The Leyland Panther Cub was a rear-engined single-decker bus built by Leyland Motor Corporation in the United Kingdom.
It was a derivative of the Panther that Leyland were forced into building for an influential customer, it was only offered on the home market, and only bought by operators in England and Wales. Leyland engineers felt it was underpowered and their heart was never in the project, although it was marketed to the extent of full-colour full page press adverts and the production of a demonstrator. Only 94 were built. They entered service between 1964 and 1968, few served full lives with their original operators.
The Leyland Panther Cub was a short-wheelbase derivative of the Panther for 10m (33 ft 6in) long by 2.5m (8 ft 2½ in) wide bodies. It was proposed by Manchester Corporation, whom Leyland had targeted as a potential launch customer for the Panther. Manchester said they were only interested in a rear-engined single-decker 33 ft long and if Leyland didn't build them 20 to that length they would get Daimler to build short-wheelbase Roadliners instead.
Due to United Kingdom stautory construction & use rules on maximum rear-overhang length, Leyland considered that the O.600H engine of the Panther would not be a feasible fit in a shorter version. So instead units from the Leyland Tiger Cub rather than the Leyland Leopard were employed. Manchester already had 15 Tiger Cubs with Park Royal bodies and the first Panther Cub was shown at the 1964 Commercial Motor show at Earls Court. Sales were patchy thereafter and the model was axed in 1968 by which time Manchester had ordered 30 Panthers.
The steel-channel ladder frame (upswept to the rear) was similar to the Panther but about 2ft shorter, with a wheelbase of 16ft 6in rather than the Panther's standard 18ft 6in or optional 17ft 6in. The front-mounted radiator, front steel-leaf springs, driving controls, fuel-supply, braking system, electrical systems and other ancillaries were standard Panther components, whilst the Leyland O.400H engine, pneumocyclic gearbox, brakes, axles, 8-stud wheels, tyre equipment and rear steel-leaf springs were units taken from or derived from the Tiger Cub PSUC1/13.
The exhibit at the 1964 show was Manchester Corporation number 62 (ANF162B). It carried a Park Royal B43D body derived from the BET design, but featuring deeper windows forward of the exit door. The reviewer for Buses Illustrated noted the unladen weight was 6.5 tons, even though the body was 'well-finished'. The two bodied Panthers on show-stands were for Glasgow and Hull and had, respectively an Alexander B42D+31 body weighing 7ton, 8.75cwt and a Roe B45D body tipping the scales at 7ton 6cwt. Thus a bodied Panther Cub would weigh almost a ton less than the equivalent Panther. Interestingly although the chassis type is widely quoted as "PSRC1/1", the designation engraved on the rear chassis cross member of preserved example BND 874C is simply "P/C".
Manchester bought the twenty it had promised to. They entered service in 1965 with ANF-B and BND-C registrations, the only other customers to take C-registered Panther Cubs was Sunderland Corporation who had three examples with Marshall B45D bodies (BBR49-51C) and Stockton-upon-Tees who took two Park Royal examples identical to the Manchester buses (CUP501-2C) and were to take two more in 1966. Leyland produced a Strachan-bodied B43D demonstrator for the 1966 Earls Court show, this was YTB771D which in 1967 became the sole Panther Cub in the Eastbourne Corporation fleet. D-registration Panther Cubs also went to BET-group fleet Thomas Brothers of Port Talbot, South Wales who took three (HTG180-2D) with similar Strachan bus bodies but with single door and 47 seats, to Stockton and to Middlesbrough Corporation who took the only two with Northern Counties B45F bodies. The largest Municipal purchaser of the Panther Cub was Portsmouth Corporation Transport who took 26 in 1967 with Metro Cammell Weymann and Marshall bodies to B43D layout. Other municipal sales were to Ashton-under-Lyne (2), Brighton (7), Oldham (4), Warrington (1) and Wigan(2). The only other BET fleet to buy the Panther Cub was East Yorkshire Motor Services who took 16 with single-door 45-seat Marshall bus bodies.
Bodies on the Panther Cub were by East Lancashire Coachbuilders (6), Park Royal (24), Marshall (40), Massey (2), Metro-Cammell (14), Northern Counties (2) and Strachan (6), Wigan’s two had the only Massey B45D bodies and were registered DJP468E and EEK1F.
Problems in operation
These were manifold and difficult for operators to resolve. The Panther Cub was a relatively underpowered chassis asked to do a job beyond its capabilities. Ten of the twenty Manchester examples had turbo-charged engines, the turbocharger fitment designed to give more torque at lower revolutions rather than more horsepower, but the turbocharged engines had more than their share of blown cylinder-head gaskets and was removed to improve reliability, so although the option was offered throughout the Panther Cub's short life, few but the Manchester buses had this version of the O.400H engine. East Yorkshire seemed to have least troubles with the type and Manchester found it most troublesome. An engineer with Manchester Corporation during the time they were operated has said that the reluctance of maintenance staff to treat the new buses as different to the older front-engined double-deckers then forming the majority of the Manchester fleet was as much to blame as perceived design weaknesses. This view is supported by their later longevity with smaller operators in the UK and overseas more inclined to adapt and manage difficulties flexibly to overcome them, as in the UK and overseas. Yorkshire's East Riding is a generally-flat littoral and their Panther Cubs replaced Tiger Cubs that were not very taxed by their duties. The Manchester buses were asked to do the job of 56-seat double-deckers on busy urban routes.
Nobody wanted a Panther-cub coach. The closest alternative in the Leyland Motor Corporation catalogue was the Park Royal-bodied Albion Viking but that only sold six of a planned sixteen. The Panther Cub chassis frame was given AEC units and built in Southall as the short-wheelbase AEC Swift and sold well from 1966 to 1975.
Although Panther Cubs had a bad reputation within the United Kingdom they sold well in former British colonies and to UK independents as second-hand bargains. 12 of the 20 Manchester buses withstood up to a decade of further service in Australia whilst two worked in Scotland's Central Belt for nine years. One Wigan example was sold to the Malta Department of Education, who only occasionally used it. This bus, DJP468E, has since been repatriated and is being restored by preservationists. Four lizards that travelled from Malta aboard it as stowaways were successfully re-homed with a herpetologist in Lancashire. The other example, EEK 1F, remained in the UK, ending its days with a Stockport haulier before being scrapped.
One of the Manchester Corporation buses has been preserved, and is part of the Greater Manchester Transport Museum collection, though privately owned. There are only three other survivors of the type. Former Warrington no. 92 with East Lancashire B43D body is the only roadworthy turbocharged example and Wigan DJP468E is in the midst of a thorough re-build. Portsmouth 175, GTP 175E, is preserved and is currently stored in the south of England.
Causes of poor sales
The pace of change was faster in the 1960s than it had been in the previous decade, and the Panther Cub was overtaken by events. The most important of which was a share-exchange in January 1965 between the Department of Transport and Leyland Motor Corporation, this resulted in the Transport Holding Company owning 30% shares in Park Royal Vehicles and Charles H. Roe, and Leyland Motor Corporation owning 25% of Bristol Commercial Vehicles and Eastern Coach Works, this removed Bristol chassis and ECW bodies from the sales restrictions that had applied from 1948. The Bristol RE was available in 10m or 11m form and even in the shorter version, large high-output Leyland and Gardner engines could be fitted. Many customers bought the shorter RESL version and 698 of these were sold between 1966 and 1975. The only 10m long rear-engined single decker chassis to sell better than the RESL in the UK was the short-wheelbase AEC Swift, which shared the same frame as the Panther Cub.