A.B. Denning & Co

In February 1950, at just 20 years of age, Alan Denning leased a small shed at 82 Annerley Road in Woolloongabba, where the one-man operation began by repairing smashed cars. By 1955, Alan had taken on a partner in Len Molloy and two employees. This enabled diversification into the construction and modification of ambulances, hearses, motorhomes and utility bodies.

Alan Denning, aged 26, pictured with a Ford Zephyr sedan rebuilt as a station wagon 1956-57 for Ford Motor Co. Photo: Denning Family Collection

The first bus

It was the construction of a Morris motorhome in 1957 that drew the attention of Mr Miller from Miller’s Cruiser Coach Service, who operated a daily bus service between Brisbane and Lismore. Mr Miller was so impressed by the workmanship of this motorhome that he placed an order with Alan to construct him a bus. Accordingly, Alan and his small team set about constructing his first bus – a side-loader vehicle on International AS130 chassis. This job was completed in late 1957 and seated 22 passengers. 

Alan Denning’s first bus order was to build a side-loader body on International AS130 chassis for Miller’s Cruiser Coach Service. Photo: Denning Family Collection

Subsequent orders

Upon completion of his first bus, Alan received orders in 1958 for another two International side-loaders from Brisbane-based long distance operators, Glanville’s Coaches and Border Coaches, along with a traditional forward-control body on J6 Bedford chassis for Bill Mitchell’s Tamborine Bus Service. A fourth and final side-loader was built in 1959 this time on Dodge chassis for Les Miers’ Coachways of Murwillumbah.

The last side-loader body was built in 1959 for Les Miers’ Coachways operation in Murwillumbah, New South Wales. It was Build No. 5 and was the only side-loader built on Dodge chassis. Photo: McCafferty Family Collection

The first coach

No further buses were built until Alan approached nearby operator Rex Law of Redline Coaches to build upon a spare chassis stored behind his depot. The chassis was a J6 Bedford which Rex himself converted to rear-engine. After lengthy discussions, Alan convinced Rex that he would be better served having the bus built locally rather than by Custom Coaches in Sydney. This vehicle was delivered on Christmas Eve 1960 and was in fact the last vehicle completed at the Annerley Road premises. Redline Coaches would become Denning’s largest customer in the early years receiving 53 buses between 1960 and 1969.

On 24 December 1960, Redline Coaches received their first Denning coach in the form of this Bedford J6 chassis with rear-engine conversion. It was Build No. 6. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co

Fairfield Road

With a team of seven employees and orders flowing in, factory floor spare doubled with a move to Fairfield Road in Yeerongpilly during January 1961. It was at this point where all other activities except bus building were discontinued. Additional orders were received from Redline, Glanvilles and Border Coaches, along with the first vehicle for Russ Penfold’s Greyhound Coaches. This vehicle was credited as Queensland’s first ‘air conditioned’ coach and involved the use of mounted blower fans on the top side of luggage racks which allowed fresh air to circulate throughout the bus. Built for an estimated cost of £9000, the vehicle performed its first service run on Friday 22 December 1961.

The first coach for Greyhound Coaches was completed in December 1961 on a Commer chassis with rear-engine conversion performed by Doug Herron of Balmoral Engineering, East Brisbane. It was Build No. 12. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co
Ken McFadyen’s Border Coaches were an early Denning customer who purchased several coaches for their interstate passenger services. Pictured is Build No. 22 a 37-passenger body on Bedford SB3 chassis completed in 1962. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co

First large order

In 1963, Alan Denning received his largest order to date from Leo McGrath’s Black & White Buses of Sandgate who ordered ten vehicles consisting of four Leyland Lions, four Leyland Royal Tiger Cubs and two Albion Nimbuses. This certainty combined with subsequent orders from Redline, Greyhound and Border, saw staff numbers rise to 26. 

Black & White Buses of Sandgate took delivery of four new Leyland Lion coaches with Denning bodies between March 1963 and October 1963 (Build Nos. 30, 32, 40 and 41). Photo: McGrath Family Collection

Re-engineering division

Due to the high demand for rear-engine coaches, Alan and the team introduced their own in-house re-engineering division during 1963. This enabled the business to convert previously front-engine chassis to rear-engine, which at that stage were not readily available to order in Australia. Prior to this point, Doug Herron’s Bulimba Engineering in East Brisbane performed all chassis conversions for Denning. The first in-house chassis conversion was undertaken by Athol McKinnon and Leigh Gamer on what is believed to be a coach for the Lewis Bros of Adelaide.

Raynham Street

As the demand for coaches grew, the Denning family decided to give up the leased Yeerongpilly factory and purchase their own land and building at Raynham Street in Salisbury during January 1964. The extra room provided for the doubling of production capacity.  During this period, Denning welcomed new customers including Clarrie Skennar, Cobb & Co and Sundowner Tours.  As the company settled into its new Salisbury factory, Alan approached Pressed Metal Corporation (PMC) in Sydney to see whether they would be interested in assembling their school bus bodies for Queensland at his Brisbane plant. Alan was taken by surprise when the PMC instead offered to purchase 51% of his company. After further negotiations, the share sale was completed in mid-1965 at which point the company employed 46 staff. 

Build No. 76 was on Albion Viking VK41L chassis for Redline Coaches, completed March 1965. Photo: Ken Magor
In August 1965, Clarrie Skennar purchased his first Denning coach body fitted to an International chassis. It was Build No. 94. Photo: Bob Nean

First City Bus

In May 1966, Denning successfully tendered for the development of a prototype Leyland Panther bus for the Brisbane City Council. Not only was it the first time Denning had competed in the government market, but it was also the first rear-engine city bus built by an Australian manufacturer. The vehicle was developed in conjunction with Council engineers, and featured a body frame made from steel pressings that were spot welded together. This process was successfully adapted from PMC in Sydney. This vehicle was to be the forerunner of 340 vehicles bought to replace Brisbane’s tram network between 1968 and 1970. Athol Hedges secured the lead contract for 204 units, while Denning was awarded the remaining 136 vehicles. These Panther buses made up the largest order of this chassis type anywhere in the world.

In May 1966, Denning successfully tendered for the development of a prototype Leyland Panther bus for the Brisbane City Council. It was build number 125 and was the first rear-engine city bus to be built by an Australian manufacturer. Photo: Brisbane City Council

First Monocoach

In 1966, Denning decided to design their own fully integrated chassis, with a rear engine and high frame to accommodate large luggage capacity required for long distance operation. This new concept was dubbed the ‘Monocoach’ and featured the new ‘Squareline’ body design. The first vehicle was sold to Grenda’s Bus Service in Victoria and featured a 6V53 General Motors detroit diesel engine along with Allison MT41 automatic transmission, Rockwell axles and ZF power steering. 

The first Denning integral chassis and body, known as the ‘Monocoach’, was completed for Grenda’s Bus Service of Dandenong, Victoria on 29 April 1967. It was Build No. 142. Photo: John Masterston Collection

Landseer Street

During August 1967, the company moved a fourth and final time to a new, purpose-built factory at the corner of Landseer Street and Ingram Road, Acacia Ridge. At a cost of $250,000, the 31,000 square-metre site was bought to enable Denning to compete for large-scale contracts such as the Brisbane Panther order of 136 buses which commenced in 1968. At this time the company employed 90 staff and had orders estimated at more than $2 million. 

A purpose-built factory was established on the corner of Landseer Street and Ingram Road, Acacia Ridge during August 1967. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co
Build No. 172 was on Commer Avenger chassis for Rex Law’s Redline Coaches, completed October 1967. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co
Denning bodied 136 Leyland Panthers between 1968 and 1970, which were allocated BCC fleet numbers 420 and 587–721. Bus 606 was delivered on 25 November 1968. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co

Acquisition by Leyland Motors

The direction of the business took a significant shift from 1 October 1968, when Leyland Motors wholly purchased Pressed Metal Corporation and its subsidiary in A.B. Denning & Co. This takeover consequently saw Alan become Managing Director of both companies.

In 1968, the Monocoach was re-styled for Greyhound Coaches and fitted with integrated air conditioning. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co
Pictured in build at the Acacia Ridge factory in mid-1970 is Job No. 280, a two-axle coach body on Albion Viking AVK43-505 chassis for Border Coaches. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co

Adelaide factory

In December 1969, Denning were awarded a contract in Adelaide to build 291 AEC Swift city buses for the South Australian Government. A disused BMC car assembly plant at 696 Port Road, Beverley was overhauled and used for the new manufacturing enterprise known as ‘Denning SA’. The city bus contract spanned between 1970 and 1973. Following this, the Adelaide plant constructed 45 coaches and school buses until closing its doors in 1975. 

One of the 291 AEC Swift 691 city buses built in Adelaide by Denning SA between 1970 and 1973. Photo: Ian Lynas

Personnel changes

In early 1971, long-term employees Leigh Gamer, Dudley Brewer and Charlie Winter left Denning together to form their own body building enterprise: Gamer, Brewer & Winter (GBW). Alan Denning himself followed suit shortly after in March 1971, to work for Volvo Trucks at Wacol as they set up a new factory. In December 1972, Alan returned to Denning as its Managing Director.

First three-axle

In October 1971, the first three-axle integral Denning Monocoach was sold to Wadmore’s Coachlines in South Australia. This concept was driven by the need to carry more weight and increased stability for outback off-road operators. A second three-axle Monocoach was built in late 1972 with the view that Clarrie Skennar would purchase it for the Rockhampton inland passenger service which was up for tender. However, the tender was in fact won by McCafferty’s who purchased the coach which became their very first Denning.

Build No. 383 was the second three-axle Denning Monocoach built and became the first Denning coach purchased by McCafferty’s. Photo: McCafferty Family Collection

Continued success

By 1974, Denning were receiving orders from all over Australia and even New Zealand, which quickly boosted business. At this point annual production reached 40 vehicles. Denning established eleven service centres in the major capitals as well as Newcastle, Wodonga, Mount Isa, Cairns and Alice Springs. The company prided itself on offering 24-hour service.

Split from Denning

On 5 February 1975, Alan Denning along with Athol McKinnon, Eddie Wechner and Jim Harwood all resigned from the company to form their own integral body-building business: Denning, McKinnon & Co. This was the result of differences with senior management figures over the development of an air-suspended coach. Leyland vetoed this new concept and instead persisted with conventional leaf-spring suspension.  

After this personnel shake-up, the company recruited from within and appointed Ted Rolls as its new General Manager, Bruce Hood a Director, and Dick White into sales. After the success of the Denning-McKinnon air-suspended chassis (later known as the ‘Tourmaster’), which had been sold to Domino, Denning experimented with air-spring suspension themselves. In 1977, the company was re-branded ‘Denning’ and became part of Leyland’s growing bus and coach division.

First bogie-drive

Later that year, Denning designed and manufactured their first ‘bogie drive’ 6×4 coach chassis. This proved to be the first dedicated coach chassis of this kind anywhere in the world. This design was driven by safari operators such as Bill Hand who were off-road adventurers, along with coach companies such as Stateliner who drove long stretches on unsealed roads. The first bogie-drive coach was built for Stateliner in December 1977. 

Build No. 765 was a bogie-drive coach powered by a 8V71 engine for Bill and Doreen Hand’s Sundowner Tours, completed April 1980. Photo: Truck & Bus Transportation Magazine

First Den-Air

In 1978, Denning produced its first fully air-suspended coach known as the ‘Den-Air’. This was the result of an extensive research and development program which involved the production of three-prototype units. The first of which was just a bare chassis-and-body-frame which ran thousands of kilometers on corrugated dirt roads in south-west Queensland. The concept was driven by Kevin Kirkland who during a bus and coach operators study tour to America in 1977 told Denning that he would buy the first one. This vehicle was completed on 9 August 1978 and was displayed at the Sydney Bus Show that year.  

First Den-Flex

In 1980, Denning broke away from pure coach development and designed a new route and school bus combination known as the ‘Den-Flex’.  The first vehicle was sold to Polley’s Coaches in Gympie and was bodied by GBW. It wasn’t until mid-1981 that Denning bodied its first Den-Flex, with the majority fitted out by PMC in Sydney and Adelaide. Production of the Den-Flex chassis spanned five years between 1980 and 1985, with a total of 65 vehicles built. 

Kangaroo Bus Lines purchased three brand new Den-Flex buses for urban services between 1982 and 1983. Photo: Webster Family Collection

Second BCC contract

Denning secured its second contract with the Brisbane City Council to supply 140 new city buses on M.A.N. chassis during 1980. The first batch of 27 vehicles was completed by PMC in Sydney for the Council’s new CityXpress services. Denning then built 113 at their Acacia Ridge factory between 1982 and 1984, including a prototype body. A further order of 40 city buses were built between 1985 and 1986. 

The first of 180 M.A.N. buses for the Brisbane City Council was delivered in February 1982. Photo: Brisbane City Council
In 1983, Denning manufactured this prototype body for the Brisbane City Council which was displayed at the Sydney Bus Show. Photo: Geoff Foster

Denning Majestic

In 1983, Denning started a new bodying series known as the ‘F’ series – bodies built upon ‘foreign’ chassis other than their own. These included everything from Mercedes, Hino, Nissan, Scania, Motorcoach and Leyland of course. A total of 200 ‘F’ series builds, badged as Denning ‘Majestic’, were completed at Acacia Ridge.

In August 1986, Geoff and Jean Thompson took delivery of this Denning bodied Leyland Tiger TRCTL11/3R. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co

Denning No. 1000

A major milestone occurred in March 1984 with the completion of the 1000th Denning coach, presented to Alastair and Beverley Grant of Sunshine Coast Coaches by Ted Rolls. The vehicle was officially unveiled and handed over at the Acacia Ridge factory on Wednesday 14 March 1984.  A large number of Denning customers from all-over Australia travelled to Brisbane to attend the event. 

Build No. 1000 was finished on 14 March 1984 and was displayed at that year’s Sydney Bus Show. Photo: Vic Hayes
Sunshine Coast Coaches proprietors Alastair and Beverley Grant pictured in front of the 1000th Denning coach. Photo: Grant Family Collection

The Landseer

In August 1984, the Denning Landseer was produced after extensive research and development, with the first vehicle going to Max Holman’s VIP Express. The first major order went to Ansett Pioneer who used their connections in the USA to show that the Landseer was the most aerodynamic body compared with all major USA, Canadian and Australian coach manufacturers. The new Landseer design was a hit with customers with almost 300 units produced in five years up to 1990. These included variant designs known as the ‘Hi-Deck’ and ‘Hi-Screen’.  

Build. No 1030 – the first Denning Landseer for Max Holman’s VIP Express, completed August 1984. Photo: Vic Hayes
Build No. 1145 – demonstrator unit built in 1986 and sold to Australian Kakadu Tours in Darwin. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co
Build. No 1187 – three-axle model powered by a Detroit Diesel 8V92 motor for Clarrie Skennar, completed March 1987. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co
On 14 February 1989, McCafferty’s Coaches of Toowoomba took delivery of their 100th Denning coach. Pictured from left to right are: Ted Rolls, Jack McCafferty, Tony McCafferty, Julia Buckle and Sharyn Wessling. Photo: McCafferty Family Collection

Double Deckers

Customer demand saw the advent of the Denning double decker during 1987 with the first prototype completed in January 1988. This vehicle was sold to Victor Lindsay of Coffs Harbour, who was a strong proponent of the new design. Deluxe Coachlines placed an order for 20 double deckers so long as they could be produced within 12 months. 

Deluxe Coachlines placed an order for 20 double deckers so long as they could be produced within 12 months.  Photo: A.B. Denning & Co Pty Ltd

Merge with Austral

In February 1989, Denning’s parent company, JRA, purchased Austral Bus & Coach on Brisbane’s north side. Austral was the successor of Athol Hedges & Domino, and had been Denning’s main competitor in the coach market. The two entities traded separately until Denning production shifted to the Austral factory at 356 Bilsen Road, Geebung during February 1990. The service department remained onsite at Acacia Ridge until April 1992 when it too gave way to Geebung. This marked the end of Denning with the last Landseer was produced at Geebung in June 1992. 

Build No. 1399 – a three-axle model powered by a Detroit Diesel 6V92 motor for Brits Australia, completed October 1991. Photo: A.B. Denning & Co Pty Ltd
One of the last Landseers produced at Geebung and fitted with an ‘Austral Denning’ badge. It was displayed at the 1992 Sydney Bus Show. Photo: John Beckett