Please note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current service information
The name Charlie's Cars was well known to many generations of residents and holidaymakers in Bournemouth. Noted for their fleet of plum and cream coloured excursion coaches (with Harrington bodies with that trademark "dorsal fin" in later years) the firm had been founded by the Pounds family in 1919. Eventually they were to be taken over by the orange and cream coaches of long established rival Shamrock & Rambler in 1963 (itself formed by a 1924 merger of two eponymous earlier operators). Subsequently Shamrock was nationalised in 1981 and then came under the auspices of area bus operator Hants & Dorset. Two years later the coaching activities were again separated out and the Shamrock & Rambler name re-established as Hants & Dorset itself was split up into several smaller units.
Then came bus deregulation in October 1986 which brought changes and some new competitive operators to the area. Shamrock revived the name of their subsidiary company Charlie's Cars for a new activity, namely the operation of green and white minibuses on local services in and around Bournemouth. This started, whilst they were still a National Bus Company subsidiary under the management of James Freeman, with nine vehicles. Neither Bournemouth Transport Yellow Buses nor Wilts & Dorset - the local incumbent bus operators - had yet considered substantive minibus operation, Wilts not starting their Skipper minibuses until September 1987. In the same month new interloper Badgerline started to operate a mix of full size vehicles and minibus routes as a local foray into this area. But this was for just six months until Badgerline's abrupt withdrawal locally in March 1988.
As an aside the new 'hail and ride' mini bus service to Winton by Charlie's Cars was possibly the last licensing battle before the introduction of the changes made by the Transport Act 1985 with deregulation of bus services coming into effect on 26th October 1986. The route licence was granted despite strong opposition from Bournemouth Transport and the Borough of Bournemouth. So the new operation started under the authority of a road service licence on 25th October, exactly one day before the then 'new fangled' deregulation of bus services commenced - with the supreme irony that a licence to run the route would no longer be needed as and from the very next day.
The Charlie's Cars operation expanded considerably in 1987 and grew to a fleet of 46 Ford Transit and Leyland Sherpa minibuses in and around Bournemouth and Poole. The new services gradually encroached upon some of Yellow Buses’ key routes, which eventually resulted in a robust response that would see Charlie’s Cars off in the end. Then as part of the government's sell-off of NBC companies Shamrock & Rambler were purchased by Drawlane, a subsidiary company of Endless Holdings of Salisbury, for £0.7 million pounds. That took place on 6th July 1987 whilst Ray McEnhill was chairman of the company; and this was the company that would eventually become British Bus.
The first Charlie's Cars routes had started on Saturday 25th October 1986 and linked the Hampshire Centre (an important out of town shopping mall subsequently redeveloped and known today as Castlepoint) to Winton by a circular route mainly through residential roads. Route A ran clockwise and Route B anti-clockwise, with a seven to ten minute frequency and hail-and-ride operation. The publicity was brash, colourful and cheeky. Routes were lettered and not numbered. As the depot was not far from the Hampshire Centre, the shopping mall was to form the keystone of many of the routes that developed. Nine vehicles were required initially. The operations were to progress through a series of planned extensions of routes, with a key aspect of the operation being to use the minibuses to bring services to residential areas and roads previously unserved.
Charlie’s Cars were to grow from an initial batch of eight Ford Transits through various batches of Freight Rover Sherpas with Dormobile or Carlyle bodies - and also a few Optares - to a point when here were briefly almost fifty minibuses in the fleet. Whilst the operations grew quickly they foind it difficult to retain drivers and started to face strong competition from Yellow Buses when they started to expand onto the main routes in Bournemouth. At the start, unlike other towns where minibuses usually replaced big buses with a much greater frequency, Charlie’s Cars services were usually new routes at a twenty minute frequency, meaning that loadings were never going to be huge. Timetable and route changes were frequent timetable changes, however many of their routes had opened up new areas to buses initially.
were introduced from 26th January 1987, the B and C from the Hampshire
Centre to Bournemouth Square; the D to Christchurch; and the G and H to
Boscombe. The original A and B were dropped at this time, although
covered in the main by the new routes. Vehicle requirement was doubled
to eighteen. Bringing the vehicle out-turn up to twenty-nine, new
routes E and F were introduced in April 1987 from Westbourne through
Bournemouth and Boscombe to Christchurch and Somerford on a ten minute
directly with Bournemouth Transport's main routes. This provoked
substantive retaliation for the first time with increased frequencies
on the corridor by the incumbent operator.
Town Tracker limited stop services X5 and X6 were introduced on 19th October 1987 and operated for a while on a route linking Southampton through Bournemouth to Weymouth. The Bournemouth to Weymouth section didn't last long and was dropped from 12th July 1988. Shamrock & Rambler also tried a short lived bus operation with full-sized single-deckers (S & R Buses) with a fleet of ten Leyland Nationals. But by the end of 1988 the new owners decided to abandon the Charlie's Cars operation altogether and the minibuses last ran on 3rd December. Some of the drivers were then employed by Bournemouth Transport (successor in name to Yellow Buses) for its short-lived Yellow Flyers minibus operation. Coaching operations continued for a while but with the loss of National Express contracts and a decline in the local day excursion trade as more holidaymakers came by car, the Shamrock & Rambler business closed altogether on 29th April 1989.
Further revisions followed on 7th March 1988 with routes S and T to Highcliffe added, and the E extended to Burton. More growth on 6th June 1988 included the introduction of S&R Buses routes V and W with full sized single-deckers (using nine ex-Midland Red North Leyland Nationals) and minibus route K was extended from Poole to Wimborne. The minibus fleet at this time numbered forty-nine: nine Ford Transit / Carlyle (the original vehicles for start of operations in 1986, all others mentioned hereafter were acquired in 1987), twenty Sherpa / Dormobile, fourteen Sherpa / Carlyle and six Sherpa / Optare.
By the end of 1988 the new owners decided to abandon the Charlie's Cars operation altogether and the minibuses last ran on 3rd December. Some of the drivers were then employed by Bournemouth Transport (successor in name to Yellow Buses) for its short-lived Yellow Flyers minibus operation.
Retrenchment started on 19th September 1988 with the withdrawal of minibus services A and G (Town Tracker had ceased running on the 10th). Both of the S&R Buses routes ceased on 2nd October and minibus operations continued for only a few months longer until final closedown and withdrawal of all services on 3rd December 1988. The coaching side of the parent company continued for a little longer but the loss of National Express contracts at the end of April, and a decline in the local day excursion trade as more holidaymakers came by car, led to the closure of the Shamrock & Rambler business on 29th April 1989. In September 1988 the coaching fleet had numbered forty-five.
In part substitution Bournemouth Transport introduced five 'Yellow Flyer' minibus routes from 5th December 1988. Focused largely like Charlie's Cars on the Hampshire Centre they were to prove to have an operating life of only nine months, finishing at the beginning of September 1989. Routes 36 and 37 covered Charlie's Cars route B, the 39 covered the C whilst the 41 and 43 covered parts of the A and K.