Saturday-Sunday 4-5th May 2024
Having had successful events in 2022 and 2023, we are back again for a free event in 2024 at the excellent Whitehaven harbour.
There will still be a good number of Nationals, but this year we are expecting a bigger variety of makes including a number of double deckers.
Booking form is here as a word doc or here as a pdf. Meanwhile, look out for updates here and on our facebook page. For more information please call Mike Morton on 07812 210880 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Images from LN50 in 2022. See more on facebook and youtube.
Leyland National 50 Background
1972 was a very significant year for public transport, especially here in Cumbria. Cumberland Motor Services had recently become part of the National Bus Company (NBC), which in turn had set up a jointly owned company with British Leyland to produce a standardised single decker. Work had already begun on a new generation of one-man-operated city buses by Leyland in the sixties, however it was their merger with the BMC car company and subsequent creation of the Leyland National Co. Ltd that culminated in the revolutionary Leyland National bus, which first entered service on Britain’s roads fifty years ago.
The Leyland National was of integral construction, in other words it was built as a unit without a
separate chassis and body. The body shell was rigid and robust, and trials with prototypes, proved it to be very safe in comparison to contemporary vehicles. Other design objectives were to create a superior travelling environment for passengers, optimise working conditions for the driver, ease of fitting and replacement of standard components and to be able to keep up with traffic. It was to be constructed on a production line utilising techniques used in the car manufacturing industry. The first Leyland National entered service on the streets of Whitehaven in April 1972. This was Cumberland 350 (ERM35K), one of ten pre-production vehicles.
To manufacture the Leyland National a completely new factory was established at Lillyhall near
Workington, the location being chosen to counter some of the impact of job losses from traditional local industries such as steel-making and mining. This involved an investment of £8 million, in what was to be the most highly automated manufacturing plant in Europe. It initially employed 300 people and was geared up to producing 2000 buses per year. The first bus rolled off the production line in 1972. This was TXJ507K, EX30 in the fleet of SELNEC Passenger Transport Executive in Manchester. Unlike ERM35K this pioneer has been preserved.
Over 7700 Leyland Nationals were constructed over the following decade and a half, the final one in 1985 when the model was superseded by the Lynx. During this time there were several modifications to the original design, beginning with the phase two National in 1976, then the ‘back to basics’ Series B ‘Country Cousin’ in 1978, and finally the excellent Leyland National Mark 2 from 1980, which finally offered an alternative to the notorious Leyland 510 ‘headless wonder’ engine.
Although the National was a success the numbers sold never reached the levels predicted, and
production dwindled as upheavals in the industry and deregulation of bus services took their toll by the mid eighties. Nevertheless, there had been several attempts to diversify as a series of fascinating prototypes were produced, including a one-off coach, an executive commuter bus and even articulated buses which entered service in Sheffield. There were also exports to France, the Netherlands, Australia and Venezuela, and several spin-offs to the Leyland National bus including the infamous ‘Pacer’ rail buses which have only recently bowed out with Northern Rail.
The Leyland National was loved and hated, perhaps with equal measure. On one side it represented standardisation and a lack of diversity, on the other a step forward in passenger comfort, efficiency and ease to drive. Whatever, your opinion there is little doubt of its longevity – the last significant fleet of Nationals, in service with Chase Coaches, survived until 2007, while others were rebuilt to extend their life (Greenway project), and many still exist in preservation.
The factory at Lillyhall continued to manufacture buses after the Leyland National. The immediate successor was the Lynx which was dogged with corrosion problems. Other models included the Royal Tiger Doyen coach, designed to match the stylish continental imports flooding the market at the time, and the excellent integral Titan TN double decker, mainly for London. After Volvo took over Leyland some chassis for the Olympian double decker were also assembled at Lillyhall, the final being tri-axle models for export in July 1993, after which the factory closed. The building is now used by Eddie Stobart.