The Long and Winding Road of Australian Bus Manufacturing (ABM)
ABM Adelaide and Custom Bus (previously known as Custom Coaches) is an Australian bus body builder located in St Marys, New South Wales. Our story started over one century ago from humble beginnings in the form of simple bicycles – many less wheels than the massive articulated buses we’ve since put on Australian roads!
1935: The Cycle Components Manufacturing Company
Having been involved in the manufacture of bicycles since 1911, in 1935 Stanley Hillsdon founded the Cycle Components Manufacturing Company (CCMC) in Guildford, New South Wales. Interestingly, in 1946 the company won a contract to manufacture reversible seats for Sydney‘s then bustling tram system.
1955: Entering the World of Buses
In 1955, CCMC won a tender from the NSW Department of Government Transport to manufacture 125 single-deck Leyland Royal Tiger Worldmaster buses. In May of the following year, Hillsdon’s nephew by marriage, Jack Violet, was hired as Bus Divisional Manager to oversee the factory’s operations. By April of 1958, CCMC bodied their first privately owned bus, which was a Leyland Comet built for Rowes Bus Service.
Once the Leyland Worldmaster government project was completed, the majority of CCMC built buses were being manufactured for a range of private operators. However, much later they also built six MAN SL200 and SG182 buses bodied for Action Buses in Canberra, ACT as part of a government contract (gained after purchasing the Smithfield Bus & Coach Works company from the Bosnjak family in May of 1981). Custom Coaches then built another 19 Scania K112TR bus bodies for the New South Wales Government State Rail Authority in 1985/86.
1962: The Custom Coaches Manufacturing Company is Born
In 1962, Stanley Hillsdon passed ownership over to Jack Violet, and the company changed its name to the Custom Coaches Manufacturing Company (Also abbreviated CCMC) – CCMC’s original focus on cycle components had obviously become obsolete. Custom Coaches then made a conscious decision to exclusively concentrate on building bus bodies for the private sector.
In 1967, CCMC entered contractual agreements with other businesses including the Melbourne bus body builder, WA Newnham & Sons, Brisbane’s bus body builder, Watt Brothers, and by the time the 1970’s had arrived, Perth’s bus body builder, Howard Porter. CCMC’s main task was to provide frames and other components to these businesses, and in doing so, its bus bodies were now found driving all across Australia.
1988- 2000: Custom Coaches Expands Further
In 1988, Custom Coaches bought out Melbourne’s WA Newnham & Sons, and renamed that sector of the business, Newnham Custom. By 1995, a bus body building plant had been opened in Arundel on Queensland’s Gold Coast. In 2001, Custom Coaches deregistered the Newnham Custom brand, and Custom Coaches moved its production to Adelaide in South Australia.
2000: Australian Bus Manufacturing Enters the Picture
In 2000, Custom Coaches purchased the Australian Bus Manufacturing business, which had been formed in 1999 by a consortium of Custom Coaches, Jim Bosnjak, and John Hewson. ABM Company Director, Dr John Hewson, is a well-known figure in the Australian government, having been the former Leader of the Liberal Party and the Coalition in Opposition for four years, as well as being the Shadow Finance Minister, Shadow Treasurer, and Shadow Minister for Industry and Commerce. He was the Member for Wentworth in the Australian Federal Parliament for eight years.
This partnership had also purchased the PMC Australia (Pressed Metal Corporation), which had been owned and run by the Clifford Corporation in Adelaide. When the Clifford Corporation collapsed, Australian Bus Manufacturing picked up the pieces.
In 2001, Custom Coaches entered the field of bus refurbishment, naming that part of the business, Custom Care. After a few years, in 2004, Australian Bus Manufacturing was also rebranded as Custom Coaches.
2000 to the Present Day: Moving Towards the Future
By 1998 Custom Coaches resumed building buses for the New South Wales State Transit Authority after an amazing hiatus of over 37 years! Custom Coaches’ reputation had not decreased in the slightest. As of April 2013, over 1,280 bus bodies had been built for this government organisation.
In 2001, ABM made a direct investment in the China Qingdao Pacific Vehicle Co. Subsequently, ABM shipped advanced vehicle components, detailed vehicle engineering design drawings, and assembly tooling to its Chinese partner. ABM then assisted with engineering assembly technology along with manufacturing tooling designs, shipping a prototype vehicle to the China Qingdao Pacific Vehicle Co. for design normalisation in readiness for the ramping up of production.
In 2002, Mark Burgess, a great-nephew of Stanley Hillsdon by marriage, became the CEO of Custom Coaches. In 2005, the reigns were formally handed over to the next generation when Jack Violet sold the business to Mark, his brother Paul, and a long-time business partner, Chris Absalom.
By 2008, CCMC’s production exceeded 400 buses per year, and that same year, ABM visited Qingdao in China during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to look for potential business opportunities. As 2009 rolled around, the company had bodied over 15,000 buses. In May of 2010, CCMC moved its Sydney plant to a new premises located at Villawood in western Sydney.
In June of 2012, Mark Burgess and his partners sold CCMC to British bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis, and in 2018, the business was purchased again by Sydney bus charter company, Telford’s, who continue to manufacture buses at the western Sydney plant.
As of 2019, Mark Burgess retains the Australian Bus Manufacturing company name, and is taking the necessary steps to propel ABM into the future electric commercial vehicle marketplace.
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