In 2007, Omnibuses ran a short series of posts to mark 35 years of the Leyland National – 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 and also the LN’s final hours in service
A few weeks ago, the Leyland National scored top in a Route One magazine survey that aimed to identify the best bus of the 1970s.
I’m not surprised. Not because it was a particularly good bus but because it was a particularly common one. Leaving aside double decks for a moment, what other choice was there, when you consider 1970s single decks? None, really. In the early 1970s, the Bristol RE was still just about being manufactured for English markets and would, in my opinion, have won hands down had it not been a design of the 1960s. Like its less successful rear entrance 36-foot sisters, the magnificent RE was killed off by the joint Leyland-National Bus co-venture, one that was intent on securing orders for its single product. In spite of this and a new factory with a huge hypothetical throughput, the LN still never achieved its real potential.
And this year, 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of first LN service bus, though the last, lonely operator of any significance to have amassed them vanished in 2007, 35 years after production began. Few Nationals actually survived past the early or mid-1990s.
The early National was despised by engineers as thirsty, overly mechanically convoluted and structurally inferior. Operators disliked an integral design foisted upon them, one that offered very limited room for customisation. The largely unknown turbocharged Leyland 510 engine clattered and smoked its way around town. Saloon heating via that rear roof pod was inefficient and pity the poor driver at the other end. Internally, the LN seemed utilitarian. There really was very little going for the LN.
Two buses in 2007... both of a bygone generationYet, didn’t we learn to love it—or at least live with it. It may have shown problems starting in extreme cold weather. It may have sported a slightly bug-eyed front, one lacking the flair, grace, character and proportions of the preceding BET frontal design. Pock marked by a multitude of rivets, it had an unfinished and imperfect Mecanno look about it. But it tended to win the industry over in the end, perhaps through resignation; perhaps after being cowed; perhaps after being bludgeoned into line. The 1985 replacement Lynx was far less popular but could hardly complete with the deregulation dash for minibuses. Indeed, the very LN itself was an important tool of early dereg, as competitive new starts—and some larger, existing operators—snapped these workhorses up. At least you knew what you were getting into.