Video of the Week : Leyland Roadrunner TV launch (1984)

Here we have another one of those nostalgic look backs on celluloid. This time, Mike Humble salutes some stunt driving and a cracking light commercial that soon became known as the toughest truck on two wheels…

No other TV commercial for trucks before or since had the same impact as the launch advert for the Roadrunner. It went out on prime-time ITV and certainly made the viewer sit up and gaze in wonderment as the final T45 product in Leyland’s £350 million product investment hit the ground running… with a bang. Based on a heavily-revised Terrier chassis, the Roadrunner benefitted from a sleek aerodynamic cab designed by Leyland’s in-house Engineering Team under the leadership of Bill Lowe. Ogle of Letchworth had put their own design forward but that had been rejected on cost grounds.

Gilbert hops in the cab as we get a good look of that kerbview window
Gilbert hops in the cab as we get a good look of that kerbview window

Motor Panels produced the cab which was ultra strong yet lightweight thanks to a great deal of Computer Aided Design (Cad-Cam) which the whole Austin Rover Group was pioneering at that time. Roadrunner – or “C44” as it was known throughout its development period became an instant success when launched in 1984 and the current DAF LF, which is assembled and engineered in Leyland to this day, follows the bloodline into the 21st century.

The commercial came about thanks to the marketing men spotting an up and coming Belgian stunt driver cleverly placing commercial vehicles onto two wheels for publicity events in Europe. A story board idea of a lorry being driven in this manner caused a fair bit of fuss in the Lancashire offices and the engineers, now flush with confidence born from the well-received T45 range, decided it could be done… with a little ingenuity of course.

An in-cab mini camera captures the moment as Gilbert throws the truck onto two wheels - while strangely looking like Duncan Banatyne as well!
No, folks, that’s not Duncan Bannatyne – it’s our Gilbert caught by an in cab mini-cam at the point where he goes on to two wheels for the first time

A call was put in to the management of Gilbert Bataille, the stunt driver, who risk assessed and agreed to the idea. The trucks to be used for filming were modified by fitting the leaf springs used for the driven axle to the front one with the addition of a massive anti-roll bar. They were then shipped out to France where the practice sessions took place. The end result to this day is quite spectacular as Mr. Bataille throws the little Roadrunner around with aplomb.

The voice over is done by none other than the famous actor of stage and screen Anthony Valentine (Raffles: The Gentleman Thief) and his creamy smooooth voice works well alongside the visual drama and crescendo rising musical mood music. Gilbert went on to star in and arrange the stunt driving in some box office hit films and just some of his credits include: Licence to Kill, Ronin and The Bourne Identity – to name but a few.

The famous "Money Shot" as the new baby Leyland truck goes up onto its offside wheels. An iconic image that featured on almost every Leyland brochure - I had this poster on my bedroom wall too.
The famous “Money Shot” as the new baby Leyland truck goes up onto its offside wheels. An iconic image that featured on almost every Leyland brochure – I had this poster on my bedroom wall, too

Our own two wheeled stunt driver – Russell Swift also put the Roadrunner up on two wheels for some UK-based publicity work for Ever Ready, but it was Gilbert who famously plied his craft in this memorable TV commercial.

The full commercial can be seen by clicking here.


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

1 Comment

  1. It was a one of the trucks I had interested in. Thanks to its asymmetric design, the fact that it was one of the last ‘real British‘ trucks, and a article written by your person.

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