News : Leyland Olympian farewell in Preston

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Olympian was the final chassis produced by Leyland Bus, with the very last model leaving the Workington plant in 1993. With the recent change in legislation regarding step-entrance double-decker buses taking effect in this coming New Year, the last ones in daily public service cease operating this weekend within the county they were assembled.

Preston Bus is marking the occasion with an Olympian farewell day – this Saturday, 31st December.


Once the mainstay of many bus fleets, the Olympian, along with other step-entrance double-deck buses, is no longer able to operate public stage carriage workings after 31 December. Loyal Leyland operator Preston Bus is marking the occasion this weekend

Even though the Leyland Olympian was designed, engineered and first assembled in Bristol way back in 1980, it’s generally thought of as being the most highly-regarded PSV built by Leyland during the company’s twilight years. Production moved to Leyland and then Workington in Cumbria with the very last chassis – a tri-axle export chassis bound for Kowloon – being rolled out of Workington in 1993.

The Olympian, in name at least, continued for some years after the parent company Volvo closed the works and moved its UK bus production activities to Irvine in Scotland. Within the ranks of the big bus operators, the Leyland Olympian was viewed as a sturdy, well-engineered design which was infinitely more widely accepted than previous products such as the first-generation National.


An Olympian (on the right) seen here on shed at Preston Bus’s Deepdale Road Depot when new in 1984 alongside Leyland’s other highly-regarded decker chassis – the Atlantean

With the new regulations regarding DDA compliance (disability access) step-entrance double-deck buses coming into effect on 1 January, the older types of deckers are all bowing out of service this weekend on stage carriage operations. Preston Bus is one the last operators in the UK to still use the Olympian and they are marking time this New Year’s Eve.

It’s fitting to see this farewell take place in Preston with the former Leyland plant being only a few miles away. Preston Bus and the now closed independent operator, John Fishwick and Sons, both had strong ties with Leyland Bus. Both operators would regularly assist Leyland in development by testing prototypes and new designs in real world environments in their fleets and feeding the data back to Engineers.

Preston Bus, once a municipal operation before being sold to its employees and now in the incumbency of the Rotala Group, will have its remaining Leyland Olympians running on a handful of routes this Saturday. The company will then be offering them along with spare parts for sale on the open market.

If you’re in the Preston area this Saturday and want to mark a little bit of public transport and Leyland history CLICK HERE for further information.

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

24 Comments

  1. The Leyland Atlantean (on the left-hand side in the photo) looks like it has undergone major remodelling work to the upper deck in recent years, judging by the sweeping profile of the side windows, the large single, flush-fitting front screen and all the window pillars being ‘blacked out’ to give the sides a cleaner profile.

    It all looks very modern in relation to the actual age of the bus. I wonder what the story is behind it?

    • It’s East Lancs body is of standard design; it is quite clean for one of their bodies… most are ugly! 🙂

    • No it was actually a version of the standard body available by East Lancashire Coachbuilders, who bodied the Atlantean. The clue is in the seats on the bus – they’re coach seats. Towards the end of the Atlantean, many municipal operators ordered some as what could be regarded as dual-purpose buses, namely buses that could be used for day trips and longer express style services, but also do a turn on local services as required. Whilst some, like the Alexander bodied Atlanteans for Tyne & Wear PTE and Lothian, were little more than standard buses with fancy seats and looked little different at first glance, East Lancs actually adapted its standard Atlantean body with larger front windows and flatter fronts. Blackpool for example had some similar East Lancs buses too. Such was the high regard operators had for the Atlantean that it was seen to be emmently suitable for such use.

      One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that the DDA regulations have also seen off a lot of early low-floor buses which fall foul of the same regulations. As such, many early Dennis Tridents and Volvo B7TL’s have been withdrawn too unless operators spend money to adapt them. Given most buses affected are in most cases at least fifteen years old, most operators cannot justify the additional costs of altering them. The Volvo’s by the way can trace their linage all the way back to the Atlantean and indeed their suspension owes a lot to the rear-engined Leyland Titan.

      • @ Maestrowoff & Scott Hutchings:

        Thanks for all this information. I must admit the name East Lancashire Coachbuilders did briefly spring to mind when I looked at the flat front windscreen profile and also the low level interior protection bar, but I wasn’t sure.

        Reminds me ever so slightly of some of the angular body characteristics of my favourite DDA-compliant bus (as a passenger), the Scania N94UD OmniDekka. Always a treat to travel on one on the Jurassic Coaster route between Dorset and Exeter in Devon.

      • Yes, I remember those early low floor vehicles there was a certain amount of experimentation going on around that time, driven by London of course, with the rejects being sent out to the provinces!

        The styling of that Atlantean is very interesting, the front is really modern (the single piece and large front window) while the rest of the bus is classic 1970s, it’s as if they were introducing a new style of bodywork in phases!

        • The industry towards the end of the late-seventies was going through one of its design-led changes. Towards the end of the sixties and early seventies, curves were very much in vogue – if you think of the styles led by the A-type Alexander bodied Glasgow Atlantean -Leyland actually bought one off Glasgow as a demonstration Bus – the peaked domes of the Liverpool Atlanteans and the gentle curves of the West Midlands Fleetlines. However towards the mid-seventies, the designers started to go towards the more box-on-wheels squarer style…led in part by the GM-standard Atlanteans of Greater Manchester.

          This led to the Leyland Titan and ECW Olympian, both of which were very boxy but not unattractive. So in this respect, East Lancs was simply following the trend. This led to probably the ultimate such design, the Alexander R-type, still the world’s best selling double-deck design. The industry is now rediscovering curves, if you see designs such as the New Routemaster or the Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 City.

  2. Possibly had an argument with a low bridge and the top section was rebuilt? It does look like a horizontal cut & shut.
    Remember the Olympians, the joys of school bus journeys, and these where what we got if we were lucky…
    It’s always a shame when idiotic regulations kill off vehicles that have life left in them.. Would it have been that hard to cut out the steps and put a drop ramp in?
    I remember these being surprisingly quiet as well, even if you were near the motor, some of the modern buses sound like an Austin Maxi on it’s last legs trying to manage Porlock hill.. While they’re on the flat.

    • It’s definitely a standard East Lancs body! They did really look like that when new. The Olympian beside it has the Leyland Bus body derived from the ECW bus body. Yes buses are much noisier now. Smaller engines must work harder to power something that is heavier.

      We’ve a couple of Euro 6 Volvo B5TL buses and their engine is 5.1 litres!

      Just over half the size of the pictured Olympian!

      • Edit! The Olympian next to the Atlantean is an ECW body. The Leyland bodied ones are pictured in the garage…

        The differences between them are the thicker first window pillar of the Leyland body as well as different lights.

        🙂

    • All for keeping these on the roads, but can’t see how you would make them DDA compliant, unless the driver had to get out to operate some kind of ramp, which wouldn’t really work?

      • A button on the dash connected to a hydraulic or pneumatic ram under a slide out ramp. Almost anything can be done with the will to do it. Pressure sensors on the outside edge of the ramp so when it hits ground it stops, and automatic retraction when the vehicle is put into gear or door closed with a telltale.. It wouldn’t take that much..

  3. So it must be the end on fleets for the venerable MCW Metrobus too? Doesn’t feel too long ago that they were ubiquitous…

  4. DDA does have one good point, it will mean another Leyland based product, the infamous Pacer DMU, will be gone by the end of the decade.

  5. Why has DDA spelled the end for early low-floors, out of interest?

    There’s a Rotherham-based schoolbus operator called Brightbus, and their fleet is mostly old tri-axle double-deckers that they must have imported from Hong Kong. Mostly Leyland I think, although everything is de-badged, though possibly with some Dennis and the odd Metrobus in the past.

    • All buses built since 2001 have had to comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 surrounding access – commonly known within the industry as DDA. These lay down certain requirements – it’s not just to do with low-floors but also ramps, access through the front wheel arches in the saloon, handrail placement and such like. Existing buses have had a period of between 15-19 years to apply. So single-deckers have had to comply since January 2016, double-deckers from January 2017 and coaches from 2020.

      This has led to certain companies registering certain step-entrance buses as coaches. It’s not that hard as the PSVAR regulations define a coach as having no standing passenger but instead all-seated. So all that’s required is to simply remove the authorisation for standing passengers. This allows them to carry on using buses very suitable for school use. So that may explain why the company is still using such vehicles.

      Interestingly, the PSVAR regulations do not stop you using heritage vehicles – defined as those over 20 years old – as you can use them for more than 20 days per year per bus. However you cannot really use them on stage-carriage service as heritage vehicles do not qualify for reimbursements under the concession card scheme.

      What it has done is seen off many early Dennis Tridents and Dart SLF’s, Volvo B7TL’s, B10BLE’s, B6BLE’s and Scania L113’s which don’t qualify. Some will get reclassified as coaches and used as school buses.

      • Interesting. I’d noticed that the surviving Leyland Tigers / early Alexander bodied Volvo models of the Ulterbus/Metro fleet had been placed into coach hire duty, presumably offered at lower cost than the newer coaches.
        It was around 15 years ago that their “old” fleet was being replaced by ‘modern’ Wrightbus low floor models, around that time (early years of millenium) it was common to still see Bristol REs being pressed into service!

  6. This from a bus-nut I know of:

    RH175 was the last Leyland Olympian, delivered to Dublin Bus complete with Belfast Alexander body.

    I am pretty certain that it is preserved.
    The machine itself is shown below.

    RH175, new in December 1993, marked the end of new Leyland buses on the streets of Dublin. The 1994 delivery was badged as Volvo, although still retaining the Cummins engine, hence a change of classification to RA was made.

    https://photos.smugmug.com/Dublinbus-in-the-1990s/i-HFWTL9v/0/S/Dublinbus%20RA175%20O%20Connell%20St%20Bridge%20Dublin%20Jul%2097-S.jpg

    • I’m afraid your friend has slightly mis-led you Arlebe…RH175 was certainly the last Leyland Bus to enter service in the British Isles. As you state, it was a Leyland Olympian with an Alexander (Belfast) R-type body and entered service with Dublin Bus. This was just after the last example to enter service in the United Kingdom. It was LO102 with Strathclyde’s Buses, again with an Alexander RL-type (low height as opposed to full height body), the last of 52 such examples delivered to replace buses lost in the Larkfield depot fire. Unfortunately given it’s historic significance, this bus was not preserved and met the scrapman’s torch although the proceeding bus from the delivery, LO101, has been saved and is undergoing restoration at Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust.

      The very last Leyland Bus chassis to leave the Workington factory before it closed was a tri-axle chassis which ended up with Singapore Bus Services as its SBS9168S, again with an Alexander R-type body. This bus, recently withdrawn by SBS, has been returned to the UK and is also preserved.

      That’s not the end of the story tho. The very last Leyland Bus to be bodied was actually a Leyland Tiger. The chassis was delivered to an Australian operator Bass Hill Bus Services in 1984 but oddly was never bodied. It was securely kept in storage but was not sent off to be bodied until late 1993. By that stage the Tiger hadn’t been produced since Leyland ceased Bus building at its Farington plant in Leyland itself in 1990. However a substantial backlog of chassis had been built up by Ulsterbus/Citybus, which loved the type but the last of these had entered service by the time the Australian bus went off to be bodied. Unlike the Northern Irish Tigers which had Volvo engines, the Australian example was a proper Leyland Bus with a TL11 engine and a Hydraclyic gearbox.

      • Fascinating post! I’m so into Leyland bus products, I have an extensive collection of Leyland Zoo badges. Including the B43 Tiger badge and my first; the B50 Doyen badge!

        I’m going to have a search online for the Australian Tiger! 🙂

      • No problem. Just passing some info on. Glad it triggered a response. I have sent it back to the guy for his info. Not sure he frequents this site. Cheers.

  7. Legislation over the last 20 years has been a godsend for the bus industry in the UK actually! DDA regulations and now emissions rules mean that far more buses have been produced than otherwise would have been and luckily for the manufacturers we haven’t either had the boom and bust of the preceding 30 years

  8. I know I am an outsider here since I am only a bus user not part of the industry but. . .

    I find it really sad that this is seen as a regulation issue and not an increasing access one. Many ‘compliant’ buses are still difficult to board in a chair and some actually impossible in some situations.

    Until wheelchair users have you the backbone of the industry on our side a lack luster effort on the part of bus companies is going to continue. As is “oops was that wheelie wanting to get on” as the driver doesn’t stop.

    We do get some great service but we also have to struggle with barely suitable buses and some drivers who see us as just there to knock them off timetable. If everywhere had buses like Edinburgh (electric ramps and tons of space to turn – I wanted to bring one home but it wouldn’t fit in my case) we wouldn’t be affecting timetables and I wouldn’t be subjected to seeing the driver’s builder’s backside or hearing him sigh, huff and puff and in one case even telling me he wouldn’t have stopped if there hadn’t been other people waiting for the bus.

    Just 5 years ago I couldn’t travel on my local bus service. Disability access is not an irritating regulation. It is however opening up a world that used to be closed to us.

    Celebrate these great vehicles and the history that brought us to the present accessible world 🙂

  9. I would be interested to know how this photo got on here as it is one of mine. I had the two buses positioned specially for the shot. The Atlantan was fairly new at the time being one of two delivered in this style. The picture was taken on 14 April 1984.

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