The commercials : Leyland T45 Roadtrain

Many see 1980 as the start of the big product led recovery plan instigated by Sir Michael Edwardes, notably with the Austin Metro. But a few junctions up the M6 in Lancashire, another revolution was also starting.

Mike Humble takes a look at the heavy end of BL with the multi-award winning Leyland Roadtrain

Keep on truckin’

Leyland's export drive: a Roadtrain with the newly launched 350bhp Rolls Eagle 800Li stands at the French CV show.

The 1970s, was a period of rapid change for the UK road haulage scene. Following years of cash starvation mainly caused by propping-up BL’s car divisions, Michael Edwardes, the infamous British Leyland chairman and chief executive, persuaded the government (the company’s majority shareholder) to allow him to make a truly massive investment into the Leyland Truck & Bus Division. This facilitated the creation of new state of the art production, testing and proving facilities giving a huge boost to the slowly-ailing division.

During the 1960s, British hauliers had resisted foreign imports from Germany, Holland and Sweden, at first, staying loyal to British metal from AEC, Atkinson, ERF and Leyland – all of which, excluding AEC, offered Gardner engines. The term ‘gaffer’s lorry’ applied to all of the UK-built trucks, which tended to be cheap to buy, run and be dependable.

As Britain entered into the ’70s, the marketplace quickly changed beyond recognition, and consequently, drivers demanded more power and comfort. New motorways were being built resulting in shrinking journeys. Slowly but surely, as with the British motorcycle market, the foreign invasion started – and rival makers were keen and quick to exploit any weakness in a UK-built truck.

Volvo launched its F86 and F88 range, which offered unheard of engine power and comfort backed up with superb quality. From Holland, DAF introduced its 2000 series truck, with a market-leading warranty and breakdown package. The latter was at first viewed upon with curiosity by UK hauliers, who thought that maybe these Dutch trucks would be problematic.

But any doubts were to be unfounded, as the early DAF products sold here proved to be quirky, but otherwise superb. The aftercare system known today as DAF-AID continues to be the benchmark that all other truck makers aspire to offer.

Swains Of Strood in 1981: the Marathon 2 came good but was obviously in desperate need of updating.

The Leyland Marathon was intended to go head-to-head with the best of the European artics, but starved of development funding it was perceived by buyers as a knee-jerk reaction to foreign competition, and was nothing more than up dated ’60s technology. And quickly, the Marathon became known for being prone to rust and difficult to locate spare parts for.

In fact, an operator once said that the reason it was called the Marathon was because it would only run for 26 miles before breaking down. The later Marathon 2 was a much improved, and dependable product – but Leyland badly needed a replacement and fast!

Reviving the range – A Marathon task:

Following over two years of research and development with Ogle design, BRS and many operators, the T45 range burst onto the scene in 1980. At launch, the Roadtrain was a much lauded truck, winning international truck of the year and many design council awards.

The opinions of drivers and owners contributed to many of its design features, and a wide choice of engine power options including the Leyland TL12 (derrived from the AEC 760 unit). Gearboxes from Spicer made sure that drivers were familiar from their previous trucks. Underneath the cab, the chassis was an improved Marathon frame with hub reduction rear axle allowing for a low frame height if required. Once characteristic feature of this axle design was a hum and whine noise at speed owing to the epicyclical gearing within the rear hubs.

No other truck looked like it nor had endured such stringent laboratory testing; even the shape of it had been dictated by wind tunnel testing. But the clever part was in the production of the cab. Production tooling was kept to a minimum by using as many common parts as possible, only 120 parts were required regardless of model over the whole of the T45 range which spanned from 10–38 tons GVW, and 40 of them were common to every model.

Hence the Roadtrain cab was called the C40 – the moniker being 40 common parts regardless of type or model. At its launch, the whole world sat up and took notice following the Truck Of The Year Award. No longer were commercials aggressive and intimidating looking beasts; this new range from Leyland was sympathetic to its environment and pleasing to the eye.

Leyland delivers the goods:

Some novel engineering touches were there also, the instrument packs featured printed circuits with snug fitting connectors that were fully interchangeable with other T45 trucks and could be swapped over in less than five minutes in the event of a fault. The pedal box assembly could be replaced in 20 minutes and other hard wearing fittings including door hinges and handbrake levers could be easily and quickly replaced. Downtime costs money and Leyland was keen to recognise this.

At the same time, the parts division, Multipart, launched a new streamlined parts system claiming that most parts could be obtained and delivered within 24 hours from one central parts depot based in Chorley. To this day, Multipart is a market leader in its field.

An '85 T45 with what UK hauliers regarded as being the perfect driveline of Cummins NT-E14 engine and Eaton 12-speed Twin Splitter gearbox.

Shortly after launch, the gutsy Leyland engine was dropped, owing to operators requesting engines from Cummins and Rolls Royce. The Leyland TL12 engine rated at 280bhp was a well-kept secret as many users reckoned it was one of the best engine ever made by Leyland.

Sadly, many UK hauliers also operated on the continent, where this engine was little-known and back up could be sporadic. Cummins’ superb L10 engine/Eaton twin split combo was the driveline choice for UK built trucks as the 1980s progressed. By then, it offered up to 325bhp, for operators requiring even more power, a Cummins NTE series engine of 14-litres gave 350bhp and collosal torque.

Other power options came from the Rolls Royce Eagle Li and Gardner 6LXCT, the latter being a very rare option. Leyland was also keen to make use of maximum publicity in the up and coming sport of truck racing with their Team 45 racing trucks, the team went onto considerable success too.

Team T45 - Leyland were quick to exploit the marketing potential of the up coming sport of Truck Racing in the UK. Works prepared racers "Gertie" & Flo" pose at the Lucas Super-Prix Brands Hatch in 1985

As has been the case time and time again for Leyland, the thorny issue of build quality soon once again reared its ugly head, the cab became known for corrosion, though Leyland did go some way to address this by using galvanised steel from 1987, but the Roadtrain was never seen as a premuim truck.

As competitors vehicles improved, the Roadtrain stayed pretty much the same and soon became bought as a fleet vehicle with TESCO and Mothercare being fleets of note. Rivals including Volvo’s excellent FL series of trucks did the same to the British lorry scene as the Honda CB750 did to the bike industry. What eventually did it for Leyland, was the T45’s small cab in comparison with the Globetrotter from Volvo and the Space cab from DAF.

This led to the high roof version known as the Interstate, but other makers cabs were also longer and wider. The Roadtrain became known as the Leyland DAF 80 series from 1991 following the merger of Daf and Leyland and offered just one engine being the DAF 11.6-litre rated at 300 or 330bhp and this unit ironically was based on the old 680 series Leyland unit. Production of the 80 series ceased in 1994 being replaced by an all new DAF 85 series known today as the CF – the Roadtrain’s spiritual successor.

Production of trucks for Daf/Paccar alliance continues in Leyland to this day.

The Lancashire plant continues to produce trucks for DAF / PACCAR. The English operation still trades under Leyland Trucks LTD!



Mike Humble


  1. In its basic form yes. The Dominators were Eagle 220s built at Shrewsbury and were well suited to the hills of Sheffield. It later became the Eagle 800 with production moving to Peterborough following Perkins acquisition of Rolls Royce Diesels and the engine soon became known as the Perkins Eagle 800 or 800Li when intercooled.

    Bus operators struggled with them, as they pissed oil everywhere and drank fuel when poorly maintained in comparison to the fit and forget Gardner LXB.

    Also, the Rolls Eagle was an early guinea pig for gas bus propulsion

  2. Very distinctive engine note on those Dominators, I remember them well, always seemed a very smooth ride when compared with the semi auto VR’s and Olympians with th 6LXB that Yorkshire Traction ran

  3. One of the best looking trucks ever. In the T45 Team livery especially it looked superb – here seen in (very realistic) model form:

    I had two Scalextric version as a kid, complete with articulated trailers. Loads of fun! My Dad was a truck driver at the time, and I’m sure he bought them for him as much as me 😉

  4. Just love these write ups Mike, The British Truck and Bus Manufacturers…where have they all gone? Leyland were once one of the biggest players in the World…What the Hell went wrong??

    As a child in the 70s we lived near a busy quarry with a huge number of Lorry’s, I used to sit on the hill looking through the fence watching them being loaded by a Cat Loading shovel then off they went distributing sand/Dolomite, But even back then the Lorry’s used were mostly Volvo’s (F-7s ?), On one such occasion a Volvo slid and crashed into some bolder’s causing quite a bit of damage, I recall the Forman shouting at the Driver “Do You Know How Much These Cost For Parts !” Yet they were still the 1st choice of Haulage ! Had the Terminal rot already set in by then?

    The Quarry also had an old timer Foden groovy cab S36 ? (Perkins Engined??) This used to scream its way up the hill to tip loads of waste, it looked a bit knackered and possibly unroad worthy but was kept on site, this as I recall was the only British item on site but left to do Donkey work.

    Move forward to the 1980s and these started to appear everywhere and still common in Middlesbough, as they tend to just Plod on… One Driver I spoke to was quite pleased with His Leyland saying it was “Not Bad” after His firm had a spell with Volvo/Daf trucks but because of ever rising prices they moved back to Leyland stuff, He said it was a far cry from the last one he had, Octopus with horrendous gear change… (Possibly the LAD type) as He mentioned the Fibre Glass Cab that was freezing in the Winter but an unbearable Sauna in the summer.

    One funny story He said was on frosty mornings they had to start a fire using Diesel underneath to free off the Frozen front brakes, one day the cab went up in flames when the Manager came out and shouted “Quick Lads throw some more Diesel on it!”.

    Keep em coming Mike !

  5. Longs of Leeds were die hard Leyland fans, and had most variations of the T45, from the humble RoadRunner, through to Roadtrains, with a batch of twin steer chinese six rigids badged as Scammells!I believe they had had 2 of the very earliest Leyland DAF 95 twin steers, which were D reg’d too

  6. Very interesting, is there no limit to your Leyland product knowledge across cars and commercials Mike?

  7. Very interesting aticle, I remember the TV adverts at the time, shame that Daf Trucks recently dropped the Leyland on their trucks mame plates.Regards Mark.

  8. 9 @paul massee – January 21, 2012
    “one of the best looking trucks of all time and corgi wont make.”

    Strange really, because they could also get the Scammell heavy haulage version from the same casting just by swapping the nameplates on the front. They could also do a cracking T45 team racing set. I’d certainly buy one.

  9. @Mark

    By the time of the Leyland DAF merger, the two ranges overlapped each other so obvious cut backs were enforced. On the subject of the Leyland name, as my article says, LEYLAND were not seen as a premium builder on a world scale. The name only got dropped following the collapse of DAF Trucks BV in 1993.

    The consequences after this became a management buy out of the van side which became LDV and the UK truck assembley division also became an MBO which traded under Leyland Trucks LTD. The small print of the merger dictated that only the Dutch side would be bailed out should a financial crisis happen. When the re-launch of DAF took place, it was maybe a good idea the Leyland name did not appear on the vehicles – but they did for third world export models where Leyland was still a respected name.

    DAF were then sold to PACCAR – a U.S company who also owned Kenworth & Peterbuilt and had a large stake in engine supplier Cummins. Leyland trucks who continued to produce vehicles for the old Leyland-DAF network were also purchased by them couple of years later, once again bringing the two companies together.

    My father worked for Leyland – DAF shortly just after the original merger in the late 80`s and it seemed the two companies were a formidable force in Europe… 87 – 93 were great times for them!

  10. The Roadtrain was, I believe, the basis for the Popemobile used for the visit of John-Paul II to the UK in 1982. The vehicle still exists and is on display at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum ( ). The great thing about the museum is that is based in one of the former Leyland truck factories in the centre of Leyland, Lancs, and is staffed by blokes who once worked there, so they’re very knowledgeable. There’s an extensive collection. Well worth a visit.

  11. Although I’m not overly interested in trucks, I think the Leyland Roadtrain was a fine looking vehicle with those twin headlamps.  Cant understand why Corgi dont make a model – or Lledo.

  12. I going to the 1980 Motor Show with my Dad & Grandad, seeing a Roadtrain & thinking how modern it was.

    A bit ironic since I also remember going onto the BL cars stand, seeing a Triumph Dolomite & thinking how dated it was. As a seven year old, I clearly had yet to acquire the knack of spotting a future classic!

  13. Photo No 2 of the Swain yard in Strood with all those Marathons looks very good. They are still very much in business and have been dedicated DAF operators for years, with all of their fleet from rigids to artics from this manufacturer.

  14. I remember 408 Priority Freight ( Royal Corps of Transport) in 1985 getting a 6 legger twin steer Roadtrain to test at Bicester. Top of the range Cummins if memory serves, all in Black and emblazened down the side was Black Shadow or Black Widow , something like that.
    Some suit in Whitehall decided it would be cheaper to lease a fleet straight from a manufacturer rather than buy our own (we had Seddon Atkinson 400’s at the time)
    So we had a sample of every truck by every maker of the time, but I remember that Roadtrain because of how quick it was. This was pre 56mph restriction and we were crown exempt tachgraphs, that Roadtrain hauled a trailer back from Marchwood to Bicester doing 85 mph, and unit only could easily spin the wheels in 6th gear. Left the Army in ’86 and joined the Royal Mail driving the Rolls Eagle version Roadtrain, they were a good trucks.
    The Army went on to lease Volvo’s from Dawson rentals, which was no surprise as they already had the contract to supply when our Seddons broke down, which was quite often, F10’s were the norm, F12’s when they had nothing else.


  15. And Lledo did an 8 legger Roadtrain cab in their Marathons range as a box van. I remember having a promotional in Tetley Tea livery. I think it was about 1/87 scale, and Base Toys/BT Models do it in their 1:76 range as an artic, box van & tanker.

  16. Friend of mine had a mid sized haulage company moving steel and bought a couple of Roadtrains brand new as he got a good deal on them! Insisted on Cummins engines, which were good, but plagued with electrical problems due to poor build quality, cabs rusting as noted and the clever hub reduction axles were not robust enough for heavy work moving steel. Hence, back to Volvo FL10’s for the next order! Later he had a few Leyland-DAF 80 series, bought second hand, basically the same truck with much better build quality and the rust issues solved but like most things Leyland, all too late by then.
    Cheers, David

  17. My father raced the T45 Road Train at the 1984 British Truck Grand Prix. “Dirty” Gertie was also run there. The truck he raced had the union flag painted on it but the blue of the flag was a royal blue colour rather than the sky blue of the two in your photograph above. He put the truck on pole in the top class (over 350hp class if I remember correctly) and finished 5th overall despite having no brakes for the majority of the race. I wonder what happened to A776 HHG…?

  18. I don’t know if someone between you are Matchbox toys fans. I bought two 1980s Superking toys of Leyland lorries, one a car transporter and the other a garbage unit.They are representing Roadtrains or what?

  19. A776 HHG was last taxed in 1989, but shows as a 2.0L diesel, something amiss there me thinks..

  20. @34, saabing,

    Perhaps the new owner thought it’d be more economical if the Cummins was substituted with a Perkins 2.0 Litre…

    Probably sounded much the same!

  21. In 1993 we bought flo ( the racetruck on the right) and brought her back up to race spec. She competed for two seasons in races across Europe and Britain until our team was involved in an accident where we lost everything !!
    Our Volvo f12, race trailer and both our beloved leyland race trucks. This was in the Czech Republic and the insurance company would not pay to recover to the uk.
    I wonder what happened to her sister truck (Gertie) on the left

  22. I apprenticed on Leyland trucks, starting in 1978, for 4 years at a company called c.v. sales and repairs Ltd. In Basildon Essex England. Started out on AEC Mandators, moving on to marathons, buffalos, octopus, beavers, terriers and then the T45 with tl12 and Cummins engines. 680, 760, 400 series, 500 series overhead cam, rolls Royce eagle.tl12 tl11 All engines I worked on. 2 days work to pump out, pump in and hone out 6 liners in the tl12 engine. Great times though and have never worked with a better bunch of fitters. Company was eventually sold to Arlington motors, and then closed a few years later.

  23. Me and my ‘mentor’ did the signwriting on the T45 team roadrunner and trailer in ’85.The Roadrunner was done down here in Maidstone and the 40′ up in Norwich in the rain.I see the scalextric model is only in white without the ‘chrome’ effect.I think this must’ve been due to the April showers! Some bloke ran into the back of our van on the way home too! I also did a bit on those Swain Marathons.I worked for Mr.Charlton the signwriter in 79/80 who had a workshop in the corner of Swainey’s yard.Happy days!

  24. I drink with a retired lorry driver who did the legendary Astrans London- Middle East run in the eighties ,and said Astrans switched to Scania at the end of the seventies due to problems with Leyland Marathons on long journeys and the lack of spares in the Middle East. Scania offered far better reliability, had dealers all over the Middle East, and the cabs were far more luxurious and more comfortable. It’s no wonder Scania is such a big force in the HGV market, although Leyland did stage a comeback in the eighties and DAFs built at the former Leyland factory seem to have a good reputation.

    • The truth of the matter with Astrans is that they _never_ owned a Leyland Marathon. There was one Marathon Special demonstrator that Leyland Trucks loaned them (along with their driver Dick Rivers and a Sherpa van full of spares) that was featured in the BBC documentary Destination Doha, this was SLO707R. However, it was not particularly reliable, and so Astrans continued to buy Scanias (the other two trucks followed in the above documentary were a Scania 110 4×2 (GUL599N) and a 140 6×4 (NVW484P), as they had been buying Scania’s since about 1968.
      The first lorry Asian Transport (as was the full company name before they truncated it during the 1970s) bought was a Guy J4, for their first run to Kabul in 1964. After that they had an AEC (IIRC, a Mammoth). Then they switched to Scania, with the occasional Volvo thrown in.
      I believe that Leyland had previously loaned Astran WTJ120L. It only did 1 trip to Tehran as a “test run”. The drivers were Jeff Ruggins (an Astran man) and Dick Rivers (BL test driver).

  25. around the mid eighties the company I worked for had a roadtrain on demo,the trailer was an articululated tipper but with a difference.the trailer had a prop shaft enabling the trailer wheels to drive,it proved very good in muddy conditions,when driving on the road and turning the trailer wheels followed the path of the tractor.i have not been able to find out if it ever became a regular feature on the road.

    anybody know of this vehicle.

    chris McLaughlin.

  26. The story of the British truck industry seems to be similar to that of the car industry in the seventies and early eighties: many of the products were old fashioned, uncompetitive and sometimes unreliable. By the start of the eighties, long distance lorry drivers wanted a truck that was pleasant to be in, not a boneshaker that was designed in the sixties, and demanded comforts like radio/ cassette players, tinted glass, car like seats and a decent amount of sound deadening. It was no wonder Scania, Volvo, Daf, Ford and Mercedes were starting to dominate the market and the British old guard like Bedford and Leyland were losing market share.
    The T45 was an attempt to remedy Leyland’s decline by introducing a completely new design( even if some of the technology was carried over from older trucks) and with a much better driving experience for the driver. It didn’t send the competition running for cover, or do particularly well in export markets where the Dutch and Swedes were predominant, but proved Leyland could build a modern truck and was popular with buyers like supermarket fleets and the armed forces. It wasn’t perfect, as the article points out and had some quality and rust issues, but the T45 ensured the survival of Leyland Trucks and the factory in Leyland.

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