Buses : The Lynx effect

Replacing a bus like the Leyland National was always going to be a tough job. In the end, the National was a trusted, rugged product and a hard act to follow. Its replacement – the Lynx, was introduced during the biggest ever upheaval in the UK bus and coach industry and was built right up the very end of Leyland’s existence.

Mike Humble tells the story of Leyland’s swansong.

Top Photo: Many thanks to Adam Smith

One of the earliest MK1 Lynx buses - preserved in the capable hands of Adam Smith

The Leyland National was one of the most revolutionary designs of public transport in recent decades – not quite as fast as Concorde or as sleek and exiting as the Inter-City 125, but equally important in changing the way people move about. The National was a product of BL through to the core and, after issues over reliability and being accepted by dye in the wool fleet engineers who refused to accept air suspension and turbochargers (now an everyday feature) were resolved – the National was seen everywhere up and down country. I will even bet that most of you reading this will, at some point between 1972 and the present day, have travelled aboard or maybe even driven one.

The National MK2 - they had a very long lifespan and were a hard act to follow

Leyland’s Engineers had been experimenting with a new design of single deck bus and, by 1984, running prototypes were being carefully evaluated. Following a trend set by the National, the new bus was also an integral design of pure Leyland content. The Lynx differed from the National in many ways though key components such as the choice of engine from Leyland or Gardner and the semi-auto gearbox were carried over. The main differences were the extensive use of aluminium in body construction and bonded glazing whereas the National was an all steel design using traditional gasket rubbers for the windows.

A Cummins engined 1990 Lynx from the Preston fleet

The usage of alloy gave a considerable improvement in unladen weight, the obvious payoff being good fuel consumption and better performance. Prototype Lynxs were “seeded” in large fleets including Ribble in the North West and WM buses in the West Midlands. Both companies took large numbers of Lynxs throughout the model’s lifespan. The Transport Act, 1985, which brought about bus deregulation in the mid-1980s, caused chaos, uncertainty and great turbulence in the marketplace as operators purchased used vehicles to fight off competition in the “bus wars” that took place up and down the land.

One time big names in the bus building world such as Bedford and Ford withdrew from the market never to be seen again, leaving just three big builders of buses left to battle against imports from Volvo and Daf – Dennis, Leyland and Optare. The launch of the new Lynx in 1986, with hindsight, could not have come at a worse time. Competition was growing and minibuses were now the buzz word as operators did their best to stave of their rivals by operating services round the doors and estates, penetrating the areas where big buses feared to tread.

A London single-door Lynx - not as popular as the National before it.

After a few years, the bitter battles between bus operators quitened down as ever thinner profit margins made sure that only the fittest survived. Some decent orders from the new bus groups of Badgerline – Cowie and Stagecoach gave Leyland a huge boost, but numbers of deliveries were never to be as big as the pre-1986 days. In a bid to standardise production, the Lynx was offered in just one length – 11.2 metres but numerous interior options of seating or door arrangements were offered.

Having learned the lesson of engine options, a Gardner option was there from the start, though the marketing team pushed the Leyland TL11 engine in 210bhp format  hard as the first choice. One thing that was to be proven early one was that the Lynx had nowhere near as much research and development behind it as its predecessor. Soon after vehicles were delivered, warranty costs mounted as issues with rust spreading through the welded box section became known owing to poor anti-corrosion treatment of the steel frame.

Halton No.57 was the very last single deck Leyland bus produced

By 1988 the company was in the hands of Volvo and the Cummins L10 engine with ZF transmission became available as the horizontal power unit from Leyland was deleted. The Lynx was updated in 1990 and simply designated the Lynx 2 – the visual difference being a small nose at the front, fitted out of necessity to make room for an intercooler in front of the radiator. The corrosion and electrical problems of earlier Lynxs were vastly improved and, for the last two years of production, more cost-saving and parts standardisation came in the form of the fitting of a turbo intercooled Volvo THD series engine. Once the Series 2 product was on line, quality was first rate but its reputation on the whole was always in question.

August 1992 saw the final Lynx vehicles roll off the line in Workington, the above picture shows Halton Transport no:57 – the very last one off the line. The Lynx was a good vehicle to drive, Cummins and Volvo-engined buses had acceleration best described as alarming and were very popular amongst drivers. The noise and smell of sitting on the back seat of a hard driven Cummins Lynx is a treat for bus enthusiasts. The Leyland name for many will conjure up many a fond memory for transport fans and, on a personal note, I feel that the Lynx is an often forgotten bus!

Final Production – 1992 Workington Cumbria

Engine Options– Leyland TL11, Gardner 6HLX-CT, Cummins L10 & Volvo THD

Body Type: Leyland all integral 44 to 51 seats – single or dual door

Mike Humble


  1. A very interesting article… I still think that, even now, the Leyland National 2 is an aesthetically modern and elegant design. It would probably have looked even better with the bonded side windows that feature on most of the current crop of Dennis, Scania and Volvo single-deckers.

    What is the known fate of the last of the line National 2 and Lynx, not to mention other Leyland buses?

  2. The effect of de-regulation on the public transport industry was significant. What this article shows is the effect on bus manufacturing, too.

    The move to smaller vehicles and, perhaps, a growth in the market for used vehicles clearly presented challenges to the established bus manufacturers and some would appear to have pulled out of manufacture altogether. I wonder whether Mrs. Thatcher would have foreseen that?!

    • Cecil Parkinson was originally given the task of looking into bus and coach de-regulation. He spoke to operators up and down the land who advised him it would cause upset, a loss of jobs and irreversible damage. Mr. P went to Mrs. T and advised her accordingly.

      Sadly, “Cess” got caught with his pants down and was forced to resign from his post. Enter Nicholas Ridley, who re-opened the file, ignored all the views and advice from the industry and rail-roaded the Transport Act, 1985 through Parliament.

  3. Being something of a bus geek (!), I wrote this article about the Leyland National on my own website a while back.

    Fascinating history – and one of the comments gives great insight, too. We can ALL remember the distinctive whining rattle of a Leyland National in action, no?

  4. That’s a nice potted history of the Lynx. South Shields Busways had a fleet of these and, although they were okay, I always found them to be very loud when pulling away and accelerating (especially if you were a pedestrian walking along the pavement). I think the earlier National and National 2 looked better, but that’s just my opinion. Tyneside PTE ran some Nationals in the early 1970s but they didn’t seem to last long.

  5. I reckon that, whether you approve of the policies (bus deregulation, rail privatisation) or not, both caused orders for new buses/trains to crash, causing major damage to our manufacturing capacity. Some extra grants and incentives to buy new buses during this period may have helped.

    Having said that, Leyland were very slow to react and others benefited from the minibus boom, followed by the Dennis Dart.

  6. @Mikey C
    Surely, given that BL was owned by the Government at the time, there must have been scope for more joined up thinking between Government departments!

  7. Unlike Leyland, MCW, the makers of the all dominant 1980s Metrobus double-decker, reacted to deregulation and the demand for minibuses with the MCW Metrorider. West Midlands Travel had some on its fleet and they were so much nicer than the smaller Iveco van-based ones. I look forward to someone writing about its development on this website!

  8. All this talk about the National, get’s me all nostalgic – is someone going to do a development story about it? I thought that there was also a National 3 – is that true or was I dreaming when I saw one (albeit looking exactly like a National 2 with a roof fin and different running gear!)?

    Ah, yes, Badgerline – they were initially well received around our way (Bath) mainly because the changes to the bus routes meant that buses came a little closer to my front door. Leyland Nationals and Bristol REs made way for Carlyle-bodied Ford Transits and Freight Rover Sherpas.

    Unfortunately, the honeymoon period didn’t last long when it turned out that the Transits and Sherpas were woefully underpowered to cope with Bath’s hills and that, with only 16 passengers, these things filled up rather quickly – I’d often be on a full bus which sailed passed bemused passengers waiting at a bus stop!!

    First Bus has, of course, long sinced acquired Badgerline and the local route has pretty much gone back to the pre-1985 version, with Dennis Darts and the odd Optare Solo doing the donkey work.

  9. I don’t understand why the de-regulation affected bus manufacturers so much – wasn’t it supposed to help them because the increased competition led to more new buses being ordered?

  10. I see you have put my mate Adam’s Lynx as the first photo. This is the very first production integral Lynx, and a former demonstrator that needed a complete body rebuild due to rampant body rot, which all Lynxes suffered from. It is unusual, being Gardner 6HLXCT powered, and has a 5 speed hydracyclic semi auto. It is currently off the road due to the exhaust system being knackered, and the parts being NLA.

    And just before de-regulation, they axed the bus grant that operators got to help purchase new buses, which at it’s height was a 50% subsidy on list, and as operators were now having to fend for themselves, orders for new buses simply collapsed. If it wasn’t for 2 customers, Leyland bus would have died an early death. West Midlands PTE decided to standardise on the Lynx, and so did Caldaire group (West Riding/Yorkshire/Sheffield & District).

    There was one Lynx that was even re-bodied by West Riding after a fire very early in its life, with a kit provided by Workington.

    And yes, warranty claims were massive on the Lynx, with windows falling out a common issue, and to keep West Riding happy, rumour has it Volvo gave them 3 demonstrators as compensation, due to the down time. Also if more than one window was broken in a Lynx, it could not be suspended towed, as it would twist the bodywork. And if you looked at the waist rail, back end sag was found from new on them.

  11. And at Stuart, the National 3 was a refurb programme by Cheltenham & District, where the buses got a full body overhaul, and the 510 lump was replaced by a DAF unit, which was closely related to the old 0.680. Many operators heavily refurbished Nationals. Go North East overhauled theirs, fitted full DiPTAC steps & handrails, and fitted brand new Volvo engines & Voith gearboxes. British Bus went one step further, by fitting Plaxton headlamps & front bumpers, a Cummins B series, moved the radiator to the nearside, and fitted an Allison auto box, making them very Dart like. We also had the British Bus developed Greenway, which was a complete strip to the skeleton, often a Gardner lump replacing the Leyland engine, and a complete re-design of the body.

  12. And David 3500, C49OCM is currently in storage at MASS Engineering in Sheffield (Last National 2 in a rather sad state I may add), and the very first National 2 is also preserved in Hull, and the last Lynx is also now preserved.

  13. And Mike, you forgot about the Australian Lynxes, and the Alexander bodied buses for Northern Ireland, which were actually built before the Workington ones.

  14. Thanks for pointing me to this article, Marty. An interesting, albeit brief history of the Lynx and pleased to see my Lynx at the top. Exhaust repairs are currently ongoing and should be at the 3rd Leyland Lynx Running Day at St. Helens on the 18th of March 2012, sounding perhaps a little less throaty but legal.

  15. Cheers Mike – the livery suits the lines of the Lynx very well I think. Lynx were often used on my school bus route and as a typical enthusiast intent on keeping my memories alive, I bought this one from Arriva Yorkshire and restored it as you see it.

    I have a variety of photos showing Lynx (including Caldaire Mk2s) in production, from chassis kits for export (chassis numbers start LXK), to Lynx frames and those receiving the finishing touches.

    These buses still look as modern today as they did in the 1980s, just a shame they had corrosion problems which gave them a bad name, otherwise they really were a good bus. Some of them really were granny catapults! Acceleration so swift that passengers were at the back of the bus before they’d got their ticket from the machine!

  16. When Volvo took over Leyland in 1988 it dropped the TL11 engine option and announced that the model would only be available in single-door layout. Plans to develop the Lynx as a double-decker were abandoned and an order for tri-axle axle Lynx chassis for Australia was scrapped just as the order was about to be signed.

    There was, however, one notable exception. Lothian, a long-standing Leyland customer, had tried out several Lynx demonstrators and asked if they could have a batch of 12 Lynxes to their standard dual-door layout. VL Bus & Coach, the joint Volvo/Leyland sales organisation at the time, initially refused and told Lothian they could only have stock-built single-door vehicles. Lothian then told VL Bus & Coach to go and look at their order books and think again, which they did before changing their mind and giving the go-ahead for the order.

    The resultant batch, to Lynx II spec, entered service with Lothian in April 1991 as their 177-188 with matching H-OSG registrations, built to B43D layout and were to remain unique. When Lothian sold the Lynxes in 2000, they subsequently lost their centre exits. Happily one vehicle from this batch has been saved and is currently awaiting restoration, with its owner having reinstated the centre exit with the front doors taken from another Lynx, which was being scrapped, from the same batch.

  17. Stephen ; 21

    It was actually Leyland DAF who put the kybosh on the TL11 engine option. They had no desire to build that engine in horizontal form just for the Bus application. Besides which, Bus would have had to purchase the engine at commercial rates with very little discount as Leyland DAF now ran and owned the Spurrier engine plant and had no ties with Bus since the MBO of Leyland Bus and the merger of Leyland Trucks into DAF.

    Until Volvo came on board, an engineering tie up with Cummins gave Leyland Bus access to proven, tried and tested engines with ZF supplying transmissions at favourable rates in exchange for Leyland Bus producing sub castings and components for them thanks to spare engineering capacity.

  18. @Mike B

    The Lynx was ordered in small numbers into the Ulsterbus/Citybus fleets, as was the National 2, to evaluate it as a replacement to the Bristol RE and Leopards (some of which were still running into the late 90s / early 2000s!).

    They were mostly bodied with Alexander N type bodywork (the body of choice for 80s Ulsterbus/Citybus) but didn’t seem to be successful.

    The Tiger was the replacement of choice, even with the coach-like high step up due to the mid engined layout. Disability access was less of a concern back then, the only concession being ‘kneeling bus’ in which the suspension was lowered slightly.
    As a passenger, they did give a commanding view over other road users.

    Later Tigers got the modern Q type bodywork, but still had the high seating arragement, while most other bus fleets were moving (their urban fleets at least) to low floor access.

  19. Will

    I will always say that a semi auto (hydracyclic) Tiger @ 260bhp was probably the best driving / handling & riding coach chassis available in its day.

  20. @Mike Humble

    I’d say that the late 90s bus drivers I recall who raced Leyland Tigers along the coastal routes into Belfast would have agreed with you 🙂

  21. The two Lynxes built out of kits and locally bodied in Australia by PMC are for sale now. (20/1/14). It would be lovely to see such a unique vehicle repatriated.

  22. I have secured the first Austrailan PMC bodied one for preservation in Sydney, the second one will come off the road by june and will also be preserved locally.

  23. Marty B your wrong, Ex Halton No 33, C49OCM is owned by Phil Cook an ex halton transport driver and has been restored by him back into the paint job halton first had it in, he keeps it at Liverpool transport trust since halton transport has nointentiuon of having a hertiage bus fleet as well as the current one

  24. in fact fokes if you look on flickr it show how much of restoration has been done on leyland national 2 The North West Vehicle Restoration Trust based in Kirkby, and photos from birkenheads transport festival from last year, plus i made mistake , Leyland national 2 C49 OCM is at The North West Vehicle Restoration Trust based in Kirkby.

  25. plus LEyland national 2, C49 OCM was last on the road on In liverpool on the Classic buses in Liverpool on Boxing Day 2013 pitures on The North West Bus Blog

  26. well the leyland lynx was not a bad bus at all quick from a standing start and well loved by halton transports drivers the depot at one time had 28 lynxs

  27. The Lynx was certainly rapid. In Cummins engine ZF gearbox form it would accelerate as well as any bus. The cab layout was the best I have experienced.

    However, there were issues. The body would rattle badly, even more than an Enviro 200, the floors were weak and the plastic panels used on the skirt would scuff and lose colour.

    They were hard to drive slowly; the gears would be anything but smooth at anything below full throttle and they would not roll forward – take the chocks off and they were away; this is not ideal in traffic.
    Overall the makings of a good bus let down by a lack of development/in service testing.

  28. My son now owns(since 2015) a Lynx mk1 converted to a gaming bus(been a snooker bus 2003,party bus,Tatoo studio and now gaming party Bus)Some of the outriggers are been replaced and eacn MOT brake and suspension parts need rplacing.But it runs well,quick off the mark and always a first time starter,not bad for a 30 year old.

  29. sadly Halton Transport is no more as of 24th January 2020, Halton Council allowed Halton Transport to go bust for a car park on the site of the garage, since the new lesicure centre is going opersite

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.