Historic Truck Brands
Leyland history dates from 1896, when the Sumner and Spurrier families founded the Lancashire Steam Motor Company in the town of Leyland in North West England.
The company’s first vehicle was a 1.5-ton-capacity steam-powered van. This was followed by under-type steam wagons using a vertical fire-tube boiler and then the first petrol-powered vehicles.
The company was renamed Leyland Motors in 1907, after taking over Coulthards of Preston, who had been making steam wagons since 1897.
Three generations of Spurriers controlled Leyland Motors from its foundation until the retirement of Henry Spurrier in 1964. Interestingly, while the Spurrier family was in control the company reputedly never lost a day’s production through industrial action.
During World War Two, Leyland Motors built the Cromwell tank at its works from 1943, plus medium and large trucks, including the Hippo and Retriever. After the War, Leyland Motors manufactured the Centurion tank.
In 1946, AEC and Leyland Motors formed British United Traction to build trolleybuses. In 1951 Albion Motors was acquired and, in 1955, Leyland bought out Scammell, the military and specialist truck manufacturer. Both brands were left pretty much to fend for themselves.
Also, that year, Ashok Leyland started up in India, producing commercial vehicles under licence.
In 1955, through an equity agreement, manufacture of commercial vehicles under licence from Leyland Motors commenced in Madras, India at the new Ashok factory. The products were branded as Ashok Leyland. In another international deal, Leyland diesel engines were used in Finnish Sisu and Vanaja lorries and buses.
Leyland Motors acquired Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV), in 1962, picking up the AEC, Thornycroft and Park Royal Vehicles brands in the process. Acquisitions continued unabated: 25-percent interests in Bristol Commercial Vehicles and Eastern Coach Works, in 1965; Rover cars and aero-engine and armoured fighting vehicle manufacturers Alvis, in 1966 and, a year later, road-roller and dump-truck maker, Aveling-Barford.
In 1968 came the big one: Leyland Motors merged with British Motor Holdings (BMH) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC). BMH, itself the product of an earlier merger between the British Motor Corporation, Pressed Steel Company and Jaguar, already owned Daimler, Guy, BMC, Austin and Morris.
What was BLMC thinking? How could any organisation mange so many diverse brands?
Unsurprisingly, this impossible situation led to financial difficulties and, in December 1974, BLMC had to beg for a guarantee from the British government.
A year later, BLMC was nationalised as British Leyland (BL) and split into four divisions, with bus and truck production the responsibility of the Leyland Truck & Bus division, within the Land Rover Leyland Group.
In 1981 this division was split into Leyland Trucks and Leyland Bus: the latter as the result of a management buyout, but subsequently sold off to Volvo in 1988. Ironically the Leyland Olympian bus chassis was re-engineered by Volvo and became a global-seller.
Leyland Trucks depended almost entirely on British sales and Commonwealth-country export markets and the 1980s weren’t kind to BL. Although total production was around 10,000 trucks per annum, Leyland depended increasingly on outside engines.
In 1986, BL changed its name to Rover Group, as if a rename was going to help.
The equity stake in Ashok Leyland was sold off in 1987 and the Leyland Trucks division merged with DAF Trucks of The Netherlands, trading as Leyland DAF in the UK and as DAF elsewhere.
This merger of two troubled companies didn’t work and in 1993 DAF NV went into bankruptcy. The UK truck division was rescued though a management buyout and became Leyland Trucks, while the van division was also bought through a management buy-out and became LDV.
Leyland Trucks was finally put out of misery by US truck manufacturer Paccar, in 1988, following its take-over of DAF NV.
Ashok Leyland continued to manufacture buses, trucks, defence vehicles and engines in India, and bought out the Czech truck maker, Avia, plus retaining a controlling share in UK bus manufacturer Optare.
Leyland truck and bus history
In 1910 Leyland was still producing heavy-duty steam and lighter-payload petrol vehicles, and that’s the way it continued until 1926, when the steam division was sold to Atkinson-walker Wagons Ltd.
In the meantime, Leyland had built 32hp and 36hp three-tonners for the RAF that served during World War One, and had reconditioned them for civilian use after the War.
In 1925 Leyland released a new passenger vehicle range, powered by the same 40hp petrol engine used in the QH2 truck that succeeded the RAF truck. They were joined in the 1927 by the 10-ton, six-wheel SWQ2 and the Titan double-deck bus. The Terrier 6×4 three-tonner was added in 1928 and single deck Tiger and Lion buses were announced a year later, and Leyland soon dominated British bus fleets.
Animal names – Beaver, Bison, Buffalo and Hippo – were used across the Leyland Truck range, with capacities between 2-1/2 and 12 tons.
The 1931 the two-ton Cub aped North American light trucks, with six-cylinder power and a more practical four-cylinder version followed year later. The Cub models later went up to 6 tons capacity as an articulated tractor, before being replaced by the semi-bonneted Lynx models.
A low-deck 6-1/2-ton Llama truck was released in 1932, along with a ‘gearless’ torque converter transmission for the Tiger single-decker bus.
The eight-wheeler Octopus appeared in 1934, followed by twin-steer 6×2 truck and bus chassis.
During World War Two, Leyland produced around 10,000 vehicles for the War effort, including 6×4 COE Retrievers, militarised Lynxes and 6×4 Hippo MkIIs.
In 1947 the Comet 5-7-ton truck range was released and a year later, the revamped Octopus, now with an all-steel cab shared by the Beaver, Comet, Hippo and Steer models. Export-only bonneted Super Beaver and Super Hippo were also announced in 1948.
In the early 1950s, bus developments included ‘chassis-less’ construction, underfloor powertrains in the Royal Tiger and Tiger Cub, and a transverse-rear-engined prototype was built. The optimistically-named, export-only Royal Tiger Worldmaster was released in 1954 and this mid-engined chassis also served as the base for a fire appliance in 1958.
1958 saw the arrival of the Martian 6×6 military truck and a new wrap-around windscreen cab for the nine-ton Super Comet. That cab also appeared on subsequent Albion models.
The production version of the prototype transverse-engined bus chassis was launched as the Atlantean at the 1956 Commercial Motor Show, powered by a 125hp, vertically-mounted diesel and with a choice of fully-automatic or semi-automatic transmission. This double-decker was joined by the Lion single-decker a year later, along with an export Atlantean.
In 1964 a much larger Leyland Motor Corporation released the Freightline range, fitted with a tilting Ergomatic cab that was also used on AECs and Albions.
Another release was the export-only Comet, with Airflow Streamline cab that was also used on Commer and Dodge trucks. Panther and Panther Cub underfloor buses were released at the same time.
In 1968, at the Commercial Motor Show, a now barely-manageable BLMC released a gas-turbine evaluation vehicle, along with a new fixed-cylinder-head 500-Series diesel engine, initially for restyled-cab Bison and Lynx trucks. (Leyland couldn’t cure cylinder head gasket issues, so adopted a ‘headless’ engine design instead.)
At the 1970 Show BLMC displayed the chassis-less National bus and Redline trucks, with BMC-designed cabs.
In 1973, the Leyland Marathon line-haul, 32-ton GCM COE was star of the stand, with its high-set Ergomatic cab and 280hp TL12 engine. Also released was the Buffalo prime mover and the Bison 6×4, with a 212hp 500-Series engines.
A new Octopus 8×4 was announced in 1976, while the Marathon was offered with Cummins and Rolls Royce engine options.
The T43 and T45 truck range was released in 1980, with a choice of Leyland TL12, Cummins or Rolls Royce engines. An eight-wheeler, called the Constructor, replaced the Scammell Routeman.
A new perimeter-frame, B45 bus chassis was released in 1980, with a transverse TL11 or Gardner 6LXB engine, plus the B43, with horizontal T11 engine. The T45 cab continued in production and was used on some early Leyland-DAF Trucks.