Essay : Not their finest hour – Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

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

A Leyland Bus Demonstrator Royal Tiger Doyen at the Workington Plant gets ready for the off in 1984

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.

The rival Duple 425 integral coach – Leyland were oblivious to development of this coach which fared only slightly better sales success.

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.

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

19 Comments

  1. The prototype (XHG245Y),which was used for the launch and shown at the motor show,is preserved in Workington,

    There is one still in service in Harrogate ,with an Irish plate,
    I think the owner is an enthusiast as it only does occasional work but seems in good condition.

    dave

  2. @ David Lloyd. Thanks Dave, it’s nice to know there’s one still in service. XHG 245Y would be worth seeking out sometime…

  3. A great looking coach, however can you imagine considering purchasing a fleet and being presented with a wooden box of bits when enquiring about spare parts availability on the Continent? How would that compare to the ease of getting a Volvo or Setra fixed on the continent? What were they thinking?

  4. It’s the fact that it was a wooden box that creased me up for some reason. None of that high tech metal stuff here! We’re British!

  5. BSD

    @Mike Huble

    Is the above bus somehow related o the LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER WORLD MASTER MKI & MKII that was assembled in ISRAEL from the early 50’s to the late 70’s?

    Because the above bus had a rear mounted engine,while the ISRAELI tiger was mid engined.

  6. @ ITZHAK

    The leopard was more related to the Tiger Worldmaster

    The Royal Tiger Doyen was built on a welded tube underframe that bore no resemblance to previous designs with the exception of the TL11 sharing It’s heritage with the 0600 & 0680 units.

    Hope that helps?

  7. BSD

    Sure did,thank’s!!!

    And,i will gradly wait for your time to permit writing the article about the LEYLAND ROYAL TIGER WORLDMASTER MKI+MKII
    i asked you about in my e-mail last month.

    According to your previous articles,i am sure 1 milion%
    that it will be a pleasure to read!!!

  8. Well I have got the badge… Need the rest of the coach to go with it! Any pictures of the preserved prototype? It’s my favourite vehicle!

  9. A gorgeous vehicle. Distinctly Leyland [aside from the girly clip-on plastic wheel covers]and distinctly British.

    First time I saw one back in the mid-80s, I remember feeling immediately reassured that the plague of Volvos was to be but a temporary malaise. Behold the Leyland International! But, in place of the utilitarian BL roundel of recent yore, that traditional swirly Leyland logo upfront hit me like a brass band and the Dambusters March started going off in my head. For here was an elegance that Johnny Foreigner would never get how to do. Our heavy industry was safe and we’d be journeying on into the 21st century to a Lancashire heartbeat after all.

    Didn’t know about the wooden box.

  10. I fetched XHG 245Y from Blackwood in Gwent to Chesterfield about 5 years ago. It was fresh out of service but had been fitted with a Volvo B58 engine but still retained its hydracyclic gearbox. The plan was to put a TL11 back in out of a donor vehicle. Unfortunately the firm I worked for changed hands but I fortunately managed to sell XHG to the guys at Workington for preservation. I must say that she drove extremely well over the best part of 200 miles with barely a rattle, and with ride and handling above and beyond many modern vehicles. Truly ahead of its time. Pity the same couldn’t be said of the rustproofing though…..

  11. Have owned a Doyen for 13 years and for the last 5 years has been the only coach I operate. Works 3 to 5 days per week and travels anywhere in the u.k. from the north east were I am based. First Registered 25/03/1988 and went strait through its test last week. Only have 2 more years till retire so will have to sell.

  12. I was very lucky one day , just a case of being in the right time at the right place ,
    Do u remember the inaugural launch of Yorkshire Rider that took place in Halifax , well i was on my way to that ..and 1603 !!!! the one and only Royal Tiger Doyen in the new GoldRider livery was stopped at traffic lights and the driver opened the door as i was taking a pic , he said can u show me the way to Elmwood garage ..im trying to explain then he said get on il take u !! …well this was the ELITE COACH of the whole fleet it was Leeds United team coach !! ..so yes i got on , ..to this day il never forget that Driver Colin from Bramley depot , and i stayed with him all day ..he finally dropped me off at elland before he went back to Leeds ..what a day that was

  13. The B50 and B54 were launched at the same time, the ZF gearbox was also an option from launch. It was the merger with Volvo that Killed this and the Volvo C10M. Workington built Nationals Titans Lynxes Pacers and Sprinters as well as Doyens and Olympians.

    great articles, if only you’d proof-read them a bit first…

  14. That the Doyen was a good-looking coach is beyond reproach. Even now it’s a handsome vehicle and I recall how futuristic it looked when I saw one painted in Scottish Bus Group Saltire livery. Especially that massive badge which some suggested was to add weight to the front axle. It was a bus that should have worked in its(small)target market but with the benefit of hindsight it was a bus that was totally not required.

    As the bus market declined and Leyland Bus struggled to keep its factories busy it started clawing out niche markets and the Doyen was a good example of that – think of it a bus equivalent of the Rover Streetwise. However what it then decided to do was take a shotgun and aim at its feet by choosing to build it in a factory that had no experience of such products and then hamstrung it by adopting a ‘Leyland knows best’ attitude by refusing to allow even the smallest change to a vehicle build without referral to mother Leyland. That it failed was hardly a surprise.

    It was the merger with Volvo that killed it off – Volvo was surprised that it was still available – but the Volvo’s equivalent of the C10M had died before the merger – it just didn’t sell in the UK. Operators who wanted an integral coach at the time tended to by a Setra for top-end market operations.

    The Royal Tiger was also available as an underframe however. It certainly was bodied by both Plaxton/Van Hool but understandably Leyland tended to promote this less than the Doyen version. So it sold in penny numbers. This was part of Leyland’s “one-shop” options which saw buses with Leyland built bodywork (ECW/Roe) being heavily discounted rather than working with established bodybuilders. This kept those factories busy and was understandable but has a potential drawback as it assumes that these former allies will sit back and let it happen.

    The downside was plain to see. An example as such….In the early 1980’s Leyland undercut Alexanders to sell a batch of Leyland Olympians with ECW bodywork to Lothian Regional Transport. Leyland had previously worked well with Alexanders who between them had bodied virtually all of that fleet. That naivety resulted in Alexanders, well established in the Leyland stronghold of Singapore, introducing Mercedes-Benz to that market, bodying several hundred examples which Leyland could have done.

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