AROnline takes a look at some of the automotive blunders from both our own and rival makes.
Your Driver: Mike Humble
This one really deserved to win, even after 30 years, the Doyen looks amazing and fresh, but sadly a lack of experience, company ownership and changes in the sector trashed any chance of success.
The Leyland Royal Tiger-Doyen
The Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen, with all good intentions, was aimed squarely at the European Integral Coach rivals from the likes of Van Hool, Ikarus, Jonkeere & Setra, all of which were slowly making inroads with British customers who were looking for high spec touring coaches. As the holiday market opened up thanks to de-regulation, more and more operators were venturing across the sea to Belgium, France, Holland and even down to Italy or Spain – all of a sudden, an ageing Duple bodied AEC was not going to do. Leyland studied the market place with envious eyes and opted to build their own luxury vehicle, sadly, with no prior experience. But what they did come up with, looked stunning and like nothing else – so how did it go wrong?
Leyland had already produced a rear engined chassis of the successful Tiger which was coded Project B50 or Royal Tiger. Coaches with this layout were still rare in the UK, but a rear engine means much more luggage space and today, nearly all maximum weight coach chassis copy this format. The B50 was not a very popular machine, partly owing to the fact it was expensive to produce in terms of labour, but also because body makers such as Duple or Plaxton found that more strength needed to be built into the body to compensate for weight biases. Besides, Duple were not keen to get involved with the Royal Tiger underframe as they too were secretly developing a range of luxury integral coaches.
MCW had launched the MetroLiner coach but sales were deathly slow, partly owing to some critical quality problems which to be fair were mainly adressed, but also because MCW were not seen as a builder of luxury integral coaches and had no real heritage or reputation in this field. Duple had more success with the sleek looking 425 integral coach, but Duple were on life support and the 425 never sold anything like what had been hoped of it and it too became problematic suffering some horrendous quality problems – a real shame because they drove superb and fuel economy from the Cummins L10 engine was excellent.
Armed with the research from body builders concerns, Leyland quickly decided to go it alone and also produce an fully developed in house Royal Tiger which would be code named B54 becoming the Royal Tiger Doyen. This was an all integral chassis and body designed by Leyland and built at the Charles Roe body plant inLeedswho were also part of the BL empire. Running gear was also true Leyland, the TL11-H engine and Hydra-Cyclic semi auto gearbox were fitted as standard with manual or fully auto options –Leyland were keen to promote their own driveline at first.
When launched at the 1982 coach rally in Brighton, the Doyen took the market by storm, even today, the Royal Tiger Doyen is handsome coach, but owing to the most recent example would be nudging 24 years old, you will be lucky to spot one on the road. The Doyen looked like no other imported coach at the time, and yet still looked amazing and futuristic, partly thanks to the exterior shape being penned by the John Heffernan studios. Not only did it look superb on the outside, but on the inside too, and the driver had a commanding view of both the road and the curved ergonomic dashboard. It was initially launched in three trim levels – Standard – Silver Crown & Gold Crown but some mix and match level of trim was also catered for and the only engine option was the horizontal Leyland TL11 rated at 245bhp.
Some interior features never seen before on a British coach included aircraft style swing lockers rather than open racks and all the side and roof panels were trimmed in soft carpet. Interior lighting had soft focus lenses and the light units were flush fitted to the roof keeping true to the coaches’ sleek design. The huge headlamps included built in long range driving lamps – seen them before? Of course you have, they were identical units as fitted to the Rolls Royce Silver Spirit. Gone was the traditional two or three piece coach windscreen that often as not would leak, the Doyen featured a huge one piece unit that was flush bonded to the perimeter frame. The front axle and suspension was taken from the Olympian bus using two rolling lobe air bags rather than the mid engined Tiger’s four, freeing up space for the front mounted fuel tank and extra luggage capacity.
So how did it perform? Well, there were considerable problems and snags with early vehicles, build quality and rust prevention was never top notch with the welded tube under frame and huge problems arose with the gear selector linkages that were operated by cable resulting in an expensive retro fit air assisted gearchange system. Roe struggled to cope with building bespoke tailor made coaches. Leyland refused to allow them to improvise if there was errors in the design or spec drawings, so any production problems caused a lengthy delay as Roe awaited fresh drawings from Lancashire. Roe also took time when it came to changing spec at the last moment, an issue common with coach building but something European rivals such as Van Hool could cope with at the drop of a hat with the smallest of delay.
Customers grew tired of waiting for late deliveries; this is wholly understandable as the coach market is seasonal. If you are looking to take delivery of a coach in April for the start if the summer season, its no good if your supplier tells you your coach will arrive in late September. As a consequence, rival makers ran away with the customers who cancelled Doyen orders doing irreversible damage to Leyland. It was then decided to move production to Workington, once again, causing delay and cost in both finances and lost custom. Slowly, build quality improved over earlier examples, but by now, the Doyen was seen as a bit of a joke. Leyland tried to assure operators by putting more standard Tiger demonstrator vehicles on the road for their use but customers were angry and many demanded deposit money back.
By 1986 Leyland had improved the power output of the TL11 engine to 260bhp and some major revisions were made to the interior fittings but voices were quickly being raised within Leyland regarding massive costs pleading to delete the Doyen. Two years prior Leyland cancelled production of the Royal Tiger chassis frame after producing just 65 over a 3 year period, but the Royal Tiger Doyen was not faring much better. In a six year period from 1982 to 1987 Leyland produced just 98 Royal Tiger Doyen coaches. Leyland Bus no longer part of the bigger BL group, were fighting for survival and opted to just build chassis rather than an expensive all integral vehicle for an ever shrinking market.
Another reason for operator apathy was the poor continental back up for Leyland products. Rival makes such as Volvo had brand presence the world over and help was never too far away, but Leyland support could be problematic abroad. Knowing this, Leyland produced a ‘touring pack’ which comprised of a wooden box of specific spare parts which hardly offered the same burst into action service and confidence given from brands like DAF or Volvo, and was just one more reason the rivals could, and often would, exploit this critical weakness to their own advantages. Leyland chose to offer a Cummins engine on later models along with a ZF gearbox option but the depressed market in this country for luxury coaches meant no serious interest was forthcoming. Home rivals were suffering too with Bedford & Ford pulling out of coach chassis building and both Duple & MCW suffering what was to become fatal financial losses.
Leyland accountants discovered that initial development for the Royal Tiger Doyen cost £2.25 million and that excluded an investment at Workington of over £600.000 for new paint booths and plant equipment when production moved fromLeeds. Just to put this into context, the average high spec coach on sale in the UK in 1984 would cost somewhere around £52.000 so the now independent Leyland Bus found the Doyen to be a luxury flagship they quite rightly, could do without and killed it off in 1987. The descision to delete the coach was a simple one to make, before, Leyland had rightly chosen to soldier on as not to cause any panic or loss of confidence to the dealer group. By 1987, Leyland were a company now owned by it’s management and needed the fabrication expertise on the upcoming rail projects which was at least, guarranteed income from BR – there was simply no place for the Royal Tiger Doyen.
Leyland did continue to produce bodywork at Workington, but only on the Olympian bus chassis.