Essays : Leyland Bus – the declining years

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

It’s 20 years since Volvo delivered three killer blows to our motoring industry: 1992 saw the end of Leyland Lynx and Tiger production with total closure being announced for the following year.

Mike Humble takes a look at the declining years of Leyland Bus.


Recession of an Empire

Edingburgh Corporation in 1959 – This massive batch of new PD2 buses was from an era when Leyland ruled the the world and not just the UK

Moving fast, in a fast moving world

Looking back in time, it’s hard to believe that Leyland Motors Limited was once a respected and feared concern with a reputation for quality, reliability, engineering supremacy and an effective sales back up. Pretty much wherever you resided in the world, a Leyland bus or truck would be a common sight and in this country, almost every local municipal operator purchased Leyland buses.

Right up until the mid-1960s, Leyland Motors was the largest global player in transportation earning the right to use their well used slogan ‘Moving fast in a fast moving world’ a statement that was quite true. Their Chairman was Donald Stokes who had worked in the Lancastrian town, with the exception of his Army service, as man and boy. The son of a Plymouth Corporation Transport Department General Manager, Stokes moved to Leyland following an engineering apprenticeship before moving over to the Sales Department.

Stokes’ subsequent rise and fall has been well documented over the years, but his time at Leyland prior to the disastrous merger with BMC was one of great prosperity which earned him a knighthood and the image of a true British industry statesman. In 2012 you will struggle to find a Leyland product earning its corn with a deck full of passengers as the last vehicle quietly left the plant in 1993.

The sterile world of modern busing is one of accessibility and strong brand presence. I will concur that modern buses drive like cars, make little more noise than cars and make a case for replacing cars. Low kneeling floors and intense interior lighting make them feel safe secure and pleasant but how I miss the leatherette interiors, chrome hand rails and the sublime sound of a plodding Gardner diesel.

Leyland Chairman Donald (Lord) Stokes: A feared but highly-respected statesman prior to the fall of BL. His knowledge of the bus and coach market knew no bounds

The harder they fall

Much has been said of the car division being shored up from the Truck and Bus division’s profit following the creation of British Leyland – this was certainly true in the early years of BL but, by the early 1970s Leyland Truck and Bus was having serious issues of its own. Following the opening of various new motorways, haulage operators were quick to realise that journey times were rapidly shrinking.

No longer was an Atkinson Borderer with a Gardner 150 engine suitable for a sustained high-speed journey and foreign makers such as DAF and Volvo were moving into the UK market in a manner which brings to mind a line from the musical version of The War of the Worlds: ‘slowly but surely, they drew their plans against us’. Volvo quickly introduced their F86/88 range onto the UK market with almost immediate sales success with DAF not far behind with their range of 2000 series trucks.

After some initial resistance from UK operators, Johnny Foreigner became accepted and running an imported truck was no longer seen as an inferior alternative. These European trucks were better built, roomier and featured power units that were not not only more reliable, but also superior in power. It was not until 1980 that Leyland had a product range of trucks that could almost compete head on in terms of ability in the shape of the T45 range, but by now, all the foreign makers were established and well respected.

So far as public transport was concerned, Leyland still held the lion’s share of the marketplace mainly due to the fact that they owned all the competition. Think of great bus makers names such as AEC – Bristol – Daimler – Guy and, of course, Leyland, but they were all under the wing of BL.

Leyland National: Engineering blunders with the power unit resulted in a reputation the company never really shook off.

Technological turmoil and internal competition

Leyland continued to be a dominating force despite the well-documented turmoil within British Leyland, quite staggering considering some horrendous engineering blunders. The National single deck bus simply bristled with new technology and features when launched, many of which are commonplace today. Air suspension, turbocharging, low steps and an excellent ergonomic cab area – all features taken for granted on a modern bus were pioneered by the Leyland National.

Leyland punched above its weight as far as engineering mattered and the revolutionary high-speed 8.3-litre 500 Series turbo diesel with its overhead camshaft and fixed crossflow cylinder head gave operators a serious challenge and, at best, only ever gave tolerable levels of reliability. With a more dependable power unit, the National most surely would have been a world-wide hit.

Ford and Bedford were fringe players in comparison as far as buses were concerned though they both sold in considerable numbers in the coach sector, but all the above each had their own engineering accent and distinct differences.

We look back in aghast at how this could be allowed to continue and, Ford and Bedford aside, each of the aforementioned companies lived under the British Leyland wing. The same situation carried on in the car division for some years with Austin competing with Morris and Rover with Triumph – total business lunacy one may say. In the cut throat PSV market virtually all the big names were BL controlled with only MCW and Dennis presenting any real threat. When operators put a tender out for new vehicles Leyland would be slogging it out for the deal against, for example, Bristol  to the point whereby little or no real profit would be gained.

Darlington’s Deckers – Respected names like Daimler were killed off purely to protect the Leyland name

Market changes and missed opportunities

In hindsight, would it have made any difference if the customer purchased 30 Leyland Atlanteans or 30 Daimler Fleetlines if ultimately British Leyland, being the parent company, won the deal? So far as money mattered, not at all. One major factor which contributed towards the Bus Division’s continuing survival was the way in which the marketplace was artificially stimulated.

Most of the big towns and cities featured municipal or corporation buses, operated and provide for by the local authority subsidised, of course, by the local taxpayer. Out of town services or longer distance operations tended to fall under the control of NBC (National Bus) operations by, for example, the likes of Southdown, United or Ribble. National Bus was state-owned and also heavily subsidised, so in effect, both your local municipal or NBC operator were answerable to local or central Government.

Couple this to the fact that they were buying buses also at a subsidised cost from a state-owned chassis builder, and you can see why the Conservative Government was keen to make all of the aforementioned companies stand on their own feet finance wise or be sold off to private investors. The first wind of change came with the Transport Deregulation Act which gave local authorities the right to sell their bus operations in 1986. Most local authority bus operations were a loss maker and many were keen to sell off right away.

NBC were also deregulated and split into more than a dozen different companies – most of which were local management buy outs. In this free for all market, many operations became non-viable partly due to intense competition which became rife and partly due to the fact that many bus companies had been operated with no commercial awareness prior to 1986.

Bus Wars: Deregulation brought intense competition and the minibus – Leyland failed to react to market changes.

The rivals exploit the weakness

As mentioned, competition became intense up and down the country and companies both big and small changed hands or collapsed altogether as the marketplace became swamped with new bus companies all trying to cash in on the act.

So far as assets mattered, shrunken profits meant that new bus purchases hit an all time low as operators responded to predatory or competition by simply buying second hand vehicles. Leyland were never to recover from the events of the mid-1980s and they were also guilty of not responding quickly enough to market needs. The mid to late 1980s was the era of the minibus and Leyland had no vehicle to cater for demand. Starved of development cash partly due to some serious blunders in the rail operations, they had to stand on the sidelines and watch as companies like MCW and Mercedes Benz ran away with this lucrative market.

Deregulation also opened up the marketplace for operators running continental tours – again Leyland had no real competitive vehicle to respond to impressive high line coaches from Volvo, Van Hool and DAF. By the mid-1980s Leyland’s presence on a world-wide scale had vanished and service back up was extremely poor in Europe. Volvo and DAF, in particular, were commonplace on the Continent and help was only a ‘phone call away in the event of a breakdown.

Both companies had a well advertised and effective breakdown service that was not seen as a weakness in the product, but instead seen as extra proof of how well-engineered the foreign vehicles had become. The sales of Leyland buses continued to fall as rival makes exploited the weaknesses but the final nail in the coffin came via another tragic Government blunder.

The Leyland BR partnership rail projects only added to spiraling debt and instability.

New markets bring new problems

Leyland blundered on with the 500 Series engine which also cost numerous lost sales in the truck sector. By 1979 Leyland finally decided to drop the engine opting to modernise some existing power units that were still held in high regard. The legendary 11.6-litre 680 was updated into the L11 and TL11 which were to become the standard engine fitment on most of the range until Leyland opted to fit out-sourced power units from Cummins and Gardner in 1988.

Another reason for the decline of Leyland Bus was the company’s insistence on supplying their engines over anyone else’s. Some parallels can be drawn with the Rover K-Series engine because higher-powered Leyland TL11 units were notorious for cylinder head gasket failure. Other engineering aspects also gave cause for concern too, especially the semi automatic gearboxes. Operated by air or hydraulic pressure, the pneumo or hyracyclic gearbox was good in theory, but required exacting maintenance.

Brave though Leyland were to try new things, these often ended in disaster. The B15 Titan bus, which was destined to replace the AEC Routemaster, failed to prove its worth on the open market. Constant Union upheaval at the Park Royal factory resulted in long delays and orders from other operators outside the metropolis were either cancelled or reduced.

The Royal Tiger Doyen coach was meant to be a force against the high-spec, integral coaches that were being imported from Europe, but again, problems with production and poor back up outside of the UK killed off any chance this actually good coach rightly deserved. Subsequent rail projects ended up costing the company more money than profit as Leyland-engineered railcars failed in service resulting in expensive rectification work in future years at a massive cost.

MCW Metrobus – Rivals like MCW were quick to supply buses where Leyland couldn’t owing to union and production disruption with the Titan that cost millions

GM and BL – what could have been

The Conservative Government in 1986 made it quite clear that Leyland were to be sold off either in whole or in piecemeal. Following failed talks with Fiat and Renault, talks were engaged with General Motors which, like Leyland, had a failing bus and truck range. GM wanted to buy Leyland Truck and Bus which would have created a global-size operation, but this deal came with a condition.

The Americans also wanted Land Rover as part of the deal and old school xenophobic politicians were having none of it. Land Rover was viewed at the time of being akin to the Crown Jewels and the Government refused with both parties standing their ground. General Motors gave an ultimatum that, unless Land Rover was included in the deal, they would walk away. Again, the Government refused and GM, true to their word, walked away from further talks.

This rather foolish stance cost a lot more than a failed deal… Shortly after the stalled talks, GM announced they were pulling out of the UK bus and truck market. The Bedford assembly lines in Dunstable, along with various component factories, were closed down putting thousands of skilled men on the scrap heap – all for the sake of a little pride. The Leyland Truck division was eventually merged with DAF, while after talks with MCW failed, Leyland Bus were sold to its management.

Some years prior to that group brands such as AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Guy had been killed off to save the Leyland name and, as Leyland entered a period of independent ownership, the product range was slimmed down, leaving  just the Lynx, Swift and Tiger as single-deckers and the Olympian double-decker along with current rail projects.

New independence and new confidence

Operators who had remained loyal to Leyland throughout the turmoil showed their appreciation by purchasing buses and coaches, things were far from rosy but looking promising. The new found independence was welcomed in the industry and some healthy orders from small and big bus groups boosted staff morale and operator confidence. By 1988 the Volvo B10M had overtaken the Tiger as Britain’s top selling coach and Leyland management quietly approached the Volvo board once again (Volvo had looked into buying Leyland before but backed off) with a view to joining forces. After being impressed with the slimmed down and efficient production lines, Volvo agreed to the purchase of Leyland Bus.

This could not have come at a better time for Leyland as, shortly after the buyout, they were forced to re-engineer some of the rail cars which included power unit changes and serious shortcomings with the passenger doors. This ran into millions of pounds which Volvo reluctantly financed. Volvo also discovered that a large number of chassis which had been built were actually stock units and not sold ones, again to the cost of large sums of money. Many operators were angered at the news, feeling they had been duped into patriotically buying Leyland only for the company to sell out 18 months later to Volvo. As a result, sales of the rival vehicles produced by Dennis in the shape of the Dart bus and Javelin coach rocketed from buyers who preferred to fly the flag

Leyland Swansong: The Lynx became a decent bus but early examples were prone to serious corrosion and warranty issues. The last ones were Volvo engineered

Years of mistakes take their toll

Volvo, in a bid to make Leyland cost-effective, started production of the B10M chassis alongside the Tiger while also entering collaboration with transmission maker ZF – in return for gearboxes with a reduced raw cost, Leyland produced some components for the transmission using spare engineering capacity. Following the Truck division’s merger with DAF, Leyland Bus had to rely on bought-in power units because engine production was the responsibility of the Spurrier works which was part of the DAF deal. The TL11 engine in horizontal form was the main option on the Tiger and Leyland DAF made it quite clear that there was no desire to produce that engine in penny numbers especially with Volvo as a parent company. Cummins stepped into the breach by supplying the highly-regarded L10 engine with power options up to 290bhp – the TL11 could only manage 260.

As with ZF, Leyland sold the patents and design rights to the semi-automatic gearbox to Cummins in return for favourable engine cost. Cummins by now were a highly-respected company that were keen to enter the rail market, so this deal provided valuable engineering and understanding along with all the contacts within the railway engineering business. Today, Cummins supply engines for many of the current branch line diesel trains along with the Voyager units first used by Virgin. Gardner were still supplying Leyland with their ancient but regarded 6LXB for use in the Olympian bus chassis, but up-coming emission regulations meant this engine was living on borrowed time. In response to this, all Leyland products – the Lynx, Olympian and Tiger – were engineered to feature a Volvo THD engine option as well.

What could have been: The integral rear engined Royal Tiger Doyen even today, looks stunning but poor continental back up, extortionate development costs and excessive production delays suffocated any real chance of success.

Volvo’s final attempt

In a further attempt to save face and rescue a seemingly parlous situation, Volvo reorganized Leyland Bus and brought all control under their wing rather than it being a standalone business within the Volvo group. The new business title was VL Bus Limited with all financial and planning powers being moved from Leyland down to the Warwickshire HQ of Volvo Truck and Bus.

Despite some effort to export vehicles like the Olympian and Lynx with Volvo power units and build quality that had been drastically improved to a standard that pretty much met Volvo’s own, no real sales success came Leyland’s way. Another casualty came with the announcement that the Farrington plant in Leyland was to shut down with all future Leyland Bus activity to be concentrated in the Cumbrian factory at Workington.

As Britain entered the recession of the early 1990s, bus and coach sales hit an all time low. The Tiger coach was the first casualty, sales against the B10M were three to one in Volvo’s favour and the Tiger was an expensive chassis to produce. The B10M was the biggest selling coach chassis worldwide, so by 1992 Leyland was a producer of nothing more than buses in the shape of the Lynx and Olympian.

The cost of streamlining a dying company along with a multi-million pound re-engineering programme for British Rail was too much to bear for the Volvo board. The decision to shut down Leyland was made and the Olympian was engineered to feature as many Volvo components as possible. Subsequent production of the Olympian was moved to the Volvo Irvine plant and, after many years of being associated with transport, the Leyland name was dead.

Much has been said regarding Volvo and their actions prior to the closure of Leyland Bus, but one or two things must be taken into account before passing judgment. Firstly, the massive problems with the BR and BL railcar  project cost millions in rectification – had Volvo not underwritten the cost of re-engineering the trains, Leyland would have, without doubt, collapsed.

Volvo did much to reassure that parts would remain available for operators using Leyland products for as long as there was demand for them and the company was true to its word on that. Secondly, when production of what became the Volvo Olympian was moved to Scotland, Volvo offered a relocation package to over 200 Cumbrian workers while also keeping their original terms and conditions of employment. This gesture was Volvo’s way of acknowledging the superb and tolerant workforce of Leyland Bus.

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

23 Comments

  1. Thanks, a very interesting essay.

    Why was Leyland Bus not merged with Leyland Trucks into Daf? Was it because of the Rail problems, as a combination of Leyland and Daf (now VDL) would surely have given Volvo strong competition?

    Leyland (for whatever reason) never managed to keep up with market forces, whereas Dennis got it right with the brilliant Dart, a vehicle Leyland could have produced, hence Dennis (as part of ADL) still being around now…

  2. DAF had no interest in the Bus division having their own range of coaches. They gained Leyland trucks purely by having the army contracts (ahem) promised to them. DAF back then, and to a degree now, had little service bus impact.

    Volvo were keen to gain Leyland purely on the grounds of Leyland’s service bus contacts. Gaining them meant Volvo had direct access to every operator up and down the land that ran both buses and coaches.

    To mark your card with regards to Dennis:

    Correct as you say, the Dart was an undoubted success, but less lucky were their coach range. The Javelin was at best an okay machine but no where near a Volvo in terms of driver appeal or power. The more recent rear engined Dennis R series featured a superb Cummins M11 engine but sadly flopped on the market partly thanks to a bloody awful reliability record mainly due to its electrics.

  3. Another fascinating read Mike, but another sad reminder of what Britain once had and then p*ssed it all against the wall …

    Shame Management couldnt of kept the old brands in a sort of VW line up, (Skoda,Seat,Audi etc) with Albion (Very popular to the Scots) ,AEC, Bristol etc with Leyland at the top (or the middle rank) As am sure many Customers were very loyal to the brand, rather than alienating buyers by saying “Its now Leyland Take it or Leave it”.

  4. Amazing that the same company could offer competing products that tore apart each other’s profits on the market.

  5. Been round that depot more times than I care to remember as a youngster.

    Oh the halcyon days of Roadliners, Fleetlines, Leopards, Dominator’s, Seddon Pennine’s and six unique Ward Dalesman’s!

  6. When I was kid the Eagle Comic used to have centre page spreads on various mechanical things – Campbell’s Bluebird was one but another was the Guy Wulfrian (or something like that). This would have been mid 60’s and it was a state of the art under floor (or rear) engined flat fronted bus. Does anyone else remember this thing – what became of it?
    Thanks for another great essay.

  7. The one positive of the bus market, is that while Leyland may have disappeared, other British manufacturers have stepped up, a company like Wrights was nowhere back in the early 80s

    DAF may have had their coaches, but surely Leyland’s strength in buses, and their position in the sizeable UK market would have been attractive?

    Dennis may not have achieved much in coach chassis, but the Dart defined and dominated a market, and the Trident came from nowhere to be a market leader in double deckers.

  8. Interesting now to see Volvo and Wright hybrid electric buses operating on the 22 line in Birmingham, which I believe is a very demanding route. The drivers swear by them because compared to the Alexander-Dennis Enviro400h, they seem to ‘feel’ much more solidly built, run much quieter (indeed, the Volvo unit powers down when going downhill or creeping below 10mph – The AD units stay idle), and are generally more reliable – though software updates appear to have solves many of the problems experienced in the early days.

    The current crop of Wright/Volvos in single deck form are far better designed than the Scania types they purchased!

  9. The Lynx Mk2 was really badly built, and after a short time, you could clearly see the back of the buses had pronounced sag, as well as rampant corrosion everywhere, and severe water ingress around the cab/destination box areas. The Workington assembled Leyland Integral Olympians, were not a patch on the ECW examples either. Body and electrical issues plagued them all.

    DAF did a tie up with Optare (comment 8), as United Bus, with DAF coaches, Bova and Optare being one company. The collapse was very quick, and all went to management buyouts. Optare ironically is now part of Ashok Leyland, but sadly the old Chas Roe plant is no more.

    Re coment 7, the Guy Wulfrunian was a low floor front engined double decker, with a Gardner 6LX normally & SCG semi auto box. It also had independent front suspension, and disc front brakes! It was only really bought by one operator in any quantity, West Riding, and the bus was hopeless. Front suspension units would fail, the brakes were crap, and the whole buses were overweight on the front axle, so all the upper deck front seats had to be removed! The radiators were mounted above the engine, and sadly at least one person was killed when a water pipe burst and boiling water came showering down the stairs onto a passenger who was getting off the bus. 2 ‘Wulfs’ survive, both belonging to Dewsbury Bus Museum, and neither are on the road

  10. Hmmm, wonder what would have happened if fleets had bought Volvos instead of Dennis’s?

    Not a fan of Dennis or Plaxton buses- of which we see a lot of elderly examples on my local route. Since it runs through a council estate and the poorest part of town, this is the route that Stagecoach put their worst buses on, since people here have no choice but to pay rip-off fares as most have no other transport.

    The Trident double decker is actually quite a good bus from a passenger point of view but the older single decker ALX200s and their Plaxton equivalents were clearly built and maintained by those with an abiding loathing for the bus-travelling public. The seats are too close together for a six-footer- I have to sit sideways, the internal panelwork is purpose-engineered to drum very loudly when the unrefined Cummins engine is idling, the ride is not much better than a Leyland National, and, (not surprising given the age of the vehicles), they are forever breaking down. And they turn into mobile saunas in Summer because Management order the drivers to drive with the heating on full-blast to aid engine cooling (bet they don’t have to do that in Hong Kong).

    And the bus company even have the temerity (given the high cost of a bus ticket) to put adverts all over the windows of some of the buses. Whilst these are actually made up of little dots, it makes it much harder to see out of the window, especially with a film of winter muck on top. Since the bus division of companies like Stagecoach, Arriva, and First Group are the most profitable parts of their business empires, putting ads on the windows is really taking liberties.

    The latest MAN powered Enviro 200s seem much improved in ride quality, fit and finish, and hugely more pleasant aurally than its Cummins-powered predecessor.

  11. Wright’s are undoubtable one of the success stories of recent time, going from a relatively small family owned firm dealing specialising in the welfare sector to one of the biggest bus-builders in the UK, vying with Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) for market leadership. However, for the majority of that time, they were bodybuilders placing their bodies on – in the main – Volvo/Scania/VDL Bus (Daf Bus)chassis. It is only with the relatively recent launch of the Streetlite buses has Wright really built complete buses. Even their integral Gemini 2 and Electrocity Midi-bus are based on VDL chasis.

    The Daf Bus link up (Comment 8) probably with the benefit of hindsight probably would have been better but as Mike mentions earlier the reasons for at the time was that Daf was heavily involved with Optare, who had at the time of the buy-out of Leyland Bus launched the Optare Delta, probably one of the best single deckers of recent times. Plus Optare was about to launch the Optare Spectra, again based on a Daf chassis with bits of Metrobus thrown in. So there was a considerable over-lap. Where as Leyland Bus envied Volvo’s ability to supply a complete range of buses (single deck, coach and double deck) from on chasis – The Volvo B10M. Also, buying Leyland Bus enabled Volvo to have a plant within the single-European market, an important issue at the time.

    Dennis’s rise in the bus market has almost mirrorred Volvo’s squandering of the lead it built up with the purchase of Leyland. Indeed, it may surprise many to know that the Olympain sold more chasis under Volvo than it did under Leyland.

    However, Dennis seemed to have a knack of producing the right bus at the right time. The Javelin came along just as Bedford and Ford pulled out of the market. The Dart was developed just as the post de-regulation market was looking for as cost-effective bus bigger than a mini-bus but smaller than a full-size single decker and developed it into the Dart SLF when low-floor buses became the norm. It’s success in double deckers came when Volvo badly mis-judged what the market wanted with low-floor double deckers, with the hapless B7L. The Trident was just what the market wanted and Volvo lost many sales whilst it redesigned its offering to become the B7TL. Whilst it has now stopped making the Javelin, it would not surprise me if it has something in mind for the coach market. Although whether it’ll be marketed as a Dennis or Plaxton integral, who knows.

  12. @12, Scott Hutchings,

    I’m a bit surprised that Dennis (Plaxton) have not done something to produce a coach designed specifically for National Express. At the moment they are using the awful Caetano Levante which, despite the presence of leather seats, loads of room, Wi-Fi and charging point, etc, is not a particularly pleasant coach to ride in- it seems to have all the structural rigidity of a biscuit tin, and rattles like a knackered Leyland National.

    National Express were forced to buy those because they were said to be the only coach that would comply with disability access legislation and offer front door access for wheelchairs. Several years on they are still buying them, which suggests that Plaxton have abandoned that particular market, or are not prepared to produce coaches to the specification required by the largest coach fleet in the country by a large margin.

  13. @ Chris

    Not the case at all, Plaxton have a good few Elites on Nat Ex and plans are afoot to introduce more. The Levante was a desperate attempt at Caetano gaining a foothold back in the UK, sadly It’s not coming to fruition.

  14. Selwynns of Runcorn run a large batch of Volvo/Plaxton Elites on Nat Ex. The trouble is though all the Levantes are sourced via a central leasing firm, and seem to be tied in with the tenders. My local op Galloways are DAF/Vanhool and Mercedes buyers normally, but thanks to more Nat Ex work, have Levante/B9R’s all with FJ regs (Santander leasing). Stagecoach Mega’shed’ buy Plaxtons though, probably because Brian Souter is one of the directors of ADL, and no doubt gets a substantial discount. I also believe the board of directors at Nat Ex are Portugese, this could have an influence on matters, as well as Plaxton being part of the rival Souter empire

  15. Well if Caetano has failed to gain a foothold on the UK, I’d not call that a shame if the Levante is supposed to be their best effort. National Express themselves have otherwise done much to improve the quality of coach travel. Although most coach stations are pretty awful places and Victoria Coach Station in London is a national disgrace- is it really beyond the wit of man to put up some pidgeon netting and repair the roof of the waiting area against leaks? I am embarrassed that Victoria will be many foreign visitor’s first disembarkment point. Compare and contrast the extremely wonderful Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras- an object lesson in how to make an old facility fit for purpose- not that I am suggesting that they rebuild Victoria Coach Station in the Victorian High Gothic style!

    Theres an article floating around about a small Scottish tour operator who went bust after buying a small Caetano minibus (based on the Toyota Coaster chassis)- it was a litany of woes, and according to the article Caetano’s aftersales care was amateurish at best (alegedly).

    Surprised Toyota themselves haven’t introduced the Coaster over here- especially as it is readily available in other RHD markets. Looks like a workmanlike large minibus, if a little sparse.

    • The Toyota based vehicle is the Caetano Optimo, the earliest of examples had an uncanny knack of destroying engines and corroding like crazy. Toyota since ditched the nasty touches like the tyres fitted onto split rims and developed a much improved engine design.

      Optimo despite all this, was a popular midicoach owing to the fact that inside it genuinely looked like a shrunken down Caetano Algarve and gave the impression of a real coach unlike some other offerings from Mercedes Benz and Optare that looked like converted vans.

  16. I don’t think it’s the case that Nat Ex vehicles have to be Caetano’s, just that they have to be of a certain spec. Up here in Scotland, Park’s of Hamilton run Elites/Volvo’s on routes. Nat Ex do have a central purchasing aspect and at the time of the Levante’s introduction, Plaxton lacked what the industry refers to as a “wow” coach. That’s been rectified with the Elite. However, Nat Ex wanted a vehicle that would turn heads so with nothing available from Plaxton at the time, they went to Caetano who were happy to develop such a vehicle to gain a foot-hold in the UK market.

    As for Dennis developing such a vehicle, it might be the case of once bitten, twice shy. In the early 80’s Dennis was what could be described as a builder of Bespoke vehicles, building whatever an operator wanted. If said company would like an engine at the rear/front/middle with a specific braking system or gearbox Dennis would build it – even if no other company wanted such a vehicle. This was a nightmare for spare parts holdings as you can imagine.

    Following Coach de-regulation in 1980, many companies began to compete with Nat Ex on quality rather than price, Trathens of Devon being such an example. This led to Nat Ex developing the Rapide brand and it wanted such a high-spec vehicle to compliment this. It asked Dennis to develop such a vehicle.

    The resulting vehicle was the Dennis Falcon V, which was powered by a Perkins(!) V8 engine, Voith fully automatic transmission and Duple of Blackpool bodywork. They were apparently flying machines but they were needed so quickly there was little time for prototype testing and so suffered from reliability issues.

  17. @18, Mike Humble,

    Agree with you about Merc and their ‘converted vans’. The ancient Vario, with its roots in the 1970s is not a pleasant vehicle to ride in, being poorly sprung, and having a very coarse and noisy engine. Dog slow too.

    Only redeeming quality seems that they run forever.

  18. Has anyone considered writing a feature on the history of the Titan or Metrobus?

    This generation of double deckers seems quite interesting.

  19. With hindsight its a pity leyland didnt continue with my employer’s [London Transport] and AEC joint project the FRM routemaster rather than things like the atlantean or worse still inflicting the truely dire DMS fleetline on london bus engineering staff and london passengers still at least we didnt suffer the bristol VR

  20. It’s a shame Leyland didn’t continue development of the National with an updated nose and Cummins/Gardner engine ZF/Voith gearbox options. The L10/ZF Lynxes we operated were ultra reliable mechanically but literally rattled themselves to bits, not popular with drivers or passengers. The National body-wise was excellent, certainly up there in terms of structural integrity and crashworthiness with a Mercedes Citaro.

    Leyland’s downfall to my mind was their determination to do everything themselves. MCW got it so right with the Metrobus, buy the engine/box/running gear from established manufacturers rather than re-invent the wheel.

    Another sadly missed opportunity for Leyland, the body on a Titan was excellent, had the radiator been at the front with a Voith box instead of that terribly unreliable hydracyclic and rear mounted rad it would have been a superb vehicle.

    When deregulation came about it has to be said Dennis hit the nail on the head. Quality was unimportant, cheap, disposable buses were what the market wanted. Along comes the Dart and the rest is history.

  21. I remember the xenophobic politicians well, especially Margaret Thatcher.
    I was a parts manager of a large Vauxhall/Bedford dealer at the time, and it was pretty obvious to anyone in the organisation that if the deal for Leyland and Land Rover didn’t happen, GM would pull the plug on Bedford.
    I remember just being bemused by the tories attitude, here was a government seemingly willing to sell their granny to the highest bidder, refusing to sell Land Rover, and hence, Leyland, to the obvious purchaser, on a jingoistic whim.
    Apart from the fact it was owned by GM, Bedford was a British as you could get, supplying the UK armed services almost exclusively, and providing huge levels of employment.
    It still upsets me to think of what might have been.

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