A group of motoring enthusiasts are making sure a bus which famously carried Muhammad Ali through South Shields drives like a dream once again.
The North East Bus Preservation Trust have got their hands on the open-top vehicle which the late sportsman rode on during his visit to the town in 1977.
The group, which have a base near Hetton, are now excitedly working to return the 50-year-old vehicle to its former glory.
Ali, who is being laid to rest today after he died aged 74 on June 3, was heavyweight champion of the world when he came to South Shields in July 1977.
Thousands of people lined the streets for a glimpse of the ‘Louisville Lip’, who waved and smiled as he was driven through the town.
Steve Griffin has been working alongside Bob Kell, Peter Elliott, Ray Thornton, Simon Cowley and other members of the North East Bus Preservation Trust to restore the famous motor.
He said: “In 1977 it was Jubilee year and it was decorated to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, which for anybody who was around in the 70s was a big thing for the country.
“At that time, Muhammad Ali was visiting South Shields so it was decided to use it for that, and there are many pictures of him standing on the top being shown around the streets of South Shields.”
The bus, which became an open-top vehicle after hitting a low bridge in 1974, was also used to carry shipyard workers to their jobs, welcome Tyneside Olympians – including Hebburn’s Brendan Foster – back home after the Montreal Games in 1976, to transport runners in early Great North Runs, and as a coastal summer service from South Shields to Seaburn.
It then went to Ireland to be used as a Galway City Tours bus, before being rescued from the scrap heap by the Trust.
Steve, a maintenance worker for Nexus, said: “Unfortunately after a while, the bus started to break down and he wanted a newer bus, so he went to the same dealer he got this one off and actually offered to give us this one back, providing we take it there and then.
“We’ve got a number of vehicles to restore so this one is standing here now waiting for its turn, and the hope is to return it to its former glory and for it to be available again to members of the public to ride up and down the seafront in South Shields, so they can stand in the very position Muhammad Ali stood in.
“It’s a significant vehicle with a remarkable history, so it’s worth preserving for its North East heritage alone.
“It was a good platform for it to see the public and I’m sure people are sad today and remember that time very well.”
The grandad-of-two, who lives in Whickham, added: “It’s marvellous to have the bus and it was very nice of the guy at Galway to donate it to us.
“When we first got it we didn’t actually fully understand the significance of it. We knew Muhammad Ali had rode on an open-top bus when he visited South Shields, but we didn’t know which one. It was only when we investigated further that we found it was this bus and we’re very excited to have it.”