Mike Humble pays homage…
Buses and coaches played as an important part in my childhood as cars did. Our next door neighbour was the Workshop Foreman of the local Municipal bus operator – Darlington Corporation – whilst, the company’s General Manager, Stuart Hyslop – a man still working in the bus industry – lived at the end of our road. Occasionally, on summer evenings, my neighbour would take me down to the depot in his Princess 2200 for a tour.
I would be like a dog with two…. well, you know what I mean, at the sight and sounds of buses over the pits or on the ramps. Most of the fleet, with the exception of some Seddons and Dennis Dominators were from the British Leyland stable. Darlington ran one of the largest fleets of single deck Daimler Fleetlines in the UK and many of these were still operating when the company folded in 1994. However, my favourite buses in the fleet were the batch of four Duple Dominant Leyland Leopards bought new in 1977.
These Leylands were amazingly loud – their throaty cry was produced by the 11-litre 0.680 Flat Six power unit. Residents of one housing estate managed to get the Leopards banned from evening services as the noise would rattle windows, wake up babies and scare old ladies, but I totally adored them. The Leopard was the biggest selling heavyweight coach in the UK for all of the 1960s and 1970s – 90% of the National Express fleet in 1979 were Leyland Leopards with various types of coachwork.
However, by 1980, it was not uncommon to see imported coaches entering the UK market – back then Mercedes Benz were a tiny player but Volvo were gaining momentum with the B58 chassis as more operators wanted more power and became less hostile towards Johnny Foreigner. Leyland was losing ground and needed to come up with a vehicle which matched the opposition for quality and power. The 1980s also marked the end of Leyland’s dominance in the UK’s bus and coach market, but they put up a damn good fight.
The early 1980s were not the best of times for British Leyland as Sir Michael Edwardes was in full cry battling with the trade unions down in the Midlands car plants, but industrial strife never seemed to affect the truck and bus plants of Lancashire and Cumbria – they just seemed to get on quietly with the task in hand. The 1981 Leyland Tiger was a heavily reworked Leopard with many improvements including air suspension, turb0charged engines and a totally new driver’s area.
The power unit was a horizontal version of the recently developed TL11 engine, itself born out of the world-renowned 0.680 Series. Output at launch was 220bhp but a 245bhp option came soon afterwards and, for 1984, the TL11 260 was available thus giving Leyland a fighting chance with Volvo, who were overtaking Leyland in sales terms by 1986. The mid-1980s saw Leyland offer a Gardner engine option designed with the Scottish Bus Group in mind because of that compny’s reluctance to use Leyland power units. Leyland initially declined to offer an optional turbocharged Gardner 6HLXC-T engine but, after Dennis sold a handful of Dorchester and Falcon coaches with this engine north of the Border, Leyland sat up and took notice.
Imported vehicles from companies such as Van Hool or Salvador Caetano were vastly better built and specified coaches, often being built on chassis from Daf, Mercedes Benz or Scania and the ever conquering Volvo. The importers were able to take full advantage of the recent Transport Act which permitted unrestricted, long distance coach journeys and which opened up the market to coach operators, enabling them to offer their own rostered services and tour work.
Leyland decided to take the plunge and develop their own integral high spec coach chassis which became known as the ‘Royal Tiger Doyen’. This high power, high spec rear-engined coach looked stunning and, to this day, remains a fresh and sleek design. Sadly, the Royal Tiger was a protracted and expensive machine to design. The foreign competition had been used to all integral coachwork for many years and was able to handle the many options or different specifications that customers dictated. Gone was the take it or leave it attitude from manufacturers as a more customer-orientated market place took hold.
Leyland’s lack of bespoke luxury coach-building know how quickly became evident as delivery dates slipped and quality issues became known. These luxury vehicles were built in the Leeds factory of C.H. Roe. The plant had been very good at building standard vehicles to an excellent quality for many years but most of those had been standard bus bodies. The build of coaches is very different and problems with electrical systems and glazing along with lost orders through long build times eventually caused Leyland to re-think and move production to Lancashire. Unfortunately, by the time these vehicles became a sorted product, losses were high and orders were low – such a shame as the Tiger Doyen really was a match for the foreign competition. A total of just over 100 were built.
Subsequently, all Leyland coaches were to rely on bodies from outside companies, allowing Leyland to concentrate on what the company did best – building chassis. The company enjoyed considerable success with the Tiger right up to the late 1980s and, even though they couldn’t match Volvo for outright sales or European back up, this did not stop Leyland from constantly improving the vehicle from both a driver’s and an operator’s point of view.
Leyland Bus became a standalone company following the Government’s privatisation of Leyland Truck and Bus. The truck side was merged into Daf whilst, after much turmoil, Leyland Bus was purchased via an MBO (Management Buy-Out) albeit a short lived one. One of the problems that Leyland Bus now faced was engine supply – the vertical TL11 engine was designed and built at the foundry of the Truck plant. However, for its fitment in the Tiger, the horizontal version for a coach was expensive and made in penny numbers compared to the truck unit. Soon after the MBO, it was announced that the TL11, itself a direct relation to the legendary 0.680 engine, was to be discontinued for the 1988 market.
The famous Leyland semi-automatic gearbox was also a very costly unit to produce and this too was deleted from the range. Cummins L10 engines were to be fitted to all Tiger chassis from 1988 along with a manual or fully automatic ZF transmission. The world famous Cummins L10 engine pitched Leyland high up in the power stakes as against its rivals in one fell swoop – the engine could be rated up to 290bhp and its fuel economy was first class.
More operators were venturing overseas and Leyland Bus, now a small fish in a big pond with its new independence, suffered in a global market place as operators became ever more concerned regarding Leyland’s cover and back up on the continent while European rivals were quick and keen to exploit it. Volvo had overtaken Leyland in sales with its ever improving B10M chassis though the Tiger continued to be the second most popular heavyweight coach. Competitors like DAF, MAN and Volvo were far better placed to provide cover and breakdown in mainland Europe.
The coach product from Leyland continued to be a good machine but Leyland could simply no longer afford to give heavy discounts in order to gain business and, as a consequence, losses mounted. A major form of cost cutting came in the use of parts, the rear axle from Rockwell was changed to a hub reduction Leyland U23 unit which was shared with the Lynx bus. This also allowed for a shallower boot floor and giving more luggage space in coach versions. The alternator and other ancillary drives became belt driven to save cost and weight, while the air cleaning system was improved and re-mounted cutting noise levels.
Volvo Truck and Bus bought Leyland Bus from its management in 1988 – some say it was to buy up the competition. Volvo announced in the same year that the B10M chassis was to be built here in the UK alongside the Tiger. Quality improved as Leyland adopted Volvo’s then unique “dock” system of assembly. For the final two years of production, a Volvo 9.6 litre engine was offered with Ireland taking the majority of these. The last of the Cummins-engined Leyland Tigers were some of the best coaches I personally ever drove. Ask any seasoned Coach Drivers about the Tiger and, more often than not, they will remember its power, handling and ride with fondness. The final chassis were assembled in 1991.
TIMELINE: 1981 – 1991
2 axle bus or coach chassis (3 axle for Australian market)
ENGINE OPTIONS: Leyland TL11 – Cummins L10 – Gardner 6HLX-CT or Volvo THD100. 170 to 290bhp
TRANSMISSION: Leyland fully or semi-auto – ZF manual or auto
MAIN RIVALS: Volvo B10M – DAF MB230 – Dennis Javelin