The Bus Section : Leyland Atlantean

Mike Humble


Atlantean: bearing the weight of the world

Should you be of a certain age, a bus still rustles up a mental picture of something big and noisy with large 22.5in tyres that rattles your fillings and windows with the thumping growling big block Gardner or Leyland 680 power unit. The sights, sounds and smells of yesteryear public transport are a cacophony of hisses whines and diesel smoke, just as modern rolling stock has diluted the romance of train travel to the point of an emotionless experience, modern buses are so clean quiet and dare I say it – totally lacking in any soul or character with a teeny wheezy 4 pot Cummins replacing a pig iron 11 litre six.

The world’s biggest bus maker before compact disc players and Channel Four was Leyland Motors, this of course made perfect sense as their top man throughout the 1960s and ’70s was Donald Stokes – the son of an ex-Plymouth Corporation Transport General Manager, moving people was in his blood. Double deck buses the country over were once of course your traditional half cab open platform affairs with a cheery clippie taking your money. The driver simply drove albeit being slowly deafened and baked by a six cylinder diesel only a cats whisker away from his left leg while he wrestled with a gargantuan steering wheel and crash gearbox.

Not such a great life on the buses

Forget the nostalgic comedy of Stan Butler and his lecherous conductor Jack in LWT’s On The Buses. Take it from someone who has done a stint or three behind the wheel of a Daimler COG5, a shift driving a traditional decker left you barely capable to untie your shoelaces let alone hotfoot it upstairs with a married housewife who just happens to live near the terminus while her husband is at work. Bus driving was serious hard graft make no mistake, a job for life that the public depended on and respected maybe. But at the price of atrocious working conditions that today’s Health and Safety executives would condemn.

Despite the public image of the cheery bus driver, the half cab platform bus was an awful environment to work in (pic: Daily Telegraph)
Despite the public image of the cheery bus driver, the half cab platform bus was an awful environment to work in (pic: Daily Telegraph)

Long before Leyland became embroiled with take overs and union strife, the company led the world in bus and truck production. A long forgotten fact is that Leyland were once an engineering and sales led corporation that were feared by every rival maker, known for their aggressive sales force equally as much as the reliability of their product. A great deal of research was taking place as far back as the mid-’50s towards engineering and designing new buses using new methods of construction and calling upon the resources of some of the best automotive talent in the world.

Leyland moving fast in a fast moving world

In 1952, Leyland began experimenting with ideas for a rear-engined double-decker bus. A prototype was built, with a body by CH Roe to the maximum permitted width at that time of 7 feet 6 inches. It was fitted with a turbocharged version of the Leyland O.350 engine, which was transversely mounted at the rear of the sub-frame. The chassis was a platform-type frame of  light steel and alloy with an automatic clutch and self change gearbox. After some mixed reactions following some in service testing and gauging the views of bus depot engineering staff, Leyland went back to the drawing board.

A second prototype also received mixed reactions, so after simplifying the design into a rear engined bus with channel section chassis rather than being semi integral with the bodywork and using the tried and tested 600 series engine, the Atlantean was born with the transport departments of Greater Liverpool and Glasgow being the first customers. Even though the then traditional decker still reigned supreme, the Atlantean settled down to become a reliable and solid piece of engineering but only following the allowance of one man operated buses, did the Atlantean really became popular.

In the early ’70s Leyland started fitting the larger 680 (11.1 litre) series engine to cope with modern traffic speeds and various updates involved driver safety and simplicity for engineering staff. Optional equipment for the Series 2 Atlantean included an automatic gearbox (favoured by Tyne and Wear PTE) and various power settings ranging from 150 to 200bhp. Both Bristol and Daimler prior to the Leyland take over had developed their own rear engine designs with the VRT and Fleetline but the Altantean developed an excellent reputation and outsold each rival.

Sheffield City Transport 214 as new with Park Royal / Roe body in 1968. Sheffield used Atlantean & Fleetline finding them both utterly dependable operating in an area of arduous terrain.
Sheffield City Transport Atlantean 214 as new with Park Royal / Roe body in 1968. Sheffield used Atlantean & Fleetline finding them both utterly dependable operating in an area of arduous terrain.

A sales success of simplicity and effectiveness

Operators tended to remain loyal to this Leyland despite the onslaught and crisis of BL and the troublesome reputation of the National. Many companies relied on the Atlantean for all of its lifespan with huge fleets belonging to National Bus and the municipal operations of Blackpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Stokes home city of Plymouth. Towards the end of its life the Atlantean was offered with the new 690 series engine which was a lightly turbocharged development of the 680 and created less noise in service with better efficiency.

From a drivers point of view, the Atlantean offered a minimalistic cab that featured nothing more than a speedometer and a brace of air gauges. Early examples used an air operated gear selector that emitted a lovely peep or whistle noise as you snicked through the cogs, while later versions used an electric selector knob that needed just a fingertip to use. Because the Leyland power units tended to run at a higher temperature than a Gardner equipped  Daimler Fleetline or Bristol VRT, the Atlantean tended to be known amongst driving crews as a ‘warm bus’ in winter.

The minimalistic Leyland Atlantean drivers cab showing the later electro-pneumatic gear selector beside the steering wheel.
The minimalistic Leyland Atlantean drivers cab showing the later electro-pneumatic gear selector beside the steering wheel.

Reliable and popular the world over right to the end

As mentioned before, they were known for being a no-frills bus that on the whole was very reliable. The semi automatic gearbox could be problematic in the hands of an abusive driver, and if the warning buzzer failed on the radiator status device, the 680 tended be known to throw a head gasket. The chassis was incredibly strong and long lasting making sure that even the most cost effective bodywork could go the distance. A handful even became motorway coaches with Standerwick Travel specifying plush interiors and high ratio transmissions on their once famous ‘Gay Hostess’ long distance deckers.

The growl of the engine and the whine from the rear mounted fan drive were typical of the Atlantean in public service along with the loud whistles of the air operated gearbox. The howling screeching brakes that made small children cry and old ladies tremble take us back to an era when everything seemed all-right with the world. Public transport had bags of character, when even a trip into the City by bus as a small child was almost as exiting as Christmas morning. The last Atlantean for the UK market was built in 1984 but export chassis were assembled in early 1986.

The bus was an export hit in places as far afield as Baghdad, China, Singapore and even the USA bought into Leyland’s last no-frills heavy duty and totally reliable double deck chassis. Leyland even tried to develop an 8 wheel ultra heavy duty version for the American and Canadian market with a 220bhp turbo charged engine and double drive rear axle. Nothing came of this one off chassis and all production Leyland Atlantean examples were two axle chassis types with final production figures being well in excess of 15,000 units in both double and in rare single deck form.

The four axle export heavy duty prototype Atlantean - Sadly nothing came of it.
The four axle export heavy duty prototype Atlantean – Sadly nothing came of it.
Mike Humble


  1. Well Mr Humble, I passed my PCV in LUG115P, a 100% lock stock BL product, as it was bodied by Charlie Roe. And Mike, I think that 8 legger chassis became the fuel tanker that Matchbox ended up making. Quite a few later example Atlanteans also had the pedestal air shift. NCT standardised on this set up I believe. If I’d known you were doing this article, I would have supplied you with loads of photos

  2. IIRC the 8 wheel chassis ended up as the BP autotanker concept… I’d also suggest that Wallasey Corporation put their first example (FHF 451) into service well before Liverpool Corporation… Wallasey No1 is still running and is in active preservation on the Wirral together with the last UK registered example…

  3. Great to see you have a picture of the cab of MRT 6P, which 1976 version of the AN68 Atlantean resides in our museum in Ipswich. Please see our website for further detail about the particular vehicle-

    Ipswich Corporation had a particular affinity with this type of bus, buying 33 basicaly similar vehicles from 1970 onwards until production ended. Synonymous with the town, the last ones officially in service lasted until 2000 by which time they had paid for themselves many times over. One still does duty as the town’s open top bus.

    Great little article to pay homage to these vehicles- they remind me of my childhood and make a wonderful noise pulling through the gears!

  4. That seat fabric brings back memories. Whose brainstorm was it to come up with a pattern that resembled nothing less than very neatly arranged school dinner derived vomit. BL seemed to have a talent for eyesearingly gross colours, meet the allegro in delhi belly brown…

    @ Owen

    Colchester had them too and I well remember the coal fired pre dreadnought levels of smoke, the creaking like a tea clipper in a gale and the first gear stagger up Layer hill (think a slightly less vicious version of Porlock with a nice sharp bend at the bottom), not to mention the official bus stop on a 1:4 hill, I almost felt sorry for the poor thing trying to get going again. Still nothing was as bad as the ex army tin can single deckers. I think we’ve also got one doing open top duty in the summer.

  5. We never had Atlanteans in my corner of the West Country- here, VRTs were king, later followed by the Olympian. So my only experience of the Atlantean was one of the elderly privately owned school services bus owned by Swanbrook. I liked riding in them, they did have a certain character which was not suggested by their very bland outer appearance.

  6. Citybus in Belfast ran a few

    Though growing up in the 80s/90s, I never remember any of them. Presumably mostly destroyed in malicious acts.
    I recall their replacements, the Bristols and the Leyland Leopards, later the Tigers, all Alexander bodied and single deck.

    It wasn’t until the mid 2000s that Citybus’s replacement, Metro, went back to using double deckers, this time supplied by Wrightbus.

  7. The first Atlantean buses I remember were those of Northern General Transport in the early 60s. I recall thinking they were ultra modern in those days. My favourites though, were the small fleet of blue Daimler Fleetlines operated by So. Shields Corporation in the 60’s & early 70’s.

    It was great to ride on a brand new bus back then – bit like riding in a New car. thanks to Mike for another interesting feature.

  8. As a Plymouth schoolboy in the 70s, I remember the Atlanteans operated by the City as being cold and spartan, and would often let one go in favour of a cosier ride on the following Western National Lodekka.

  9. Were those ‘Volvo 244’s dad’ bumpers unique to Nottingham? I recall them on just about all buses in that city when living there in the 1980s. Don’t think I’ve seen them elsewhere before or since.

  10. @15

    The Citybus Atlanteans had chrome bumpers, not quite as drastic as the Volvo ones.

    Perhaps the Volvo bumpers were a result of trying to make footholds in the US/Canadian markets of the time?

  11. The whole body style and front bumper design was as dictated by Nottingham City Transport.

    Their now recently retired CME (John Lowrie) was an ex Leyland apprentice who had certain views and ideas. Such a big customer they were of Leyland product, Leyland and certain body buliders would tailor make the buses just for them to the Nottingham design.

    It was also at Lowries insistance that Leyland introduced the Tiger based D.A.B built Leyland Lion chassis to rival the up coming Volvo D10M City Bus.

  12. Childhood memories brought back by the picture of a Newcastle decker.

    I remember them going past the station or going down Northumberland Street on days out in Newcastle.

  13. What a great article – thank you.

    The Atlantean was the bus of choice for the school run and I have fond memories of mid-Seventies, past their best, variants picking us up outside the gates in the late Eighties/ early Nineties.

    Most would head for the back of the bus or to the top deck, but I would always stand by the luggage rack and ‘Savastrip’ machine (5p a journey!!!) so I could watch the driver.

    I remember being absolutely fascinated by the clutchless gearchange. The school run can’t have been the best job for a driver with the bus loaded with noisy kids so it stands to reason he never hung about and it was pretty flat out for the whole journey.

    I have a vague recollection of a buzzer and light by the gear selector which seemed to kick in after enthusiastic cornering. Was that a tip sensor of some sort?

    My Nan lived by a main road in Wigan so they were going past her house all hours (nice orange and brown livery…).

    Love the Atlantean – very distinctive engine note and happy Eighties childhood memories brought back by this article.

  14. @ John G

    The light and buzzer you mention was a system called the “Rad O Larm”

    Because the Atlantean featured no temp gauge, later models featured a float and temp sender to warn of either low or boiling water.

    During spirited cornering, the level in the top of the rad would would alter causing the float to drop and the buzzer and lamp to activate.

    How many years had you wondered eh? – Glad you liked the piece… Keep em peeled for the Fleetline one coming soon!

  15. @Mike

    Thanks for that!

    I left school in 1991, so it’s over 22 years I’ve wrongly believed we were a few degrees from tipping over! Stupid in retrospect as these buses will have been put through their paces on the proving ground.

    Is there anywhere with information on the semi-automatic transmission – that was the thing that got me most. Aside from the slight delay after selection it seemed like a fantastic idea, presumably too complex or bulky for the car market at the time?

  16. I found the Atlantean an absolute doddle to drive, even with power steering that was on it’s last legs, and that horrid loud rubbing noise when you used brakes when reversing (seemed to be the same on Nationals and Olympians). The loud honk when releasing the footbrake, the roar of a 680 at full chat at 50 on the motorway, and the single finger gear change on the CAV ‘lollypop stick’ selector… I did brick it though on one lesson, had to drive from York to Huddersfield via motorways in gale force crosswinds, that was a white knuckle ride.

  17. @ John G

    The gearbox itself is quite an impressive and actually simple bit of kit that takes a fair bit explaining. Buzz words include brakebands – epycyclic geartrains and the infamous phrase “toggling up”

    Its worth a feature on its own, of which I shall do in the near future once my workshop manuals are found.

    On the Atlantean, it worked by air and electric and was known as “pneumo-cyclic” in later years it was modernised, refined and re-named Hydra-cyclic relying on oil pressure to select the gears (Olympian & higer powered Tigers used this)

    Leyland bus sold the rights to this system in 1988 to Cummins who were looking to get into railcar propulsion (railbuses had used the same gearbox)

  18. Growing up in Glasgow’s East End, the Atlantean was the bus which defined my early life. Indeed, I would wager that the Atlantean was to Glasgow what the Routemaster is to London. Whenever I went abroad and came back home, it was one of the first things that I looked for to remind me that I was back in Glasgow.

    In total, Glasgow Corporation Transport and its subsequent changes of name bought 1,449 Atleanteans new and a further 52 second hand examples, almost all bodied by Alexanders. From the first one, LA1 (Glasgow used type codes like London to identify its vehicles) a PDR1/1 (The R signifying where the engine was and the /1 signifying a standard-wheelbase model) delivered in 1958 to the last one, a AN68A/1R (Atlantean-0.680 Engine-Automatic Gearbox – Standard wheelbase – rear engined) LA1449 delivered in 1981 and a further 52 second-hand examples arriving as deregulation developed.

    However it was the noise that defined the LA. Whether it was the echo as it transversed the city streets I’m not sure. But this noise – and then factor in the jerk-o-matic transmission and the howl of the brake drums. Indeed I maintain you’ve not lived until you’ve experienced an Atlantean on full pelt running on a dual carriageway.

    When the later AN68 model Atlantean was launched in 1971 from the earlier PDR model it surprised many in the industry by not really looking much different. However, rear-engined buses had a poor reputation for over-heating at the time and Leyland’s engineers had made a serious attempt to fix this. The Atlantean was a bus transformed and many fleets would have been happy to continue with the bus ad infinitum had it not been withdrawn by the early eighties due to noise regulations.

    The Atlantean was probably one of the bus-industry’s last great innovations. It was not without its faults and limitations but you do not go on to build what was until recently the best selling selling bus ever (now overtaken by the Dennis Dart apparently) without doing something right. Proof positive that not everything that came out of Leyland in the 1970’s was bad.

  19. #24 “factor in the jerk-o-matic transmission and the howl of the brake drums”.

    Oh, how I hated travelling on Atlanteans [Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive circa 1970s]. The engine at the back meant that the front of the bus froze but if you sat at the back you were deafened by the scream of the engine thrashed within an inch of the conrods flying out of the block by some idiot driver who thought you changed up the gears whilst keeping your foot hard on the throttle. The whiplash effect was known to throw old ladies off their feet and spilled gallons of cola on the floor.

    Added to the engine scream was the rattle of loose panels and screech of the brakes. Speaking of which, braking always seemed to be of the on-off variety. I always thought that Atlanteans were controlled by two switches – stop and go – at least that is what it felt like.

    Sitting upstairs meant an instant brush with lung cancer as upstairs was smoking in those days.

    Thankfully most of these dinosaurs have been consigned to the scrap heap by noise abatement regs. (I used to live by a bus stop too!)

  20. I used to live by a bus stop in my younger days too, I still recall the ‘dukdukdukdukdukduk’ noise from the Leopards, Bristol REs and Tigers.

  21. The choice of transmission control on the Atlantean was down to the operator. Edinburgh’s Atlanteans had four different control systems:

    1965 (bus 801 to 1967 (bus 899) – CAV four-speed semi-automatic.
    1968 (bus 900) to 1975 (bus 464) – Pnuemocyclic pedestal-mounted four-speed air-operated gearchange. A handful of Atlanteans delivered in 1973/74 were fitted with Leyland G2 four-speed fully-automatic transmission.
    1976 (bus 465) to 1979 (bus 620) – Leyland G2 five-speed fully-automatic transmission.
    1981 (bus 621 to bus 665) – Leyland LVA45 five-speed fully-automatic transmission.

    The five-speed transmissions were set up to use second to fifth gears, with first only being used for pulling away from rest or while on an incline.

    Mention must also be made of the final batch of Edinburgh’s Atlanteans, buses 621 to 665. These had the rationalised O.680 engine which was known as the AL11, and were fitted with Eminox stainless steel exhaust systems in mid-life. These resulted in a lovely melodious whistle-cum-raspberry effect from the exhausts whenever the throttle was applied and one of those at full throttle on the open road was an experience to savour.

  22. On the subject of the prototype Atlanteans built in 1952/3, you may be interested to know that the second of the two survives and is in St Helens Transport Museum. XTC 684 is on public display, although as yet unrestored is a fascinating machine, particularly to the spanner wielding bus anorak. Just a small point though, the original prototype (STF 90) was bodied by Saunders Roe (the aircraft builder) on Angelsey and not CH Roe at Leeds. The two prototypes were given the model name “Lowloader”. Unfortunately STF 90 doesn`t survive.
    Echo some of the above comments.. Theres nothing like the Atlantean today, I`ve spent the last three years bringing one back from the dead and its likely to take me the next three to get it something like.
    #24- Think you`re closer to the truth than you realize- the later auto models with the LVA45 box often had air throttles that were either on or off! Although most Atlanteans had nice progressive brakes unlike some of the Olympians that succeeded them.

  23. Just a quick definition of the Atlantean chassis code.
    AN = Atlantean
    68 = O.680 engine
    A (later succeeded by B, C & D) was to denote the development stage of the chassis that started as only AN68/1R etc…
    /1 = standard length (/2 was the 33ft example)
    R = actually denotes right hand drive spec with “L” being for left hand drive models.

    Leyland switched to air throttle on the Atlantean from the mid-70s however Greater Manchester stuck to the cable throttle right through to their last one in 1984!

    Merseybus drivers were renown for thrashing their Atlanteans to the very limits of each band in the box!

    As superb machine that hasn’t and will probably never be bettered.


  24. In 1959,I went with a large school party, on holiday to Dorset. The coach which took us down and brought us back, I feel sure, must have been an Atlantean. It was like no coach I had seen before or indeed since. You boarded through the door beside the driver, then stepped up on to a central gangway which ran the length of the vehicle. The first seats,to right and left, you stepped down into a compartment (just like a railway compartment with 4 seats); next along were 2 more compartments, but these,you stepped up into. The compartments were staggered,one up, one down, the upper ones effectively forming the upper deck.And so on down the length of the coach. Regretably, I did not take a photo. Can anyone confirm whether this was an Atlantean or have any knowledge of this seemingly unique vehicle,

  25. I would like to say a few words regarding driving the Atlantean. I drove them for Liverpool Corporation out of Garston Depot in the south end. The rough and bumpy shift change through the gears was really down to driver lack of control sensitivity. Apart from the first to second gear change, which was almost impossible to change smoothly, changes from second to third and third to top could be made absolutely smoothly if the drivers shifted gears they way they were taught in driving school.

    Without fail I always changed gears smoothly and in fact took great pride and pleasure in driving by vehicle with completely seamless gear changes. There was no rocket science to accomplish this but for those who are unfamiliar with the shift change mechanism I will give a brief description on how smooth shifts were accomplished. I always accelerated to the maximum r.p.m. in each gear and waited for the power curve to peak, then I would flip the gear selector into neutral, remove my foot from the accelerator pedal and allow the engine r.p.m.’s to die down before flipping the lollipop lever up to the next gear.

    There was a small amount of skill to this as in order to achieve a smooth and seamless change, you had to time the change up to the exact point in time where the decreasing engine r.p.m.’s would match the same ratio as the incoming gear engagement. Once learned, this technique was not difficult and for me it was a great pleasure to drive the bus in this way. For those of you who are familiar with old style non synchromesh gearboxes, down changes in the Atlantean could be achieved by driving the bus in the same manner as if you were driving a non syncho box vehicle. Down changes were accomplished thus, flip the gear selector to neutral, (with your fingertip) accelerate the engine to full r.p.m. and drop down a gear, once again flipping the gear shifter with your finger.

    Using this method, seamless and bumpless gear shifts were possible. The Atlantean was a delight to drive in this fashion and I always, without fail drove in this manner. The engine and transmission had a very satisfying whine and howl to it when driven to the extent of its r.p.m. range, which was nearly always mandatory when you had a full load. I have to mention that I would defy anyone to shift from first to second smoothly and most drivers avoided using first unless you were on a hill with a full load.

    I would like to mention a word about the accelerator pedal, I believe they were hydraulic at that time, and as were old cars with air in the brake system, the driver had to “pump” the accelerator pedal rapidly when pulling away, in fact, between each and every gear change otherwise you would not get full throttle. It became second nature, when pulling away, to jiggle your knee up and down, pumping up the throttle until full range was achieved. It was so such second nature that even to this day I someties find myself doing it in my own car. Mind you, that could also be put down to senility. Having said all that though, even though the Atlants were fun to drive, on a busy route such as 86 & 87 belt, give me a good eight footer with a guard who was fast on the bell any day. An AEC eight footer that is, not a Leyland, the AEC’s beat the pants off a Leyland any day.
    Anyone like to hear about the Airporter? I drove those too.

    • Well done Austin. I drove the Atlantean PDR/1’s for British Airways from 1976 in the same manner as you describe to achieve continuous smooth gear changes. My trips between London Heathrow to BA’s Victoria Terminal and return were a good retreat from driving airside for many of our other duties as British Airways Motor Transport drivers.

  26. Good to hear these kind of experiences – makes the site what it is.

    Agree with every word about semi-auto driving technique, with an emphasis on a throttle-blip preparing for a downshift. It’s good practice for crash boxes and gives passengers a bit of showmanship as well as a smoother ride.

    Don’t remember ever having to pump an Atlantean throttle in order to get full go though. Maybe Liverpool specified their own throttle arrangement?

  27. Tricks and traps…. Liverpool “Corpy” buses.

    At one point in time, we started to receive Atlants which were modified at the work shops, to have a central exit door in addition to the front entrance, I think this was carried out at the huge central depot called Edge Lane. The year I believe was around ’68 – ’70. These central doors had a motion sensor on them, which would not allow the center doors to open until the bus had come to a complete stop. I believe they must have had a timer incorporated in them too as the doors on some of the buses would take several seconds to open even after a complete stop. This would confuse the exiting passengers who thought that the driver had forgotten to operate the doors and they would rattle at them and ring the bell repeatedly. Apart from that, on the busy routes, seconds counted, and there was no time to hang around waiting for reluctant doors to open; the whole object of the mission was to get the bus in front of you in sight as quickly as possibly, in order to ease the work load for the guard. So, the trick…..there was a small switch on the driver control console which apparently acted as a central shut off for the electrical system, and the drivers quickly discovered that flipping this switch to the off position just as you braked to a stop, would by pass the motion sensor/timer device and the doors would open immediately. Everybody happy. No doubt the safety guys of todays world would quake with horror at the thought of such a scenario happening. Well, you did what you had to do and as I said, seconds counted.

    The Atlants were much slower than an eight footer, as far as the unloading of passengers was concerned especially if there was only one or two getting off. So, an example of how the crews sped things up ; approaching a stop with only drop offs, no incomers, it was customary for the driver to glance back and assess the situation….if there was only a couple of young people on the platform, the driver would roll slowly through the bus stop without actually stopping and the guard, who had to be a “fast bell guard” , would give you the two dings on the bell to take off again, the passengers would then alight with alacrity…i.e. jump for it, a rolling stop, but seconds were gained, as pulling away from standstill took much longer. Schoolkids were the best…kids departed the buses like birds taking flight. Fifty of them could clear the platform in one point three seconds. Of course this was not possible with older folks.

    The drivers and guards in Liverpool did not work together as a permanent team, as did some other municipalities. The drivers rotated through the duty roster in the opposite direction to the guards, so you got a different guard every day. As soon as the rosters were put up for the days ahead, the “Tack sheet” as it was known, there would be a lot of trading and bartering going on to change duties and swap out with other drivers and guards to get with guys whom you considered to be part of the in crowd. I was in my twenties in those days and it was common practice for the younger crews to want to work together. The last thing you wanted to be stuck with was a dog of an eight footer with an old grumpy guard who was slow on the bell. With an old dodderer of a guard you were better off with an Atlant, but with a young, fast bell guard you were better off in an eight footer, even if it was a dog.

    Before starting your tack, it was quite the usual practice to find out which bus was on stand by, so If you got a “dog”, no explanations needed I’m sure, you found an excuse to “throw it in”, i.e. report it at the end of the route to the Checker as having a defect of some sort. He would then phone in to your depot that there was an issue with your vehicle and they would swap it out for you when you got back there. Most of the drivers knew pretty much all of the vehicles in their depot by number. Some were dogs, some were flyers, most at best were mediocre ….if you got a flyer you would put up with all sorts of problems, even lousy brakes, but if you got a dog you threw it in ASAP. Old guy drivers, we young guys found, never threw a bus in for any reason, so if you saw you were relieving and older gentleman comrade, you could usually guess the bus was a dog….it was rare to take over a dog from a young guy.

    I mentioned earlier that time was of the essence. We had on the 86/87 belt what was called a 7 minute road….that meant the buses were supposed to be timed 7 minutes apart. From the passenger standpoint this meant that if you just missed a bus, you would only have 7 minutes to wait for the next one. In theory.

    Tricks and traps. During the busy times, at the terminus points (the end of the journey) the drivers would be careful to make sure the bus in front of them did not depart early. If the bus in front of you stole a minute, that meant he only had a six minute road whereas you had an eight minute one, and at busy times a lot of people can gather at a bus stop in two minutes. For a driver, disastrous combinations of events frequently occurred. Such as the driver in front stole a minute, you had a dog of an eight footer and an older gentleman guard who was the current holder of the “No-bell prize”. This meant you got pasted all the way to the other end, and the bus or buses behind you caught up to you and “scrawped” you all the way to the terminus….., (i.e. did not do the gentlemanly thing and cut you out….give you a hand by passing you and taking a few stops for you).

    During peak periods when it was really busy, a combination of a couple of older gentlemen drivers followed by two or three young Ace drivers would create havoc with the time table. This is the reason, which passengers could never understand, is why very frequently there would be a long wait for a bus at a crowded stop, then eventually here would come one or two fully loaded buses, “getting plastered” followed by two or three or sometimes four empty ones, all scrawping along behind, one after the other.

    Acts such as scrawping and minute stealing were not forgotten and vengeance was the order of the day and sinners were paid back in full, as things always came around in a full circle. Eventually you would find the miscreants bus at the terminal point unattended, as the crew were in the canteen. Revenge was extracted in various forms in order to make the perpetrators of the crimes late in departing. Traps included jumping in the cab and completely lowering the driver seat to its lowest point and cranking it back to the full aft position… least thirty seconds lost cranking it back again to comfort position, then there was dumping the contents of the air tank by rapid and repeated pumping of the brake pedal, which usually gained you a minute, as the driver was greeted with his Low Air Pressure alarm upon start up and it would take forever to build pressure back up again.

    Another trap was to loosen off the knurled nut which held the electric gear shifter cable in place and slack it out of the receptacle just enough so that when the driver selected gear….nothing would happen.

    Of course, these practices were usually only played among the young guys who were always trying to get the better of each other…… Also these tricks were only possible on the Atlant, there was not much you could do to temporarily disable an eight footer apart from knocking the mirrors out of whack, wherein the driver would have to get the assistance of the guard to get them back in alignment.

    The “Ace’s” of course were a small group of elite young drivers, who consistently completed their journeys in the shortest times possible and who were regarded with awe and reverence by their guards. Completing your journey in time meant tea and stickies in the canteen….being constantly “down the pan” (late) meant no break at all….sometimes all day long, “getting plastered.” The guards paid for tea and stickies by the way….no need to ask how or why.

    One of the most frequent questions among the guards at the end of a tack was “how much did you pay in?” This of course, being a direct reference to the skill of the driver whose duty it was to ensure that his guard paid in as little as possible, all things being considered. Meaning that he did not get his guard pasted all day, did not get scrawped, nor did he lose inordinate amounts of time stuck in traffic or get his guard hammered by dawdling along. Having the admiration of the young guards to the extent that they swapped and traded duties to be with you was a reflection of your skill and qualified you to be an Ace.

    Friendly greeting between Aces……..”Good tack Ace? Carry a few?”

    One time, while I was looking at the tack sheet, one of my friends came round and he was laughing to himself. I asked him what was so funny and he replied that he had just met one of the older guards who was desperately trying to swap duties in order to get away from “Wall of Death”. When I asked my grinning friend who “Wall of Death” was, he said “You”….. I knew then that I had made it….I was finally regarded as an Ace.

    All in good fun and very many happy memories. I wish I could go back.

  28. Atlant throttles…..well, I thought they were hydraulic, I read previously in this forum someone mentioned they were air operated, maybe this was the case…..either way, you had to pump ’em up to get the full range.

  29. @35, Splendid post, Ace. I enjoyed that – thanks. An under-documented culture.

    Ah, the dogs, the dogs… the cold, rattling, jolting, leaden slabs of misery. Atlantean; PDR or AN68, Fleetline, 680, Gardner, whatever… the detail of mfr/model/body/engine-choice was utterly secondary to whether any given combination had turned out a flier, lumpy porridge or square-wheeled shed. Probably agree that porridge was the norm, but the good ones were very very good: rare and precious.

    Depressingly, the grimmest sheds seemed the most reliable vehicles in the fleet, despite my desperate entries in their defect books. They were the ones that kept their air, shone their bulbs, retained their wipers and never overheated.

    Yep, woe betide the man who defected a honey over a brake light.

  30. @37. Well, shades of porridge. [I’m feeling disloyal] Warm porridge with the right 680 flavour was still more acceptable than anything Dennise. Basically, if the cab-heater a/ worked and b/ didn’t sound like a taxi-ing Cessna, much else could be forgiven.

  31. Re the first Leyland rear engine double decker, the Lowloader, of 1953, the body and underframe were built by Saunders Roe (Anglesey) Ltd, not C H Roe of Leeds.

  32. Hi guys from Australia,
    I love reading your experiences and thoughts re Atlanteans!
    I have 5 of these wonderful machines over here.
    2 ex Plymouth PDR1/2s……… 1 ex Edinburgh PDR1/1 and 1 ex Glascow AN68 yet to come.
    Also 1 ex Sydney Atlantean. PDR1A/1
    This is my collection as far.

    I have a problem with my ex Edinburgh and wonder if anybody could suggest or advise?…

    Drove ex EWS812d from Dumfernline to Southhampton some 500 miles in November 2014 and just got her back safely to my home in Nowra NSW Australia on 8th Jan another 50 miles from docks here. So drove her 550 miles roughly without incident.

    Got here to front gate and pulled over to slowly come through and found I had no gears?
    She wouldn’t respond when I put her into gear, any gear.
    I know that she was pretty hot after travelling the 50 miles in 30c heat (bloody Aust weather) give me UK weather (believe it or not) must be my convict background!
    The strange thing is when I slipped into the door opener (slot above reverse)
    the bus started to move forward?…
    So I just let her slide into my yard and that’s where she sits.
    I still cant get gears.
    Does anybody have an idea what may be causing this?
    I know that even when I was driving her in the UK she was slow to take up in second gear, took several seconds before she ‘kicked in’ when accelerating.

    Just tried to start this morning and she wont kick over.
    Have noticed couple things..

    Both oil and temp lights are glowing ( when pull start switch) and there is a buzzing noise.
    I assume this is warning buzzer. Engine wont start.
    Also the air pressure gauge is showing ’80’ at top reservoir and ‘0’ at lower reservoir?

    Engine wont start so cant check whether air would build up, but it looks like something has happened to lower reservoir? this could explain no gears?
    but don’t know why she wont start? wonder if overheating the other day may have damaged something. When stopped two days ago she did not sound like she was boiling and I had been careul whilst driving making sure the gauge did not go ‘into the red’ however it was getting there (hotter) slowly. Im pretty sure I didn’t ‘cook’ the engine. Confusing why the buzzer and oil light and temp light are still on with ignition turned on.
    They were not like this before …at least I don’t recall.

    Anyhow any info would be much appreciated from any experiences anyone may have had in the past.

    Just for sake of identifying bus the gear change mechanism is the same as in cab photo above in email trail above.
    The CAV semi auto? with toggle at fingertips. 1966 PDR1/1 ex Edinburgh Alexander body. EWS 812d

    Also anybody know the significance of the red light on the gear change?
    What does this do?

    Sorry to ask all these questions am a bit of a novice, but I do have a love for the Atlanteans! That’s why I have collected so many in the last two years.
    I am trying to learn more about these beautiful machines.

    We don’t have them here in Aust like over in UK and they are such a marvellous part of transport history that touched me a couple years back that I just had to obtain one….I think this may have turned into an obsession.

    Anyhow any info much appreciated
    Kind Regards


    • Garry,

      Glad you have discovered the charm of the Atlantean…

      Now, down to your issues. Sounds like it could all be linked in. Electricity. It sounds possible that the bus isn’t charging its batteries. No power means no gears, if its flat then it won’t start either. I’d start by checking the belts which are behind the nearside engine cover. The belts drive the alternator and also the water pump and have a habit of coming off when worn. If these are okay, then check the batteries are charged up, if they aren’t then may’be the alternator has failed.
      Used Atlanteans have many tiny airleaks that mean the reserviors will depleat when stood switched off, aslong as the bus builds up its air reasonably quickly when ticking over then I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

      Keep us posted with any developments!

      Enjoy and I hope this is useful to you.


      • Gday Lee,

        Sorry for late response only just saw your message as I dont get on this site often.

        We discovered that the rear drivers door was not properly closed hence the buzzer, so that was fixed. That was really frustrating!
        have discovered that the gearbox has apparently seized and we are getting her overhauled now.
        We managed to get the bus started OK eventually we needed to bypass the fuel tanks and pump as we had developed a leak along the fuel line and will be replacing these lines as well as replacing with S/S tanks as they are full of rust.

        All part of learning I guess.

        Fun & games 🙂



  33. Lovely site and a great bus. I remember it so well from my Sheffield schooldays, particularly in the 70s when I used to take the number 81 (Ecclesall) or 82 (Bents Green)to school. and even included it in a romantic song about schoolboy infatuation I wrote much later for our unromantic band. A reference to the Atlantean appears (twice) in the first two verses of “Caroline Fraser”. I really must try to sell it to somebody (the song, not the bus!)

    Now celebrated in song, eh? Not many bus designs can claim that!

    • Can we have a pic of Caroline Fraser please . She’s bound to be better looking than an Atlantean !

  34. Great article and very interesting to read the experiences of Mr Ace above.

    I’m lucky enough that the Atlanteans and Olympians were still rumbling about when I was a kid, albiet late in their working lives. One such Olympian (A113 KUM I think) got us out of a morning at school after it wouldn’t go into reverse at the swimming baths and we had to wait ages for a replacement bus. Great times!

    So evocative, these old things…bus travel just wasn’t the same after they went…missed not hearing the roar of an Atlantean fan as they took off from the stops, the rumble of a 6LXB-engined Olympian, or not having to cover your ears before the driver applied the air brake at stops to avoid the sometimes-deafening ‘trumpet’ noise!

    Great old buses.

  35. Talking of that ‘trumpet’ noise, what the bloody hell was it?!

    Also thought it worthy of mention that the machines I’m talking of were the WYPTE’s…they looked brilliant in the Yorkshire Rider livery!

  36. Hi everyone.

    Could anybody in UK help please.

    I am in Australia and have purchased ex Sheffield Atlantean UWA304L over here recently.
    She is in need of a full resto.

    I am looking for a front panel for the bus.

    I have seen many AN68’s that have this particular front section.

    It is an Alexander body.

    If you google UWA304L there is a great photo of her in Sheffield in the early eighties I believe before she was exported to Australia.

    I will be in UK end October taking two buses back to OZ and am hoping to obtain a front panel that I can take with me.

    Can anyone help with info as to where I might obtain a panel please.

    Would be ever so grateful.

    Kind Regards


  37. Where can I find the gear ratio for the Leyland Atlantean #401 and #405, would be grateful for any information.

  38. Great article Mike and enjoyed the comments below.
    I thought the pedestal mounted gear selector was an operator option, as it gives a slower gearchange and stops drivers slamming the bus straight through the gears. The “lollipop” selector gives a faster change and was the choice of most town and city fleets whereas company operators tended to the pedestal air change.
    My experience of travelling on Liverpool atlanteans was that the drivers seemed to consider the selector as a “slamming device” obviating the need for the red light next to the selector that shows when the bus is not in gear. Indeed MPTE plated over the red lights in later life.
    Incidentally Saab made some cars with semi-auto gearboxes; I had a 900 so equipped, but apparently they were not popular. Always fun when it was in for repair and you try to explain the box to a youthful mechanic who says they’ve driven everything only for them to return and ask how it works.

  39. The Leyland 8 legger that Lesney modelled was the Dromedary. I believe that only two were built.
    This was based on the Atlantean, bot with two double axles. There were no cab doors on the side, access being gained through a hatch in the front centre.

  40. The half-cabs being ‘an awful environment’ may be true for the leg-punishing crash-box period, but the later synchro-geared half-cabs gave the driver the insulation from distractions needed for the total concentration necessary for the safe driving of a ’12 Ton,passenger-filled,greenhouse on wheels’.
    The later rear engined types threw him fully into those distractions, with conductor conversations, responsibility for safe door operation and limited nearside vision with doors closed.
    Later one-manning was a further backward step for safety as, although not a great problem in rural areas, this has led to many drivers taking their eyes off the road to sort out the ticket machine stage changes and their cash trays ‘on-the-move’. The advent of pre-bought tickets has reduced this only in part.
    Today there is no conductor to assist with any problems aboard or to help passengers with difficulties, not to mention the loss of thousands of conductor jobs in the name of ‘efficiency and progress’ ( £££).
    Progress is inevitable but, in the case of PSV city workings, it has been at the expense of overall safety, which driving instructors of the time rightly saw as potentially dangerous.

  41. Outside of London, bus conductors had largely become a thing of the past by the early eighties as nearly all buses, urban as well as rural, became driver only. Cumberland Motor Services, when the last of their half cab buses were retired in 1980, moved fully over to driver only operation as the conductor’s role was considered redundant with newer buses, and, of course, it saved money in an era of falling bus usage.
    However, one grim sign of the times I have seen on a bus recently is the driver now has to sit next to a protective screen. Attempts to steal money from the ticket machines and attacks on drivers late at night means the driver has to be more remote.

    • London has had bus screens for 20-30 years now. If anything they’re less needed now, as the previous attacks were nearly always to steal money, and London buses are cashless now

      • It’s sad that Cumberland/ Stagecoach use screens, but cash is still used by many passengers of non pension, non school age and assaults on drivers led to the screens being introduced.

    • Southend transport introduced route masters into their fleet in the mid 80s I believe and the conducter. Have to ask my father in law as he worked as both a driver and clippy on them.

    • Glen.. you are right of course…when they started this it was the beginning of an unarrestible decline. Today’s drivers face a LOT more abuse and the door is a horrifying reminder of this. Also the issue of ‘spit kits’ was another retrograde step. My friend drove Routemasters in ALL weathrrs and he described them as ‘wagons but wit h live cargoes’…

  42. Some really good memories here, especially from former and now presumably older bus drivers, of which I am sadly one.
    My “patch” was the busy East End of Glasgow in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Always heavy loads and a 5 minute schedule on the busy Easterhouse to Glasgow Killermont Station route meant you were always hard at it, especially if working a double shift. Many times I would clock up over 90 hours in the week. ‘Elf ‘n safety would have a fit nowadays!.
    I much preferred the earlier side-cab Leylands and Bristol Lodekkas even though they were heavy, heavy work with no power steering, crash gearboxes and pretty useless brakes with a full load or “swinger” as they were known. Heaven help the poor driver who had put more speed on than was wise (and we all did…) on the long downhill stretch at Provanmill with the bus swaying around – the Police used to call us the “Green Bombers” – only to hear a bell from the back announcing a passenger was wanting off at the bottom of the grade. My foot would often be flat on the floor with little effect on momentum as we gaily sailed past the stop.
    The Leylands in particular would roll like a Clipper in a storm when cornering with a heavy load which made the steering even heavier. The Lodekka on the other hand was very stable being low slung and with 5 gears (not all had 5 gears) was a much better longer distance runner. Basically they were a delight to drive clutchless when on the move and timing the gear changes to the revs since using the clutch they had a very slow change and incredibly heavy clutch which made them difficult to get off the line and moving. On the other hand and in its favour, the Leyland did not have a crash gearbox and was a sweet gear changer. The later 70-seater Lodekkas were a mixed bag. Generally the controls were lighter and quicker than the old rear access model but the air suspension was problematic and gave off a lot of noise and hissing. But they could be hustled since the gearbox was now much faster.
    Later I drove Atlanteans and Daimlers but never really liked them albeit that they were much easier on the driver than the older buses. They had a bad reputation for gear box failures due to the rough and careless way that certain drivers abused them.
    My dislike stemmed from the handling. Being forward of the front wheels, I was never (probably unjustifiably) confident in the road handling and felt they could slide all too easily in bad conditions. And of course, coming from the previous generation of buses I found them all together too light on the controls. In addition, Easterhouse was notorious for gang fights in those days and being exposed to the passengers was not a plus point. I preferred the old half cab buses since if there was any trouble inside a clatter of bells from the clippie was all the warning I needed to head fast for the nearest Police Station. And yes, they had Police Stations (with real policemen!) in those far off days.
    Happy days indeed but sadly long gone… but I’d give my right arm to have another go!

    • Yes they wallowed like pigs! I USED TO FEEL IT TOO, as I rode North Westerns Road Car Co 232 service from my college in 1976…that little ‘plunk of a bell would get swallowed up by the ROAR of the engine…

  43. I was on one of these in 1963 with my mother on the day JFK died. I VIVIDLY remember one poor woman sobbing her heart out as we passed the old Dunlop factory in Manchester. You’re all right of course..buses today have NO real character at all. RIP Leylands finest bus….

  44. CMS never used Leyland buses, at least not in my life time. They used Bristol half cabs until these wore out at the end of the seventies, then moved on to Bristol VRs, most of which lasted well into the nineties. The Atlantean was considered too big for many local services, where a single decker was more practical, and CMS had a long relationship with Bristol as the buses gave good service and were durable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.