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.
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.
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.
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.