Cheeky green and white minibuses running
round Bournemouth in the mid-1980s


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 the National Bus Company subsidiaries Shamrock & Rambler were purchased by Drawlane, itself a subsidiary company of contract cleaning firm Endless Holdings of Salisbury, for £0.7 million pounds. That took place on 6th July 1987 whilst Ray McEnhill was chairman (Drawlane was the company that would eventually become British Bus in 1992 and subsequently become part of the Cowie Group, which later became Arriva). This was Drawlane's first acquisition of a transport business.

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 there 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, however many of their routes had initially opened up new areas to buses.

Five new routes 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 headway, competing 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.

Major alteration and expansion took place on 19th October 1987, which brought the green and white minibuses to Parkstone and Poole for the first time.  A colourful timetable booklet was issued at the time. This was to be the only booklet produced and future timetables were individual route leaflets. The services were operated by drivers working an all day single shift system with considerable interworking of vehicles between routes.  There were never evening nor Sunday services.

Using coaches 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.

1988 was to prove to be a fateful year of growth and subsequent decline.  Further revisions followed on 7th March 1988 with routes S and T to Highcliffe introduced, and the E extended to Burton. More growth followed on 6th June 1988 with route K 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.

6th June 1988 also saw the introduction of S&R Buses routes V and W to the West Howe, Kinson and Bear Wood areas using nine full sized single-deckers (Leyland Nationals, ex-Midland Red North).

The competitive Badgerline operations in the area having proved less than succesful, it was intended that their routes would cease after 7th May 1988. With that about to happen it was agreed that Charlies Cars would assume operation of Badgerline routes 7 and 8 (Poole to Canford Heath) from 9th May, labelling them as routes P and R. That did not happen however as Badgerline operations ceased prematurely on 26th March without notice as drivers left the company.  Similarlly route M Bournemouth to Canford Heath, Broadstone and Corfe Mullen was meant to pass from Badgerline to Charlies Cars on 9th May.  In practice route M never ran at all, neither for Badgerline nor Charlies Cars.

By the autumn of 1988 the new owners Drawlane decided to abandon the Charlie's Cars operation altogether. Retrenchment started on 19th September 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 two months longer until final closedown and withdrawal of all services on Saturday 3rd December 1988.

In part substitution Bournemouth Transport introduced five 'Yellow Flyer' minibus routes from 5th December 1988, employing some of the Charlies Cars drivers. Focused largely like Charlie's Cars on the Hampshire Centre shopping precinct 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.

The coaching side of the parent Shamrock & Rambler 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 their coaching fleet had numbered forty-five.

Charlie's Cars at work in Upper Parkstone, one of
the original Sherpa / Carlyles on route K

Charlie's Cars working eastwards through Boscombe,
passing the end of Sea Road
Charlies in Parkstone

Charlies in Boscombe

Cover of the October 1987 timetable booklet

List of routes and alterations October 1987

timetable cover 1989

routes 1989

The Charlie's Cars route map from the centre pages of the 1987 timetable booklet is reproduced below

map 1989

 Charlie's Cars routes reached their maximum extent with the June 1988 service revisions:

    A - The Hampshire Centre - St Catherines Hill - Christchurch - Somerford
    B - The Hampshire Centre - Brassey Road - Winton - Bournemouth Square
    C - The Hampshire Centre - Muscliffe - Bournemouth - Penn Hill - Poole
    D - The Hampshire Centre - Townsend - Castledean - Christchurch - Highcliffe
    E -  Bournemouth Square - Boscombe - Iford - Christchurch - Burton
    F -  Poole - Parkstone - Bournemouth - Tuckton - Christchurch - Somerford
    G - The Hampshire Centre - Charminster - Boscombe - Boscombe Pier
    H - The Hampshire Centre - Townsend - Castledean - Boscombe - Bournemouth
    K - The Hampshire Centre - Wallisdown - Parkstone - Poole - Wimborne
    S -  Bournemouth Square - Southbourne - Christchurch - Beach Approach - Highcliffe
    T -  Bournemouth Square - Southbourne - Christchurch - De Havilland Way - Highcliffe
 S&R Buses:
    V -  Bournemouth Square - Winton - Moore Avenue - Kinson
    W - Bournemouth Square - Leybourne Avenue - Kinson - Bear Cross - Bearwood
 Town Tracker:
    X5 - Weymouth - Dorchester - Poole - Bournemouth - New Milton - Southampton
    X6 - Bournemouth - Airport - Ringwood - Southampton

Starting on 19th October 1987, in addition to the Charlie's Cars minibuses, there were the X5 and X6 Town Tracker routes, linking Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth. Between Bournemouth and Southampton the X6 served Bournemouth (Hurn) airport whilst the X5 went by way of Christchurch and New Milton (and from 4th January 1988 via Lymington too). The Weymouth section was dropped on 12th July 1988 and the X6 stopped, with the X5 curtailed to run Poole - Bournemouth - Southampton. All Town Tracker services ceased on 10th September 1988, the minibuses following soon after in December of the same year.

Town Tracker 1987

Older and newer examples of the Charlie's Cars timetable leaflets. The older format (January 1987) was more colourful and the cartoon logo of the minibus featured in all their publicity throughout the operation. Routes B and C each operated every 20 minutes, giving a combined 10 minute frequency. The K was the longest route after being extended from Poole to Wimborne; it ran half hourly with an end-to-end running time of 80 minutes.

On the left the S& R Buses timetable leaflet. On the right 'the route that never was', the M. This was originally intended to be operated by Badgerline, but before it could be introduced they had already decided on their withdrawal from Poole and Bournemouth. So the route was lettered rather than numbered in anticipation of operation by Charlie's Cars from 9th May 1988. But in practice that never happened and the route never ran.

old and new timetables
more timetables

Typical drivers duty schedule from 1988. Back to the depot to change buses twice during the day.
Operations were 'single shift' with no evening or Sunday services.
   H / C = Hampshire Centre
typical drivers duty schedule 1988

If you remember the earlier days of Charlie's Cars as one of Bournemouth's leading coach operators, follow the link below

     Click to go to the Countrybus index page

      Click here to go to the Charlie's Cars 1946 page