Malta's Bus Body Builders

A Project Recording The History Of The Craftsmen Who Built The Bodies Of Malta's Buses ...

Introduction ...

Index of body builders ...

Whilst many of the chassis used to build Malta’s buses have come from outside of the islands, up until the early 1980s the bodies were built by local craftsmen. Over 60 builders of bus bodies have so far been identified. Many only built one or two bodies (sometimes because the person building the body was the vehicle owner, and they didn’t build for other owners), but several builders produced large numbers of bodies over many years – the most prolific being Frank Aquilina of Paola, who built in excess of 250 bodies between the 1920s and 1975. Whilst most body builders were individuals (sometimes employing small teams to assist them), occasionally an operator built their own bodywork (the main example being Joseph Gasan’s “British Motor Company” who not only bodied some of their own buses, but also during the late 1940s, bodied a number of buses using body kits imported from Wayne in the US and then assembled in Malta). As well the BMC, other “operator” builders included Daina Garage and Garden of Eden.
 
Many of the body builders were carpenters by trade, as for many years the body frames were built from wood - only later was steel used. Also, some bodied vehicles other than buses with a few examples of vans, trucks and ice cream vans being known of. If anyone has any more details of such vehicles (or better still photos !) please get in touch.

 
How You Can Help !

Sadly most of those involved in the industry are now no longer with us, but a couple of body-builders are still alive, and we would love to hear from them. We would also love to hear from any descendants of bus body-builders, especially if your family still has any records, photographs or memories of your family member’s involvement with Malta’s bus heritage. We would also love to hear from anyone who worked for or with the bus builders.












BELOW: The former EBY 482 undergoing a complete rebuild and restoration with John Galea in February 2017.
Work to index who built (or rebuilt) each bus continues. Much of the information obtained so far comes from what is on the “Initial Exam Report” when a bus has been built (or heavily rebuilt). The IER forms in the official vehicle files did not start to regularly appear until the 1940s, so before the war we mostly have to rely on letters in the files between the bus owner and the authorities, which sometimes mention who was in the process of building the body on the new bus. Sadly, for many pre-war buses, we currently do not know who built the bodies.

Thanks must go to Mike Fenton, who carried out a lot of research into Malta’s buses in the 1970s and 1980s. He managed to make detailed notes from documentation held by Frank Aquilina and Michael Barbara before they retired. I have been able to incorporate some of that information into my research, and it has been most useful in tracking who bodied certain pre-war buses. What is known so far for each builder is summarised on the following pages – click on the button to go to the index page.





 
The Modern Day Bus Building Industry ...

The industry is still alive today, though few practitioners of the art remain. The three main ones are:
 
Francis Attard (Il-Kalakku) was the last Maltese builder of new bus bodies, building low-floor bodies on new MAN and Volvo chassis between 2002 and 2004, and having previously built a batch of new coaches and new minibuses for the islands, under the name “Scarnif” (an anagram of Francis). He remains active today restoring classic Maltese buses and carrying out repair and rebuild work for modern day bus and coach operators from his workshop in the industrial area just to the south of Luqa village.

An interesting interview with Frans appeared in the Times of Malta in late 2010 - click on this button to read it...


 


Manuel Cutajar (Zinnu) runs the largest independent bus and coach works on the island, based on the edge of the airport near Luqa village. As well as also restoring (and owning !) heritage buses, he and his team are always busy carrying out repair and rebuild work on a variety of buses, coaches and lorries for various owners and operators around the islands.

 
John Galea, based close to St. Pauls Bay and Xemxija, is a truly remarkable craftsman, if only because of the fact he doesn’t work from a workshop, but rather a small patch of land, surrounded by fields, with the bare minimum of cover from the rain or summer sun. Despite this he manages to carry out extremely thorough rebuilds on classis buses – with examples stripped to the frames often being seen at his site. Many of the fine examples of restoration have been through his hands in recent years, with some work (such as painting) completed at other’s premises.
 
If you can help further our knowledge on this important aspect of Malta’s bus industry, or you just have an interest in Malta’s industrial past, please do get in touch. 
  
Body Index
Contact Us
ToM Article