Blackpool Balloon Cars

HM Coastguard Liveried Balloon 726 at Foxhall on its first journey back in service on 10th June 2007

In 1933 when Walter Luff took over the running of Blackpool Corporation Transport, he found that he had a fleet of trams that most were past their sell by date. He set about modernising his fleet. Firstly he ordered some samples of new trams, one of these trams was a 'luxury dreadnought' numbered 226 (later 237 and even later 700). It featured centre entrances, seating for over 90 people, it was a double decker and was open topped.

It was well received so a further 12 were ordered as well as 14 enclosed topped cars. These trams became fondly known as balloon cars because of their streamlined bloated appearance. Initially, the cars worked on the Lytham Road route with the enclosed examples having heating and running all year round.

The 2nd World war saw a decline in the use and need for the open topped balloon cars so during 1942 cars 237-249 were given closed tops to match their sisters 250-263 and the thin wooden seats on the top decks were upholstered allowing them to be used all year round too.

The balloons were all painted into a mainly green wartime livery, which not only helped to make them less visible to enemy aircraft, but also saved using large quantities of poor quality of cream paint, however the livery made the trams look much older than they actually were.

After the war the balloons were neglected as Walter Luff saw them as been old fashioned, too slow to load and that a frequent service using single deckers was the way ahead, thus more attention was paid to the new Coronation cars, which at the time were seen as the future of the tram fleet and as replacements for the balloon cars (in hindsight it is lucky that the balloons were not withdrawn considering the problems that there was with the Coronations). The Balloons would retained the drab wartime livery until the late 1950's.

When Joseph Franklin took over as manager, he saw their potential and how useful they were. The balloons started to receive repaints and extra seating capacity, with bench seats being fitted to each end of the upper deck on most of the trams.

Following the fitting of check rail north of Bispham and right through to Fleetwood in 1958, balloons began to appear on specials to Fleetwood from the prom and also on the North Station route, mainly on Market Days to shift the huge crowds making their way north in search of a bargain.

There were a few minor changes which would be made to the balloons around this time to modernise them, with most receiving single destination blinds at both ends, new rubber mounted roof windows and the removal of the sliding roof. However this was a slow process with the last tram not receiving the new single destination blinds until 1980. 700, 703 and 721 all retained the roof windows with 717 receiving them recently following its heritage restoration.

Following the closure of the Lytham Road Route in 1961, the Balloons found themselves working mainly as promenade and market day specials, and as school specials on the Marton Route during 1962 until that route closed, meaning that a number of the old fashioned standard cars could be withdrawn from use.

In 1968 all balloons were renumbered to 700 - 726.

All 27 balloons remained in service until 1971 when 714 and 725 were withdrawn in dire need of a rebuild. Both cars remained in store donating parts to the other trams until 725 was rebuilt as a one man decker (see Jubilee Trams) in 1979 followed by 714 in 1982.

Following a severe head on collision at the Pleasure Beach in 1980, both 705 and 706 were withdrawn, with 705 later being scrapped (the only balloon to date to have been scrapped) and thankfully 706 which had been towed into the bus yard for scrapping, was given a last minute reprieve, it was restored to 1934 condition as an open topped balloon and was named Princess Alice, returning to service in 1985.

701 was withdrawn in 1989 for an overhaul and re-emerged in 1991 with old bus seats fitted throughout, enclosed lighting, the roof lights and the curved windows upstairs removed giving it a flatter front end appearance. The tram was finished off in a red and white livery based on the routemaster buses which operated on the prom at the time.

711,719 and 723 were modernised in the 1990's re emerging with modernised interiors, heating and a flatter front end with the curved windows upstairs being eliminated. Most other balloons had their roof lights removed and had pantographs fitted about this time.

Car 703 was painted into wartime livery in 1995 to Celebrate 50 years since VE day and also received a trolley for a short time as it retained (and still does) the most original features for a balloon.

Car 700 was given a heritage overhaul in 1997 emerging in as built condition with a trolley pole and twin indicators refitted although much of the original interior was replaced with replica fittings.

Around the same time 719 was refurbished and became the Walls Ice Cream tram complete with an ice cream counter inside. However this unique feature wasnt too popular as the ice cream it sold was far dearer than on the prom, the capacity of the tram was drastically reduced due to the space the counter took up and a number of windows were removed including the forward view from the upper deck, the tram was also confined to mainly operating between Pleasure Beach and North Pier. The tram lost it's counter in 1999 but continued to advertise Walls Ice cream until 2006.

721 returned from a mini overhaul in 1998 and had been fitted with hopper windows and bus seats in the lower saloon, the car retained it's roof windows and retained the curved front windows, however the overhaul was controversial as some of the windows were removed as part of the Mitchellin tyres advert and the rest of the tram was covered in contravision advertising meaning that people couldnt see out the remaining windows, the windows which had been removed were replaced soon afterwards and the advert was removed in 2004.

In 1993, 707 was withdrawn for an overhaul and re emerged in 1998 with flat ends and a modern interior, but retaining the same controllers, centre stairs and centre doors and still requiring a 3 person crew. The tram was renamed it was now called a Millenium car. 709 was withdrawn in 1996 and re emerged as the 2nd millenium car in 2000. 718 was rebuilt in this way in 1999 re emerging in 2002 whilst 724 is the latest balloon to be rebuilt in this style and re-entered service in 2004. See Millenium cars

July 2001 saw one of the most spectacular derailments in the history of the tramway. Balloon 722, which was returning to depot after midnight hit a sand drift, came off the rails and landed on the Dual Carrigeway on the prom. It took over 12 hours to remove it and get it back to depot, the tram suffered some panel damage and broken window and was back in service a few weeks later. It had similarities to an accident which occurred in 1999 when the track gave way under 710 and it derailed on the reserved track between Cabin and St Stephens Avenue, the tram was left there for 5 days before being rerailed.

October 2002 saw 713 withdrawn from service with underframe defects and was in need of an overhaul, It has since emerged in the same style as 711,719 and 723 with the flatter front end and moderised interior.

Due to the bad state of the track North of Thornton Gate, and the resulting double decker ban from October 2002 to April 2004, the balloon cars could not travel to Fleetwood during this time. This resulted in a poor turnout in service of the class during the 2003 season as the tramway output was dominated by single deckers. The most frequent performers during this period were 704, 711, 719, 720, 721, 722, 723 and 726 as all these cars had adverts or were modernised compared to the rest.

The Double decker ban did have an upside, repairs and repaints were carried out on 700,702,703,706,710 and 712.

704, 716 and 717 made their final appearances in 2003 as all 3 were requiring work, 704 suffered badly from water ingress and was needing a full overhaul to solve the problem whilst 716 and 717 were withdrawn with underframe defects.

Winter 2003/ Spring 2004 saw 700 repainted into its wartime livery, 702 repainted into 1970's livery, 703 painted in 1980's livery, 706 repainted into its original 1930's livery, 712 painted into 1960's livery and is being sponsored by TRAMS magazine. Finally 710 was painted into Purple and Yellow line 7 Metro livery. No you arent seeing things 710 has been painted PURPLE AND YELLOW.

2004 saw the 70th anniversary of the English electric trams being built and part of this celebration was a cavalcade of trams including 700,702, 703,706 and 712. all these cars recieved black and white authentic destintion blinds and chrome numbers on the sides showing their original pre 1968 fleet numbers.

The end of the 2004 season saw a further 2 withdrawals. Cars 703 and 722 had been withdrawn, 703 was thought to be needing an overhaul having not received serious works attention for many years,only to be reinstated weeks later in place of 708 which was found to be in a far worse condition than 703. 708 is now confined to snowplough duties during the winter. 722 seemed a strange candidate for withdrawal having had a mini overhaul in the early 1990's and having had its roof domes replaced and remedial work to halt water ingress some weeks earlier. 722 was reinstated in July 2005 due to an over subscription of advertisers.

In 2005, 700 was fitted with a pantograph in place of it's trolley following a number of spectacular dewirements.

2005 saw most of the servicable balloons carry advertising liveries, and all of them saw use for the majority of the summer, however in 2006, the Pleasure Beach decided to stop advertising on the trams. 2 balloons (715 and 721) lost their adverts from the previous year and spent the season in an all over white livery, whilst 720 travelled round in its expired advert for the Eclipse show.

2006 also saw work commence on balloon 717's restoration to 1930's condition, 719 spend its last season as the Walls Ice Cream Tram. 720 was withdrawn in requiring a rebuild, it should re-emerge in the same style as 713.

2007 saw 700, 701, 711,712, 713, 722, 723 operating from Easter onwards with 706, 719 and 726 joining the active fleet in July and 703, 710, 715, 717 and 721 joining the fleet in time for the illuminations and 702 being a reserve car and may see use at any time. The above was originally planned to happen but due to a new advert for 721 and 726 and an all decker service starting earlier than planned, 700, 701, 703, 706, 710, 711, 713, 721, 722, 723 and 726 all saw use from May onwards.

Work was still underway on 717 and was supposed to be complete for Easter 2008. However delays with the deliery of glass for the curved cab door windows and upper deck end windows meant that the tram didnt return to service until Tram Sunday. 720 is expected to return to service some time in 2009/10. At present it has been stripped back to it's frame and has received a new underframe, trucks, staircases, refurbished controllers and some interior panels. The upper deck curved front windows have also been removed. It has been announced that 708 will also be overhauled, however it is not known at this stage whether it will be a heritage overhaul or a 713 style overhaul although the latter is more likely.

With the return of 717 to service and the drastic reduction in numbers of passengers using the tramway, 722 has been withdrawn, this decision was taken following an accident which took place towards the end of the 2007 season when 711 collided with 722 at Admiral Point between Cabin and Bispham. It was decided not to repair the tram and it was withdrawn from service for a second and probably the last time.

2008 saw a number of balloons repainted into Metro Liveries with 711 (Line 14 Green and Yellow), 713 (Line 7 Purple and Yellow) and 715 (Line 16 Light Blue and Yellow) joining 710 as Metro Trams.

710 was withdrawn during 2008 with a number of faults and in need of a major overhaul. 722 had been trialed with widened doorways which will need to be implemented into the existing fleet retained after 2012. 722 has also had a number of electrical components and windows removed to keep other cars in the fleet going. It is expected that in 2012 when the new fleet of trams come in to service, that only the recently overhauled balloons (and the millenium cars) will be retained. Unfortunately this could mean the withdrawal of the remaining servicable unrefurbished balloons e.g 702, 703, 712, 715, 721 and 726 (and possibly 701 which although it is refurbished compared to the trams listed before it is not to the same level as 711, 713 etc)most of which still contain a number of original parts. It would be good if some of the better ones ie 701, 702, 712 and 721 could see some use post 2012.

720's refurbishment continues into 2009 and in a break from tradition, widened doorways and pods to allow air fitted doors are being fitted as this will need to be a requirement to allow the heritage fleet to be able to operate on the refurbished system post 2012. Conflicting reports suggest that 710 will be next for an overhaul instead of 708 which was previously mentioned. Reports also suggest that withdrawn and heavily stripped balloons 704, 716 and 722 have been declared as being surplus and wont be overhauled.

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Original Number Current Number Built Status livery Notes
237 700 1934 in service 1940's green and cream repainted in 2003, has twin and side destination blinds and original style panelling and decoration
238 701 1934 in service All over yellow modernised (although to a lesser extent to subsequent overhauls)with flatter front ends, has hopper windows and enclosed lighting
239 702 1934 reserve green and cream this tram has bus seats fitted to the upper deck, in it's second season as a reserve car
240 703 1934 withdrawn 1980's green and cream retains roof lights, never actually received the 80's livery in the 1980's
241 704 1934 withdrawn Eclipse all over advert withdrawn due to roof problems
242 705 1934 scrapped scrapped following a head on collision with 706
243 706 1934 in service 1930's green and cream open topped balloon with trolley pole and authentic top deck seats, named Princess Alice
244 707 1934 in service see millenium cars
245 708 1934 withdrawn 1970's green and cream withdrawn in need of an overhaul
246 709 1934 in service see millenium cars
247 710 1934 withdrawn Line 7 purple and Yellow
248 711 1934 in service Line 14 green and yellow metro livery modernised balloon with heaters fitted
249 712 1935 in service 1960's green and cream
250 713 1934 in service Line 7, Purple and Yellow received a 711 type overhaul
251 714 1935 in service see Jubilee Car 762
252 715 1935 in service Line 16 Yellow and Blue needs an overhaul
253 716 1935 withdrawn 1990's green and cream needs an overhaul, currently used as a store of spare parts
254 717 1935 in service 30's green and cream recently restored with a number of original features and fittings
255 718 1935 in service see millenium cars
256 719 1935 in service all over blue modernised balloon with heaters, named Donna's Dream house
257 720 1935 withdrawn being refurbished
258 721 1935 in service Pleasure Beach advert
259 722 1935 withdrawn TGWU Advert
260 723 1935 in service 80's green and cream modernised balloon with heaters
261 724 1935 in service see millenium cars
262 725 1935 in service see Jubilee Car 761
263 726 1935 in service HM Coastguard advert