By Tony Greaves
In 1984 Leyland Group decided to close down their long-established Leeds-based bus-building company, Charles H Roe. In 1985 a management buyout led by plant director Russell Richardson, and supported by the West Yorkshire Enterprise Board, set up Optare. They began production with Roe-designed bodies for Leyland Olympian chassis, but soon turned to their own designs. In 1986 the VW-based CityPacer minibus appeared, followed in 1987 by the Mercedes-based StarRider. 1988 saw the launch of the Daf-based Delta single decker bus, followed by the MAN-based Vecta midibus. In 1989 Optare acquired the design of the integral construction MCW MetroRider, and in the following year Optare joined Daf bus in the United Bus group. The Spectra was Daf-based but United Bus collapsed in 1993, so after another management buyout the Mercedes-based Sigma and Prisma buses were launched, and the low-floor Excel added. The highly-successful Solo was launched in 1997, and in 2000, Optare was acquired by a Hungarian group, North American Bus Industries. In 2005 yet another management buyout saw Optare independent again. In 2008, in a complex financial arrangement, Darwen Group, owner of East Lancashire Coachworks in Blackburn, merged with the Leeds firm as Optare Plc. Optare had acquired a bus factory in Rotherham, which closed in 2009. In 2010 a minority shareholding in Optare Plc was acquired by Ashok Leyland of India, increased to a majority 75%, in December 2011. In 2011-12 both the Leeds and Blackburn plants closed and a new factory was set up in Sherburn-in-Elmet. In 2012 Optare produced its 10,000th vehicle, and in 2014 the MetroDecker integral double decker bus was launched. As well as the story of Optare, in this publication we fill in the background histories of Charles H Roe, East Lancs, Northern Counties, Massey and Park Royal.