It was an old battered double-decker bus that had done its time, and was headed for the final road that led to the scrapyard and the spare parts heap.

Then, at the eleventh hour, it was given a final route.

From its Chelmsford yard, the 1949 Bristol was diverted to one last schedule and one last job.

This was a bit different from anything it had encountered before, though.

Instead of short hops between Essex bus-stops, it involved a journey around the world.

Three years and abundant extraordinary adventures later, many of which she was lucky to survive, ONO 59 trundled back to the starting point, the Elms pub at Leigh.

By now deservedly famous, she was snapped up by a museum.

She was also one of the first celebrities to show off her body in a new publication that had launched while the old bus was circling the globe. It was the Echo.

The unlikely journey began in the winter of 1967, 40 years ago this month.

The passengers were seven south Essex lads in search of adventure, joining forces for what would nowadays be called a gap-year trip. None was over 25.

The lads are all still alive and dispersed around the world, but one of their number, Ron Sverdloff, continues to live in Leigh, where he runs a business.

There has been talk of a reunion of the magnificent seven with the old bus outside the Elms, but the logistics proved insuperable.

These are men who travelled the world on a bus and a shoestring. Organising an anniversary party proved more of a challenge.

Instead, Ron has shared his reminiscences with the Echo, half a lifetime after the story originally appeared in these pages.

Some of the tales sound incredible, but Ron has a suitcase of old newspaper cuttings from around the world to back them up.

They contain on-the-spot reports by an army of incredulous journalists in over 20 countries.

Many of these press folk could hardly believe the story that had materialised in front of their eyes.

It would take a book, or a 12-hour TV mini-series, to cover all the adventures, dangerous, comical, extraordinary, sexual and bizarre, that befell the travellers.

The mere presence of a brightly painted British double-decker bus chugging through the world's lonesome landscapes and violent troublespots acted as a magnet to what, back in the 60s, were called "happenings".

That, of course, is exactly how the seven young men hoped it would turn out.

It all began in the Elms bar, with the seven drinking buddies staring into their glasses and wondering how they could contrive some sort of wild and crazy adventure and stave off the onset of mortgages, responsibilities and routines.

"It was the 60s," Ron says. "Everything was swinging and we were no less swinging than anyone else. We were acting in the mind and spirit of the era."

Originally the trip was planned to take place in a fleet of Mini Mokes, the open top, jeep-like version of the Mini. Then British Leyland, which had promised to supply the vehicles, pulled the plug, leaving the lads with plans but no wheels.

At that stage, one of them said: "What about a double-decker bus?"

The Eastern National bus company, which then dominated Essex roads, had a number of old vehicles that were earmarked for the knacker's yard in Lincoln.

Ron recalls his inauspicious first meeting with ONO 59.

The would-be travellers arrived at night-time outside two big corrugated iron doors. Through the dark they could make out the shape of double- deckers.

"Which is the best?" they asked the night watchman. He had no idea. So they tried them all. Several hours and a lot of smoking and clattering later, they made the momentous choice of ONO 59.

She was modified with a galley, a saloon at the front of the top deck and sleeping accommodation in the upstairs rear.

A Hoover tube ran between the driver's cab and the top deck, allowing the navigator to give instructions in advance.

It was primitive, but it was transport.

Facilities such as heating were basic. Ron remembers winter in the Balkans. "If you went to sleep with your head against the wall of the bus, you left half your hair behind, frozen to it."

Yet despite the rudimentary conditions, the bus could offer travel in unforgettable style.

"I will never forget looking out from my bunk as we went down the Champs Elysees in Paris in the early hours of the morning," Ron says.

The route around the world took the bus on a journey through places like Afghanistan that would nowadays be a short cut to suicide.

Terrorism and conflict were not a concern when they planned the trip.

Yet more than once the seven found themselves in the eye of the storm.

The bus was in Kuwait when the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Days War broke out.

Feeling against westerners was so strong that a number of western ambassadors had to flee for their lives down the embassy rubbish chutes.

One of the lads made the remark - "Nasser should be shot" referring to the then Egyptian president.

The seven found themselves arrested at gunpoint. "It was very tense for a while," recalls Ron.

In Yugoslavia, the bus skewed off the road in ice and ended at a 30 degree slant over a precipice.

On the edge of Afghanistan, a dispute over payment ended with the bus pursued by border guards, firing their rifles. In San Francisco, almost as light relief, the bus collided with another picturesque form of transport, one of the city's famous cable-cars.

In retrospect, it is the surreal rather than the dangerous incidents that seem to linger most strongly in Ron's mind.

In Iran's salt desert, the bus failed to clear the underside of a Bailey-style bridge. Watched by gobsmacked guards, the team set about the partial dismantling of the bridge.

In El Salvador, central America, they were flagged down by peasants making an extraordinary gesture with their arms and fingers.

It turned out that they were desperately seeking morphine injections for four young men, critically injured in a crash between a car and a lorry.

By the time the bus crew reached the men they were all dead.

"There were simply no medical facilities available out there," Ron says.

In the Australian desert, they found a stranded truck driver who had been reduced to drinking the water from muddy puddles. "He had been waiting for days for another vehicle to come, and the first he sees on the horizon is a big green English double-decker bus. He must have thought he was hallucinating," laughs Ron.

In Australia, Ron headed off in advance of the rest of the party to arrange sponsorship in Sydney. In the middle of nowhere, he hitched a lift with a truckload of hunters.

There was no room for him in the cab of the Landcruiser, so he sat on top of the cargo. It consisted of crocodile carcasses. "I made quite sure they were all dead before I sat on them," he says.

In the USA, the bus was actually stolen. It was found next day n Malibu Beach, the engine still running. "The guys who took it didn't know how to switch the engine off," says Ron.

Despite this incident, the seven young men from Essex gained an overwhelmingly positive impression of the kindness of people, the world over.

"I remember when a whole Afghan village turned out with stirrup pumps for our tyres," says Ron."If everyone travelled around the world and saw this sort of thing for themselves, there would be no political or religious strife."

It all happened just 40 years ago. Yet the world that ONO 59 travelled has changed beyond recognition.

As Ron says: "The dirt tracks we drove along have all become four-lane tarmac highways."

Communications and tourism have opened up even the remotest places broached by the bus. ONO 59 journeyed through a lost world.

She was also travelling through a distinct period in cultural history. Time after time, Ron's reminiscences bring alive the flavour of the Swinging Sixties.

Even the most isolated Andean village and desert oasis knew about the Beatles, and records by the Fab Four proved a useful universal currency.

The journey proved to be a tribute and swan song for another sort of lost world. Ron sees the completion of the trip as a huge tribute to British engineering. "That bus was fabulous," says Ron.

"It had done four million miles in service. It was supposed to be at the end of its life, yet it went round the world and never let us down. Time and again it saved us. And I tell you what - that bus would do the trip all over again."