Blackpool Balloon Cars

 Balloon 726 at Fleetwood Ferry, Summer 2007

Technical Information

Built: 1933 - 35

Builder: English Electric, Preston

Capacity: 84 - 94 seated (varies per fleet member)

Numbered: 237 - 263 (now 700 - 726)

Trucks: EE Equal wheel bogies, 4ft 9 inch wheelbase

Motors: EE 305 HP 57 x 2

Controllers: EE Z6

Top Speed: approx 35 MPH

Braking: Westinghouse air wheel, rheostatic 8 notches, hand- wheel

Current Collector: Pantograph

Current Operation: 700, 711, 713 and 719 are part of B fleet, can be used on normal service or heritage service if needed. 720 is stored

701, 706, 715, 717, 723 all part of heritage fleet

In 1933 when Walter Luff took over the running of Blackpool Corporation Transport, he cast an eye over the fleet he inherited and found that many were life expired, indeed a number of them were either originals or early examples of trams from the early years of  the tramway. The main type of double decker tram on the prom at the time was the open topped 'Dreadnought' tram, some of which had been built between 1898 and 1901.  The dreadnought trams featured double staircases at each end and could be dangerous when unloading.  

Walter Luff set into motion a plan that would see 116 new trams of different types enter service over the next 5 years.   A large number of these trams would go on to be the backbone of the fleet for the next 75 years. This began with the arrival of prototypes a Boat, Railcoach and a new type of Open topped double decker from English Electric in Preston.   The new double decker tram was a 'luxury dreadnought' numbered 226 (later 237 and even later 700). It featured centre entrance doors, open top deck, heating on the lower deck, comfortable seating for over 90 people and cabs for the drivers.

The tram was so well received that a further 12 open topped examples were ordered as well as a further 14 with enclosed top decks and opening canvas sun roofs. These trams became fondly known as balloon cars because of their streamlined and  bloated appearance. Initially, the trams worked on the Lytham Road route and promenade specials with the enclosed examples having heating and running all year round.

The start of World War Two saw a decline in the use of the open topped balloons and an urgent requirement for more enclosed double deck trams.   A start had already been made on enclosing the top deck and vestibulesof the Standard Trams, so during 1942 cars 237-249 also had their top decks enclosed to match their sister cars 250-263.    The now former open topped Balloons and the enclosed double deckers were almost identical except the former open toppers did not receive a sun roof or trolley arches, their thin wooden seats on the top decks were retained and  upholstered with passengers finding that those seats were not as comfortable. 

During the war, the Balloons received a new, mainly dark green livery.   This was partly down to trying to make the trams less visible to enemy aircraft and partly down to the fact that the cream paint available during this period was of a poorer quality.

The wartime livery carried by the Balloons featured below cab V's with a cream band round the body, cream windscreen hoods, a cream band above the lower deck windows and cream window frames on the upper deck.    The other feature was that the roof curved windows had their glass painted over with green paint.  Inside, the saloon lighting was downgraded with bulbs painted black apart from small areas to give off a chink of light.

The head and tail lights received hoods to stop the lights been seen from above.    The mainly green wartime livery, although functional, made the Balloons look alot older than they actually were at the time.

Almost as soon as the war ended, the hoods over the headlights were removed the saloon lighting was upgraded again and the bulbs had their paint removed.   Also the green paint over the curved roof windows was removed.   However the wartime livery was to remain until the mid 1950's.   Walter Luff, the General Manager of Blackpool Corporation Transport was coming to the conclusion that the Balloons and double deck trams in particular were becoming old fashioned and were too slow to load.   His thinking was that the way forward was for a frequent service using single deck trams. 

The arrival of a new fleet of 25 single deck trams called the Coronations, was seen as the future of the tram fleet and as replacements for the balloon cars, however this plan did not come to fruition due to a change in management and many problems with the Coronations, therefore the Balloons remained in service.

When Joseph Franklin took over as manager in 1956, he saw the potential of the balloon cars and how useful they were. The balloons started to receive repaints into a new livery featuring more cream.   Externally, the Balloons had new rubber mounted roof windows installed and the sliding roofs on the 250-263 series was removed.   Side destination screens above the centre entrances were also removed and a start was made on replacing the double destination blinds between the cab and the top deck windows with a single screen, although this was very slow progress with the final tram to receive the double screens not being done until 1980.   Extra seating capacity was introduced with bench seats being fitted to each end of the upper deck on most of the Balloons.

Until 1958 the furthest north the Balloon cars had reached was Bispham, however this changed in 1958 when check rail was installed north of Bispham and right through to Fleetwood.   Balloons began to appear on specials to Fleetwood from the promenade and later also on the North Station route, although this happened mainly on Market Days to shift the huge crowds making their way north in search of a bargain.

Following the closure of the Lytham Road Route in 1961, the Balloons lost their regular timetabled services and found themselves working mainly as promenade and market day specials. Three Balloons found use on the Marton route during 1962 as school specials until the route closed that October, meaning that a number of the Standard cars could be withdrawn from use.

In line with the 1968 fleet renumbering, the balloons were renumbered from 237 - 263 to 700 - 726.

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

In 1975, Balloon 707 became the first balloon to carry an all over advertisement, when it advertised Empire Pools for 2 seasons.

A number of balloons lost their roof windows during the 1970's and 80's with them being paneled over, however three trams have retained them throughout their working lives, these are 700, 703 and 721 with 717 being retro fitted with them following its heritage restoration in 2008.

In 1980, a severe head on collision occurred at Pleasure Beach between balloons 705 and 706, the cause was incorrectly set points. Both 705 and 706 were withdrawn, with 705 being scrapped (the only balloon to have been scrapped until 2009) and thankfully 706 which had been towed into the bus yard for scrapping, was given a last minute reprieve.

706 was restored as an open topped balloon as it was originally when built in 1934 and was named Princess Alice, returning to service in 1985 in time for the tramway centenary celebrations.   Princess Alice, although open topped had a few modern concessions including hopper windows fitted in the lower deck, wind shields on the ends of the top deck, a pantograph and a much longer canopy on the top deck to stop passengers from touching the overhead. 

In 1989 Balloon 710 would achieve legendary status among the fans of Coronation Street, when soap villain Alan Bradley met his death after chasing his wife, Rita Fairclough across the tracks just outside the Strand Hotel and being knocked down.   The episode, when shown  on 8th December 1989, attracted 26.93 million viewers.

A plaque to the event was unveiled on the front of the Strand Hotel in 2009 by Mark Eden, the actor who played Alan Bradley.   The Strand Hotel is located near the Wilton Parade Tram Stop on the Promenade.

In 1989, Balloon 701 was withdrawn in need of an overhaul.   Rather than receiving a standard overhaul, 701's overhaul was more experimental and would form the basis of a number of future overhauls.  

701's top deck would lose its curved roof windows and curved end windows, giving the top deck a flatter appearance.   Part of the reason behind this was that the curved glass was becoming harder and more expensive to get and a number of balloons had plastic curved windows that were weathering badly.   The trams also received new hopper windows in the passenger saloons. 

The interior was changed with enclosed bulb lighting being fitted to both decks and the replacement of the swing-over seating with fixed ex route-master bus seats. 

The tram was finished off in a red and white livery based on the route-master buses which operated on the prom at the time.   701 returned to service in 1991 and carried this livery until 1993.

With the overhaul of 701 deemed a success, balloons 723, 711 and 719 were modernised in the following years in the same style as 701.  The only differences were that these cars received low voltage inverters that allowed the trams to receive saloon heating, fluorescent lighting in both decks, indicators and halogen headlights.

1992 saw the end of the Balloons using trolley poles for current collection.   The final few Balloons to retain them, were converted to pantograph after the end of the season.

In 1995, the whole of the UK was commemorating 50 years since both V.E. and V.J. days (The end of World War Two).   As part of the commemorations, Balloon 703, which was deemed to have the most original features for a balloon, was chosen to receive a repaint back into the livery that the Balloons carried during the war.   703 also had a trolley pole reinstated for a time.

Balloon 700 was withdrawn for a major overhaul in 1997, however rather than being modernised in the style of Balloon 723, it received a more sympathetic overhaul back to a more original style.  The double destination screens and side route blinds (the side blinds were painted on rather than being operational) were reinstated as were the hoods above the windscreens and decorative mouldings.   The interior retained swing-over seats and gained encased fluorescent lighting.    700 also had its trolley pole reinstated and returned to service in wartime livery.

Balloon 719 became the Walls Ice Cream tram in 1996 complete with an ice cream counter inside. However the ice cream counter wasn’t too popular as the ice cream it sold was far dearer than what was being sold on the prom.   The capacity of the tram was drastically reduced due to the space the counter took up, the seating was hard and uncomfortable as the normal seating was replaced with seating more akin to an ice cream parlour than a tram and a number of windows were panelled over: including the front windows on the upper deck.   Worst of all, due to the reduction in capacity, the tram was mainly confined to operating on specials between Pleasure Beach and North Pier. The tram lost it's ice cream counter in 1999 but continued to advertise Walls Ice cream until 2006.   Once the advert was removed, normal seating and the panelled windows were reinstated.

Balloon 721 returned from a mini overhaul in 1998.   The tram had work done to its under-frame and had been fitted with hopper windows on both decks and bus seats in the lower deck.   In a welcome change to precious overhauls,  721 retained it's roof windows on the top deck as well as the curved front top deck windows and swing-over seats on the top deck.   Unfortunately and controversially, some of the windows on the top deck were removed and other windows were covered in contra-vision  as part of an all over advert for Mitchellin Tyres.  A number of complaints were received from passengers unable to see out the remaining windows.   The windows that were removed, were replaced soon afterwards and 721 carried the advert until 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 Millennium car. 709 was withdrawn in 1996 and re emerged as the 2nd millennium car in 2000. 718 was rebuilt in this way in 1999 re emerging in 2002 whilst 724 was the last balloon to be rebuilt in this style and re-entered service in 2004. See Millennium cars for more information

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 Carriageway 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 re-railed.

In October 2002, Balloon 713 was withdrawn from service with under-frame defects and  for a major overhaul.   Rather than being rebuilt as a Millennium car, it was modernised to the same specification as 711,719 and 723 with the flatter front end and modernised interior.

Due to the severe deterioration of the track North of Thornton Gate, Double Deckers were banned from travelling north of Thornton Gate from October 2002 to April 2004.   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 for the Balloon fleet were 704, 711, 719, 720, 721, 722, 723 and 726 as they either carried adverts or had been refurbished in recent years.

The ban did have an upside as the lack of use of a number of members of the Balloon fleet allowed for repairs and repaints to be carried out to Balloons 700,702,703,706,710 and 712, with 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 . Finally 710 was painted into Purple and Yellow line 7 Metro livery.

The downside however was that Balloons 704, 716 and 717 made their final appearances during 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 under-frame defects.   

2004 was 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 received black and white authentic destination 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 with the demise of 703 and 722.   703 was thought to be needing a major overhaul having not received serious works attention for many years. However 703's withdrawal didn't last very long as the tram was reinstated weeks later, with 708 being withdrawn instead as it was found to be in a far worse condition.  

708 was relegated to snowplough duties during the winter between 2004 and 2009 and saw very little use in this role. 722 seemed a strange candidate for withdrawal having had the domes on the roof replaced and remedial work carried out to other areas of the roof to halt water ingress when it rained.   As it turned out, the withdrawal didn't last long as 722 was reinstated in July 2005 due to an over subscription of advertisers and a lack of suitable trams to carry adverts following  the withdrawal of the majority of the Brush and Ex towing railcoaches a few months earlier,  722 was painted white and its advert was for the TGWU.

Balloon 700 was refitted with a pantograph in place of the trolley pole in 2005 following a number of spectacular dewirements mainly on the northern end of the system.

As mentioned before, there was an over subscription of advertisers during 2005 and other than the trams carrying heritage liveries, all of the serviceable balloons carried advertising liveries.    For both Balloons 711 and 715, this would be the first time either tram had received all over adverts.   In 2006, the Pleasure Beach decided to stop advertising on the trams, this affected Balloons 715 and 720 and 721.   715 and 721 lost their adverts from the previous year and spent the season in an all over white base coat, with small T shaped adverts stating 'Come on England' in connection with the 2006 Football world cup.   They were hastily removed when England were knocked out of the competition!   720 retained its expired advert for the Eclipse show at the Pleasure Beach as the tram was due to be withdrawn.

Following a sizable amount of money left to Blackpool Transport by an enthusiast who had sadly passed away to restore a balloon to 1930's condition, stored Balloon 717 was chosen and the restoration commenced.   717 was stripped back to its framework and received a new underframe, the tram would also have its double destination blinds and top deck curved roof windows restored.   A number of parts were used from 704, 716, 717 and 720 in the restoration and the finished job looking superb.   2006 also saw Balloon 719 spend its last season as the Walls Ice Cream Tram before conversion back to a 'normal' tram. Unrefurbished balloon 720 was withdrawn in late 2006 in need of a rebuild and after being stripped to a shell and receiving a new underframe, 720 re-emerged in the same style as 713 in 2011.

Work continued on the restoration of 717 during 2007 with the aim of returning the tram to service by Easter 2008. However delays with the delivery of glass for the curved cab door windows and upper deck end windows meant that the tram didn't return to service until Tram Sunday 2008.

With the return of 717 to service expected in 2008 and the drastic reduction in numbers of passengers using the tramway, 722 was withdrawn 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 the second and 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.

However 710 didn't get a chance to run along side it's repainted sister cars as she was withdrawn during 2008 with a number of faults and in need of a major overhaul.  Withdrawn balloon 722 was also trialed with widened doorways which  needed to be implemented into the existing fleet retained after the tramway upgrade as part of the B fleet post 2012.   722 also had a number of electrical components and windows removed to keep other cars in the fleet going.

720's refurbishment continued into 2009 and in a total break from tradition, widened doorways and pods to allow air fitted doors are being fitted to the tram.    Also in 2009 balloon 703 was withdrawn from service in need of a major overhaul and became the first balloon to be preserved albeit in a new guise in Sunderland red and cream livery and numbered 101.   101 was moved to Beamish, where it saw use on the circular line around the site before a fault with one of its sets of wheels saw it sidelined.   Also in a shock move, in October 2009, balloon 722 was scrapped, only the second of it's type to meet this fate.
Balloons 702, 712 and 721 made their final journeys in Blackpool in November 2009.   Balloon 702 was sold to Heaton Park, however it found its way to the Museum of Museums in Manchester for a period on display there, followed by a period in outside storage at the East Lancashire Railway in Bury.   702 then moved to Heaton Park where it is awaiting restoration.   712 was repainted into 1930's livery and moved to Crich as a static exhibit in their exhibition hall.   721 was sold to the North East Land Sea And Air museum in Sunderland, where after a period of outdoor storage, it was moved into a custom built shed for their tram fleet.

In 2010, long term stored Balloon 716 bought by Ptarmigan Transport Solutions in Perth, Scotland.   716 was planned to be used as a conference room, however the company went bust and 716 was last seen at a scrap yard in Kirkcaldy, however its fate is unknown but it most likely has been scrapped.   A start was made on creating door pods and installing power operated doors on some of the Balloons overhauled after 1993.   Balloon 700, 713, 718 and 720 were the first batch to be created.   This was to allow them to stop at the platforms built for the new fleet of Flexity trams.   707,709 and 724 received the same treatment in Winter 2010.  

700 had been expected to become part of the heritage fleet owing to its heritage style refurbishment, however it was been converted to work as a member of the normal fleet, its heritage refurbishment has been compromised after it received leather fitted bus seats transferred from the lower deck from balloon 721.   700 also lost its 1940's Green and Cream livery, which was replaced by a white and purple livery.  

At the end of the 2010 illuminations, Balloons 726 and 701 were withdrawn from service.  726 spent a period in outdoor storage at Fleetwood Docks before being returned to Rigby Road for storage for it's new owner in 2017.   Heading into 2011, Balloon 715 was the only un-refurbished Balloon remaining in service, however it had been bought by the LTT and was withdrawn at the end of the year.  

Following the end of the traditional tram service in November 2011, Balloons 711 and 719 were admitted to the works to receive door pods and re entered service wearing the new Blackpool Transport livery of Purple and White in 2012.  One notable omission from the fleet of door pod fitted balloons was balloon 723 which had been refurbished in 1992.   723 was retired from service in  November 2011 both it and 701, which was refurbished in 1991 were stored.    Both trams joined the heritage fleet in 2013 with 701 receiving red and white routemaster livery and 723 being repainted in 80's livery in 2016.

During early 2012, 715 moved to open storage at Burton Road, Blackpool along with Balloon 704.   Both returned to Blackpool in late 2013 with 715 returning to service with the Heritage Fleet wearing 90's Green and Cream livery in 2015.   704 is currently undergoing a major overhaul and is being restored for the Heritage fleet with a return to 50's / 60's condition expected.   Balloon 708 moved to the North East Land, Sea and Air Museum near Sunderland for storage on behalf of Heaton Park Tramway before returning to Rigby Road for further storage in 2016.

Balloon 715 returned to service in 2015 and was outshopped in 1990's livery with adverts for Tram Sunday, it's livery was updated slightly in 2019 to become 70's livery, complete with between deck period adverts for CIS Insurance and Blackpool Zoo.   Balloon 717, was named Walter Luff and remains in service as part of the heritage fleet.  

Balloon 706 was withdrawn from service in 2016 and is awaiting a replacement underframe and overhaul before it re-enters service.   Balloon 703 returned from Beamish in early 2017, the tram having been withdrawn at Beamish with wheel issues.  703 remains stored at Rigby Road and will hopefully rejoin the heritage fleet one day.

The future looks great for the Balloon trams in the Heritage Fleet with 701, 715, 717 and 723 seeing regular use on the Heritage Tours.   They will be joined in the next couple of years by Balloon 704, which having been withdrawn in 2003 is currently undergoing a major overhaul on behalf of it's new owner, who has loaned the tram back to the Heritage fleet.   The ever popular 'Princess Alice' Balloon 706 is also awaiting a new underframe and overhaul before it can once again grace the rails.  

The pod fitted Balloons meanwhile have seen very little use since 2012 with very little use for their intended purpose as backup and on specials using the Flexity platforms.   The Flexities have coped mostly with the traffic and with the larger than expected and still expanding fleet of heritage trams, they haven't quite found their place.   They can mostly be found on Heritage Tours on Gold weekends or working on Illuminations Tours in the Autumn.   One tram that hasn't found any use at all in the 'B' fleet is Balloon 720. The tram was withdrawn in 2006 for an overhaul and returned to service in 2011. However 720's power operated doors had a collision with a traction pole in the depot in 2012 and the tram has never been used since.

Original Number Current Number Built Status livery Notes
237 700 1934 in service (B Fleet)
Purple and White
has twin and side destination blinds and original style panelling and decoration, received door pods and power operated sliding doors
238 701 1934 in service (heritage fleet)
Red and White Routemaster Livery
modernised circa 1990(although to a lesser extent to subsequent overhauls)with flatter front ends, has hopper windows and enclosed lighting.
239 702 1934
in store at Heaton Park
70's green and cream this tram has bus seats fitted to the upper deck but retains swingover seats on the bottom deck.
240 703 1934 stored (heritage fleet)
Sunderland red and white
Renumbered 101 and in the guise of a Sunderland Car with was of similar shape
241 704 1934 withdrawn 2003
Eclipse all over advert Withdrawn due to roof problems in 2003, 704 currently receiving a new underframe and overhaul back to 1950/60's condition.
242 705 1934 scrapped 1982

scrapped following a head on collision with 706
243 706 1934 under restoration (Heritage Fleet)
1930's green and cream open topped balloon with trolley pole and authentic top deck seats, named Princess Alice restored 1985. Awaiting new underframe and overhaul.
244 707 1934 in service (Heritage Fleet)

see millennium cars
245 708 1934 withdrawn 2004
1970's green and cream Stored at Rigby Road on behalf of Heaton Park
246 709 1934 stored

see millennium cars
247 710 1934 withdrawn 2008
Line 7 purple and Yellow 710's claim to fame was 'knocking down' and 'killing' Alan Bradley in Coronation Street in 1989.   in store at Fleetwood Docks
248 711 1934 in service (B Fleet)
Purple and White
modernised  1994, balloon with heaters fitted, received door pods
249 712 1935 on display at Crich
1930's green and cream preserved at the Tramway Museum Crich
250 713 1935
in service (B Fleet)
Houndshill Shopping Centre Advert
modernised 2005, balloon with heaters fitted, receiving door pods
251 714 1935 withdrawn

see Jubilee Car 762
252 715 1935 in service (Heritage Fleet)
1990's Green and Cream
needs an overhaul, 
253 716 1935 Scrapped
1990's Green and Cream
withdrawn 2003.   Departed Blackpool for Pflargim Transport Solutions Perth 2.7.10 Was taken to a Kirkcaldy  Scrap yard after company went bust and no buyer for 716 found, fate unknown
254 717 1935 in service (Heritage Fleet)
30's green and cream restored  2008,with a number of original features and fittings, named Walter Luff
255 718 1935 in service (Heritage Fleet)
see millenium cars
256 719 1935 in service (B Fleet)
Purple and White
modernised circa 1996, fitted with heaters, named Donna's Dream house, received door pods
257 720 1935
stored 2012
Walls Ice Cream Livery
refurbished 2009, the first balloon to receive door pods and power operated sliding doors
258 721 1935 Withdrawn 2010
all over black
On Display at North East Land, Sea and Air Museum, Sunderland
259 722 1935 scrapped 2009

Scrapped October 2009
260 723 1935 in service (Heritage Fleet)
80's Green and Cream
modernised 1992, fitted with heaters
261 724 1935 stored 2013

see millenium cars
262 725 1935 withdrawn

see Jubilee Car 761
263 726 1935 withdrawn 2010
HM Coastguard advert Stored at Rigby Road