The 1980s Phenomenon Of Double-Decker Bus Racing

Last Updated 10 April 2024

The 1980s Phenomenon Of Double-Decker Bus Racing
Red double-deckers racing around a track
Double-decker racing — the sporting event of the (last) millennium.

If you thought watching the Silverstone Grand Prix was the thrill of a lifetime, you obviously haven't heard about double-decker bus racing.

"It's the classic situation," says a World of Sport commentator, "You wait ages for a London bus, and then six arrive at once." On a grey summer's day in 1982, the Northampton Stadium purrs splutters with the engines of retired London Transport buses — so sheerly cuboid in shape, they are surely knocked up out of wine crates by Boris Johnson.

Spectators are criminally thin on the ground for what is unquestionably the sporting event of the (last) millennium; a 15-lap thriller between half a dozen Daimler Fleetlines (all, it seems, helmed by a man called Terry), in a scene that resembles a pack of night bus drivers hopped up on Monster energy drink, and competing to finish their shift first.

We can't find a video of the whole race, but the most riveting moment is fortunately captured on camera (and no, it isn't a blazing crash). As the buses wobble their way around the final lap, the leading driver complains of "chronic understeer", and is shortly after pipped by the Number 2, driven by... well, a man named Terry, obviously.

Over four decades on, there is still some bitterness about the whole thing, with rumours of race fixing. On YouTube, commenters claiming to be drivers on that fateful day suggest the buses sponsored by Acorn Computers were always earmarked to be victorious (whether or not that's true, the brand has long since lost in the race to corner the electronics market).

An old ad for bus racing at Northampton Stadium
Image © Reach PLC, courtesy British Newspaper Archive

This unorthodox grand prix wasn't a one off, it turns out. We've found adverts for other bus races at Northampton Stadium in the 1980s, and into the late 90s. Is double-decker racing still a thing? Do we need to catch a train to Northampton this instant? Scrap that, we're taking the bus. Step on it, driver!

Realistically, you might have to make do with Imberbus these days, which has more buses, less of the jeopardy.