As most of us know, Michelotti styled some fantastic motor cars including our very own Triumph 2000, Dolomite and Stag to name some but a few. But what would you say if I offered you a vehicle styled by the great Italian himself with state of the art technology like a five speed clutch less semi-automatic gearbox with tiptronic control…. Tempted aren’t you?
What if this vehicle had more room and space than your average family car or people carrier? …. Sounds good to you? And what if you had luxuries including air suspension with self levelling facility but without the dubious reliability of a large French car and a rust proofing that even the likes of Volvo can’t match. Could you warm to the idea of a turbo charged six-cylinder engine with overhead cam and over 170bhp on tap that hides under the floor as not to encroach and rob valuable space? Oh and by the way…. It’s a diesel too.
I know I know, I can hear the distant sniggers and puzzlement as I type. What if this vehicle is available for under £2000 and I’ll bet that more people have travelled in one than any other Triumph/Leyland car to be penned from the famous styling house of Michelotti.
Enter The Leyland National…
One of the first projects of British Leyland was a collaboration with the newly formed National Bus Company in the late 1960s to design and build a modern single deck bus, throwing away past rituals of a separate chassis and traditional hand built coach work. Right from the outset, the National bus was designed and indeed built just like a car on an assembly line no different to the likes of the Mini.
Giovanni Michelotti was given the task of styling the vehicle and had past experience of larger vehicles a few years earlier with Scammell Trucks. The National was launched in 1972 and very quickly became a common sight on the UK roads as well as many export markets as far away as Jamaica and as unlikely as the USSR.
In true AROnline tradition I have put one of these vehicles through its paces to see how it compares with other British Leyland vehicles…..
The Italian has done a good job with the styling of the vehicle and certainly looks modern and imposing (at 10.3 metres long it should do!). The overall shape is pleasing on the eye and the raised roof at the rear looks different but also serves a purpose of housing the heating unit. Plenty of deep windows provide a light and airy look inside, sadly though, electric windows are not on the options list!
BEHIND THE WHEEL…
As can be seen in the picture, the driver’s layout is a lesson in simplicity. Some drivers may find the lack of a rev counter, fuel and temp gauges mildly concerning but owing to its 250-fuel litre tank this shouldn’t present a problem.
A large speedometer is provided calibrated to 80mph (a touch optimistic) and a bank of comprehensive warning lights for items such as the emergency door (not even an option on your Princess) add confidence for the discerning driver.
On this vehicle, the handbrake and gear lever are both positioned on the right hand side, leaving the drivers left hand free to… erm… collect fares and issue tickets. Potential buyers will be pleased to note the standard fitment of rack and pinion steering with power assistance, very useful as the vehicle weighs just over 10 tons!
INTERIOR AND FEATURES
Your passengers will simply be amazed with the seating; your SD1 and Austin Princess may be able to accommodate five people at a squeeze, but how about seating for 43 with plenty of legroom and as a bonus, extra space for 20 standing, beat that Renault Espace!
Standard equipment may disappoint some owners however. The seats are cloth trimmed but don’t recline, carpet is substituted for lino and whereas your Maxi may have five doors, this vehicle only has 2. On the plus side, the interior lighting is by far the best I have seen on a Leyland vehicle thanks to six fluorescent tubes in the roof area. Heating and ventilation is courtesy of sliding windows and an efficient but simple two position heater (on and off).
OUT ON THE ROAD
Owners of sporty cars may feel short changed with the National, top speed depending on the gearing varies from 48 to 60mph but owing to fuel consumption of around 10mpg, buyers may wish to take a leisurely style of driving.
Generally, performance is more than adequate to keep up with modern town traffic. The 8.3-litre engine provides more than ample torque and the semi automatic gearbox is simplicity in itself.
Caution with supermarket car parks is highly advised, as is with parking. Before you visit your dealer, bear in mind that your garage needs to be at least 33ft long and 8ft 6in wide. Some consideration may be given to your local residents regarding noise and the consequent possibility of frightening small children or old ladies.
Some small snags with the vehicle may cause extra annoyance, waiting three-to-five minutes for the air pressure to build with the engine running every morning may result in neighbour relation difficulties.
EASE OF OWNERSHIP
Do-It-Yourself servicing comes highly recommended; it’s most unlikely that your local Kwik Fit could handle this vehicle on its ramps for a lube service while you pop to the shops. Service parts are plentiful but be aware that you will need four gallons of oil and a touch over eight gallons of coolant for that winter service. Access to the horizontal rear mounted engine is pretty good but a good quality pair of axle stands is highly recommended. On the plus side, tyres should last a couple of years of which you need six.
Flying in the face of traditional methods, the bodywork is of a riveted construction and is rust proofed for a minimum 25-year life. Resistance to corrosion is certainly better than other BL products like the Marina for example. Its flat floor with lino covering allow for a simple brush to keep clean and dirt free and the interior side panels are trimmed in an no-nonsense Formica.
If space and room is paramount I would heartily recommend the Leyland National. Crisp styling that blends in with town and city traffic go in its favour as does sheer value for money, useable examples with an MoT can be had for under £2000. It drives well and is cheaper to tax than a new Range Rover too!
It’s not without its drawbacks though, as mentioned earlier, some owners may find parking a touch difficult and its overall length, width and height may be a handicap to your lean to garage.
Other minuses include the requirement of a PCV licence with driver CPC certificate to drive it, but if its size and space that matters, nothing else from the British Leyland family fits the bill other than the LEYLAND NATIONAL
Many thanks to Sam Ayling at Sussex Coaches for the use of the vehicle
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.