Unsung Heroes : Bedford/AWD TK and TL Series

Mike Humble

Both once established operations – both long gone. A BRS Roadline operated 7.5-ton Bedford TK from 1979.

When you think of British trucks, the same names automatically come to the forefront of your mind: ERF,  Foden, Leyland and Seddon Atkinson. All but one (Leyland) are long gone, either swallowed up by European corporates or they’ve simply faded away.

UK truck manufacturing was once as sprawling and complex as our car industry almost, but there is one brand of commercial vehicle that seemed to be stuck in the dark ages more so than even Leyland during BL’s most turbulent times, with their own political troubles that ultimately caused their lingering death – Bedford.

Once a hive of motor related activity, Dunstable in Bedfordshire was equally a truck town as Leyland in Lancashire and both ERF and Foden in Cheshire. The main road from Luton was Boscome Road, where not only Bedford Trucks resided, but also Karrier which would subsequently become Dodge – and ultimately Renault Vehicle Industries. In a similar vein to Leyland, Bedford also built its name and reputation with buses and coaches – selling more to smaller operators, or family bus companies, rather than corporate fleets.

On the other hand, Bedford trucks were often found operating at light- to medium-weight categories, selling in big volumes to the likes of British Rail BRS, and carrier operators, such as the long-gone Roadline (above). The TK range enjoyed an enviable reputation for simplicity, reliability and cost efficiency, with dealers tending to be approachable and more customer-focused than many of the larger group franchises. The TK was the first Bedford to feature a tilt-cab, making routine work on the running gear much easier to perform. But a Bedford was far from being a machine that majored on technology.

Rival British makers invested huge sums of money in research and development throughout the late-‘1960s and ’70s as a reaction to growing competition from European rivals. Turbocharging of engines, along with other improvements aimed towards driver appeal, went some way to stem the threat of superior overseas products.

In a situation that mirrors British Leyland’s relationship with Leyland Trucks, General Motors (the parent company) was pumped huge amount of cash into Vauxhall, starving Bedford of investment. Although Bedford had won various military contracts seeing its ‘ MK four tonner’ as being the archetypical Army truck, this tended not to bring in huge sums of money enough to suffice re-investment, so improvements to the range tended to be minor facelfting or more cost effective production methods.

As the ’70s progressed, Bedford trucks were seen as a cheap and basic tool with very little driver appeal rather than being any kind of aspirational product. Hauliers required sleeper cabs and high roof options for long distance operations along with more power – Bedford just could not supply off the shelf.

A typical Army ‘MK’ Bedford – Despite the pleas from the REME & RLC Corps to continue with Bedford, future contracts would be awarded to Leyland DAF.

When GM finally chose to invest in Bedford, they opted to spend the Lions share of money into developing a new heavy truck range called the TM. By the time this new model hit the market, its main European rivals such as DAF Volvo and Scania had the heavy truck scene sewn up. As worthy as the TM may have been at the time, operators simply did not see Bedford as a key player in the lucrative tractor unit marketplace. Even Ford with its Renault based ‘Transcontinental’ range failed to make a major impact in this sector, concentrating on light to medium trucks in the future.

By 1980, the Europeans had pretty much taken the UK by storm. Bedford’s next door neighbour Karrier had morphed into Dodge, and then Renault, which by now was making in-roads in an ever battling marketplace. GM by now was only investing paltry sums of money into the truck business and the TK range was re-vamped once more – and re-named the ‘TL’ series. Features like power steering finally became standard and after some development work with turbocharging, high power level options went some way towards nearly matching its rivals. Interior updates concentrated on new trim rather than expensive re-designs.

Despite cross cab access being excellent – The TK/TL interior was hopelessly out of date, cramped and lacked a sleeper option.

So far as the sheet metal mattered, only minor revisions could be seen with expansive use of moulded black plastic where lashings of chrome plate were once found and fixed side lamp/indicator units where rubber flexible protruding ones used to flap about in the breeze. Sadly, the TL never sold in the numbers hoped for and the truck quickly gained a reputation for mechanical fragility, especially when operated in demanding environments  The once legendary ‘300 and 500’ series Bedford diesels did not respond well to turbocharging and in arduous use suffered from overheating, bottom end problems and broken crankshafts.

The rear axle also failed to cope with higher power ratings either with many operators discovering the pinion gears were prone to rapid wear upon high load or constant motorway speeds. Transmissions were also very antiquated, with the Turner gearbox having a difficult gearshift quality – and again, limited tolerance to higher torque and power.  Far away in the distance, the death bell was tolling for Bedford, but as is often the case, politics hammered home the final nail in the coffin. And for no more a reason than national pride – that, and simply superior rival offerings such as the Leyland T45 and the Mercedes LN series (below).

Bedford could simply do nothing to stem ultra modern UK and European competition from the Ford Cargo, Leyland T45 Roadrunner and the superb 1984 Mercedes Benz LN range.

The Conservative Government was looking to offload Leyland Truck and Bus to the highest bidder in an attempt to privatise BL. General Motors expressed a serious interest in Leyland, which had an excellent engineering and research facility in Lancashire, although was losing money at the time. A bid was formally placed with one condition – the plan was to take Land Rover as well, which caused a huge row in Parliament (in the wake of the Westland Affair). The thought of the Americans taking hold of Land Rover and Military supply contracts was too much to bear for politicians. Various compromises were offered, but General Motors stood their ground.

After much discussion, GM walked away from further talks. Taking stock of its parlous market share GM took the decision to firstly withdraw from the bus and coach market, then retrench from truck production altogether. Who knows what powerful alliance could have been forged with Leyland’s excellent T45 range backed by a GM’s finances. But the closure of Bedford trucks had a massive knock-on effect, as many suppliers were also based in the town. But out of the blue, a lifeline was thrown.

The Bedford truck site in Dunstable was sold to AWD Ltd in 1987. That company was owned by David John Bowes Brown, with AWD standing for All Wheel Drive. The AWD name was used, as GM would only allow the Bedford name for military trucks. AWD continued with the TL and TM range, now featuring Perkins Phaser engines on the smaller TL. This was a rework of the respected T6.354 engine. The AWD Bedford TK 4×4 (a rebadged and modernised version of the Bedford TK/MK range) was also produced and supplied to the armed forces.

Due to cheaper and superior competition, and the virtual collapse of the UK market in which AWD competed with towards the end of the 1980s and early ’90s, the company went into receivership in 1992.

Yet again, another lifeline was thrown and it was bought by the Cambridgeshire dealer network – The Marshall Motor Group – a a going concern. After limited success, Marshall split its dealership and Bus/truck production companies into two stand-alone divisions. Marshall also gained the licence to the Bedford name for use on all civilian and military products. But poor trading and high operational costs caused the LGV and PSV division to be closed down in 2002 – finally taking the legendary Bedford name with it.

Wolverhampton Haulier AE Costin bought the first batch of ‘new’ Bedfords in 1992 – by now production had moved to Cambridge.

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

53 Comments on "Unsung Heroes : Bedford/AWD TK and TL Series"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. rob in kirkby malzeard says:

    Interesting article, untill recently, the used to be a Roadline Truck body in a field near the M1/M6/A14 junction.

  2. Martin says:

    I knew about AWD but didn’t realise Marshall Group bout them after that. Marshall as well as the dealership division also has fairly big military division which made the among other things; the Land Rover 101 ambulances as well as the later 130 Pulse battlefield ambulances which went into service in the mid-late 90 and are slowly being phased out now.

  3. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    Minder – and the bull episode. I also seem to remember that all horseboxes of a certain age were these things.

    And military convoys with these things rumbling along at 40mph on the motorway… causing untold grief.

  4. Martin says:

    Go to a pony club event and you’ll still probably be able to see a Bedford horsebox.

    You know you want one Keith http://www.mod-sales.com/direct/vehicle/,26,/14691/Bedford_AWD_4_Ton.htm

  5. Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

    Very true Keith

    And if you thought the clutch pedal in an R8 or Rover 25 was high off the floor…. these bloody things were even worse. It stood about a foot higher than the brake – no kidding!

  6. Yorkiebusdriver says:

    Having been a regular at the Bedford Gathering event, there are still rather a lot out there, and are known to go ‘walkies’ quite often still.

    Just found a few photos from there and uploaded to my flickr account, including a unique TK development truck fitted with an Allison automatic gearbox, which attended the event all the way from the Netherlands. I bet that was a pretty miserable drive for them.


  7. Hilton D says:

    I remember the TK very well indeed. I still have a Corgi Car Transporter with a TK Cab. Dinky & Corgi both made various diecast models of the TK truck.

    When I used to collect car brochures in the late 60s, I also had some of Bedfords truck & van range. I’m sure the twin headlamp version shown here was actually called the KM(?). Sad that another famous British manufacturer eventually bit the dust – we should be used to it by now but it still hurts…

  8. Yorkiebusdriver says:

    There are a couple of KM’s in preservation with stonking great Detroit Diesel lumps in, and they sound awesome

  9. Big H Big H says:

    I used to drive a 1976 Bedford TK. The gear change was a challange! The power delivery I seemed to remember was all or absolutely nothing. When Overtaking even tractors you had to get the gears exactly right. Overall a proper “mans” truck. When the company i worked for,changed to a Ford cargo the driveing experience was as different as light to day. The Cargo being almost car like.
    The non turbo engined bedford 6cylinder was a robust unit
    The TK’s brakes had a unique “Whistle” noise as you applied the air brakes. You always could tell a TK by the brake noise!

  10. Hilton D says:

    @8 – thanks, I’m pleased I was right about the KM. @9 – I remember those whistling airbrakes on the TK’s too. It was a sound of the 60s & 70s!

  11. Yorkiebusdriver says:

    I remember as a kid, Alpine door to door soft drinks had a fleet of TK’s, complete with rasping exhausts (I think they were 4 pot diesels), and used to be driven by lunatics. The pop was bloody awful though

  12. Glenn Aylett says:

    Whenever I think of Bedford, I think army as these green army lorries were a familiar sight on the A66. The MK might have been crude and old fashioned, but it was an extremely tough lorry that the army were very fond of. However, for lorry drivers who wanted their creature comforts and somewhere to bed down for the night, the MK had fallen out of favour and this is where Bedford went wrong.

  13. Alasdair Mackenzie says:

    As with so much in the British Motor Industry, the Bedford products were allowed to wither on the vine, as described in Mike’s excellent article which sums Bedford up nicely.

    The TK was a product of the 1950s, and even then, many components weren’t new when it came to market in 1960. For it still to be in production in 1982 (the year it was replaced by the TL showed how outdated it had become.

    I remember seeing London Pride brewers Fuller Smith & Turner (always loyal Bedford customers) driving a fleet of the Marshall version of the TL, all with J*** FST registrations in the late 90s. They looked a mixture of something familiar from the past with a strangely unfamilar look though, and were always very smartly turned out.

    As said, Bedford were always very dependent on the Ministry of Defence and indeed it was the loss of the military lorry contract (to Leyland-Daf) that ultimately did for AWD.

    The TK also had a larger heavier brother, known as the KM, which was identifible by its double bumper. These were commonly used as light tippers and skip lorries, but shared the same cab and much else with TK.

    As the brochures used to say “BEDFORD. You see them everywhere”.

  14. Kev Sharp says:

    The TK didn’t have a tilting cab. It had a flab behind the cab doors on each side. The TL did though. With reference to the military MK/MJ variant although largely replaced by the MAN SV now there area still few out here in Kenya doing the buisness. As alluded to , not my first choice for a long distance drive but off road nigh on unbeatable (and I have driven them where tracked vehicles eg Warrior , 432 and Challenger 2 MBT’s have feared to tread).

  15. francis brett francis brett says:

    Worked on these as an apprentice,changed the engine on the same truck twice,dropped the engine out rather than remove the cab,turned out the driver was snapping the crank on a certain run-dropping a cog at high revs to prepare for a long uphill!

  16. Richard Davies says:

    I think some are used by the TA, at least in the last few years.

    One bit “what if” was the possibility of GM buying up Leyland, which might explain some things.

    It’s almost worth a feature in itself.

  17. Simon_H says:

    My granddad used to drive a TK in the late 70s. He used to take me for a ride in it during the summer holidays. It was a dated, crude thing, especially compared with the Scania 2-series truck I had a ride in a little later on….

  18. dontbuybluemotion dontbuybluemotion says:

    Another Gem Mike ! In the 1970s These were everywhere, loved the noise the Brake whistle made. This and the Ford D series appeared to dominate the streets, along with the Sun blessed Vans.

    Have helped twice to remove the engine from a TKs, 1st one was a single axle Tipper (again these were once quite common) we used a Forklift with Fork straight through the door window and lifted straight off, It did bend the top of the doors but we managed to bend it back ! The Haulage firm also had two the double Bumper twin Headlight KMs as Coal Auto Baggers and a Ford last of the D series with square headlights and plastic lift down grill with the Boy Racer red inserts in the Dashboard, From memory only the Ford had a tilting Cab, with awkward handle behind the seats (or was this just the release handle?) The Bedfords had the flaps.

    If I also remember the Engine had a brilliant idea of separate oil and water pipes leading from block to head ! Leaving the Gasket with less stress.

    The 2nd time was the 4×4 Army TK used by the TA. same method of removal, Was there a problem with these engines? The later Turboed types were quite fast if I recall.

  19. Big H Big H says:

    Almost forgot my wife’s sister has a P reg TK horse box. Mileage is exceptionaly low around 30K. Cab is as totally shot. She’s got an un used ex army cab for next to nothing. Now wants me to fit 🙁 I don’t think so

  20. Chris Pryor says:

    Although the TK didn’t have a tilt cab I did read that the original intention was that it was to have had one.

    The matchbox 6 wheel BP Bedford tanker had a tilt cab. Not sure if they used original plans or if they ‘improved’ the Bedford design.


  21. Hilton D says:

    @20 Chris… Yes, I remember the tilt cab on the Matchbox TK BP Tanker. I think I still have that model somewhere. Dinky also made a Castrol TK Box van. In real life the Milk Marketing Board also operated TK bulk Milk tankers.

  22. francis brett francis brett says:

    @18i think the unscrew handle was in the middle of the cab and the release handle ran just brhind the header tank on the D.

  23. mark m says:

    Took my driving test in one of these.
    lt felt pretty good after Mums Marina estate…..

  24. Mikey C says:

    It’s a pretty sad state of affairs, when the only Truck factory in the UK is the modern Leyland facility, and that with the collapse of LDV and impending closure of Southampton, the only medium van factory left will be the Vauxhall Luton plant.

  25. Collywobs says:

    Thanks for the memory Yorkie.We had the Apline pop delivery every Friday again driven with no regard for the delivery.I guess thats how they got it so gassy!.TK brake gas whistle was the feature I remember.

  26. Ford Prefect says:

    Indeed there are still a lot of these about as horseboxes, I had one for a while, although now I look atfer a ’72 leyland EA horsebox

  27. Adrian says:

    These lorries were still being used by the TA when I was in it from 1998 to 2001.

  28. Mark says:

    I worked briefly for a removal firm that ran a 7.5t (S-plate IIRC) and 12.5t TK (T-plate) in the mid ’90s. We moved temporary furniture around East Anglia for the USAF. The company also had a pair of TLs which were used for “home-owner” removals.

    I remember that the TKs were prefered to the TLs for removal work precisely because the TK cab didn’t tilt (sorry to contradict the article) and so you had room for over cab storage (a pair of three seater GI sofas fitted nicely in the space). In the TL this space was wasted as you had to be able to open the front to allow the cab to tilt.

    My over-riding memory of the 12.5 tonner was being parked up in the middle of the Fens waiting to see if it would blow over in the wind. That, and the smell of sulphur from the almost permanently seized on rear brakes.

    One of the drivers had a nice little sideline teaching “pony-club mums” to drive their horseboxes.

  29. Lockupchap says:

    I’ve often been intrigued to know how these things actually drove – thanks for the answer. My ownership experience is limited to a Minic Motorways TK during the late 1960s. Later kids may recall Fireman Sam driving one. Back in reality, some of the earlier models had a strange exhaust note – rather like an OB coach – did some of them use an antiquated petrol engine?

  30. Richard Davies says:

    Greater Manchester Fire Service used TK fire engines in the 1970s.

    One is featured of the most reprinted pictures of the the 1979 Woolworths fire.

  31. Fred Marconi says:

    Bedfords were assembled and popular in New Zealand; the TK and its Ford D-series rivals were common delivery/removal trucks. Down here, the Japanese started to field credible competition and the British brands, including Commer faded away. Starting early in the 1970s, GMNZ replaced the TL and TM with various Bedford-by-Isuzu-branded models but soon dropped the UK bit; Isuzu today is as common a sight as Bedford was 40 years ago.

  32. Yorkiebusdriver says:

    @29, yes a lot of early TK’s were indeed petrol powered, and I’m almost certain there were some Leyland 0400 powered examples

  33. Mike Butler says:

    Dead right about the Leyland engine version. I remember looking after London Carriers TK’s back in the day. We used to do engine changes by getting the gantry over the truck, rail way sleeper through the open cab door windows, roller towels between the sleeper and the door window tops (avoids the dents) then off comes the cab. Lord knows what people had to do with those that had luton box, or some horse box bodies on. (The body being built over the roof of the cab)

  34. Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

    Yes you could get a petrol TK right up to the late 1970’s.

    As for the Leyland 0.400 series engines, I’m almost certain they were only fitted into the 6 wheel Bedford ‘VAL’ coach – similar to the chassis used in the Italian Job.

  35. It hadn’t occured to me that the lack of a tilting cab was one of the main reasons the TK was able to mop up the removal van and horsebox markets. I miss seeing these once so numerous lorries around. Each had such a ‘friendly’ face and the characteristic air brake whistle added to the charm. It was always heartwarming when travelling around the world to see a TK doing sterling service in some far flung foreign land.

  36. Aidan Fisher says:

    The TK (Yes NO tilt cab!) is to be seen in considerable numbers trundling around Malta on all sorts of duties –usually madly overloaded and with an assortment of engines fitted.
    On another point the TK was also much used as a basis for a fire appliance –Bedford produced a “fire chassis” that had all the bits and bobs inside the chassis rails rather than outside as on commercials. From the start the petrol (300 cu in) was fitted as the diesels of the day were too slow revving for the fire pump.My area of interest, HCB-Angus, offered the petrol as from Bedford or with a Janspeed conversion (planed head,twin Strombergs and a banana exhaust) and these could fly (I owned one for many years). They also offered the Jaguar 4.2 XK engine or the Rolls B61 as alternatives. All these had vacuum assisted brakes and did not stop too well from well in excess of 70mph!
    Later the diesels came on song and many were coupled to Allison auto boxes as an alternative to the manual.
    When the TL appeared the company had to fix the cab down as their bodywork did not allow for a tilting cab!
    When Bedford stopped building –guess what–they switched to Volvo!

  37. Graham says:

    I remember in 70’s the newly formed West Midlands fire brigade dropping the Rolls Royce Dennis engines in favour of Jag / Bedford based engines. Seen by the public as start of rot after the proud history the Corporation Brigade the politicians fronted them as the fastest Fire Engines. They were short lived as they had a reputation for poor handling and after some had turned over they quietly exited from the Brigade.

    One thing i do remember in the early 70’s was that when not in use on a weekend the Fire Engines would be parked outside the station so the general public (mostly dads with small boys) could go and look at what their money was being spent on. You wouldn’t leave an unguarded engine in the Centre of Coventry now on a Saturday afternoon 😉

  38. Richard Davies says:

    Some fire engines have a seperate engine for the pumps. The Hilman Imp unit was popular choice, as were the Reliant engines.

    The local fire station where I grew up used to have an open day once a year.

    Often a couple of vintage engines would be brought along, not sure if they were owned by collectors or the brigade had a heritage fleet.

  39. Glenn Aylett says:

    Weren’t BMC fire engines popular in the West Midlands in the early seventies as I can remember seeing a fire safety video at work that was about a major fire in Birmingham?

  40. Webby says:

    A horrid truck. I did my apprenticship in a Holden dealer, and occaisionally was roped in to do trucks. Compared to the contrempory Isuzus, the TK was a crude, uncomfortable dog. The non tilt cabin made servicing so much harder, the heating & ventilation were laughable, the seats, pathetic.
    About the only thing I liked compared to the Isuzu was that the spring shackles were rubber bushed, rather than greasable.
    When the last one went out of warranty, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
    One piece of trivia: The Bedfords were available with a 5 litre petrol V8 here in Australia. It was the Holden V8, with a 2 bbl carby. And for once, we mechanics liked the distributor being at the back on the engine.

    Even the ford D series had a tilt cab! Dunno why GM couldn’t- they almost always trumped fords efforts.

  41. Paul says:

    Well thang goodness General Motors didnt get hold of Landrover – it would have vanished years ago rather than being the powerhouse it is today.

  42. Adrian D says:

    I remember the steering. Every Bedford I’ve driven – a couple of TKs and a fair few YRT coaches, has given resistance to holding a straight line, requiring constant corrections as the steering wheel tugged to and fro.

    This tugging is similar to but distinct from [and worse than] that given by the old “Auto-Steer” air-assisted steering boxes fitted to some Atlanteans etc of the era… a very typically Bedford thing. I’d be interested to know what caused this and also whether or not the 6 wheel VAL – or any of Bedford’s larger trucks also had this problem.

    • Darryl says:

      Adrian I drive and also live on a bus which is an old 8/ 1980 Bedford with a 5 speed perkins Diesel .. I just acquired it a couple of years ago …and i’ve been learning a lot about it functions etc… I had no knowledge re anything about trucks buses etc… before this…I want to change the steering on my bus to power steering to save my arms abit of wear . hahahaha as its normal steering and old …..money of course is a big issue … do you know of any way of doing this .. and where may I get required parts ….. I live in Sydney Australia ….. I appreciate your help.. also at a latter date im looking to change the diff to get an extra 20 or so klms an hour from her also


  44. Ted A says:

    Hi, I passed my driving test in a ex brewery twin steer {chinese six}TK. Then hauled steel between London and Glasgow in a conventional six legger TK flatbed, I seem to remember some driver at Watford Gap telling me it was a converted coil carrier. It was slow, smokey, and uncomfortable on overnight stops but I loved it.That was in 1976 drove for Hub and Gillespie steel tubes, they were based off the north circular I think it was the Angel. They also ran AEC, ERF but I preferred the TK


  46. Soorej Munraj says:

    Hi there are still some TK & TL on our Mauritian roads. yesterday i saw a TM on our road in very good condition. I remember also the Bedford buses during my childhood. They all made a “pssst” noise while running. I think it was the brakes. I will try to get some pics of these trucks running over here? That could be of some interest. Thanks. Soorej

  47. Phil Coyle says:

    Back in the early 70s during the oil wars I fitted a Rolls Royce B61 Calor gas engine into a TK for Ushers Brewery Trowbridge, this was a joint venture between RR, Calor, and Ushers Brewery. At the time RR were also developing a B81 turbo charged calor gas fuelled, but I never saw the outcome of this. The Government became too interested in Ushers calor gas experiments, citing things like , there’s no VAT or excise paid on gas and you are running your vehicles on untaxed and therefore cheap fuel, you can’t do that and where will we get our revenue from if you run on gas, sob sob sob.
    The truck fully freighted at 14 ton(kegs of beer) would accelerate from about 20 mph in 5th up to 65 mph as if it was empty, only a lack of steel nerves prevented me from pushing further, plus the fact that cross ply tyres were not the most comfortable. I was wondering if it was still about or has anyone seen it.

  48. julius says:

    Pls reply as soon as you see the message how much is Bedford Tl sided tapoling red colour

  49. julius says:

    How much it is

  50. Ol says:

    Big petrol engines were a relatively common choice in commercials, at least before oil prices went silly post 1973 oil embargo, Bedford offered a 3.6 litre and 4.9 litre petrol six at various times.
    I think even the early Ford D series had a petrol option, using a Canadian Ford 6 cylinder engine. For local deliveries when trucks were not doing the sort of distances they do now, the poor fuel economy was not such an issue.

  51. Graeme says:

    Hi – a well written piece – thank you for taking the time to publish it.

    I’d heard (or read somewhere) that Marshalls took over AWD looking at an MoD contract of sorts and, when that fell through, they dropped the TL. The TK/TL was maybe a bit like the old Leyland Sherpa van in that government contracts meant that a non-competitive vehicle outlived its normal lifespan?

    I’ve had two extremes of TL/TK – a 1973 7.5 tonner with the petrol engine nd a 1990 AWD TL with the Perkins/Phasor box. Both were ex furniture lorries converted to horseboxes.
    The 1973 was ex RAF, had a six cylinder inline petrol engine, handbrake operated on the propshaft (like an old landrover) brakes were (I think) maybe not servo’d and it had a four speed box giving about 40 – 45 mph flat out. Petrol engine was reasonable quiet given that you were sat above it with absolutely no sound proofing.
    Brakes were not ideal – with a load on any sort of downhill had to be approached with care otherwise you’d find yourself standing up on the brake pedal trying to lever more weight onto the pedal using a death grip on the steering wheel – it would stop (eventually).

    Skip onto the 1990 model and you got power steering (hurrah!), better brakes, more ‘oomph’ but more cab noise (in fact pretty bad – you could not have a conversation over 30mph really but it could touch 65 – 70 mph downhill with a following wind). We fitted a radio but you could only really use it when parked.

    The Perkins Phasor was a 6 cylinder inline turbo diesel giving 155 bhp and AWD hooked it up with a five speed gearbox (name of the manufacturer escapes me for the moment). Frankly the gearing was poor as there was virtually no difference between 4th and 5th whilst 3rd gear was too high and too close to 4th – if you hit an uphill that 4th could not cope with then you could be pretty sure that 3rd wouldn’t either so you’d be in 2nd doing 30 – 35 mph flat out trying to get out of the way of the other traffic.

    Both models had a ladder chassis built out of what looked like old railway lines – did mean they weighed a lot (our TL had a glassonite body but, even with that, had a kerb weight of 5.6 tonnes) and fuel consumption was heavy (TL gave us 12 mpg over four years) compared to rivals. Add into that things like needing to manually adjust drum brakes (all round) which increased service time/cost you can see why the rivals were gaining ground.

    Clutch on the TL was herculean and my wife simply could not use it (pedal was set very high as mentioned above) and the return spring probably came of the Queen Mary.

    Other than the rusty quality of the tin work they were built to last (by today’s standards over engineered).

    • Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

      Smaller AWD vehicles (IE: 7.5 tons) were fitted with the Turner T5 gearbox which was a similar unit Leyland used in the Roadrunner up to 1990.

      Larger vehicles at 18 tons used an Eaton gearbox.

Have your say...