The “Hovertram” is an illuminated feature car built to give tours during the annual autumn illuminations. It was created in 1963 on the chassis of Railcoach 222 that had been withdrawn from use
earlier that year, and is one of a small fleet of passenger carrying feature cars created between 1959 and 1965 that included a Mississippi paddle steamer, a space rocket, a Wild West locomotive and
carriage and a Royal Navy battleship! Except for the paddle steamer “Blackpool Belle”, all others still exist, and the “Rocket” is also in the collection of the trust.
Construction of the Hovertram, so called because it was built to loosely resemble a then state-of-the-art Hovercraft, was sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell (who’s slogans it carried for many years), and the tram was known as the “Shell Hovertram” until the advertising was changed to that of a local estate agency from 1980. The Hovertram, later given the number 735, introduced a number of design innovations to the tramcar fleet: It was the first double deck feature car, and it was also the first (and only) time that a Blackpool single deck car has been converted into a double decker. Also, significantly, the upstairs was constructed to a “low bridge” bus design, with a sunken offside gangway, which allowed for the low overall height necessary to accommodate the two roof-mounted Hovercraft “engines”. This monster creation seated 99 passengers, making it also the highest capacity tram in the fleet.
735 was rewired for the 1980 season (missing 1979), and continued in use each autumn, with the advertising changing from time to time, until it was withdrawn from use after the 2001 season requiring major work. This work wasn’t sanctioned, and in 2007 it was sold for preservation to the Beith Transport Museum in Scotland. Ownership transferred to the North East Electric Traction Trust (NEETT) in Washington, County Durham, and the tram moved to their premises at the North East Land, Sea and Air Museum in 2011.
In September 2016, agreement was reached between NEETT and the Blackpool Heritage Trust (BHT) for the Hovertram to return home to Blackpool for storage and eventual display, and later, the BHT was given the option to purchase the tram to facilitate its return to use at some future point. Following an appeal for funds, 735 was purchased for the Blackpool collection, and ownership then transferred to FTT in December 2019 with the merger of the trusts. The Hovertram requires an extensive rebuild and restoration, but due to its popularity and appeal it is hoped that the funding can be found for this soon. The restored tram would be loaned to Blackpool Transport for use on their heritage and illumination tours, to allow the public access to this heritage asset.