Type of Vehicle - Coach
Year built/registered - 1971
Vehicle Description - J2 Bedford Embassy - restored to original Country Lion livery
Reg No. - PVV 888J
Livery/Operator - Country Lion livery finished in British Leyland bronze, yellow and ermine white
A 1971 Plaxton-bodied Bedford J2 has been celebrating its 50th birthday back in the fleet of original
owner Country Lion.
The year 1971 a saw a significant newcomer to the Northampton transport scene. Fledgling operator
Country Lion was celebrating delivery of its first new coach, a Bedford J2Z510 with 20 seat Plaxton
Embassy bodywork, registration PW 888J.
A surviving invoice shows that the coach cost
£3330.00, having been ordered via dealer Alf Moseley and Sons of Loughborough. Features included a
heater, aluminum wheel discs, and a moquette bonnet cover.
The coach, finished in Leyland bronze yellow and ermine white, was delivered on 3rd June 1971.
Not only is the invoice still with us but so is Country Lion and, we’re equally delighted to say, the coach!
Now, after nearly 25 years, the Bedford is back with its original owner, and again available for private
THE BEDFORD J2.
With its dinky size, cuddly looks, and delightfully period livery PVV 888J is a hit wherever it goes, but the
J2’s specification can cause confusion.
It was based on a modified version of Bedford’s two-ton truck chassis built from 1958-1976, which was
available with a 3.52 litre petrol engine (J2Z10), or the normal choice of diesel, (J2Z10) originally a 3.14
litre unit upgraded to 3.29 litre in 1960 and 3.61 in 1967. A four-speed synchromesh) gearbox was
fitted, Bodywork was available as a bus or coach, normally provided by Plaxton, which produced a
specially adapted cut-down version of its Embassy body especially for the J2, originally to 7ft 6 ins width
and 8ft post 1965; Duple and Willowbrook, Caetano also bodied some J2s in the 1970s.
The J2 was popular with everything from Government
departments and local authorities to operators who had use for a small coach.
John Bull took over Palmerstone Garage, in Northampton which specialised in car sales and repairs and
service, in 1962, later acquiring further premises in Denmark Street, around the corner.
In 1966 he realised there was a gap in the market for minibus hire and bought a couple of Commers,
BMC LDS and later a Ford Transit.
The Country Lion name is to have been what more recently would be a referred to as an 'off the shelf
company. John did buy a firm called Lion Taxis, however.
Business boomed, and a certain Bedford J2 arrived in 1971, soon finding itself busy on a contract for
Avon Cosmetics as well as other work.
The vehicle would begin a Country Lion penchant for Plaxton coach work which continues to this day.
School contract and works services continued to be a major part of the business which continued to
expand throughout the 1970s. Overstone Coaches, its three vehicles and contracts were taken over,
private hire work expanded, as did self-drive van hire, various marques of coach, including Fords and
Bedfords were acquired.
In 1980 came a move to St James Mill Road and the original garage was sold.
Prestige work, continuing to this day is providing the team coach for both the Northampton Saints
Rugby Club and Northampton Town FC as well as Northampton County Cricket.
Barclaycard became a massive customer. Local operator Brittains was taken over in 1995, bringing the
Country Lion fleet to some 35 vehicles. All very good, but what was happening to a certain Bedford J2?
Well, would you believe, the coach remained in the fleet, never officially withdrawn.
Country Lion Transport manager Paul Shaw, who has been with the firm since 1989 recalls: ’It was such
a useful vehicle and had lots of fans.
When I started here it was just parked up, but with all this extra work we were getting the Bedford was
put back into service. John Bull was very fussy about who drove it, though I was given the opportunity.
Unfortunately, I was on a school contract on narrow road and a van drove into the side of the coach on
a bend, sadly the Bedford was quite badly damaged, but we decided to mothball it.”
Sadly, space problems meant that in November 1998 the coach was sold to preservationist Guy Wren
and driven under its own power to its new home in East Sussex for repairs and restoration.
It then passed to Geoffrey Alton in Derbyshire for private use with his family. Its original 20 seat
configuration was changed upon the purchase of two genuine period Plaxton tables so it would now
have an interior featuring Y6 seats, with eight of them around tables. Its colour was also changed to red
Next owner was renowned J2 enthusiast and operator Stephen Dine of Empress Coaches in Hastings.
Steven said ‘When the Covid and lockdown came in 2020 I knew the downturn in work would mean it
would be a long time before we would have normality again on private hire bookings to need three
coaches, so after serious consideration I called Dan O’Dell to see if they would be interested in having
their very first coach back, nearly fifty years since they brought it new. Knowing that due to the compact
size of a J2, if I had a pound for every time, I was asked would I sell one as a ‘glamper’ (which I would
not) I had to make sure it would go to a serious new owner... It also meant that we could concentrate
on finishing the jobs to our 1963 example and would now concentrate post Covid on maintaining the
two examples. I am so pleased to see it back with its original owner and it looks fantastic in its original
livery, how many operators in the UK can boast they still own the very first coach they operated!’
Twenty-three years after it left Northampton, PVV 888J was back with a much-changed Country Lion.
Now with some 55 vehicles it’s the biggest independent locally by far. Plaxton bodied Volvo coaches are
favored, and smaller coaches tend to be Mercedes with the same manufacturer’s coach work.’
There’s a small fleet of double deckers for schoolwork, mainly ex-London Wright Volvo B7s but Bristol
VRs and Volvo D10Ms have served in the past.
Several other major operators have ceased trading in the past few years including Geoff Amos, Jeffs and
the Bowen Group, Country Lion taking on some of their work, and drivers.
A major acquisition in 2006 was Cloud Nine Holidays, which specialises in escorted tours at home and
abroad for the over 50s. This is run as a separate subsidiary.
The company maintains its self-drive hire business but on a reduced scale. Around 30 school contracts
are run for local council and private schools.
Sadly, company founder John Bull died in 2010, shortly before Country Lion moved to its present, much
bigger site at the Brackmills Industrial Estate. The firm is now run by his son Dan Odell, Dan’s step
mum Julie Bull and her daughter Michelle, all of whom are directors.
During lockdown, some drivers were furloughed but school contracts and some other work operated,
Now Barclaycard work is coming back gradually.
More recently, a decision has been taken not to continue local bus service, not least because of the cost
of contactless technology etc.
The appearance of the Bedford J2 driving into the yard is an inspiration to many and maybe a reminder
of a simpler and settled time for everyone. Dan 0’DeII remembers the coach as a kid, and later starting
it regularly after the vehicle was laid up. “It was always a favorite of my dad’s and when after we sold it,
we often thought about buying it back, and we were delighted to have the chance to do so. Steve Dine
at Empress had kept in in superb condition and we wanted it to look as new.’ A couple of panels were
replaced when the coach was being prepared for repainting in original colours, all work being carried
out in house. The glass rear screen incorporating the numberplate and operator’s name was put back to
original and some work done on the aluminum brightwork, some work was done on the rear brakes.
The coach had been superbly reupholstered to original spec and work was confined to putting some
switch gear back to original spec. So finally, the J2 is back in Northampton, having been on display at an
event in Abington Park, Northampton last year - when quite a few people remembered it.
Concludes Dan: ’We are so happy to have the J2 back. It was my dad’s first bus; a family heirloom and
we are a bit sentimental here!’