You may well have noticed a distinct lack of Volvo B7s on First routes over the last week. This, as you may have already guessed, is because they are no longer based in Plymouth. Swansea has managed to gain 4 of 'our' B7s, numbered 69249-52 although for some reason 69253 has managed to stay put, meaning after all those B7s that were once in use in Plymouth during the big Ugobus push during Phase 3, we are now left with just 1. So, what's replaced them. Well this is where the Optare Excels that were destined for Cornwall come in. More R reg Darts as well as a few step entranced Darts were able to be sourced for the new work in Cornwall, and therefore 4 of the Excels have stayed put in Plymouth for the time being. Infact I don't really know why I'm being so cold towards the Excel; in actual fact, I'm really quite a fan.
The Excel has always has quite a strong following of enthusiasts, with an entire site devoted to their movement and workings (http://sulzerpower.com/excel/), and rightly so! Early Optares, both the Spectra and the Excel have always just had something about them that make them interesting, and pleasurable to the enthusiast. The body of them is certainly very good looking, very striking, with lovely clean lines, a very good piece of design, although I'm sure operators will probably tell you it comes at a price, with rot being a bit of a problem if you're not careful. Secondly, the engines are certainly quite punchy, and do really sound quite interesting, especially considering their relatively young age. This does of course depend on which engine the Excel is fitted with, although personally I've even found the Cummins engined ones to sound interesting, even though these are slightly underpowered. The other engine option for the Excel came from Mercedes, and quite frankly, you cannot get much better than this in a modern bus. Genuinely, the power, and comfort can only be matched by a Citaro, if at all by a modern low floor vehicle. They are quite frankly sublime, and I don't say that lightly. I believe all the vehicles that FDC have inherited from Glasgow are indeed Cummins powered, but I'd certainly say don't let that put you off sampling them. The one I rode on today, W49 WDS, although somewhat tatty interior wise, wasn't bad at all, although certainly not the nicest Excel I've ever been on. The other one out today was T375 JGB, but expect more to follow them into service over the next couple of days. The other feature I do particularly like about the Excel is the sideways seating on the rear wheelarches! Its such a simple thing, and yet I always find it completely changes to the feel of the bus. Not only is there plenty of room for a group of people to sit and talk without jabbing each others feet into one another every few minutes, but it always seems to open up the bus and feel a lot more airy and suspicious. So yes, although some 8 years older than the B7s, I certainly wouldn't knock them too fast if I were you, I reckon they're quite a catch! And when was a bit of variety ever a bad thing, even if you aren't a fan of the Excel!