Ten years ago, the entire fleet of old, beloved Maltese buses was withdrawn from Maltese roads. Now, some of them are being restored and are appearing on the roads again with more eco-friendly, modern systems, including one which runs on gas…
Presently, at the Ħal Farruġ industrial zone, the first electric bus is being built by Mikiel Cutajar, nicknamed iż-Żinnu, who retired after over 40 years as a bus driver on the Zurrieq route. Today, alongside his son, Manuel, Mikiel is restoring one of the old buses.
In an effort to make the old buses memorable, the project began eight years ago. As soon as a bus arrives at Manuel’s garage, it is dismantled and an inspection is carried out with regards to what can be kept, before sending it over to a mechanic.
As Mikiel explained, ‘We wash the engine, and where necessary we blast it, it goes to the mechanic to be upgraded to the LPG, dual fuel system – so that it will have an emission value of Euro6’. Manuel added that they have the first renovated bus, which has been approved by Transport Malta for its Euro6 engine, meaning it pollutes much less than before.
Notably, many of the vehicles date back to the 1950s, and like this one, have a wooden framework. Manuel explained that when the wood is still good it is kept and fixed, but if not, it is rebuilt with a new structure made of galvanised steel.
He also said that the restoration takes a year’s work per vehicle, with the restoration going into the smallest detail – from the seats which are being re-upholstered to the cursive painted letters known as tberfil, which are being designed by Joe Farrugia.
There are six people working on these restorations, as explained: ‘Two on the structure, two the inside finishings, fitting of seats and nickel and two on the preparations and paint.’ Meanwhile, a new bus is also being built on the same model as those who used to build in the 50s and 60s – but it will work on electricity and be accessible for wheelchairs.
Some of these restored buses can be seen on our roads once again on a route near the Triton fountain, which heads to Sliema, so that the Maltese and tourists alike can experience the buses which up to ten years ago, used to carry thousands of passengers and were part of Malta’s daily life.