AROnline hops on a bus that was destined for Shattered Dreams Parkway, only to find it was actually quite good yet was a victim of it’s own technology, it’s forward modern thinking, oh.. and an unhealthy dose of classic British Leyland union militancy!
Strange when you look back in time isn’t it? Where once we had a sprawling automotive industry developing and building everything from a road roller to a Rolls Royce, it seems that all this has gone for many reasons including buyer apathy, catastrophic errors in management and a criminal lack of funding and direction when in public ownership – such a very sorry state of affairs.
All of the once great names in the bus and coach sector which included AEC – Albion – Bristol – Daimler & GUY were all living under the Leyland umbrella as we entered the 1970’s and Leyland had re-written the rule book with the National. By 1973, Leyland had set out a plan to build an equally modern integral (chassis and body both load bearing) double deck bus.
Where that National had been a bespoke production line assembled vehicle, this new idea would be produced by traditional coach building methods. BL had three types of rear engine double deck chassis at this time, the Bristol VRT – Daimler Fleetline & Leyland Atlantean and all were reliable and respected vehicles which all sold in decent numbers to both Municipal & NBC (national bus) fleets.
Re-inventing the wheel:
London Transport were drawing plans to withdraw the RT & RM (Routemaster) types and were looking for modern high tech vehicles that could be operated by one person and the recently introduced Daimler DMS Fleetline was proving to be a problematic vehicle – though hindsight has showed us that this was partly due to LT not understanding how an off the peg vehicle should be maintained, so BL engineers got to work on a prototype vehicle which was coded B15.
The idea of the B15 – or Titan as it became known, was to be bristling with modern technology, class leading in noise and comfort levels while also giving a long service life. A massive ergonomic study took place taking everything into consideration such as step heights, driver controls, positioning of grab poles and isolating noise or vibration. Mock up interiors were built at Leyland where everyone and every aspect from the driver to the passenger would be surveyed in detail.
In October 1975, British Leyland had the first working prototype B15 up and running on the test fleet using a Leyland 500 series engine and a fully automatic version of the epicyclical gearbox. What made this a very unique bus was the full compliance of all world known type approval regulations, gained by careful study and the previous passenger / customer surveys. As with the National, the B15 also featured air suspension – which was still something of a novelty back then.
The Titan claimed to have the lowest noise levels both inside and out of any bus and a clever independent double wishbone front suspension gave a superb smooth and steady ride in all conditions. To reduce interior vibrations, the powertrain was mounted partly by means of suspension from the upper deck floor and the cooling system was isolated from the rest of the engine bay with a thermostatic hydraulic fan drawing air through the radiator thus giving optimal thermal efficiency.
Leyland listens to it’s customers:
Leyland supplied the rolling chassis and the body work was produced by Park Royal – Roe in London. After some favourable demonstrations with large operators such as LT – Greater Manchester & West Midlands PTE, overall feedback was promising, but operators made no bones about the problematic 500 series engine, so Leyland decided that Gardner 6LXB rated at 180bhp would be available – the chosen engine of the UK bus operator. This was the first time a Leyland bus had been produced with an out sourced engine though a Leyland power unit came along in 1979 with the L11 or TL11.
Yet fails to deliver it’s promises:
The production Titan came on line in summer 1977 with a huge order confirmed not only with 250 for London Transport, but West Midlands ordered 80 and Merseyside ordered 50 – very promising indeed for a brand new design. Sadly, constant union disruption at Park Royal meant that production was slow and customers grew tired of waiting for buses and rival makers such as MCW started to pick off valued customers with their new MCW Metro Bus.
Production became so problematic that BL decided it was to close the London bodywork plant and move Titan production, spurned on by high wage costs, constant strikes and low productivity. Eventually, Titan production moved to Workington in 1981 and the National factory was extended but this put delivery orders back by almost 18 months, and one by one, the customers – including London, cancelled their orders. Municipal customers deemed the Titan to be too bespoke for rural use and Leyland quickly realised the Titan had a limited customer base beyond the big Cities.
Time called on the Titan:
Leyland soon had a simplified double deck chassis developed which suited all customers far better than the all singing all dancing integral Titan. Launched at the 1980 commercial vehicle show, the Olympian featured a traditional chassis but none of the complicated Titan ideas such as hydraulic brakes, multiplex wiring or independent front suspension. The last Titan came off the production line in 1984 and had cost Leyland millions in lost revenue due to cancelled orders.
Was the Titan a disaster? Well as a bus, it was superb. They drove exceptionally well, both drivers and passengers loved them thanks to the bright, spacious and comfortable interior and above all, proved to be hard wearing in service. The key problem was the technology; rural operators did not see a need for air suspension, complicated wiring systems or integral bodywork and simply ran away from the Titan. With larger fleets like London, the Titan gave sterling service partly due to good workshop facilities and exacting preventative maintenance.
Financially, the Titan was Leyland’s true blunderbus, teaching the company a costly & hard lesson in how not to re-invent the wheel. Such a shame, as the Titan really was an impressive piece of design sadly 10 years ahead of its time!