Launched with a blaze of publicity on billboards, in trucking magazines and TV advertising, the Roadrunner quickly became an established member of the quickest growing sector in the truck market – the 7.5-tonne range.
Stylish, economical and a class-leading payload, the Roadrunner became the best selling truck in its sector which even today in the form of the DAF LF, still tops the sales lists. Mike Humble pays homage to this cracking little truck in the first of a series relating to the Leyland Truck range from 1980 onwards.
The game changer
FOLLOWING years of cash starvation, Leyland Truck and Bus had seen the market share slip away as profit from their group had foolishly been gradually syphoned off to shore up the ailing car division. Sir Michael Edwardes had wisely knocked some shape in the BL empire by making each division a stand alone concern answerable to the main BL board.
While the car plants of Cowley and Longbridge had been strike rife and militant, seemingly doing their best to bring the UK’s biggest vehicle group to its knees by a minority group, the Lancashire and Cumbrian factories of Leyland and Workington quietly got on with making the best of a bad lot. Edwardes and his men were clearly impressed with the mindset of the truck and bus workers and sanctioned a truly massive investment for a new plant, test track and range of commercial vehicles. These trucks were planned to be light years ahead in technology from the current range rooted in the 1960s – vehicles that were dated and tired.
Previously, some advances had been made with engines. The legendary 680 diesel had been revised with new fuelling and turbocharging to become the TL11 and the high tech yet dismally unreliable 500 fixed head engine had been quietly dropped like a hot coal. Leyland had embraced turbocharging and could almost match most of the rivals for power at least.
Leyland’s smallest trucks in the early ‘1980s were the Terrier and Boxer, a common sight on the roads here in the UK. The biggest selling truck in this sector by far was the Ford D series with the ageing yet recently updated Bedford TL running close behind. In 1981, Ford moved the goalposts by a considerable margin with the ultra modern looking Cargo. Based on the outgoing D series, the Cargo sported a brand new cab that was aerodynamic, good to look at and – most of all – a pleasure to drive with soft to the touch interior fittings and unheard of ergonomic controls.
Both the Leyland and the aforementioned Bedford TL were worthy trucks, but both rapidly becoming outmoded and certainly looked crude compared to the windcheating new Cargo.
Leyland had changed the face of its truck range in 1980 with the introduction of the impressive Ogle-designed, Motor Panels-assembled C40 cab – better known as the T45. And it only made perfect sense that the same magic could be worked on the smaller 7.5-tonne range. The new truck badged as the Roadrunner arrived in 1984 and it seemed that Leyland once again, had a hit and the marketing men up in Lancashire made sure everyone knew about this new vehicle.
The Leyland range for ’84 comprised of the Roadrunner – Freighter – Constructor – Cruiser and Roadtrain, a full range of vehicles for every weight sector – something that Euro rivals Scania or Volvo could not offer.
The Roadrunner chassis was carried over allbeit in updated form with improvements to the braking system, its Leyland produced 6.98NV diesel engine was also carried through to the Roadrunner coupled to a Turner all syncro gearbox. The cab itself was like nothing else seen at the time sharing many raw pressings with the heavier range including the cab doors which seemed to dwarf the rest of the truck.
Its minimalist dashboard gave a huge amount of interior space to work in but also giving ample storage under the passenger seat and a decent sized pocket on the cab wall behind the driver. The steering wheel was the same 18in affair fitted to the remainder of the truck range adjusted for reach and operated the ZF integral power steering.
All other controls were positioned in such a way that everything was within reach of the driver with chunky illuminated switches to the left and simple slider knobs for the heater to the right. The huge windscreen gave a commanding view of the road ahead and some nice touches like heated mirrors and a central air vent right in front of the driver (as seen in early Rover SD1) made the Roadrunner a pleasant little truck. Keen eyed spotters would have also noticed the headlamps – they were the same units as the Austin Maestro…
After some reasonable success partly aided by some vivid advertising and some aggressive deals, the Roadrunner soon became a commonplace sight on our roads. European rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz LN 814/817 series further upped the spec and power standards of the class, and by now Leyland were being streamlined for a up coming privatisation scheme with DAF.
By the mid-1980s the maximum power output of the Roadrunner at 120bhp was out of class compared to its rivals and around this time Cummins were developing a lightweight diesel of 6-litres in the USA and Darlington which became known as the B Series. Leyland obviously looking for a fresh engine with minimal cost entered an engineering alliance with Cummins Engines whereby Leyland would assemble certain parts and castings for Cummins in return for a favourable price per unit.
This engine was initally badged as the Leyland 300 series but was fully assembled in Darlington offering 120 or 130bhp normally aspirated or 145bhp in turbo form. The improved Roadrunner now offered decent power with superb fuel economy and torque, this coupled with a new front braking system which had ventilated disc brakes and the option of a factory sleeper cab kept the Roadrunner on top of the game.
Leyland finally had a class leader in economy, performance and payload – the three critical factors in transport.
Leyland-DAF added one further vehicle to the Roadrunner family, by fitting uprated wheels, tyres and axles with revisions to the suspension and anti roll bars, a 10-tonne version which sold reasonably well to builders merchants and tipper operators capped the range off. The Roadrunner title was dropped in 1990 following Leyland DAF deleting all names to replace with numbers – thus falling into line with the DAF policy.
Subsequently, the Roadrunner became the Leyland DAF 45 with subtle revisions to the interior and exterior styling which included a padded dash, a much improved drivers seat and carpeting with the biggest change visually being the three bar grille and deletion of the nearside kerb window.
Cummins also at this time offered another power option of an intercooled B Series developing 180bhp. The CAV developed fueling system was dropped moving over to a Bosch meeting up coming Euro 1 emission criteria, all engines were now turbocharged and better a better torque spread made a good to drive truck even better.
Once Leyland became part of the DAF empire, its fortunes were turned round almost overnight with the whole truck range gaining revisions and improvements. Leyland’s legendary Multipart parts company complimented the market leading DAF-AID programme and Leyland DAF quickly became top of the sales charts here in the UK and a formidable force in Europe, too.
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
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