The Trucks : Leyland Roadrunner/Leyland-DAF 45 (1984-1993)

Launched with a blaze of publicity on billboards, in trucking magazines and TV advertising, the Roadrunner quickly became an established member of the quickest growing sector in the truck market – the 7.5-tonne range.

Stylish, economical and a class-leading payload, the Roadrunner became the best selling truck in its sector which even today in the form of the DAF LF, still tops the sales lists. Mike Humble pays homage to this cracking little truck in the first of a series relating to the Leyland Truck range from 1980 onwards.

The game changer

Leyland Roadrunner in pre production form.

FOLLOWING years of cash starvation, Leyland Truck and Bus had seen the market share slip away as profit from their group had foolishly been gradually syphoned off to shore up the ailing car division. Sir Michael Edwardes had wisely knocked some shape in the BL empire by making each division a stand alone concern answerable to the main BL board.

While the car plants of Cowley and Longbridge had been strike rife and militant, seemingly doing their best to bring the UK’s biggest vehicle group to its knees by a minority group, the Lancashire and Cumbrian factories of Leyland and Workington quietly got on with making the best of a bad lot. Edwardes and his men were clearly impressed with the mindset of the truck and bus workers and sanctioned a truly massive investment for a new plant, test track and range of commercial vehicles. These trucks were planned to be light years ahead in technology from the current range rooted in the 1960s – vehicles that were dated and tired.

Previously, some advances had been made with engines. The legendary 680 diesel had been revised with new fuelling and turbocharging to become the TL11 and the high tech yet dismally unreliable 500 fixed head engine had been quietly dropped like a hot coal. Leyland had embraced turbocharging and could almost match most of the rivals for power at least.

Leyland’s smallest trucks in the early ‘1980s were the Terrier and Boxer, a common sight on the roads here in the UK. The biggest selling truck in this sector by far was the Ford D series with the ageing yet recently updated Bedford TL running close behind. In 1981, Ford moved the goalposts by a considerable margin with the ultra modern looking Cargo. Based on the outgoing D series, the Cargo sported a brand new cab that was aerodynamic, good to look at and – most of all – a pleasure to drive with soft to the touch interior fittings and unheard of ergonomic controls.

Both the Leyland and the aforementioned Bedford TL were worthy trucks, but both rapidly becoming outmoded and certainly looked crude compared to the windcheating new Cargo.

Leyland had changed the face of its truck range in 1980 with the introduction of the impressive Ogle-designed, Motor Panels-assembled C40 cab – better known as the T45. And it only made perfect sense that the same magic could be worked on the smaller 7.5-tonne range. The new truck badged as the Roadrunner arrived in 1984 and it seemed that Leyland once again, had a hit and the marketing men up in Lancashire made sure everyone knew about this new vehicle.

Simple and effective. The minimalistic Roadrunner dashboard.

The Leyland range for ’84 comprised of the Roadrunner – Freighter – Constructor – Cruiser and Roadtrain, a full range of vehicles for every weight sector – something that Euro rivals Scania or Volvo could not offer.

The Roadrunner chassis was carried over allbeit in updated form with improvements to the braking system, its Leyland produced 6.98NV diesel engine was also carried through to the Roadrunner coupled to a Turner all syncro gearbox. The cab itself was like nothing else seen at the time sharing many raw pressings with the heavier range including the cab doors which seemed to dwarf the rest of the truck.

Its minimalist dashboard gave a huge amount of interior space to work in but also giving ample storage under the passenger seat and a decent sized pocket on the cab wall behind the driver. The steering wheel was the same 18in affair fitted to the remainder of the truck range adjusted for reach and operated the ZF integral power steering.

All other controls were positioned in such a way that everything was within reach of the driver with chunky illuminated switches to the left and simple slider knobs for the heater to the right. The huge windscreen gave a commanding view of the road ahead and some nice touches like heated mirrors and a central air vent right in front of the driver (as seen in early Rover SD1) made the Roadrunner a pleasant little truck. Keen eyed spotters would have also noticed the headlamps – they were the same units as the Austin Maestro…

After some reasonable success partly aided by some vivid advertising and some aggressive deals, the Roadrunner soon became a commonplace sight on our roads. European rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz LN 814/817 series further upped the spec and power standards of the class, and by now Leyland were being streamlined for a up coming privatisation scheme with DAF.

By the mid-1980s the maximum power output of the Roadrunner at 120bhp was out of class compared to its rivals and around this time Cummins were developing a lightweight diesel of 6-litres in the USA and Darlington which became known as the B Series. Leyland obviously looking for a fresh engine with minimal cost entered an engineering alliance with Cummins Engines whereby Leyland would assemble certain parts and castings for Cummins in return for a favourable price per unit.

This engine was initally badged as the Leyland 300 series but was fully assembled in Darlington offering 120 or 130bhp normally aspirated or 145bhp in turbo form. The improved Roadrunner now offered decent power with superb fuel economy and torque, this coupled with a new front braking system which had ventilated disc brakes and the option of a factory sleeper cab kept the Roadrunner on top of the game.

Leyland finally had a class leader in economy, performance and payload – the three critical factors in transport.

Leyland-DAF added one further vehicle to the Roadrunner family, by fitting uprated wheels, tyres and axles with revisions to the suspension and anti roll bars, a 10-tonne version which sold reasonably well to builders merchants and tipper operators capped the range off. The Roadrunner title was dropped in 1990 following Leyland DAF deleting all names to replace with numbers – thus falling into line with the DAF policy.

Subsequently, the Roadrunner became the Leyland DAF 45 with subtle revisions to the interior and exterior styling which included a padded dash, a much improved drivers seat and carpeting with the biggest change visually being the three bar grille and deletion of the nearside kerb window.

Cummins also at this time offered another power option of an intercooled B Series developing 180bhp. The CAV developed fueling system was dropped moving over to a Bosch meeting up coming Euro 1 emission criteria, all engines were now turbocharged and better a better torque spread made a good to drive truck even better.

Once Leyland became part of the DAF empire, its fortunes were turned round almost overnight with the whole truck range gaining revisions and improvements. Leyland’s legendary Multipart parts company complimented the market leading DAF-AID programme and Leyland DAF quickly became top of the sales charts here in the UK and a formidable force in Europe, too.

Mike Humble


  1. the tv ad with the truck up on two wheels was wow at the time.and the t45 road train best looking truck of all time.

  2. His name was Gilbert Bataille the renown Belgian stunt driver. The advert can be seen on YouTube.

    He choreographed the stunt driving in the excellent film RONIN amongst many others.

    • hi all ive just brought an early roadrunner non turbo, was a plant recovery vehicle now a recovery vehicle and i must say i can understand why they sold so well im very happy with the old girl.

  3. I remember seeing these and the T45 when I was about ten years old and being mightily impressed by them. The extra window under the windscreen on the nesrside was a stroke of genius on a vehicle that would most likely spend its working life delivering good in urban areas.

    I also remember thinking as a kid that if BL could make such great looking trucks with really clever use of curved surfaces and edges on what are basically cuboids on wheels, why on earth did they produce cars like the Maestro and Montego where the only curves were found on the wheels and in those utterly ridiculous scalloped sides?

  4. I’ve just told my other half that I’ve just slagged off Maestros, to which she replied “I like Maestros. I like that groove they had down the side”.

    Sometimes I wonder about her, I really do!

  5. @Steve Bailey “if BL could make such great looking trucks with really clever use of curved surfaces and edges on what are basically cuboids on wheels, why on earth did they produce cars like the Maestro and Montego” – the answer is simple – Leyland trucks utilised the services of Ogle design, who brought us the Reliant Scimitar and Bond Bug……great British industrial design consultancy…..

  6. The modern Leyland assembly plant is happily still going strong, it does seem sad that no Leyland badged vehicles are produced now (unless you count Ashok Leyland) though!

  7. Please keep these articles about the trucks and buses coming. There’s something about buses and trucks that make you feel like a kid again!

    Always liked the Roadrunner from when I was a nipper.

    Looked great compared to the other old wagons on the roads around town.

    Thought that little ‘kerb spotting window’ was a cool touch and it allowed you to peek in from the pavement as it was at an ideal height for nosey kids!

    Got the chance to take one of these for a spin a few years ago around the roads on a mate’s farm. Effortless driving and real grin inducing fun! I hope I never grow up!!

  8. @Simon Hodgetts

    Ogle design were responsible! That makes sense then – makes you wonder why they didn’t get them to design the cars, too.

  9. Dashboard is very Citroen, the controls on buttons around the dials.

    Always thought the kerb window was distinctive (although it was covered by some operators), a shame it was removed. Was it on the other side for LHD versions?

    I had a matchbox version as a youngster, think it was a car transporter.

  10. Adrian. The guages are for the air pressure for the brakes. Trucks have a minimum of two air tanks, 1 service and one emergancy (handbrake).

    « Previous postNext post »Back gancy (handbrake)

  11. @Mike Humble – yes you could be right. Both Peter Egan’s & Anthony Valentine’s voices sound similar when heard out of vision.

  12. I always wondered if the low, nearside window was inspired by the Leyland FG’s ‘threepenny bit’ cab. The other question in my mind – since the mid-1980s, was whether those really were Maestro headlamps. A long term mystery now answered!

    The DAF LF is the only truck I’ve driven, and it’s admirable how much engineering such as power assisted gearchange, clutch, etc, besides the sheer weight of major assemblies is crammed into a large vehicle without breaching 3.5 tonnes unladen.

  13. There’s alot more that could be added to this story.

    After Paccar (Kenworth/Peterbilt/Foden) purchased DAF post bankruptcy, the Leyland Roadrunner cab was exported to the US as a Kenworth K300 (replacing an old VW based cab made in South America).

    We (kenworth Australia) imported them in the 90s as DAFs – it became kind of a world truck.

    Then it was finally replaced by the LF with its renault-based cab.

  14. Fascinating article and as Ross said given the right environment the UK really can produce a world class product, although I fear such opportunities for mass market success may not present themselves again. I hope I’m wrong…

    Regardless this brought back some great memories for me. I was 19 at the time the Roadrunner was launched and was helping out at a HGV garage. We used to service and repair all manner of lorries, many for owner drivers, so the bread and butter was Bedford TK’s and D series. Consequently it was like a breath of fresh air when the first Roadrunner came in for an oil change because it was so easy to work on and as the man said definitely light years ahead of the competition…

    It’s a shame that this and the Roadtrain ultimately didn’t live up to the promise, but the fact that the basic idea at least lived on under the DAF must be some conciliation.

    Good stuff!

  15. Now there’s a thought Keith…. The AROnline charity punch up, proceeds going to Kettering General Hospital.

    Afterwards, we can kiss and make up at Merlins Tandoori in Northampton

  16. Hi to all you people, I have a 88 roadrunner and drove it down from the UK in March 2011. It sits out side my house, here in Bulgaria. The only problem it gave me was a front wheel puncture on the top of a mountain in Romania at 2.00 am on the way down. Other than that it was perfect. It pulled a 40ft caravan trailer down as well.

    I have some photos to show it on the run down and here out side my house, was a great drive and I enjoyed it so much, doing 1800 miles in 5 days, is some drive with an old truck.
    It served it’s purpose to get my caravan to BG and is now for sale, as unwanted.

    We are now going to buy 2 crew cab Daf 45’s as I now love this model so much. The cummins engine did so well on economy too!! The crew cabs will give us big sleepers so we can do regular runs down to BG and back. Being less than 3.5 tonnes unladen weight, means we can tax it as a car in BG. 67 leva, approx 30 GBP for 1 year, Here in Bg, you tax a vehicle on the unladen weight, not the laden weight.

    We are at; Soon we will do a page on some of the vehicles we have brought down here, including a Dennis dustcart as well. The “Roadrunner” deserves a place in history.

    Best wishes to all

  17. hi guys i have a daf 1000 ?daf 55 but down graded to a 7.5 ton with a crain on .a palfinger 6001 great truck its geting a bit smokey and hard to start on cold mornings .weight for this .1 hour of useing the crain is about 50 miles ? not clocked .i have 1350.000 k on this one .now beet that cummins 5.9

  18. hy i have a 1990 layland 7.5 roadrunner need a manual a.s.a.p as im haveing problems with electrices if anyone can help thanks ken

  19. Heater blowing only cold air in the cab of my leyland roadrunner
    Anyone got any clues on what to check just bought it to move our
    Show jumpers around & where can I get a manual from?

  20. Martin…

    Is it an actual roarunner or a Leyland DAF 45?

    An issue some models could have was failure of the heater matrix. It may have been bypassed so that it cant loose any more coolant.

    The matrix is reached by tilting the cab, its benind the centre console / radio position.

    Otherwise one the bowden cable that works the heater flap from the facia slider could either be snapped or adrift from its securing clips.

    As for a manual, eBay or a log standng DAF dealer might help

  21. Thanks for your prompt reply its a leyland roadrunner /K4H
    Don’t think the cab will tilt on this one though as it is cut through
    To the living area but will check the cables as you have suggested

    Thanks martin

  22. Hello i have a old daf roadrunner and is terrible to start on cold days i was told that on passenger side there is a with plastic bottle with s pilot start connected to it that i should put methnol in is this true if not what is the bottle for also is there some starting procedure if is true ihave not long had truck so not sure many thanks chris

  23. Bonsoir,

    J’ai un DAF 1000 de 1990, je suis en panne d’un maître cylindre émetteur et récepteur d’embrayage.
    La concession DAF, n’a plus de pièces. Pouvez-vous me dire
    ou je peux éventuellement m’en procurer.

    Par avance, merci.

    Salutations. JPP

  24. hi i have a roadrunner 316 year 1990 converted into my motorhome it has 47563 km’s on the clock,any way i am thinking ot seilling her can any body give me an idea how mutch i should be asking thank if any one would like some pick’s of it you can email me on and i will send some to you thank’s .

  25. hi i have a leyland road runner 613 year 1990 made into my motor home in very good running order it has 4788km’s on the clock i am thinking of selling her can anyone give me an idea how much i should be asking if you email me i can send some pic’s to you my email adress is, thank you.

  26. I bought the DAF LEYLAND 4X4 from MOD…very disappointed and can’t understand how the British military accepted this vehicle as their principal mover. If the Daf 45 was the same then I shake my head at all the folks here that claim it was the best…where do I start?? The doors open up 3/16″ above the fenders, any amount of ice and hard snow build up on the fenders keep you from opening the doors! Amazingly, the windshield does not fit the cab opening, there is a 1/4 gap at the both upper corners between the rubber and the cab, water gets in behind the frame and promote rust trap at the bottom of the windshield molding…Snow and ice get scooped up in front of the radiator while driving in deep snow, the very low mounted radiator is an engineering flaw of boneheaded proportion!! the radiator is rendered useless in just a short trip…the dash is likely the worst quality hardware I have ever seen inside a vehicle! Whenever I have to pull up the light switches the whole plastic dash frame goes towards me by a quarter of an inch!! The knobs and the overall dash with instrument clusters is ill fitting and extraordinary cheap! I have yet to find a digital speedometer that works! The vehicle cannot travel more then 45mph, any faster and the engine rev at an unhealthy RPM (2650)…why not a 6 speed!?? very much under powered even at 40mph!!! I can’t understand why there is not torsion bars on a vehicle that is made to go off road, but also designed for highway use! It would be interesting to find out how many accidents occurred with these truck at highway speed (or maximum speed!)The stainless steel line between the air cleaner and the air compressor on the engine is a solid tube that goes from the compressor and them bolted onto the frame!! No flexible coupling! The gas pedal is not design right forcing your foot into an unnatural bent when at maximum gas, causing fatigue and frustration! The height of the cab ceiling is too low, me and my friend keep banging our heads on the ceiling and we are of average height, 5’10 and 5’11″…my head sit 2 1/2 inches away from the ceiling!! I hope the roadrunner was not built like the T244!!

  27. Hi, I have a 1990 K4H which has been a horsebox from new, (only has 90K on the clock) I need a front bumper as my daughter decided to split it in half when moving it around the yard!!

    Can anyone help?

    • Hi any luck on finding a manuel we to have a 1990 roadrunner as a horsebox which has iisues with its lights ??

  28. Hi I am desperately trying to reregister my leyland roadrunner 10.13 in France, they will not accept just the registration certificate but insist on a specification to go with it, this I have to take to get it checked that it matches the original spec & then they will register it.
    Looking sorry for it’s self as my ex partner brought it over here March 2012 & left it, previously kept in its own garage, Just gone through its last plating with a light bulb needing changing & thats all. I will be gutted if I can’t re-register it in france as I spent a couple of years altering the inside to suit my needs & still be used as a horsebox. (disabled). Desperate to get it back & in condition & on the road, live dordogne but anyone can help please get in touch Thanks Liz

  29. Hello, I have a Leyland Roadrunner 1986 and desperately trying to find a Leyland, Road Runner 1986 Maintenance Manual. I have search eBay, Amazon, the WWW without any success.

    If anyone can help I would be most grateful.

    Having trouble getting her through the MOT (failed twice) due to offside rear brake, first MOT it was binding, second MOT it was slipping. Tried bleeding it, without any success, had it off a few times to check drum and pads. The brake peddle just goes down to the floor without any resistance.

    It is a horse box 7.5t.

    Many thanks

    • Hi Bella any luck on finding a manuel we to are looking for one for a 1990 roadrunner as a horsebox which has iisues with its lights ??

  30. Hi
    Also looking for information on my 1989 Roadrunner 7.5t Horse Box, have just got it through its test with the help of a local Horse Box repairerers.
    Any useful info. welcome.

  31. just bought one as horselorry , great bit of kit , keep on trucking
    there is one switch i cannot fathom, square sign switch behind break lever

  32. Just got a 1990 45 150 as a horse lorry. On the pic above of the dash what is the warning light above the cab tip symbol and below the oil warning lamp?

  33. hi mike. i know theres a lot of similarities between the roadrunner and the 45, but , could you tell me if the radiator is the same please? our poor 1986roadrunner needs a new one and theyre hard to find second hand. thanks.

  34. Can someone please help me, we have a leyland roadrunner, and it is short of power, we want to try and move the advance fuel pump, but we don’t no which way to turn it, can someone advices me on it.

    Many thanks. Jacqueline

  35. Hi, I have a 1986 Leyland Roadrunner and the hazard light switch is broken, this is also affecting the indicators. I have been trying desperately to find a new switch, but it appears that my vehicle is too old. Does anyone have any contacts that may have said switch (each time I locate one, when I ring about it, they’ve always just sold the last one!!!!). I run my wagon as a Horsebox. Thanks very much. Briony

  36. I was working at bath yard rawdon mine transport NCB we had three road runners not a lot of problems over a five year run good vehicles. We also had three road trains they where also very reliable..nice vehicles to service and drive mick Lunn Derbyshire.

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