Unsung Heroes : Leyland Roadtrain Interstate

Mike Humble


Leyland trucks had seen some revolutionary changes in the ’80s with the initial T45 Roadtrain launched in 1980. By 1986 the whole range comprised of the Roadrunner Freighter, Cruiser and Constructor models, all of which were selling reasonably well in the face of stiff opposition.

The recession of 1981 did a great deal of damage to Leyland’s confidence. A slipping market for heavy trucks had done a fair job of taking the gloss off Leyland’s award-winning tractor unit, and the subsequent other models that followed it. By the mid-’80s, an aggressive stance had been taken by the Government in order to off-load BL as a single entity, or piecemeal.

The T45 range never quite managed to reach its full potential partly because of the marketplace and partly owing to the lack of credibility the Leyland brand had in the minds eye. That said, the Roadtrain heavyweight tractor unit sold well in the face of leaner and fitter opposition from German and Scandinavian companies. It certainly looked more futuristic and – dare I say it – downright handsome. As the market changed to meet new trends and weight capacities, trucks not only required more power and sophistication, but drivers were spending more time away from home.

It was not only pace that mattered, but space was now an extra criteria for operators looking for tractor units at ‘max cap’ operation. Leyland had its ‘high datum’ sleeper cabbed Roadtrain for sure, but with the arrival of the Volvo F10/F12 unit featuring the now legendary ‘Globetrotter’ high roof sleeper cab – Leyland found itself at a distinct disadvantage in an ever growing new market of high power big space transcontinental load luggers. Leyland had reorganised itself from a laughing stock into a streamlined adaptable business – could they fight back on a limited budget?

Transmissions and power units were no longer a Leyland weakness. The old AEC developed T12 engine was deleted back in ’83 so Roadtrain now used bought in units such as the Rolls Royce Eagle and Cummins superb NTE series bolted to gearboxes from Eaton Fuller or Spicer. There was little wrong with the driveline and to be fair, there was equally little against the truck itself. As the saying goes ‘the only way is up’ and work was started on a high roof flagship tractor unit to give drivers something to salivate over and hopefully make the operators buy a UK truck on merit rather than patriotic loyalty.

Drivers now had a lot more input and influence over vehicle purchasing than ever before. Since the relaxation of operator licensing, more competition was present and transport managers needed to retain good drivers by offering agreeable wages with trucks that begged to be driven. As they did prior to the launch of the 1980 Roadtrain, Leyland surveyed drivers and operators to glean information and ideal specification. Its answer was the rather impressively titled ‘Leyland Roadtrain Interstate’ which featured a extra high cab roof and looked superb from every angle.

The standard T45 was and still is a handsome design that has stood the test of time and went through more testing and development than anything that came before it. By adding height to the cab using a clever and well insulated  GRP moulded sandwich pod, the Interstate arguably looked fantastic. The drivers bunk was raised by a few inches creating extra storage space accessible by lifting the bed or opening the external lockers. A tinted glass sunroof, extra lighting, heated mirrors, secure lockers above the windscreen, luxurious Damask red velour trim and full carpeting gave the package a touch of class.

A GRP sandwich pod gave the driver 6 feet of headroom.
A GRP sandwich pod gave the driver 6 feet of headroom.

Initially, the Interstate was meant to be a stand alone model but marketing decided it could be specified on any sleeper model Roadtrain in low or high datum cab. In top flight spec the Interstate could be ordered with the Rolls Royce Eagle 800Li 12-litre in line six engine with 350BHP which was a very high level of power at that time. An impressive option list included 22.” polished Alcoa alloy wheels, passenger air suspended seating, larger fuel tanks, additional lighting and eye catching paint / graphic packages – who would have thought this could have been achieved back in the days of the Marathon barely a decade earlier.

Commercial Motor magazine tested the Interstate in 350 form and left feeling impressed with the look and refinement of the truck along with remarking on the good fuel consumption the Rolls engine gave on the test route. The aerodynamic cab extension not only added very little extra weight (150kg) but also gave up to 10% less fuel consumption owing to the airflow clearing the trailer front creating less drag. The Leyland T45 Interstate was a critical success and it certainly looked the business on paper and in the metal – but did it do the business?

Sadly, the Interstate never reached full potential. Firstly, Leyland initially opted only to sell them with a minimum order quantity of five – a crazy plan considering it was aimed at owner and small family operators and secondly because of events of 1987. Leyland was merged to form Leyland DAF and even though plans were afoot for Roadtrain 2 which featured a subtle restyle of the cab and a new fascia, DAF were all ready to launch the 95 series truck using a cab shared with Pegaso and Seddon Atkinson. The Roadtrain was a superior looking vehicle thus the Interstate option was sacrificed in order to showcase the DAF 95.

An owner driver of personal acquaintance purchased a Cummins 14 litre Interstate who went on to say it was the best working truck he had operated. The patented Cummins / Jacobs compression engine brake offered a devastating amount of  retardation when freighted downhill while the epic level of torque the engine produced ironed out all but the steepest of hills. I grabbed a steer of this unit one day – it was quite something even compared to more lavish and higher regarded trucks of a European brand. Ultimately the Leyland Roadtrain Interstate was a another example of Johnny come lately but the Roadtrain did soldier on in re branded Leyland DAF ’80 series’ form until 1993.

A Roadtrain Interstate in preservation.
A Roadtrain Interstate in preservation.
Mike Humble


  1. Interesting article as ever but kind of depressing. Was there a phantom BL department instilling the art of the cock up like some scouse accented Mr Miyagi because it certainly seems like it. They grab defeat from the jaws of victory far too often for it to be chance or lucky in-duh-vidualism..
    Theyre good looking machines especially in the black with silver accents – shame the effect is somewhat ruined by huge plonking great orange indicator lenses. Would have looked so much better with clear lenses using coloured or silvered bulbs.
    Predecessor of the Renault Magnum by a few years..
    Did they ever release any Cd figures for trucks because those would be interesting. Apparently they managed to improve MPG by 35%+ by careful tractor & trailer aero matching and tyre pressure changes. Running 40psi will net 5.6% improvement alone.

  2. I passed my class one in 1988 in a cruiser & in the early years of my hgv driving career drove all of the leyland models, the one thing I remember most about them was climbing into the cab & bashing my knee against the steering column adjustment knob!

  3. Hi mate , found your blog by chance n wonderful pics of T45 , great blog well done , I’m french and I’ve got a T45 RR 350 that is surely the last one in France , it rest too a RR300 in the north of France , you can check the pics on FB https://www.facebook.com/eric.luc.9/media_set?set=a.1115122198296.2017335.1234197641&type=3
    and see also the album of my ERF
    best regards and again congratulations for your blog
    Eric LUC

  4. T45 was a great Truck, but like the LM10/11 it was not quite good enough to win back the home market share lost to the likes of Volvo and Scania who delivered some formidable products themselves the early 80’s as well.

    But the Interstate aimed at Cross Border operators could never be anything other than a token entry into the market and maybe explains their half-hearted attempts at marketing it. Because by the mid 80’s, Volvo and Scania had already established European wide dealer networks with multi language 24hr emergency call centres to support both dealer and drivers in resolving a breakdown, something Leyland could only dream of providing their operators.

    • I know a retired Astrans driver who said they almost always used Scanias on the London- Saudi route due to their excellent reliability, fantastic after sales support, and huge dealer network across Europe and the Middle East. He said that Leyland Trucks were fine in Britain, but lacked the back up Scania had overseas and were never used. Also having learned his craft in a very basic Bedford with no creature comforts, he could understand why Scania and Volvo had become the lorries of choice as they were far better equipped.

  5. Seems crazy to have imposed a minimum order limit of five on these. Perhaps suggested by low margins resulting from all the bought-in mechanicals.

    A most elegant design – more attractive than contemporaneous Scanias to my eye – and I don’t think it’s been bettered since.

  6. I am now 56 years of age and reading all the comments Leyland made a good truck in my view as an engineer. Yes i agree they were not the best but they did the job and to my mind reliable, they had there faults but were an easy to repair.
    I worked on Roadtrains,RoadRunners,Terriers,550FG,Freighters etc,
    So do knock them too much as they give me many happy memories.

  7. Note as well by the mid eighties, thanks to the Scandinavian invasion and drivers demanding better, Leyland had to move on from the basic and stark trucks from the mid seventies. Drivers were sometimes on the road for 400 miles a day and wanted the same sorts of luxury that company car drivers enjoyed, such as tinted glass to keep out the glare and heat from the sun, a good stereo system, comfortable fabric seats and car like controls.

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