The Olympian was built as a result of the Leyland Titan (B15), an integral double deck bus which was ordered en masse by London Transport. At the time there was a demand for non-integral vehicles, operators wishing to remain with more established manufacturers. Thus Leyland created the B45 project, which was named Olympian, in 1979. This was in many ways an update of the popular Bristol VR (Bristol Commercial Vehicles merged with Leyland in 1965), with many VR customers choosing Olympians; the bus was also initially built at the former Bristol factory. Later the Olympian also replaced the Leyland Atlantean.
It was available in two lengths, 9.56m and 10.25m. Engines were either the Leyland TL11 unit (an 11.1-litre development of the Leyland O.680), or the ever-popular Gardner 6LXB or 6LXCT. Some later Olympians had Cummins L10 engines; one had a 5LXCT.
For the export market a tri-axle version was built with lengths of 10.4m, 11.32m and 11.95m. This was very popular with operators such as Kowloon Motor Bus. In 1988, Leyland developed an air-conditioned version of the Olympian, with the air conditioner driven by the main engine instead of a separate engine.
The Leyland Olympian was built with a wide variety of body types:
- Eastern Coach Works (ECW)
- Essentially an update of ECW's Bristol VR body/chassis combination and with similar styling to Leyland's integral Titan (B15), the ECW body was the most common to be built for the Leyland Olympian in the United Kingdom and was built to two heights, low-bridge 13 ft 8in (4.13 m) or high-bridge 14 ft 2in (4.28 m). It became the standard double-decker for the National Bus Company (NBC) from the early 1980s until deregulation of the British bus industry/privatisation of the NBC companies in 1986. It was also popular with other British bus operators including London Buses (with 263 out of 354 Olympians having ECW bodies), Lothian Regional Transport (LRT), Strathclyde Transport, the Scottish Bus Group (SBG), West Yorkshire MetroBus and Merseyside Transport. ECW also manufactured a coach body on the longer chassis for long-distance use, which carried noticeably different styling.
- Walter Alexander Coachbuilders
- In the United Kingdom and Ireland Alexander's R-Type body attracted substantial orders for the Olympian with operators like Dublin Bus, various companies of the Scottish Bus Group (SBG), Lothian Regional Transport (LRT), and Strathclyde Transport/Strathclyde's Buses. Smaller orders also came from Merseyside Transport/Merseybus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, Stagecoach, London Buses (Leaside Buses), Grampian Regional Transport, Luton & District, Midland Fox, Northern General, Northumbria Motor Services (Proudmutual Group), London Buslines (Q-Drive), Keighley & District (Blazefield Group), United Automobile Services and Sheffield Omnibuses just prior to the introduction of the Volvo Olympian. This combination was also popular in overseas markets - Hong Kong and Singapore in particular, attracting substantial orders from Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB), Citybus Limited, China Motor Bus (CMB) - locally assembled in CKD form, China Light and Power, Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation and Singapore Bus Service (SBS).
- Northern Counties
- In the UK the Northern Counties body for the Olympian attracted a substantial order from Greater Manchester Transport - who at the time had a shareholding in Northern Counties. It was poised to become Greater Manchester's standard double decker from the mid-1980s onwards, however deregulation within the British bus industry created intense competition for GM Buses - the successor of Greater Manchester Transport and Northern Counties' main customer, who vastly reduced their requirement for new vehicles. In the post deregulation period Northern Counties had to broaden their customer base and therefore attracted orders for Olympian from a variety of customers including Atlas Bus, Badgerline, Blazefield Group, Borehamwood Travel Services (BTS), Boro'line Maidstone, Bristol City Line, Busways Travel Services Ltd., Cambus Ltd, Capital Citybus/Ensignbus, Chester City Transport, County Bus & Coach, East Kent, East Yorkshire Motor Services, Eastbourne Buses, Eastern Counties, Fareway Passenger Services Ltd, Isle of Man Transport, Kentish Bus (Proudmutal Group), London Buses (Bexleybus), London Buslines, Maidstone & District, Merseybus, Nottingham City Transport, OK Motor Services, Preston Bus, South Notts Bus Company, South Yorkshire Road Transport, Stagecoach and Yorkshire Rider. Northern Counties' double deck body range evolved into the Palatine series in the early 1990s and subsequently became the Palatine I/Palatine II just prior to the Olympian becoming a Volvo product.
- East Lancashire Coachbuilders (East Lancs)
- East Lancs customer base for the Olympian came exclusively within the UK market - in particular municipal bus companies like Blackpool Transport, Cardiff City Transport, Derby City Transport, Eastbourne Buses, Lincoln City Transport, Nottingham City Transport, Northampton Transport, Plymouth City Transport, Rhymney Valley, Rossendale Transport, Southampton City Transport and Warrington Borough Transport. These operators developed loyal ties with East Lancs who met their requirements with a variety of body styles for the Olympian - including the E-Type which was essentially a clone of Alexander's R-Type body. London Buses took two East Lancs-Olympians with coach trim in 1985, however like most bodybuilders in the post deregulation period they faced a decline in orders for new vehicles and only a handful of Olympian's would be built by East Lancs in this period. The Drawlane Group - later known as British Bus and one of the emerging groups within the British bus industry, and subsequently absorbed by Arriva in 1996 - took a shareholding in East Lancs and began favouring them for new vehicle orders - albeit mostly on Dennis and Volvo based chasis. Drawlane's Midland Red North subsidiary received a small order for Olympian's in 1989 and Cheshire based independent Bullocks Coaches of Cheadle took two Leyland Olympian's in 1993 just prior to it becoming a Volvo product. East Lancs would however become one of the principal bodybuilders for the Volvo Olympian in the mid-1990s.
- Charles H. Roe / Optare
- Like ECW, Roe was a subsidiary of Leyland Bus and its body for the Olympian was outwardly similar to ECW's. A total of 298 Roe-bodied Olympians were built, with the vast majority going to West Yorkshire PTE (151) and NBC subsidiaries Bristol Omnibus Company (75) and London Country (60). Of the other twelve, Strathclyde PTE took nine, South Yorkshire PTE (which otherwise standardised on the Dennis Dominator) took two originally intended for WYPTE, and the Scottish Arts Council took one for use as a mobile art gallery. After Leyland closed the Roe business in 1984, a group of former Roe employees created Optare. The new company took over the former Roe factory in Crossgates, Leeds, and proceeded to body a further 42 Olympians, initially using tooling from ECW. WYPTE took 15, Boro'line Maidstone 12, Reading Transport ten, Cambus three, and London Cityrama two. The last Optare-bodied Olympian was produced in 1988.
- Leyland Bus
- In 1988 Leyland Bus began building its own body for the Olympian at their Workington plant using ECW's jig's and tooling. With the exception of a few styling updates the bodywork was identical to that built by ECW. Despite deregulation within the British bus industry causing a severe drop in orders for new vehicles, the all-Leyland Olympian did attract orders, albeit small-scale ones - the biggest customer being Southern Vectis with 28, including 12 for its Solent Blue Line subsidiary. In London, Capital Citybus took 23, as did London Buses Limited for its London United subsidiary; Armchair Passenger Transport took 17, and London Country North West and Metrobus both took 15. Other customers were Preston Bus, Potteries Motor Traction, Badgerline, Luton & District, Isle of Man Transport, Colchester Borough Transport, Eastern Counties, A1 Service, Southend Transport, Thamesway, Viscount Bus and Coach and Strathclyde's Buses. Including four demonstrators, a total of 197 all-Leyland Olympians were built before production ceased in 1992. Stagecoach ordered a batch, but were cancalled.
- A one-off order was placed by Bournemouth Transport in 1981 for twenty Olympians with bodywork by Marshall of Cambridge.
In 1988 Leyland Bus passed to Volvo, who continued only the Olympian due to its vast number of outstanding orders. The completion of the final orders from Lothian Buses, China Motor Bus, Hong Kong Citybus and Singapore Bus Services saw the discontinuation of the Leyland Olympian and the closure of the manufacturing plant in Workington, England. The name would live on when Volvo launched the Volvo Olympian, which was built in Irvine, Scotland.