The commercials : Leyland T45 Freighter

Leyland’s medium weight Freighter was the company’s bright new hope of the 1980s, combining two previous ranges into one – and putting in a strong performance in what became the fast growing sector up to 17 tons GVW.

Mike Humble takes up the story.

The Boxer is beaten by a new middleweight

Have A Break? This 1987 Freighter with full Leyland aerodynamic kit fitted looks impressive.

Even those unaware of trucks are bound to have heard of the Leyland Boxer and Clydesdales of the 1970s. It felt as though they were everywhere – these middleweight rigid chassis lorries sold in truly huge numbers to companies (many now long gone) including BRS, Road Line, British Rail and the Milk Marketing Board. Under their skin, the Boxer and Clydesdales were BMCs designed way back in the 1960s. No frills and no nonsense vehicles, these Leyland’s were hard working and reliable offering a decent payload and superb parts interchageability and availability.

Out with the old

The Boxer and Clydesdale ranges were a tough act to follow but Leyland’s T45 cab system replaced them with the smooth modern looking Freighter. Using a similar chassis, albeit updated, and modified axles from the outgoing models, the Freighter ushered in unheard of levels of comfort, practicality and driver appeal. The 11–16 ton sector had often been ignored by many truck makers, but Ford and Leyland pretty much changed the market forever with their futuristic range of trucks.

Power units were based upon the tough Leyland 400-series, available with or without turbo charging with ratings up to 160bhp. Transmissions were existing Turner all-synchro gearboxes with either a Maudslay or Albion rear axle, the latter having hub reduction gearing. Braking systems were improved over outgoing models with the heavier model Freighters sharing its front hubs and braking systems with the heavier Roadtrain range.

The Freighter could be ordered in day cab or sleeper format and very soon became a top selling truck in its class, selling strongly to most business sectors. Its biggest rival for most of its production life was the Ford Cargo and this weight sector rapidly became the quickest growing market for commercials in the mid-’80s. By the time Bedford ceased truck manufacturing in the UK, Leyland and Ford were left trading punches for the number one spot, but rival makers such as Mercedes-Benz were gathering momentum.

The other UK truck maker, Seddon Atkinson launched a revised 16-ton chassis called the 2-11, which featured an all new Perkins Phaser engine which sold well into public service fleets. It was powerful and economical and quickly, Leyland’s trusty 400-series engine looked dated and behind the times. A merger with DAF trucks in 1986 followed and the Freighter benefited from some credible engineering updates.

Much needed further investement

The Cummins-designed B-series diesel had developed into a world leading design, first seen in the Roadrunner, and the Freighter was also to adopt this engine in 1987. The 400 series engine was phased out in favour of higher-output Cummins power units with ratings up to 180bhp, though later variants would later offer 210bhp by means of intercooling. The Turner gearbox was not suited to the new higher power ratings, so a slick shifting and stronger ZF600 six-speed ‘box became standard across the range.

Naming Trucks? It’s a numbers game

By now, the Freighter at 18tons GVW became the most economical truck in its class and enjoyed healthy sales after this point. As the early 1990s arrived, the Freighter name was dropped as part of Leyland-DAF policy of giving trucks numerical badges. The Freighter became known simply as the Leyland-DAF 50-series and as a result of some much needed investment from DAF, the truck gained a smarter interior trim, better quality and much improved driver appeal.

The T45 cab 50-series continued in production until 1994 after which a DAF designed model – the 65 series, replaced the smaller motor panels produced cabs. Production of 18 ton GVW DAF trucks continues in Leyland in the form of the DAF CF.

Leyland traded blows with the Ford Cargo throughout the 1980s for the top spot on the market
Mike Humble


  1. Another great article Mike!  Seems funny seeing these trucks – once so familiar – and realising that they’re twenty-five years old.  Have to say though I prefer the looks of the Ford Cargo to the Freighter – the latter needs twin headlamps like the T45 in my opinion!  

  2. As an aside, how lovely to see a KitKat truck with Rowntree Mackintosh as the manufacturer!

    ARO – not only vehicles, but sweets of yesteryear as well! 

  3. I seem to remember seeing mostly Fords growing up… But the Leyland is the one you still see pounding the streets once in a while… 

    You’ll always see both at the fair, hiding behind the scenes. 

  4. This is great, and a new direction for ARO – Now with busses and trucks! 

    Fascinating info folks, keep up the good work!

  5. Question for those in the know, possibly mike humble. I have a 2004 rover 25 1.6K with a ford IB5 transmission and wish to change the timing belt. I already have the laser 2626 camshaft locking tool. Is laser 4523 the correct flywheel/crank locking tool, or indeed what is?


  6. The Ford Cargo which is now being made by Paccar (who own the remainds of Leyland trucks) and Ishtok Leyland.

  7. To crack the bottom crank nut do the following:

    Isolate the ignition by disconnecting the coil pack

    Use the socket and a breaker bar and place onto the pulley so that the end of the bar is touching the ground TOWARDS THE FRONT BUMPER.

    Take hold of the bar making sure the socket is fully on the crank pulley nut, grit your teeth, and do this:

    Grab the wife or able assistant (Debbie McGee if you care) and have them spin the starter on the key for a fraction of a second,

    This will shock the nut free after the first or second flick using the torque of the starter motor.



    If in any doubt, feel free to e-mail me!

  8. This will shock the nut free after the first or second flick using the torque of the starter motor.”

    Or break your socket….. if it’s really tight.

  9. I cut my lorryist teeth on the Cargo, and I thought they were great trucks, always thought the Cargo felt more substantial than the Roadrunner, especially when sat on the passenger side where you had a dashboard to protect you rather than just glass (more so on the first Roadrunners with the glass lower panel under the screen).

    The later LF I had was a much nicer truck, but as a sleeper it was always a pain having to pull both seats forwards just to drop the bunk into place, while it made for a compact sized cab, it also meant a compact sized ‘living’ area. However it did score over the Volvo FM that followed it by having huge storage bins under the bunk area that was accessible from inside the cab, rather than the poky small ones on the Volvo that you had to get out and open the cover door in the side, not too much grief if you’d just parked up, but a PITA if it was to make the first brew of the day at 4am!

  10. Mike, thanks for the tip. Seems a bit scary to do it that way. I have a good quality twin hammer impact wrench gun. Would that not do the job?

    What I am more concerned about is how to lock the flywheel whilst I do the timing belt job.

    Is the laser 4523 the correct tool for the 1.6k with the ford ib5 transmission?

    OR are you telling me to not bother locking the crank? 

    P.s. How can I email you? I am on the 75andzt club forums as yellowmitch if you wish to pm me an email address to there.


  11. @12 a snap on 18v 1/2″drive buzz gun will undo the crankbolt like passing water,bear in mind the crankbolt maybe one a one use bolt.

  12. is it a one use bolt? I have changed timing belts in the past. Loads of land rovers and some toyotas. Just never anything as fragile as a k series. I want to POSITIVE I make an excellent job of this

  13. @14 no its ok ive just checked on autodata online torque bolt to 205nm,always better safe than sorry,something made me think it was one use then i remembered it was KV6 cambolts.P.S the only fragile k ive come across is the 1.8T in overboost condition!

  14. Good article, but the picture of the freighter shown looks like a 17tonne model. When the leyland engine was phased out this model got the DAF 620 engine which was rated at 180 and 210. The cummins b series was only fitted to the lightweight freighter and went up to 160hp. The lightweight Freighter became the 50 series and the heavier model was designated 60 series.

  15. I’m in India at the moment and have seen plenty of Ford Cargo based Ashok Leylands, however there are plenty of other ancient looking commercials kicking about. I wonder if they also have British heritage.

    I also just drove a Hindustan Ambassador, complete with mechanical drum brakes. It was epically slow and didn’t stop, but had a fair bit of charm.

  16. Another great article, I forgot that Rountrees were at one point Rountree Macintosh, Leyland has a lot of heritage at least some of it is still around. Regards Mark

  17. Leyland Freighter a great all round truck,worked for British
    Bakeries for 20 years and we run hundreds of them,a great reliable truck,a credit to Leyland,far better than the Ford Cargo

    • I agree that the Freighters were far better trucks than the Cargoes. However, I started on a 7.5 tonne Cargo and found it more roomy and comfortable than any equivalent 7.5 tonner with the exception of the Mercedes 814 which was equally comfortable but heavy and expensive. The 17 ton Cargo, like all of the Cargoes was strong, simple and reliable. My only experience of the Freighter was a 1416 model which I thought was more grown up and truck like with much better heating and ventilation, more power and good brakes. Cargo visibility and manoeuvrability was always a strong point.
      Sadly rust could make short work of the Cargo. Apart from that failing the Cargo could work as hard and as long as the Freighter. It was a simpler time in the 80s and early 90s. I will concede that the Roadrunner was a better truck than the small Cargo when it was released.

      • There’s a 1986 Cargo still in use in Nuneaton. It must be vying for longevity with the 1952 Bedford I used to see in Newport, Gwent in the late 80s. complete with canvas rear hood.

  18. The Clydesdale (and for that matter the Chieftain and Reiver) were not BMC designs although after 1972 they had a BMC derived cab, they were Albion Designs dating back to 1958.

  19. Awesome as always, however I must take issue (and a little bit of light hearted offence) with the following statement “The other UK truck maker, Seddon Atkinson”.
    During the 80s Foden and ERF where still kicking hard. Just about everyone else had been swallowed/rescued by Leyland but the 3 Lancs firms soldiered on as independents until…

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