Blackpool Centenary Cars / Trams

Technical Details

Fleet Numbers: 641 – 648

Built: 1984-1988

Trucks: Blackpool Transport 5ft 6in  wheelbase and Metalastik suspension

Motors: English Electric 305 57 Horsepower x 2

Controllers: Brush Chopper Controls

Braking: Chopper Controlled air braking / hand wheel

Current Collection: Pantograph

Dimensions: Length 51ft 6in, Width 8ft 2in, Height 9ft 4in

Seats: 54

In the early 80’s, it was becoming clear to Blackpool Corporation that there was a dire need to replace their fleet of OMO cars, which were carrying the burden of operating most of the timetabled services throughout the year.   The OMO trams trams were built in the early 1970’s from the 1930’s built English Electric railcoaches and the underframes were starting to droop really badly.

Rather than building or rebuilding their own trams, the Corporation put out an invite to tender for the building of the new trams and in the end the contract was awarded to East Lancashire coachbuilders.  The tender was originally for 10 cars however funding was cut and eventually only 7 trams were built.

The new trams had seating for 54 and could take up to 16 standing passengers, which was more than the OMO and railcoaches could carry.   They were the widest trams in the fleet with a much more roomy and modern interior. Rather than using the standard controller and brake handles used in much of the fleet, they were fited with the more modern Thrystor Controls that were also fitted to the Jubilee trams.   They did however use the tried and trusted English Electric motors used in the rest of the fleet.   The trucks used Metalistik suspension which was also used on the OMO car trucks.    The bodies of the Centenary trams had many similarities and compatible parts with a number of single deck buses which were in service across the UK at this time.

The trams were named Centenary Cars as the first tram, numbered 641 arrived and entered service in 1985 which was the tramway’s centenary.

Also in 1985, a test tram numbered 651 which had the same style of body to 641 went into service, the tram was fitted with GEC motors and Marley and Taunton bogies modified from a withdrawn Coronation. The other 6 Centenary Cars were put into service in 2 batches of 3 with 642, 643 and 644 arriving in 1986 and 645, 646 and 647 arriving in 1987. Due to a cut in funding by the Government the final 3 Centenary cars, which would have been numbered 648 – 650, never arrived.

In 1990 following the end of experiments, it was decided that 651 would be useful as a standard Centenary Car and Blackpool Transport bought the body and work started fitting standard Centenary Car trucks, motors and suspension to make it compatible with it’s sister cars. 651 was then renumbered to 648 . The 8 Centenary cars formed much of the winter and early season output throughout the late 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s.

However during this period, these cars proved to be troublesome, with  numerous of unexplained faults and breakdowns caused in part by the high mileages which these cars were expected to operate (often 7 from 8 cars needed on a daily basis during the winter) resulting in major service disruptions and in some cases, long periods out of service. Would there have been less problems if more of these trams had been built?

When faults and breakdowns did occur, the OMO cars (until they were withdrawn in 1993) and then Brush cars and railcoaches and occasionally balloon, millennium and jubilee cars had to operate in their place.

Midlife overhauls started for the Centenary Cars in 1998 when 642 was withdrawn for an overhaul that would change the appearance of the tram.

642’s overhaul included larger destination boxes, a reconfigured roof and body side to stop the pantograph grease from running down the side of the tram.     New headlight clusters and new saloon windows were fitted. 642 was often seen out on test during the Summer of 1999 before it entered service in Autumn 1999.  641 was next and received a similar overhaul returning to service in 2000.

646, 643, 644 and 647 were next to be overhauled in that order over the following years, receiving a more angled front end to eliminate the need for the expensive curved glass windscreens and to allow flat glass to be installed. They also received small triangular windows at the driving ends.  645 was refurbished in 2003 and was refurbished in a similar style to 643, 644, 646 and 647 except that it’s front end was more flat and didn’t feature the small triangular windows the overhaul also contained a front end skirt, eliminating the need for a lifeguard.

648 was the final car to be overhauled and with future preservation in mind, the tram retained its original front ends complete with original radiator grill, however it gained the front end skirts just like 645, the raised sides to stop the pantograph grease running down the side of the tram.   The interior was modified like the other trams in the fleet.

Originally, all Centenary cars carried the 1980’s fleet livery.  This gave way to the 1990’s fleet livery, however fleet livery was not worn by any Centenary cars from the mid 1990’s onwards and the trams carried numerous overall adverts over the years, with 641, 642, 643 and 645 ending their service days carrying base coats from previous adverts carried.

From 2000 – 2004, some of the burden was taken off the Centenary trams when the Brush Cars and railcoaches took over the operation of the service in the early season until the start of the main timetables, when the double deckers or twin cars took over timetable operation.

From 2005, the Centenary cars saw more use during the summer period on both crew and driver only specials following the mothballing of the majority of the Brush Cars and railcoaches.

The Centenary cars continued to dominate output on the winter timetable until winter 08/09 (as the tramway was closed over the winter period for track relaying over the following 3 winters) and on both the timetabled service and specials in the summer until 2011.

The service during 2011 only ran from Pleasure Beach to Little Bispham with 8 trams required for service.   5 or 6 Centenaries were used daily with 2 or 3 Brush Trams seeing use on the short workings to Cabin.

2011 was to be the final year of service for the Centenary trams.   With the impending completion of the tramway upgrade and the class of trams being unable to be made compatible with the new platforms or be given step free access, the writing was on the wall for them.

The first casualty was the pioneer tram 641, which was withdrawn with numerous faults during Summer 2011 and never ran again on the tramway.    643 was withdrawn in October 2011 and the remaining 6 cars soldiered on until the final day in service for the old fleet, 6th November 2011.   On the final day, 645 had the distinction of being the final tram to pick up passengers at Lytham Road tram stop.   645 failed during the dayand had to be towed back to depot.   643, which had been withdrawn just a few weeks before was hastily reactivated using parts from 645 and the tram had one last outing in service.

Following the withdrawal of the old fleet at the end of service on 6th November 2011, 6 out of 8 of the Centenary Cars were sold and moved to new homes.   641 was bought by Friends of Fleetwood and following a period of storage in their yard, it was adorned with photographs and displays for Blackpool FC and was on display at Pleasure Beach, the tram was later repainted purple and adorned in an advert for local charity ‘Horizon Blackpool’, however the tram is now stored in Fleetwood Docks.

644 was bought by Farmer Parrs Animal World on the outskirts of Fleetwood, the tram still wears its advert for the company on one side and one driving end as it did in it’s final years in service. The remainder of the tram is in a yellow base coat.

643 and 645 were bought by Caravan Parks for use as Cafes.   643 received a mainly off white with green bands livery, which although unauthentic for a Centenary car and similar to the livery carried by a Coronation tram, suited the tram.   643 only lasted 1 year in this role before it was donated to the Friends of Fleetwood trust and stored at Fleetwood Docks.   643 was then bought by a school in the Midlands area.   646 was also bought by Friends of Fleetwood, however as it had the Paul Gaunt Furniture all over advert, it was displayed in the said company’s car park.

647 moved to the North East after being bought by NEETT and is displayed at the North East Land, Sea and Air Museum in Sunderland.   It has been stripped of the vynals from its B&M Bargain advert and is expected to receive an original red, white and brown livery formerly carried by the Blackpool Trams pre 1933 but not historically correct for this type of tram.

Unfortunately, 646 was vandalised whilst on stored in the car park at Paul Gaunt Furnishings with a number of windows being smashed and there was an attempt by the same vandals to set the tram on fire.   646 was later sold on and sadly the tram has now been scrapped.

A proposed move for 648 to Crich fell through and 648 joined the Heritage fleet at Blackpool.   The tram entered service with the heritage fleet in 2012 originally in the same condition as it ended normal service in 2011, however over the winter of 2012/13 it received 80’s green and cream livery, the livery originally carried by this tram when it made its debut as 651 back in 1985.

Some of the features received during 648’s mid lifeoverhaul were reversed such as the removal of the skirts at both driving ends and the reinstatement of the traditional life guards.   The increased body sides were also reduced back to their original size.   The only modern concession is that the new hopper windows and modernised interiors remain.

642 also remained unsold and was originally expected to be used as a source of spare parts for 648, however the tram has has seen some use as a back up for 648 and occasionally as an extra driver only operated special on the heritage service.   642 retained the faded yellow base coat that it wore

during it’s final years in service until 2018, when after 2 years in storage awaiting repairs to a fault, the tram was repainted into a recreation of an advert for Blackpool Transport and Heritage Tram tour Travelcards from the mid 1990’s, with the ends receiving 1990’s green and cream.   642 has also received modifications to it’s front ends to allow retrofitting of original style headlights and indicators. The tram has however, retained its increased height body sides, modernised hopper windows, modernised interior and larger destination blind boxes.

Following 5 years at the Windy Harbour Caravan Park just outside of Blackpool, 645 was deemed surplus to requirements and was taken back by Heritage tram tours to join the heritage fleet.   645 returned to Blackpool in late July 2017 and will represent the final form that the refurbished cars took on, however this is likely to be sometime in the future as the tram will need to receive an overhaul and with 2 centenary cars in service, a third is probably not needed in service at this time.

The Centenary Trams will go down in history as being the last class of First Generation Tram to be built for a British Tramway, number 647 will also go down as being the last new First Generation tram to be built and enter service.


Original Number Current Number Built Status livery Notes
641 1985 Preserved Horizon Blackpool On display at Pleasure Beach Loop
642 1986 Heritage fleet travelcard advert on sides, 90’s Green and Cream on ends modernised, Part of the heritage fleet
643 1986 withdrawn green and cream coronation style livery Being converted for use by a school in the Midlands
644 1986 withdrawn Farmer Parrs advert Located at Farmer Parrs
645 1987 Stored all over red Part of the heritage fleet
646 1987 scrapped scrapped 2012
647 1987 preserved All over yellow base coat Located at NELSAM, Sunderland
651 648 1984 in service 80’s Green and Cream has retained original fronts. Part of  Heritage Fleet
Original Info From