The Bus Section : Leyland Bus – 20 years since closure

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Doyendemo84

While ploughing through my extensive archive of all things bus and coach just now, I was staggered to notice that, 20 years ago this month, in July 1993 – and, after much diversification, rationalising and inevitable streamlining under the ownership of Volvo, the lights were finally switched out, the doors were locked and the gates were closed on arguably the world’s most famous builder of bus and coach chassis, Leyland Bus. The long and often turbulent history of Leyland can be traced right back to 1896 when the Lancashire Steam Motor Company produced its first chassis in the small market town of Leyland just outside Preston.

Until the late 1960s, Leyland Motors was a respected firm in England and much feared throughout the world by every other rival chassis builder. It was once said that Leyland exported vehicles to almost every country and continent on this planet. However, following some difficult acquisitions during a period of rapid expansion taking on Triumph and Rover, it seemed that Leyland was an unstoppable machine until the fatally-flawed forced merger with BMC turned a national treasure into a worldwide laughing stock which was seemingly out of control.

The National became good with the Series 2 but it was too much too late.
The National became good with the Series 2 but it was too much, too late.

The Truck and Bus Division ended up providing the car side with a slush fund that was tapped from its profits funding cars like the Allegro, Marina and Maxi. Leyland top brass involved with Truck and Bus could only look on and weep while the heavy side of the business slowly withered like a forgotten plant pot as millions and millions of pounds were thrown at fighting unions on Merseyside and the Midlands. They developed the National, of course, but this was a solution to a problem that never really existed and it never reached its full potential.

The influence Leyland had on current products should never be forgotten, though. Current PSV chassis are built on a rolling production line which was pioneered at the then futuristic Workington plant in Cumbria. Other features such as radial tyres, air suspension, turbocharging and low floor construction are again the norm today yet all were first applied to the Leyland National way back in 1973. Had Leyland opted to use any other engine except the amazing yet fatally-flawed high-speed fixed-head 500 series engine, they most certainly would have produced the world’s best post war bus.

Leyland went from playing it safe to swallowing up every UK rival such as, for example, AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Guy, and slowly the operators grew tired of being forced to buy unproven and badly thought out products that allowed smaller rivals like Dennis and Metro Cammell to develop their own chassis which, after some initial scepticism, were well-received and popular. In next to no time, Leyland Bus was no longer a force to be reckoned with and more of a financial burden on every tax-paying resident following the nationalisation of British Leyland in late 1974.

The epitome of `70s coaching? A Plaxton Supreme Leopard on National Express duties.
The epitome of 1970s coaching? A Plaxton Supreme Leopard on National Express duties.

It has been said that Donald Stokes was too nice a chap to carry out the slaying and sacrificial actions so badly needed to kick the car side into touch. Stokes was a Truck and Bus man to the core and, when he resigned from BL with his number two, Ron Ellis, a few years later, Leyland Bus top brass felt they had lost the most knowledgeable and influential leaders in the UK bus sector. Other badly thought out ideas like the Titan double-deck chassis never made the grade (more down to politics than product) and the point blank refusal to offer Gardner engines in the National until 1979 cost Leyland thousands of lost sales.

The company found stability as the 1980s came with the Olympian chassis and the National 2 became everything the original 1973 model should have been. But some brief changes of fortune came at the expense of AEC – Bristol and Daimler who were all closed down in order to keep the Leyland name on life support for a little while longer. 1981 saw the mid-engined Tiger replace the legendary Leopard chassis but, again, the idea of building an in-house, rear-engined premium coach, the Royal Tiger Doyen, to combat  foreign rivals was ill conceived – it was initially badly made and too expensive irrespective of how impressive it may have looked.

In order to create extra income, Leyland entered an engineering partnership with British Rail to develop a new breed of diesel rail cars and multiple units to be constructed at the Workington plant in Cumbria. The initial products were not too bad from a construction point of view with many class members still earning revenue today, but serious problems with engines and transmissions were soon to raise their ugly heads thus biting Leyland well and truly where it hurt. The integral Lynx chassis that replaced the National was also a problem child with corrosion and quality related matters hampering sales.

The Olympian brought some stability to Leyland but not enough to stave off future events.
The Olympian brought some stability to Leyland but not enough to stave off future events.

By 1987, Leyland Bus had been sold off to its management only for them to sell out to Volvo Bus just 18 months later. Volvo quickly addressed the poor selling vehicles such as the Tiger Doyen by deleting them and new production methods were used that raised quality and shrunk operating costs. Leyland also started producing the Volvo B10M chassis to a level of quality that sometimes bettered the Swedish examples but more serious matters were to cloud any good news that a re-vitalised Leyland Bus may have generated thanks to some foul play by the previous management team.

In order to get Volvo interested in purchasing Leyland Bus, it had built up a sizeable number of chassis which had been put down on paper as sold units. They were, in fact, stock chassis based on forecasted sales that failed to materialise mainly due to the European recession of the early 1990s. This coupled, with an expensive re-engineering programme to re-power the problematic rail products cost millions to put right, that alone would have been enough to force Leyland into bankruptcy. Volvo reluctantly footed the bill but, as a result, threw out the existing management team and renamed the company V-L Bus Ltd.

Volvo closed the Golden Hill Lane chassis plant in Leyland and concentrated all activities that included chassis and bodywork construction at Lillyhall in Workington, Cumbria which had initially been constructed solely for the National production. The poor selling Swift midi-bus which had been based on the Roadrunner truck was killed off and brave plans to export the Lynx as a chassis for local body-building using Volvo’s global network were mothballed. Everything was closely scrutinised for viability and cost cutting with parts prices rising to generate extra income.

As the recession bit harder, the decision was taken in late 1991 that Leyland was to be wound down and closed. The Tiger coach chassis was deleted along with the Lynx in 1992. This left the Olympian as the sole chassis produced but, despite much local petitioning and one or two sympathetic UK orders coming through, Volvo refused to go back on its decision. Once the final orders were completed (tri-axle chassis for Asia), the final bus came off the line in July 1993. Volvo continued to produce the Olympian in Irvine, Scotland albeit in heavily revised form – only the raw chassis shared a common thread and was badged as a Volvo.

Many loyal fans of the brand mourned the passing of Leyland Bus and saw Volvo as the big bad wolf. In fairness, Volvo did everything they could to keep Leyland going in a dying marketplace. It kept the parts network going, coughed up huge cash lumps in the form of warranty payments and oversaw epic engineering re-work programmes at their cost to British Rail. De-regulation of public transport had effectively suffocated the market for new buses in the UK and Leyland Bus became a small specialist division within a huge corporate empire – sadly, there was nowhere else for Leyland to go other than into the history books…

Mike Humble

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

44 Comments

  1. “The Bus and Truck division ended up providing the car side with a slush fund that was tapped from its profits funding cars like the Allegro, Marina and Maxi.”

    Sorry, that’s just untrue. By the mid 70’s, Truck and Bus, along with Solihull and Brown’s Lane, were sucking the life out of Cowley and Longbridge. Why not tell the truth about how long Bathgate stood idle, without a single thing being made? Here’s a clue – it wasn’t measured in days, weeks, or months. They just didn’t have an order book by the late 70’s.

  2. I think it’s a matter of historical record that the certainly in the run up to nationalization, the Commercial Vehicle (Truck & Bus)division’s profits were being used to support other loss-making areas of the whole British Leyland (BL), namely the car division. At the same time, BL’s car division was producing such masterpieces of mediocrity as the Marina or Allegro or cars which people thought were too unreliable, such as the Princess or Rover 3500 (SD1) meaning the cars were not selling. As a result, certainly in the truck division, due to this diverting of profits and non-investment, product development fell which meant that BL lost market share to importers such as DAF, Volvo and Scania.

    It was only post-Ryder report that each division was allowed a degree of autonomy, however it could be argued that it was too late by then and although the product line at that stage was good enough, BL suffered from massive over-capacity and had to shut plants.

    An excellent article tho Mike. I did not realise that it was now 20-years since the last Leyland-badged buses left Workington. The last to enter service in the UK were a batch of 52 Leyland Olympians with Alexander RL-bodies for my local operator, Srathclyde’s Buses, one of the very few to enter service on a L-registration. Some of these have only just recently been withdrawn with First Midland Bluebird and one of the batch has been preserved at the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle trust.

    It’s very hard now to find Leyland buses still in service and indeed even Volvo Olympians are now disappearing at a fair rate.

  3. I rememeber the bus factory in Workington and worked there for 2 years when it became a warehouse mostly importing foreign goods for the Past Times chain, which now ironically has gone under. I worked with an ex bus worker who told me that in its 22 year existence there were hardly any disputes and the National and Tiger were good products. A shame, but it’s like the demise of LDV, a company that had come right but it was too late.

  4. I think it would even be fair to say that even BMC did not want the Bathgate plant. At the time, it was part of what is now – with the benefit of hindsight – a none too inspired policy of transplanting other industries to areas of the country badly affected by the run-down of traditional heavy industries such as coal, ship building and steel. Other examples being Rootes at Linwood, Truimph at Speke and probably Leyland at Workington. Truth be told, BMC would have probably built the factory around the Midlands but it could not afford to ignore the grants available.

    The Central Belt of Scotland had been badly affected by the loss of jobs in the coal mining and ship building industries and so a potential new truck (and tractor) factory at Bathgate was manna from heaven as far as the government was concerned. However, that great British 1970’s striking disease badly afflicted the plant and the workforce was – ahem – in fairness some of the most militant in the company. This led to a number of disputes and indeed the archive on this site shows that BL was actively considering closing the factory as early as 1972. Bare in mind the factory was barely ten years old at this stage. It continued to make most of BL’s light truck range but was deal a heavy blow by BL’s decision to sell its tractor making range and ultimately closed in 1986.

    I would also add that whilst the National was a fine bus, it was the wrong bus at the time, although BL cannot be held totally responsible for that. At the time the National was conceived, one-person-operated (opo) single-decker’s (but not double-deckers) had just been legalised and the bus operators – already suffering from loss of revenue due to the growth of private cars – stocked up what single-decker’s were available so these could be operated by just a driver. Leyland thought there would a large scale shift to single-deckers.

    However Leyland failed to anticipate that this was just a fad. This is because just as the National was due to be launched, the government then legalised opo double-decker’s, pulling the rug from under Leyland’s feet. It then set about hurriedly designing a brand new double-decker (Leyland Titan) whilst suffering from the cash-crisises that afflicted BL at the time, it held back development of a Leopard/AEC Reliance replacement which was probably more pressing. Whilst it then dealt with this coach replacement – Leyland Tiger – it held back development of a National replacement which eventually appeared as the Leyland Lynx.

    At the same time, it failed to adapt to De-regulation and the swing to small buses. This was a gap that MCW exploited with the Metrorider although as it turned out the Metrorider suffered from serious corrosion issues. However, the development of such a small bus by Leyland Bus was very political given the availability of the Sherpa within Freight-Rover. Dennis then developed the Dart, which was just what the industry wanted. All Leyland could offer was the mid-engined Swift, which could be kindly said was an acquired taste.

    One of the saddest statistics of Leyland Bus is this. In 1979, Leyland was the biggest supplier of bus and coach chasis in Western Europe. It was gone 15-years later.

  5. @ Scott

    The .98 series of engine was also built there in both 4 and 6 cylinder form. 4 potters mainly going into tractors and the 6 cyl going into the Terrier / Boxer and the lighter Freighter.

    Once the tractors had been sold off and the 6.98 NV engine in the Roadrunner was replaced with the Cummins B series… the death bell tolled for Bathgate.

    Also of note, the Roadrunner was earmarked for production there too but that changed in 1984.

  6. @ Scott
    Workington was a successful plant and the National, particularly the National 2, was a very popular bus for rural bus operators and on suburban routes where a double decker was uneconomical. Two survive locally as school buses, which is a testament to the quality of the National 2.
    However, what held Workington back was it was an assembly plant, the drivetrain was transported from Preston, and the poor quality of local roads. This added considerably to costs and again had all production been trasnsferred from Preston in the eighties, then Workington would have survived as a far bigger plant would have meant the roads would have needed to have been improved.
    Yet it was vastly better industrial relations wise than Linwood and Speke and the workforce seemed to take pride in what they were doing. It was just being a remote assembly plant like Linwood proved to be Workington’s undoing and sadly 600 staff had to go.

  7. In fairness to Leyland, the National bus was produced as a the solution to a specific requirement for the National Bus Company that would have guaranteed large production rates for many years.

    The fact that many of them had a long operating life (especially when converted to Gardner engines), there must have been something right about the design.

    Thanks for the article Mike.

  8. Like central Scotland, West Cumberland( as then was) was seeing its traditional industries dying out in the sixties. In the second half of the sixties the coal industry had shed 1500 jobs and unemployment was above the national average, so the bus factory with its 600 reasonably well paid jobs was extremely welcome. This was part of a wider aid scheme to the area that saw Iggesund Paperboard, Ectona Fibres, Courtaulds and K Shoes set up factories around Workington to offset the decline of the coal industry.

  9. Why didn’t British Leyland divi up the business into a decent half under a previously respected name of Leyland Motor Corporation comprising of Leyland Bus & Truck, Jaguar, Rover(including Land Rover), Triumph & MG (plus any other brands that I have forgotten) & sell the rest off, piecemeal probably, the keenest suitor of which, to be fair, there were a fair few?

    Any remaining parts would evidently have been beyond redemption & should have been closed. This could have either have been done pre-or post nationalisation & we could still today have remained a major automotive player in European terms if not global.

  10. In order to understand why Leyland Bus was sold as it was it’s important to put yourself in the mindset of the times. BL had been nationalised under one government but now found itself under the control of another different government to whom BL was an example of all that was wrong with Britain in the late-seventies. This government, under the late Mrs Thatcher, wanted rid of all the state-run industries, feeling that a government’s job was not to build cars and commercial vehicles. It wanted rid, either in whole or in part. Indeed on one occasion she reminded Parliament that BL had cost every tax-payer £200.

    In the early-80’s there was still heavy demand for buses, mainly due to the offer of the government grants of up to 25% (later increased to 50%) off the cost if a new bus where it was suitable for operation by just a driver. Whilst this policy was welcomed by manufacturers at the time it did have a significant downside. It meant that operators gorged themselves on brand new buses and old buses were replaced before it was really economically viable. It should be understood that a bus has a significant service life and in some cases operators were replacing buses which were less than eight years old. The government decision to phase out the grant from 1980 (it was gone by 1985) should not have surprised the industry but it did very much put the brakes on new purchases from 1984 onwards.

    Leyland Bus pretty much had a monopoly in the UK market during the mid-seventies. That was not the case in the early eighties. Volvo had nibbled at the market with Alisa (later model B55) double-decker but it’s success had grown when it launched the B58 coach chassis which was preferred by many independent operators (ie non-state owned fleets). It then built on that success with the outstanding B10M. Indeed by the early 80’s Volvo was already outselling Leyland in coaches in the independent sector. Metro-Cammell Weyman (MCW) launched the Metropolitan double-decker, which used Scania running units and later launched the integral Metrobus. Dennis launched the Dominator which along with Metrobus began to pick up significant orders. Suddenly operators whom who would never thought of purchasing anything other than Leyland were deflecting in droves. Leyland Bus was in trouble and began to make significant losses.

    With the Transport Act (1985) promising de-regulation, the outlook for future bus purchases looked at best appalling. Leyland Bus lost approximately £80million alone between 1982 – 1984. The directors of Leyland Bus approached Volvo to see if they would be interested in acquiring Leyland Bus. The Swedes, ever courteous, looked at the books and declined. There was then a proposal to merge MCW’s bus operations with Leyland’s took place early in 1986 with the most likely outcome being the building of MCW bodies on Olympian chassis at MCW’s plant in Birmingham. Whilst this would have rationalised the UK bus production and been a viable business, it would have had dire prospects for those employed by Leyland.

    This led to the impetus for a management buy-out. To show how badly the government wanted rid it accepted an offer of £4 million to buy Leyland Bus from the management when the company was actually capitalised at £17.4million. That purchase price also included £2.5million worth of DMU’s about to be invoiced to British Rail, the writing off of £55million worth of debt and no restrictions on the future ownership of the company.

    In the later part of 1987 the directors realised that whilst losses had been contained, future revenues were insufficient to fund new product development. As a result of this they then approached Volvo and managed to – ahem – ‘convince’ them to purchase Leyland Bus. As this turned out this was quite fortunate, as warranty claims on the DMU’s and Leyland Lynx’s would have probably put the company out of business had it not been sold our to Volvo.

    Volvo had genuine plans to turn Leyland Bus into its centre for European City bus development. However the recession in the early 90’s led to a re-assessing of that strategy in the view of further anticipated market falls. Therefore, whilst it can be argued that Volvo did turn off the factory lights and shut the doors, Volvo kept the plant running longer than any other owner could have managed.

    The basic problem was that Workington was just too big for the late-80’s. It was built for a different era. Unfortunately, whilst we tend to look at the past with a rose-tinted fondness, Workington never ran at full capacity. That’s an unfortunate fact. That’s not a reflection on the employees there but more a reflection on how the industry has changed.

  11. Re 16: Phil, that is effectivly what was done. Although, to be fair, you’ve fished out the wrong names as the good ‘uns. Truck and Bus were well in the red, with far more capacity than their sales justified. Jaguar were a money pit, as was Rover and LR. Triumph was callously wrecked by Spen King. MG was the victim of Edward’s lack of understanding of the sports car market.

    That left Austin and Morris – which were put together. Honda was very interested in aquiring this pair. Sadly, in what can only be described as asset stripping, BAe entered the frame – Honda walked away in disgust – and the rest is history.

  12. How close were General Motors to buying Leyland in the mid 1980?

    I know they wanted Land Rover as well, & dropped out when it wasn’t offered as part of the deal.

  13. Richard

    GM approached the Government during the first quarter of 1986 and made an offer to purchase Leyland Trucks, on the condition that Land Rover was included for a price quoted at the time of around £230million. The GM plan would have included rationalisation of it’s elderly Bedford truck range with the much more comprehensive Leyland range.

    However this led to significant protest by West Midlands MP’s and Land Rover enthusiasts who stated that they did not want a British Institution such as Land Rover with its valuable defence business to pass into foreign hands. The irony of it passing to GM who as Bedford’s owner was already a significant supplier of military trucks was presumably lost on them.

    The Government was still suffering from the fall-out of the Westland affair, which had caused the resignations of both Michael Hesaltine and Leon Brittan and was not really relishing a similar spat over Land Rover. The late Nicholas Ridley, was happy to get get shot of BL at any price and backed the GM offer. Initially so was Mrs Thatcher but Norman Tebbit, at the time Chairman of the Conservative Party, thought the sale may be damaging before local elections held later that year.

    Executive responsibility for the Leyland Commercial Vehicle operations – which included Land Rover – was held by David Andrews, who was described in the broadsheet press at the time as a man ‘who could effortlessly disappear into a crowed of three’. This report from the Financial Times dated 10th March 1986 states ‘The Leyland Trucks management team feels very strongly that it has been left in the lurch by David Andrews….(sic)..who has taken a leave of abscence to head the consortium hoping for a management buy-out of Land Rover..’ He was never popular in Leyland, but that left a very sour taste.

    Throughout March 1986 arguments raged in the media with rumours of who was in favour or against the deal in the Cabinet and various backbenchers added their tuppence worth. The Cabinet tried to find a compromise which would keep Land Rover in British hands. Even 51% was deemed acceptable. GM stuck to its guns and stated it was only prepared to buy both outright and no other deal would be considered. Other parties then entered the fray, including the owners of Aveling-Barford (which until 1983 had been part of BL itself) who stated that they wanted to purchase Land Rover and Leyland Bus.

    The Cabinet dithered for a further three to four weeks. There were suggestions that other bidders were being excluded. Indeed, there were angry scenes in the House of Commons where a Labour MP asked whether any of the Cabinet members had any relatives that were associated with any potential purchasers. This was directed at the Prime Minister whose son had been employed at Lotus, itself purchased by GM a few months earlier.

    In April, the Cabinet decided to decline any offer for Leyland Trucks and Land Rover. The GM negotiating team then returned to Detroit in disgust having refused to accept any compromise deal. Andrews disappeared from the industry almost immediately.

    The Leyland Trucks management had supported the GM proposal which could be argued was a good deal. However, there were more serious ramifications for Bedford as shortly after the failure to secure the purchase, GM announced that it was closing Bedford and ceasing production at Dunstable. GM argued it needed the combined businesses to make a viable truck manufacturer. It’s likely this would have been concentrated around Leyland.

    This could be argued at length as at the same time, Bedford, who had supplied most of the MOD’s trucks since the Second World War, was told it was loosing a contract to supply updated trucks to Leyland…Bedford, although still a significant force in the UK Commercial Vehicle market (it also supplied coaches) did have a tired model range and was deemed as very bureaucratic. On the other hand GM had transformed Vauxhall/Opel which at the time was very profitable. By adding the best of Bedford to Leyland and together with the Leyland Dealers, a very strong company cold have been built. What this would have done to Land Rover is anyone’s guess.

    Within days of the GM deal collapsing, Leyland announced a deal with DAF ( a one-time Leyland licensee) to distribute vans and lighter trucks under 15 tonnes ( the DAF range started at 17 tonnes) through DAF’s dealers on the continent. In due course DAF ultimately brought Leyland Trucks which survives to this day!

    Bedford’s fate as mentioned earlier was not so good. The name did survive on the front of light commercial vehicles (think Astramax and Rascal) for a while but GM ultimately decided to brand these as Vauxhall (or Opel depending on where for). The truck arm was bought by a company which traded as AWD which sold a modernised Bedford range under AWD but this crashed into receivership in 1992.

  14. Should also add that AWD was not allowed to use the Bedford name on its trucks sold commercially within the UK by GM except to those sold to the military. When it ceased trading in 1992 the remains of the company were bought by Marshall’s of Cambridge, a significant dealer of trucks amongst its other businesses. This time GM did allow it to use the Bedford name on all trucks but ‘New Bedford’ was never more than a minor player and shut barely ten years later.

    The demise of Bedford did however have an effect – albeit indirectly – on Leyland Bus. Bedford was a significant supplier of coaches although by the mid-80’s it was loosing market share to Leyland and Volvo. However, it was still very much respected in the important independent sector and when GM announced it was closing Bedford it encouraged Dennis to build a new coach – The Javelin – built around a lightweight chassis and Cummins engine. This was seen as the natural successor to the Bedford range.

    Indeed when Volvo bought Leyland Bus, it tried to position the Leyland Tiger as a heavy-duty competitor to the Javelin, despite the Javelin having superior luggage capacity. This failed as the Tiger was designed at the outset to compete with Volvo’s own chassis, the B10M. The Javelin went on to be a considerable success and laid the foundations for Dennis (now part of Alexander-Dennis Limited) to replace Leyland as Britain’s largest bus builder…..

  15. The history of Leyland Trucks and DAF is a complicated one.

    Paccar (who owned Foden) also wanted to buy Leyland Trucks, but the deal with DAF was successful. This was a merger of sorts, with what was to become Rover group owning 40% of the merged entity and DAF shareholders 60%. This also included the Freight Rover business. DAF then went on to buy Optare, giving the ironic situation of Leyland DAF in the UK owning Optare (based in a former Leyland factory), but not Leyland Bus which was part of Volvo!

    BAe inherited this stake when they bought Rover and sold down their stake.

    A couple of years later DAF went bust, creating separately rescued Leyland Trucks, DAF, DAF bus and LDV companies.

    Subsequently Paccar (who wanted to buy Leyland back in the 80s) bought DAF, and then Leyland, reuniting the 2 business (who had still been linked for marketing purposes), and moved Foden production to Leyland, before stopping production altogether.

    LDV as we know went bust, while DAF bus is now known as VDL (an anagram of LDV incidentally)

  16. The Workington plant’s most regular customer was Cumberland Motor Services, the much missed local bus operator. CMS used Bristols until the mid seventies, but as these wore out and needed to be replaced, a regular order for Leyland Nationals was placed and also the Leyland Tiger was bought for coach excursions. Sadly like the bus factory that supplied its buses, CMS is long gone.

  17. Interesting Glen

    Yet Cumberland were NOT fans of the National… in fact shortly after BL announced they were to wind down production of the RE (part sacrificed for the National) Cumberland ordered a sizeable batch of Bristol RE`s which caused a few mutterings within Leyland and NBC.

    They subsequently only took the National on sufferance but by the time the National 2 arrived in `79 they bought plenty. Leylands remained a constant purchase in both Cumberland and Ribble fleets even after takeover with the Olympian becoming Stagecoaches first ‘standard’ double deck chassis with Alexander bodies.

  18. There is an excellent book titled “Beyond Reality. Leyland Bus – the twilight years” by Doug Jack. Quite a depressing read at times, but it goes a long way to show why Leyland Bus is no more. It tells a lot about how management and the government at the time did a lot to ruin the business and, ultimately, how it just couldn’t be saved.

  19. Ulsterbus were fans of the RE.

    They had a National demonstrator, but between factory problems and being the only model in the entire fleet, it spend a lot of its time off road before eventually being scrapped in 1989.

    They used Leopards as well, with similar Alexander bodywork to the RE.

  20. Why o why o why did the Thatcher government think that the way to sort nationalised industry’s out was to destroy them. Negotiation and re-building could have led us back to success again, now we have nothing left and no prospect of any meaningful industry.
    Re the Bedford connection, I am sure that I remember something about Bedford’s Leyland truck bid and the treat of Bedford’s demise should it not go ahead. Thatcher, I believe said that she would not be dictated to and allowed DAF to buy Leyland Truck. GM did then indeed close Bedford, and then sold the Dunstable plant to AWD. AWD could not use the Bedford name [except for military use] as GM were still using it on vans. AWD were in a great position as they already had big military contracts, and the addition of the trucks would be a big bonus. Not to be outdone the Thatcher government awarded the military sales to DAF. This was despite the fact that Bedford/AWD was the MODs choice. The final nail in AWDs coffin was when an order for civilian trucks to Syria was blocked by the government as military supplies to this country were banned. When the remains were sold to Marshall the Bedford name was reinstated as all GMs vans were now badged as Vauxhalls.

  21. Mike

    ‘and the point blank refusal to offer Gardner engines in the National until 1979’

    Why?

  22. I’m guessing Leyland wanted to build whole buses in-house & didn’t want to loose work to 3rd parties.

    Also the engine bay was small so not many other engines would fit.

  23. Thanks Richard – sorry to say this but some firms deserve to fail. Presumably most customers had experience of Gardner engines so makes sense that they have buses with those engines in them. When the customer does not get what they want they go elsewhere.

  24. Richard,Paul – this is one if those great myths that’s sprung up around BL. You know, The Allegro is more aero-dynamic going backwards, the Rover 75 is nothing more than a re-bodied BMW 5 series, etc, etc. The simple reason why the National was never offered with a Gardner engine is that Leyland didn’t offer it. This is not uncommon if you think about it….neither the Leopard, Atlantean or Panther were offered with alternative engines. Given Leyland had its own engine-building capacity it was perfectly natural to only offer its own engines in it and indeed it had developed a brand new engine -The 500 Series – with the National in mind.

    The engine bay could accommodate a Gardner engine – that was proved with subsequent conversions on Series 1 Nationals although the rear-mounted radiator had to be moved about, normally to the front which ruined the classic design. However call it doggedness, call it self-preservation but it saw no need to offer an alternative engine spec. It also helped when you deleted any other alternative single-deckers that were available (except the Bristol RE of which more later) meaning it was National or little else.

    And in fairness, plenty of customer orders poured in which seemed to support that view. The National Bus Company (NBC) for whom the National was designed for – hence the name – ordered hundreds of them, as did City Fleets as well as independents. However two very important customers who it would be expected to order the National didn’t but for different reasons. These were the Scottish Bus Group (SBG) and Ulsterbus, the state-owned operator for Northern Ireland.

    Ulsterbus tried an early National demonstrator but didn’t like it. It was happy with the Bristol RE and liked to specify its own bodywork, which you couldn’t do. So it sent an ultimatum to Leyland -RE’s or Mercedes-Benz. So Leyland re-classified part of the UK as an export territory and allowed it to continue to receive RE’s. The SBG’s reasons were more different – yes it liked Gardner engines. And it liked its buses bodied by Alexander’s. But SBG wanted all its buses to have forward facing seats and rear-luggage compartments for carrying parcels and luggage. SBG did end up ordering Nationals but that was for a vehicle shortage that took place in 1977, mainly surrounding its Eastern Scottish company.

    When the National 2 was launched, it was again only launched with a Leyland engine – the TL11, itself a development of the O.680 engine. Some were offered with just the non-turbo L11 engine -Lothian certainly had a batch – however although the National 2 was regarded as a better bus than the National 1, it didn’t sell as well. There were a few reasons why but the main one was that due to the Bus Grant, the single-decker fleets of the UK had been so modernised that there simply wasn’t the same level of demand. In 1983 Leyand quietly – and some might say almost apologetically – offered the National with a Gardner but even that did not do much to improve sales. So when one was available, it was hardly a massive seller.

    So would a National with a Gardner engine helped? It’s impossible to say. There were fleets who looked on the 500-series and said no thanks but there was precious little else that they could buy instead. So some took it begrudgingly. On the flip side, it should be recalled that production issues at Gardner led to Leyland engines appearing in the Bristol VRT and Daimler (later Leyland) Fleetline, both of which only offered previously the Gardner. So some would argue it was just as well that the Nationals didn’t get the Gardner.

  25. Ulsterbus’s later REs had Leyland 510engines in as Leyland refused to offer anything else. While the 510 was almost no-ones favourite engine and certainty did not have a life expectancy anything like a Gardener it was a very easy engine change in a National and probably relatively cheap. As a mechanic and driver I would dispute that the National 2 was a better bus. They were very noisy and hot in the cab. If you got a good National 1, the long ones were better, with working heaters they were a joy to drive.

  26. Don’t forget that Gardner Engines also went bust due to a lack of development and changes of ownership. The engine could not be developed when Euro emission standards started to appear, not least because there was no money for development. The Gardner was very efficient but was also quite bulky: a rear overhang of 3 metres was a good target (as per the Lynx, for more low floor area and also for weight distribution)but the Gardner required 3.18 m of rear overhang. The National and RE were even shorter but the rear axle and gearbox arrangements were very complex!!
    Also worth noting that Leyland found itself owning Daimler, Bristol, Guy etc more by accident than by design – the BMC/BMH/Leyland mergers were focussed on cars above all and buses and even trucks were just a sideshow. Thus in 1980, Leyland Bus was building 6 double deckers with 6 different front and rear axles, 6 different gearboxes and so on – Fleetline, Atlantean, VRT, Titan, Olympian and Victory.

    • A point worth mentioning was that Gardner didn’t go bust.

      Perkins only really bought them up from Hawkey Siddley to tap into the spares and marine activities. The only company that actually went bankrupt was Paul Gardner engineering LTD – Paul Gardner being John’s Son. They were an off shoot and stand alone company specialising in spares and reconditioning sharing only the name and the Gardner scroll logo in licence only.

      Subsequent engine designs (post LXB) such as the 6LYT & LG1200 went some way to catch up in the power stakes but rival units such as the Cummins C or L10 had the market sewn up in terms of power / longevity and fuel economy. Gardner units were expensive to produce owing to a very high content and cost shavings were rampant in the Varity Perkins era that had a knock on effect on reliability.

      Today, Perkins have no presence in road applications – only Cummins build for LGV & PSV.

  27. Leyland did eventually slim the double decker range down, but it seemed to be a catch 22 situation because if they discontinued some models fleet managers would have cried foul & gone elsewhere, like some did when Leyland dropped almost all their existing single deckers when the National was launched.

  28. An interesting if terribly sad story, especially to an ex- 1950s Leyland apprentice. Totally mismanaged, mainly by politicians but also I suspect by Stokes. “Stick to your knitting” is an old business adage, and Leylands would still be producing if they had stuck to commercial vehicles and put more resources into R & D. Here in New Zealand, I rarely mention my history with Leyland, as it is really a “dirty word” after the BMC and P76 fiascos!

  29. Just found this interesting site and comments when looking for any info on Marcus Smith. He was in charge at B.C.V. at one stage. I worked there for the 10 years up to it’s closure by Leyland…something that still rankles me all these years on. The whole political and management cock-ups are a huge disgrace, even more so that nobody ever seems to have been held accountable.

      • Hi, Thanks for that. On a different note I attended the Brislington bus rally last Summer. I met a chap I was at school with and used to talk buses with each morning at registration. He made a career out of the bus industry, his name…Martin S. Curtis, bus operator and well know author of bus books. We have not spoken for years so much catching up took place.

  30. Some of you may be interested in a memory of my very early days as a Leyland apprentice. I started in September 1954, and in early October a group of us were sent from the “Pen” (the Apprentice Training Centre) around the corner to the body shop, where we spent several days dismantling the steel jigs which had been used to assemble the double-deck bus bodies. Separate top deck and bottom deck jigs, and all assembled with a multitude of small nuts and bolts – just a Meccano set job! I heard then that the Works Director (was that Stanley Markland?) had been prepared to sell them, but the offer was so derisory he insisted on scrapping them. Sensible – why sell them to a competitor?

  31. And how about Ashok Leyland in India – a very successful commercial vehicle maker
    I remembered the 1st Ashok Leyland Viking that came to Mauritius Island in the early 1990’s. They were very noisy with a 6 speed gearbox
    I remember the very big steering with a blue Leyland logo in the middle
    You can visit site http://www.ashokleyland.com/
    Thanks

  32. The Leyland factory in Workington is now owned by Eddie Stobart and half of it was used as a warehouse by the now bankrupt Historical Collections Group( owner of the Past Times shops). I worked for Historical Collections 20 years ago and worked with a couple of former Leyland employees who were made redundant in 1992 and said the factory had an excellent industrial relations history and was far more modern than the factory in Preston, but the location meant Workingtoh had to go,

      • Workington was a development area due to its mining industy dying out and there were incentives to buiild the factory there, in the same way Iggesund Paperboard built a factory opposite a redundant colliery to re employ the miners. The Leyland facotry was part of a new industrial estate called Lillyhall, which at its height had over 1000 workers in different factories. Remember all this was welcome in west Cumberland( as then was) as unemployment was above the national average and the traditional industries were dying out.

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