Buses : Daimler and Leyland Fleetline

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Visually similar to the Leyland Atlantean, the Daimler Fleetline gave Leyland a good run for supremecy.
Visually similar to the Leyland Atlantean, the Daimler Fleetline gave Leyland a good run for supremecy.

Coventry’s local hero

Daimler had a long and respected image in the eyes and hearts of many a transport manager as a builder of rock solid and cost effective buses right up the brands disappearance in 1973. Where Leyland was king of the corporate fleets that existed before the creation of the National Bus Company in the late ’60s, Daimler buses were the backbone of most of your Council or Municipal undertakings up and down the land.

Traditional half cab deckers featuring a lazy Gardner engine, an open rear platform featuring a conductor complete with bell punch machine and leather money satchel evoke many a fond memory of buses.

Leyland had amazed the bus scene with its all new rear engined Atlantean in 1958, and at this time both Leyland and Daimler were bitter rivals in every sense. Not wishing to be outsmarted by the Lancastrian empire, the good men of Daimler at Radford in Coventry, under William Lyons’ instruction, set upon designing their own rear engined front entrance bus chassis.

A prototype was developed with bodywork by Birmingham based Metro Cammell. A vertical Daimler D6 engine was used with transmission of semi automatic design by Coventry based Self Changing Gears Ltd. After a period of testing and consultation, production versions rolled off the line in 1961 with established Gardner 6LW power units.

Daimler continued to produce traditional half cab buses with its CVG5 and CVG6 throughout most of the 1960s with Northampton Corporation taking the very last ever open platform bus as late as 1968. What made the Fleetline different to its similar looking Atlantean rival, was the fitting of a drop-centre rear axle as standard, whereas the Leyland only offered it as an expensive option. This allowed lower height bodywork to be fitted where obstructions such as railway bridges dictated the maximum overall height of a bus. It was not long before the Fleetline became a popular chassis with UK operators.

The Fleetline was a Municipal favourite. This one is from the vast Sheffield City Transport fleet.
The Fleetline was a Municipal favourite. This one is from the vast Sheffield City Transport fleet.

Popularity and jealousy

Whereby the Atlantean was Leyland-engined, Daimler remained loyal to Gardner, and following the launch of the more powerful and economical 6LX engine range, the Fleetline was soon the only credible alternative to the Atlantean prior to the Bristol VRT. Engine options did change following the creation of British Leyland and the same Atlantean power unit of the 0.680 Leyland engine became optional in the Daimler. After the spectacular flop of the single deck Roadline chassis, the Fleetline was quickly redeveloped to be available as a single deck bus though no where near as popular as the double deck variant.

Leyland remained jealous of Daimler even though they were both now part of the same family; and one or two tactics were played out in order to make the Leyland Atlantean seem a better option. Raw chassis prices were regularly hiked up along with parts costings yet operators continued to buy them partly spurned on by Leylands worrying attitude of ‘we know best’.

Operators still viewed Daimler as a respected concern despite its new parentage and despite some truly disastrous Leyland designs like the 0.500 diesel engine for example. Another event that was seen as a disruption and an attempt to stem the Daimler’s popularity came in 1973.

Owing to the success of the Jaguar XJ6, production was ramped up at Radford, and British Leyland opted to remove all the bus production tooling, after a production run of more than 7000 units, and move it all up to Lancashire – rather than extend the Radford plant. This event caused huge disruption to Fleetline production, and delays soon backed up. Those cunning Leyland men offered readily available Atlanteans at favourable prices to compensate for delays. Some took the offer but most held out for the Fleetline, but another kick in the teeth for ‘dye in the wool’ Fleetline operators came in the form of the Daimler name being dropped, all future chassis were known as Leyland Fleetline.

West Midlands PTE bought the Coventry designed Fleetline in huge numbers most with locally made MCW bodywork.
West Midlands PTE bought the Coventry designed Fleetline in huge numbers most with locally made MCW bodywork.

Another sacrificial Leyland Lamb

It was reported that some of the tooling was damaged or broken either before or during the 1973 move to Leyland and it was also alleged that vital parts were missing upon arrival. Delays continued but Fleetline production recommenced and after a trail batch of both Atlantean and Fleetline types, London Transport (LT) placed an order for 679 Fleetlines built to a specification partly dictated by LT.

These proved to be problematic in service though later it was proved that this was caused by LTs refusal to change their engineering plans to match the bus as previous LT designs had been designed bespoke for them right from the drawing board. They were soon withdrawn from service yet dozens of operators snapped them up as soon as they were put on sale.

Other users found them reliable and cheap to run, the ultra long lasting and economical Gardner engines made the Fleetline popular as far north as Scotland or as far east as China who bought them by the hundreds. By 1980 new laws were coming into force relating to safety and noise levels and Leyland stopped production of the Fleetline in July of that year. Leyland had wanted ride of the Fleetline years before and just as the parent company had done with AEC and Bristol despite operator outcry, once great names were killed purely to keep the Leyland name on life support.

Due to bodybuilder backlogs, the last ever Fleetline to enter service rather fittingly went to a Municipal operator – Cleveland Transit in November 1982.

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

13 Comments

  1. Mike, great story, I remember Daimler buses from childhood, being especially fascinated by the ones with proper crinkle-topped radiators, but my most impressionable years were spent in Wolverhampton, where Guy buses and Sunbeam Trolleybuses reigned supreme. Have you got any insider knowledge of the Guys from Arab to Wulfrunian?

  2. My local op turned to the Fleetline and 2nd hand Lodekkas when their troublesome Wulfrunians were withdrawn & scrapped. I also believe many of the 6LX engines from the Wulfs were put into brand new Fleetlines

  3. As I mentioned in a previous Atlantean feature, So Shields Corporation had a fleet of 11 Daimler Fleetline’s in the mid/late 60s… double deckers. The first 6 had twin square rear lower deck windows, the rest had single back windows. My favourites at that time.

    They also operated a fleet of Daimler CCG6 (one of which remains in preservation and is still used)

  4. These were quite popular on Tyneside, leading bus drivers to joke about driving Daimlers, the only Daimler they’d ever be able to drive on their wages.
    However,Cumberland Motor Services, apart from sone Nationals bought to replace some ancient single deckers in the seventies for local reasons, were Bristol loyalists and Atlanteans or Fleetliners were never seen. Any chance of a Bristol feature as these buses seemed very reliable and durable?

  5. Aaahh The Fleetline. I always felt the Fleetline was an unlucky bus of sorts. In many ways, it was superior to its rival the Atlantean. It was launched after the Atlantean and so benefitted from its rival’s mistakes. It was available with the legendary Gardner engine. And it was available with a drop-centre rear-axle from the outset which enabled a low-height version to be available. Whereas if you wanted a low-height Atlantean, it came with bench seating upstairs and a sunken gangway. So, the potential was there for it to outsell the Atlantean and indeed for many years that was the case.

    However, the unluckiness stemmed from who bought it and circumstances surrounding it. Whereas the Atlantean tended to sell to big city fleets only, the Fleetline sold to both these fleets – although not as well as the Atlantean – as well as fleets that made up what was the National Bus Company (NBC). When NBC started making standard purchases, it settled on the Bristol VRT and the Fleetline’s customer base was immediately reduced.

    Then came the two biggest problems – London and the move to Leyland. After trying Atlanteans and Fleetlines, London went for the Fleetline in a big way, principly for replacement of its RT’s and Routemasters. However, London was used to specific engineering styles – literally separating the chasis from the bus – and whilst this was fine with the previous buses it had, the Fleetline was a bus that demanded different engineering methods. So it gained an unfair reputation for being unreliable. Whilst it was not as reliable as an AN68 Atlantean it was not as bad as London Transport made out.

    The move to Leyland has been well covered by Mike but it also happened at the same time as the three-day week which led to horrendous delays for new bus chasis. Where as the main Leyland works had their own power plant – seriously – so Atlantean supply was not as badly affected. These delays coupled with outstanding London orders led to fleets which had split their orders 50/50 between the two, ordering more Atlanteans, especially given the increased reliability of the revised AN68 model.

    The moved to Leyland lead to the Fleetline being renamed a Leyland at this stage, which was coincidentally when it’s star began to wane. The Fleetline was by no means a bad bus – it was a very good bus to journey in although in my opinion an Atlantean was more tuneful.

    Interestingly, I understand that AEC at Southall withstood strong pressure at the same time to rename the AEC Reliance as the Leyland Reliance. Leyland got round this by eventually shutting the factory…..

  6. Scott
    It’s ironic when you consider the Fleetline being renamed with the Leyland badge, that the successor double decker, the Leyland Olympian became in it’s revised version the, ahem, Volvo Olympian…

  7. @Mike Humble

    The RE, now there was a bus popular with Ulsterbus right up until the early 2000s.

    In fact, 2 of them were exported to Pinewood studios, one appeared as the concentration camp bus in Children of Men, the other as the school bus in St Trinians 2!

  8. Mikey C – if I recall correctly it was the first Volvo bus model every to have a name as opposed to letter and number designation. However unlike the Leyland Fleetline, the Volvo Olympian was a different beast to its earlier Leyland counterpart, with a revised chasis with bolted perimeter frame as opposed to adhesive impregnated bolts, new rear axle and hubs, same dashboard as a B10M amongst other changes. Where as the Leyland Fleetline basically was the same model as before with a Leyland badge screwed on where the Daimler badges were before and the flying plug hole logo.

    The only significant change to affect the Fleetline post it’s move to Leyland was the introduction of the B20 variant which featured a revised rear end with asymmetric chimneys ‘quiet pack’ featuring a lightly turbo-charged Leylnd 0.690 engine. Only went to London I think but I never saw one in service but they sounded quite different apparently….

    Will M – also in that film if I recall was a Wright Gemini (Volvo?) which at least looked futuristic compared to the MCW Metrobus that was also in it. The RE was supposed to not be available to anyone in the UK after the National was introduced but Ulsterbus were so happy with them and so unhappy with National that it said to Leyland – RE’s or Mercedes-Benz. So Northern Ireland was re-classified as an export territory….

  9. Mike,
    As you are a bus and train man, as well as a car man, you will probably enjoy the Flickr photostream of “Fray Bentos”:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fray_bentos/

    Not only does he have the most superb photos (all his own) taken over the years but he writes the most superb prose to accompany them.

    I have spent many amusing hours perusing his library – a fascinating chap.

  10. There were some interesting anomalies in the final years of the Fleetline.

    A batch of 40 with Alexander bodywork delivered to Tyne & Wear PTE at Sunderland in the summer of 1977 had dual doors and nearside staircases, a feature inherited from Newcastle Corporation and which at the time was specified by TWPTE for most of its new vehicle deliveries. The centre exits were subsequently removed following safety concerns.
    Notable too was that this batch, despite having a Leyland chassis code (FE30AGR), were all licenced and badged as Daimler Fleetlines, even to the extent of having the Daimler scroll ‘D’ on the front hubs, and remained thus throughout their lives. Two buses from this batch are preserved, one in Sunderland Busways colours while the other is undergoing a long-term restoration.

    The ‘last-built’ Fleetline chassis (as opposed to the Cleveland Transit stockpile) were two with ECW bodywork for South Notts, SCH116/7X which were delivered in late-1981 and carried both Leyland and Daimler badging to mark the end of Fleetline production.

    Both the first and last built Fleetline chassis were destroyed by fire. Prototype 7000HP perished in the blaze which gutted the former Blue Bus Services depot, by then in Derby City Transport ownership, in January 1976, while SCH117X was lost in an arson attach at the Ruddington Heritage Centre in February 2007.

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