Buses : A part of history lives on

Mike Humble on how a piece of history lives on to this day –  and he’s a part of it too!

Not the Rosette, but it stands for the very same!

Well, as some of you may know, I recently went back into the whirling dervish that is vehicle sales and although cars have been my comfort zone historically, its now buses and coaches. My last full time sales role back in 2008 was also in the PSV game, but now I am responsible for new vehicle sales. The company I work with are a huge DAF Truck dealer, but recently took on a franchise for King Long buses (a massive Chinese concern) and also BMC buses and coaches –  I’m sure one or two of you may have heard those three initials before.

You would be correct in thinking that BMC stands for British Motor Corporation, because historically, it does. Back in the early 1960s BMC opened a plant in Turkey to assemble trucks for their market in kit form, just as BL in later years did with the Allegro in Belgium and various Austin models in Australia and South Africa. This alliance carried on through to the late 1980s with Leyland Truck and Bus, leading to Leyland Daf.

However, towards the latter part of that decade, BMC were bought from Daf and became a standalone company keeping the initials of BMC. A similar event happened in India with Ashok Leyland – that company still uses the roundel or ‘down the plughole logo’ of British Leyland.

What makes things even more interesting are the component’s used in production. BMC’s engines are sourced from Cummins Darlington plant here in the UK and the axles, steering and gearboxes are also from the UK via ZF. Indeed, on a recent visit to the company’s UK import HQ in Coventry, a closer inspection had me noting even more parts that one or two BL fans, especially those of Bus and Truck, may have seen once or twice before.

This is not unknown in the industry as Leyland Truck and Bus were often found rummaging through each others parts bins from time to time and even the market leader, Volvo, used common components here and there to scale down development costs where and whenever they could.

The picture above shows a Leyland Tiger coach with Belgian Berkhof bodywork. The Leyland part had the engine from a truck placed on its side and the front brakes of T45 series truck but, just to prove it’s not only BL that used the same parts where they could, notice anything about the side/headlights? You would be right – they were lifted straight from the Saab 900. It’s a shame this picture fails to show the rear lights as they are from the Austin Montego.

Many of us know that the first generation Land Rover Discovery used Maestro Van rear light clusters and Sherpa/LDV 400 series headlights while the top-selling Leyland Roadrunner/Daf 45 series 7.5 ton truck used the headlamps from the Maestro, but even heavyweight stuff shared parts from the BL parts bins…

The Seddon Atkinson 2-11 and 3-11 range as seen above used lighting equipment from BL/Austin Rover. However, I can say that I have driven one of these ‘Atkis’ at night and I would have seen better with cocktail sticks poked in my eyes – to say I was scared would be the understatement of the century. However, getting back to BMC buses, closer scrutiny reveals a Leyland truck pedal box unit lifted straight from the Clydesdale/Boxer/Terrier range of vehicles from the 1970s, while the steering column and indicator/wiper switches either side of the steering wheel are also Leyland parts as fitted in the aerodynamic T45 range of the Freighter, Cruiser and Roadtrain.

Some may be thinking these parts give the impression of an outmoded and out of date product, but quite the opposite is true. These vehicles are rugged, yet refined and priced keenly while coming with excellent warranties and running components that mechanics are familiar with. Just think on, then, when people bemoan the death of the British Bus and Coachbuilders – a piece of history lives on and pays homage to Leyland and I’m quietly pleased to be part of it.

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Mike Humble

About the Author:

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade. Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

12 Comments on "Buses : A part of history lives on"

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  1. Lord Sward says:

    This just goes to show ‘You Cannot Keep Class Down!”

  2. Simon Woodward says:

    Is this the place tucked under the M6 at the Coventry Bedworth/Longford Junction, next to the scrap re-claimers?

  3. Ian says:

    Aye, I’ve seen it and believe so.

  4. Marty B says:

    I have firsthand experience of BMC buses and they are awful, cheap and very nasty rubbish. How can a bus factory wire up booster sockets the wrong way round? It’s just two wires…(that resulted in a very expensive warranty claim as it took out the Voith ECU and the Cummins ECU).

    Engine faults, suspension faults, gearbox electrical faults, light faults, hinges for external flaps failing, cab doors falling off due to cheap hinges breaking… I got fed up to the back teeth of going out to breakdowns. I had BMC, Voith and ZF on speed-dial I was calling them that often. No wonder we had five spare, just to keep the school runs going. Fuel consumption was a joke on them too, averaging 3-5 mpg.

    By the way, the firm I worked for operates over 40 BMC 220/225 Condor LF 57’s and not a single one of them is reliable, even to this day. One operator was offered two brand new, and their engineering manager took a good look, called them cheap and nasty scrap and had two, five year old Volvos upseated to 57 to use instead.

    The only durable part is the body structure but, with one piece side panels, it’s very, very costly to repair even minor damage.

    Incidentally, 55 plate BMC Falcons are going for less than £10,000 on eBay… That says it all when an equivalent Dennis Dart of the same size is going for nearly £30k…

    Remember that, at the time of purchase, a BMC Condor 225LF 57 school bus was £93,000 plus VAT while the equivalent ADL E300 57 seat schollarbus (with identical Cummins ISBe 6 Euro4 and Voith 4 speed auto) was over £130,000 plus VAT.

    The earlier BMC FE series was a rebadged Leyland Cub bus chassis and had the same gearboxes and axles too. The only differences were a modern Cummins 4 pot and ABS. Condors and Falcons used steering columns and stalks from the original Ford Cargo, on a chassis frame derived from the Dennis Lance SLF. The Karisma bodyshell is a very old Ikarus design (Blue Danube) and the Falcon/Condor series are based on the Marshall body design, but use thicker box section steel.

  5. Cornelius says:

    King Long and BMC coaches are a lot cheaper than the European competition but you definitely get what you pay for, quality-wise.

  6. Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

    @Marty B
    Thanks for that uplifting and morale-boosting post LOL. However, seriously though, we don’t get involved with the service buses, only the smaller midi coaches i.e. the Nifty and Karisma. The bulk of the custom is King Long, which are a good stab at the EU market and cost-effective.

    Remember the sales adage Marty: there is a market for everything, even ****!

    I’ve sold Renaults and Rovers in the past, so I’m used to quality and reliability issues (sarc).

  7. Roger Carr says:

    Hi, and don’t forget that the factory in Izmir (or Smyrna) was opened by Sir Alec Issigonis, in his prime. After all, it was his home town.

  8. Andrew Elphick says:

    Mike, the airport shuttle coaches in Cuba are state-run King Longs too.

  9. Will says:

    McAvoys of Greyabbey? Is there a big market in Northern Ireland?

    A lot of the state buses (Citybus/Ulsterbus) were Leyland Leopards and Tigers – often running until they were up to 40 years old! Actually, it’s only within the last ten years or so that have they finally been replaced and it is still possible to see Alexander coach-bodied Tigers.

    There must, therefore, be a lot of bus mechanics here who cut their teeth and are used to repairing Leylands. BMCs based on Leylands would be no problem to them.

    Wrightbus, which may be a competitor in the bus operator market, is also based here.

  10. Marty B says:

    I believe that, up until fairly recently, BMC was also building the LDV Pilot-based dropside truck. The Sherpa was a stubborn bugger to kill off – the cockroach of the van world…

  11. Lord Sward says:

    I saw my first BMC truck today – a bin lorry!

  12. Robin McAvoy says:

    Hi Folks,
    I was surprised to find a picture of my BMC Karisma while surfing tonight! I am sorry to here of the problems mentioned above, we have operated BMC midi coaches since 2003 with no problems, I would have no problem buying one in the future! we operate a small buisness and our clients re-book from year to year knowing full well the coach they will be touring in is the Karisma, it is very reliable and comfortable to travel in for both Driver and Passenger, need I say more ! Regards Robin.

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