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.
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.
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.
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