The open-topped bus that Muhammad Ali rode on during his famous visit to the North East in 1977 has been restored to its former glory by a Metro engineer.

Steve Griffin, a maintenance technician with a passion for classic cars, was part of a team of public transport enthusiasts who saved the vintage bus from the scrapyard in 2016.

And six years later, their hard work has finally paid off.

After clocking up thousands of hours in the workshop, the 1960s Leyland Atlantean that the ‘People’s Champion’ was transported in during his time in Tyneside is back on the road – and back in tip top condition.

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The technician, who is part of the North East Bus Preservation Trust, painstakingly restored the bus and even returned the vehicle to the iconic silver paintwork that was added to in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Mr Griffin, 63, of Whickham, said: “We are delighted with this project, which has preserved a little piece of bus heritage in our region. The many hours of hard work that we all put in have really paid off.

“There is an amazing story behind this vintage bus. Muhammad Ali’s visit to the North East in 1977 was iconic, so we were truly honoured to have had the chance to restore the bus that he so famously travelled on when all those huge crowds turned out to greet him.

“This bus is unique. There isn’t another quite like it.”

The Northern Echo: Steve Griffin with the iconic bus. Picture: NEXUSSteve Griffin with the iconic bus. Picture: NEXUS

The crowning glory for the project arrived during the Platinum Jubilee weekend when the Leyland was showcased to crowds at Bents Park in South Shields.

Mr Griffin added: “Initially we were unaware that it was the Muhammad Ali bus. It was only when we had two similar buses and had to decide which one to restore that I did a bit of digging.

“I knew that model had been used to drive Ali around the North East and research showed it was this bus. I noticed the registration number was the same as the one Ali had travelled on, so that was when we knew we had that one on our hands – and it was the point that we knew we simply had to restore it.”

Muhammad Ali visited the North East in July 1977 to raise money for a South Shields boxing club.

Thousands of fans lined the streets as the heavyweight champ travelled through the centres of South Shields and Newcastle.

The Northern Echo: Muhammad Ali during his 1977 visit to Tyneside. Picture: PA MEDIAMuhammad Ali during his 1977 visit to Tyneside. Picture: PA MEDIA

During the visit, he stopped off at Newcastle’s Pendower Hall Special School and Grainger Park Boys Club.

The Leyland only avoided being scrapped because a hapless driver drove it through a low bridge in Wallsend and tore off the roof.

This led Newcastle Corporation bosses to convert it to an open topper for the Queen’s 1977 silver jubilee, saving it from being destroyed with the rest of the fleet.

But when Stagecoach took over the running of the city’s bus routes in the early 1990s the Leyland was again sent to a dump.

The bus was saved once more when an Irish tourism boss bought it from a scrap dealer and used it to ferry sightseers around Dublin.

It was only when the battered vehicle started to break down the travel agent was going to get rid that the vintage bus enthusiasts stepped in.

A grant from the National Lottery funded the new bodywork, while the volunteers spent long hours carrying out a mechanical and electrical overhaul.

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