Thousands of fans lined the streets as the heavyweight champ travelled through the centres of South Shields and Newcastle. During the visit he stopped off at Newcastle’s Pendower Hall Special School and Grainger Park Boys Club.
The Leyland only avoided being scrapped because a hapless driver drove it through a low bridge in Wallsend and tore off the roof.
This led Newcastle Corporation bosses to convert it to an open topper for the Queen’s 1977 silver jubilee, saving it from being destroyed with the rest of the fleet.
But when Stagecoach took over the running of the city’s bus routes in the early 1990s the Leyland was again sent to a dump.
The bus was saved once more when an Irish tourism boss bought it from a scrap dealer and used it to ferry sightseers around Dublin.
It was only when the battered vehicle started to breakdown the travel agent was going to get rid that the vintage bus enthusiasts stepped in.
Over the last six years the Leyland has undergone some major restoration work.
A grant from the National Lottery funded the new bodywork, while the volunteers spent long hours carrying out a mechanical and electrical overhaul.
The whole of the open top deck had to be renewed due to water damage.
It has had new brakes, seats, floors, dashboard, lights, panels, radiator and a complete engine service