Wednesday 14 March 2012

Happy Birthday Len, 40 years and One Day

The Most Boring Bus, Ever?
They all looked the same, they were either red or green and, well, they were just ... not interesting. Certainly many enthusiasts then and now were decidedly underwhelmed by what was the UK's last "mass production" bus.

Its origins and development are told, in a studied, factual and non-emotional way in the standard work on the products of the Leyland Company ...
... "The Leyland Bus Mark 2" by Doug Jack, published in 1982. (Secondhand copies are still available from Amazon). It reveals the very first experimental bus, shown to the then Minister of Transport (Barbara Castle) in 1967.
Weird! Small wheels = low floor. Later versions of the "experiment" looked a bit more like the bus we all loved so much.
In a commercial desire to expand the business, Leyland produced a whole range of ideas and mock-ups. A luxury commuter bus with posh upholstered seats and a sort of super ambulance, amongst others. Left hand drive Nationals were exported ...
... as here for Caracas, Venzuela.

Perhaps the oddest production Nationals were the three delivered to British Airways ...
... for airside work. They has this strange front loading ramp, longitudinal seats and leaf doors on both sides. This idea was not pursued after the initial three, although more conventional body-styles were ordered in abundance.

And the Midland Bank bought a couple to use as mobile branch money shops.
fbb particularly likes the homely curtains. Did they offer tea in crinkly cups as well?

Then there was the electric National experiment on Runcorn busway, long before "green" policies were "de rigueur" ...
... seen here towing the then-essential battery trailer.

And finally there was the National-derived bendi-bus beloved by fbb in sunny Sheffield!
This one passed to the original McGills of Paisley.

fbb first met a live Leyland National on holiday on the Isle of Wight. The ride was comfortable if a little spartan in ambience. Most importantly the bus was light and airy and the above-window heating system meant that you could see out in all conditions; something impossible on most modern vehicles which mist up spectacularly when passengers inconsiderately decide to keep breathing.

Later they came to Sheffield, here as a demonstrator ...
... passing Talbots butchers where fbb used to buy some superb made-in-the-shop sausages! One fleet vehicle was later delivered as the first "kneeling" bus in the City, seen here in model form.
The kneeling mechanism was primitive and slow and some drivers were quite grumpy if asked to operate it!

Some engineers didn't like the National and the engine was naff (see yesterday's blog here) but overall the marque was an effective mover of people and, for its day, a vehicle of quality.

Boring it wasn't. Ever!

And there are still trains to consider at some stage in the future (50th Anniversary?). Perhaps "Len's Ferroequinological Farrago"?
The last Leyland National vehicles in service in the UK (c.1996/7) were with Chase Bus, based in Burntwood, Staffordshire; the company subsequently sold out to Arriva.

 Next Blog : due Thursday March 15th 


  1. An amusing feature of the batch built for Caracas underlined the point that they were put together by semi-skilled production line workers. They were mirror image Nationals to such an extent that they displayed the totally superfluous 'Pay as you Enter' illuminated sign behind the doorway.

    It wouldn't have been so bad if it had been stranslated into Spanish. But, no 'That's the sign and That's where it goes'.

  2. I wonder if anyone has a picture of that : it deserves to be published, if they do. Thanks Petras409; I didn't know how "standard" the "furrin" ones were.

  3. From your photo, it even looks as though the Midland Bank National has the 'Pay as you Enter' sign in the traditional place. Now, for a bank, that could be a bit difficult, if you were climbing aboard to withdraw some cash from your account!

    Furthermore, the airside half-cab National for British Airways appears to want your cash before it scrapes you up from the tarmac. But I guess that, having bought an airline ticket, passengers will have qualified.

    But, all in all, a good illustration of unthinking standardisation.