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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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