The Leyland National is a British single-deck bus built in large quantities between 1972 and 1985. It was developed as a joint project between two UK nationalised industries - the National Bus Company and British Leyland. Buses were constructed at a specially built factory at the Lillyhall Industrial Estate, Workington, Cumbria. Styling was carried out by the famed Italian vehicle stylist Giovanni Michelotti, well known to British Leyland, having worked for both Triumph (Herald, TR4, GT6, 2000/2500, 1300, Dolomite and Stag) and Scammell lorries (Routeman GRP cab).
It was built with the intention to replace all the rear-engined single-deckers offered by British Leyland, including AEC Swift, Bristol RE, single-deck Daimler Fleetline, Daimler Roadliner and Leyland Panther.
The Leyland National was built with integral, modular construction and a rear engine. All components were designed for ease of construction and replacement. Until 1978, it was always built with a distinctive roof mounted pod at the rear, housing the heating equipment, which consequently blew warm air out at roof level. At first the pod was almost the length of a bay and appeared designed to give a Trans-Atlantic feel. In 1974 a new shorter version of the roof pod was introduced. The Leyland National was available in two lengths, 10.3m and 11.3m. It was easy to spot the shorter one because of its squarer windows.
The Leyland National was a simple design: all parts could be replaced. Some operators, like London Transport, bought dual door models, and then later configured some of them to single door. This was helped by the design of the body, and the fact that parts were inter-changeable.
The earlier vehicles were only available in three colours - National Bus red, National Bus Green and White. At London Transport insistence, London bus red was added to the colour card, and their fleet eventually amounted to over 500 examples acquired between 1973 and 1980.
In 1978, Leyland brought out a simplified model (10351B/1R) with a revised interior that had minimal lighting and without the rear roof-mounted heating unit in previous models. Heating was under the seats, and was basic but effective. These vehicles were lighter, and this characteristic and the lower cost helped make extra sales. London Country bought quite a number of these, which other operators snapped up when London Country was broken up.
The National 2 was introduced in 1979. It differed from its predecessor mainly by having a front-mounted radiator and a choice of engines.
The Mark I Leyland Nationals had 8.3-litre straight-six turbocharged Leyland 510 diesel engines. The Leyland 510 engine had an unusual design, in that it featured non-detachable cylinder heads; any work on the valves required the crankshaft and pistons to be removed to enable access from the cylinder bore. This engine did not prove popular with all operators, being prone to poor fuel consumption and heavy smoking—especially if not maintained to high standards.
Some operators experimented with a different engine and found they could avoid the 510, which had the reputation of being a high maintenance unit and hard to work on.
Later on a simplified model (10351B/1R) was offered, with an engine that was reduced in power to stop it smoking.
The National 2 was powered by initially the 680 engine then later the Leyland L11 (development of the 680), the Leyland 510 engine was no longer offered.
In 1981, a Gardner 6HLXB engine was experimentally installed in accident-damaged Eastern Counties LN600 (WVF 600S). This led to sister vehicle LN781 (DPW 781T) becoming the first operational Gardner-engined example which in turn paved the way for many engine conversions. Leyland were taken to court by Gardner for not offering their engine as an option in the fast selling National and as a result began to offer the Leyland National 2 with Gardner engines from 1982—initially the 6HLXB and later the 6HLXCT.
The bus quickly became a common sight on British roads. Although developed for the National Bus Company (whose subsidiaries effectively had to purchase it), it was also bought by the Scottish Transport Group subsidiaries, London Transport, SELNEC, Greater Manchester Transport, British Airways (which chose the 3 door version) and other operators.
In years to come, with all of the pressures created by deregulation, operators began refurbishing their Nationals for extended service, often retrofitting DAF or Volvo engines. The riveted body parts were easily replaced. In some cases a vehicle could be repaired and returned to service on the same day. All new parts were painted with grey primer so operators could paint to their requirements.
A more extreme approach was offered by East Lancashire Coachbuilders with their Greenway, that saw virtually everything other than the frame and axles replaced.
The export version of the Leyland National was constructed in the standard way, although some were what might be called a hybrid, consisting of longer windows up to the rear axle and shorter ones after. This resulted in a 10.9 metre bus as opposed to either a 10.3 or 11.3 metre version.
Given the design it was very easy to produce left hand drive vehicles and these were used as a way of generating orders.
However, the Leyland National was not very successful in the export market - the largest export order of 450 was to Caracas, Venezuela in 1975/6. Around 125 Leyland Nationals were shipped to Kingston, Jamaica between 1972 and 1974 to be operated by the Jamaica Omnibus Services, a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction company. A shipment of 40 units was exported to Trinidad and Tobago for use by the National Bus Company.
Some examples were sold in Holland but the problem with windscreen glare resulted in the windscreens being removed and a different version being fitted. No more were exported to Holland. St Etienne Municipality in France also purchased.
In Australia, ACTION buses of Canberra operated seventy Leyland Nationals, all seventy were introduced between November 1974 and October 1975. 16 came fully assembled from the UK and 54 in Australia. The last were withdrawn from service in the early 90's. Seven Leyland Nationals were purchased by Brisbane City Council's transport department in 1975 and were withdrawn from service in 1985. Ten Leyland Nationals were also bought by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board in 1975.
The Metropolitan Transport Trust (MTT) (now operating as Metro Tasmania) in Tasmania purchased 63 Nationals in 1975-76 for use in the capital city, Hobart. These were all 10.3 metre units, however one was rejected by the MTT and its replacement was a 10.9 metre unit.
In all, over 7,000 units of the Leyland National were built.
It was replaced by the Leyland Lynx, although only around 1,060 were built.
Very few Nationals remain in service now, the last major operator was Chase Bus Services, Chasetown who sold out to Arriva and who ceased full operations on 28 April 2007. Notably all but two retained Leyland 510s to the end.
A large number of Leyland National buses have been preserved.
The Workington factory is now closed, though part of the building now forms part of the depot of Eddie Stobart.
In 1980s Leyland National bus components were also used to build the following classes of railbus for British Rail:
- Pacer Railbus
- British Rail Class 155 (many later converted to British Rail Class 153)
Despite the best intentions, the front end of the Leyland National was not considered substantial enough to allow for a standard bus front end to be used on train carriages. The body was very similar to a National, the components used were identical but the configuration was to a different format.
Articulated bus derivative
In 1980, Danish subsidiary Leyland-DAB built some underfloor-engined articulated buses with bodywork derived from the Leyland National.