I took a cracking book on buses out from the library last weekend.
The book, in all its glory, is “The British Bus Today and Tomorrow”– which, seeing as it was published in 1983, should perhaps now be retitled “The British Bus Yesterday and The Day Before.” Ahem.
Unfortunately, the book’s largely incomprehensible. Complex things, buses what with the Barbara Castle-led politics behind them, the companies that made them and the way in which they were made. Largely, my eyes glazed as I flicked.
(Who else, like me, enjoys old pictures of street scenes, because it lets them peer at the cars, the shops, the buses and the amount of people smoking?)
Excitingly, though, I did find something to connect with – the Leyland National single-decker. You WILL know about this, as they were built from 1972 to 1985, and over 7000 them made it onto our roads. They were operated all over the country and, for their time, were blimmin’ clever.
The Leyland National was one of the first buses to use integral construction. Before then, chassis had come from one supplier, bodies from another. Hence the confusion. By merging Leyland with National, the new firm’s creation replaced a shedload of older buses and invented a revolutionary modular construction process while they were at it.
By the 1980s, the Leyland National had three-quarters of the single-decker bus market. It introduced ‘new standards of passenger comfort’ and was thus deemed a success. Mind you, it was almost killed early – the factory was barely building one a week in the early ‘80s. That’s in a factory designed for 40 a week. But things did pick up and the old bus continued. And carried on its market monopoly, too.
Six things you (certainly I) never knew about the Leyland National:
1: MkI models had an 8.3-litre straight-six Leyland 510 turbodiesel. Bus companies hated it, as it was thirsty and, if not religiously maintained, smoked a lot. Let’s face it, how many bus companies stick to F1-standard maintenance schedules? Leyland’s later solution was just as brilliant, though. Reduce the power to reduce the smoke. Great.
2: Models between 1972 and 1978 had a rear roof pod. This contained the heating kit, which heated at roof level. A bit daft, given how heat rises and so, from 1978, the interior was revised and given cheaper but more effective under-seat heating. They also reduced the interior light count of these models. Well, it was the Winter of Discontent.
3: Two lengths of Leyland National were offered. The shorter ones could be spotted from squarer windows. There was also, from 1979, a facelifted National 2. This had more engine choice, including a more reliable 680 engine, and a radiator in the front.
4: It was built in Workington, Cumbria, on car-type production lines. Leyland reckoned on building 2000 a year. Not like them to overestimate things – eventual demand settled down to, yep, half that. Also typically Leyland, early ones were unreliable, mainly from that fixed-head, maintenance-hungry engine.
5: It was launched at the 1970 Commercial Motor Show, where a model plated ‘BL 1971’ boldly took centre stage. This example had twin door exits on the side – such was the flexibility of the bus, single or dual doors could be fitted.
6: Nationals remained in service well into the Millennium, usually fitted with Volvo or DAF engines. It was replaced by the Leyland Lynx. That’s another blog post entirely.
However, there’s one reason above all why I love the Leyland National: it’s oh-so-distinctive engine rattle. You could tell when one was approaching without seeing it, every single time. For sure, that’s me off to a future owner’s club meet then…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.