The Class 142 Pacers June 24, 2021
2022 marked fifty years since the first production Leyland National entered service. It also marked half a century since I left home and went to work at Leyland, embarking on a student apprenticeship and the first chapter of my working life.
Whilst I was at Leyland I took a few photographs of Nationals in service, and also accumulated a small collection of images which are part of the story of its development and manufacture. Most of the transparencies are over forty years old, so apologies if their quality has diminished a bit.
Here’s a pretty random selection of photographs and images of this remarkable machine, whose market success fell a long way short of the dreams of its promoters and designers. Exact dates of many of them have been impossible to verify.
A National prototype curiously parked up in a housing estate. The simple frontal and roof treatment is quite pleasing, but gave way to more swages and accents in the production version.
A model of a model. This looks like a styling exercise that fortunately didn’t make it into production. It’s at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum in Leyland. Interesting that it was painted in the livery of a small local independent bus company and not that of an outfit like London Transport – a bit of a lack of aspiration perhaps?
The test programme of the Leyland National was extremely thorough. This wind tunnel test took place at the Motor Industry Research Association. It was studying the vortex generated under the bus, which looks like it would throw a lot of dirty water against the rear end. The bus lost those recesses in the coving panels, which themselves would not have helped the aerodynamics.
The Leyland National was offered in two basic versions, either 10.3 metres long or 11.3 metres long. The respective lengths were determined by the choice of window bays, which could be 1,218 mm or 1,421 mm long. Why they were so stunningly precise was never clear to me. Neither dimension translates into an obvious Imperial equivalent.
Here are the main dimensions of the 11.3 metre National. The main floor height is 634 mm, which does translate exactly as 25 inches.
Ergonomic studies aimed to optimise the window and ceiling heights of the National. Nevertheless, the decision was made to have a constant waist line down the bus even though the rear of the saloon was higher. The result was that shorter passengers in the front section had a window line that seemed unnaturally high.
Ergonomic work also took place to try and find the most comfortable step height. Is that Peter Wyngarde (aka Jason King) showing off the epitome of late 1960s male costume and grooming?
These two folk demonstrate the wide doorway and comparatively low step height of the National. (You put your left leg in, your left leg out, in, out, etc. etc.)
These diagrams suggest different seating arrangements possible on the 10.3 metre National. The rather spaced out seating in the rear section is evident; this helped to keep the load on the rear axle down. Axle loadings proved a handicap to sales in several territories where regulations were tougher than in the UK. I was put to work trying to come up with a layout that would give maximum capacity within the tight Norwegian axle weight limits. It would have required interior signs saying things like “Standing passengers: do not move more than 2 cm from any painted spot on the floor”!).
Although the National was nominally offered in two lengths, a third length of 10.9 metres could be built. This used longer window bays in the wheelbase, and shorter ones for the rear section. It was aimed specifically at Australia. which also set a lower than usual rear axle weight limit – restricting the passenger load in the rear section. The product planners were supposed to have done lots of research on regulations around the world that would set design constraints, especially in key target markets like Australia. Seems like they weren’t as thorough as one might have hoped.
This picture is supposed to show the common elements (in pink) between the 11.3 and 10.3 metre long Nationals. However a close look is a bit puzzling. The skirt panel behind the rear wheel doesn’t look common, whereas the tail skirt and rear bumper do.
The National was of course an integral bus. The rear end arrangement had to be compact in order to make space for the radiator, and also fit inside the 10.3 metre version’s short rear overhang. At the same time it had to allow a reasonable amount of vertical movement in the prop shaft. The solution was to send the drive from the gearbox through a hole in the rear axle case, into a transfer box, and then back to the differential. Clever.
Low profile tyres were selected, to keep the floor height down. This diagram shows that the bus was designed so that the front and rear underbody profiles enabled acceptable departure angels to be maintained.
The National featured more stylish jack-knife doors than contemporary buses. These engineers seem to be doing some test on them, but it is not clear what.
At one stage Leyland proposed a new design of seat for the National. Aside from the covering, it didn’t look all that radical.
Experiments took place at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, subjecting the prototype seat to a simulated frontal impact. The big positive was that the seat stayed in one piece, rather than snapping, which would have led to worse injuries for the poor dummy.
One of the advanced features of the National was the heating system. It fed pressurised warm air from the distinctive roof pod into a plenum chamber extending through the roof space. Vents then directed air down across the windscreen, windows and doors.
The idea was that this system would eliminate the horrors of cold windows dripping with condensation. The reality wasn’t always quite so effective. It’s not clear whether the woman on the left is reacting to the dripping moisture or the creepy bloke fondling her knee.
This exploded view shows the main structural elements of the National. The sides, roof, ends, dash panel and underframe were separately made on precise fixtures.. Then they were brought together like the parts of an Airfix kit, again using highly mechanised equipment.
Rather than an exploded view, this is a cutaway. Look closely and we can see the driver’s compartment, the front suspension, the fuel tank, the rear axle, the engine and gearbox, the radiator and (on the roof) the heater units.
Leyland made a lot of the boast that even in a 20 mph frontal impact the National body structure would protect the driver. A prototype was subjected to this test at the Transport & Road Research Laboratory. A super fast camera shows how the first bay remains largely intact. The driver looks like they would be injured but not as badly as if the front end of the vehicle had disintegrated.
Zooming out presents a less reassuring picture though. This photograph was released to the press but close examination shows the passengers might come off a lot worse than the driver. Anyone sitting on a side seat over the front wheel would be in an area that was deliberately designed to crush and absorb lots of energy. How would they have fared? Also, notice the dummy that was sat by the letter A behind the rear wheel. The force of the impact has thrown them forward to be struck in the throat by the seat in front of them.
Inspired by contemporary American buses like the GM New Look, Leyland decided to hold the Leyland National together with rivets. The Avdel rivet system enabled the bus to be constructed by semi-skilled personnel, rather than the skilled craftspeople employed by traditional coachbuilders.
This front end structure was probably put together for test purposes, and clearly shows the link between the underframe and the side walls. The side walls were deliberately slightly bowed to de-emphasize the slab-sided effect of a large box.
A National Mark 1 undergoing the tilt test to confirm that fully laden the bus could remain stable on a platform tipped to forty degrees. The chap in the pit looks pretty confident that the bus will pass.
The syncopated rhythm of the window bays on the 10.3 metre National 2 shows up well on this Burnley & Pendle National, seen in November 1979. In 1976 the design was updated to create the National 2, and one of the changes was to reduce the size of the roof pod.
This publicity photo shows off the clean and attractive lines of a Crosville National Mark 1 with coach-style seats. The rear end treatment is let down by the backs of the rearmost seats being so visible.
Another National Mark 1 publicity shot, this time of the Suburban Express. This had a high floor all the way through, trading an extra step into the saloon for a decent outside view for all passengers.
This is an interior shot of the same bus. Note the luggage racks.
The modular character of the National body system allowed a large number of possible permutations of doors, windows and seats. This is the interior of an airside bus. It was designed to rapidly load a number number of people on one side from the aircraft, take them to the terminal and disgorge them on the other – and vice versa.
The Super Commuter was an attempt to breathe some marketing magic into flagging sales of the National. The concept was for a small squad of ‘executives’ to be sped from A to B, aided by a crew of helpful assistants making coffee and typing memos up at the front. It didn’t catch on.
An absence of opening windows indicates that the Business Commuter was air conditioned, At some point the standard roof pod was replaced by a larger unit containing the air-con equipment.
Among the off-beat applications Nationals found themselves fulfilling was as a mobile bank. Midland Bank were running this one round North Yorkshire in August 1980. Nice curtains.
This Mark 1 National has been adapted to take a wheelchair lift in the front doorway. Used for a service linking Heathrow airport with London rail terminals, it is seen at Paddington in July 1986.
Many operators regarded the National as too complex compared with the single-deckers they bought previously. In response Leyland developed the B Series. This had a simpler heating and ventilation system which dispensed with the roof pod. At first it was only offered in the 10.3 metre format, but with the announcement of the National 2 in 1978, this option was extended to the longer variant. West Yorkshire 1501 was delivered in 1979 and stands at Bradford Interchange in January 1981.
Leyland independent John Fishwick & Sons sadly went out of business in October 2015. Naturally it was a loyal purchaser of local Leyland products. This view from February 1980 shows no. 29, a 1977 National, next to no. 10, a brand new National 2. The front radiator, double curvature windscreen and more compact roof pod are obvious differences.
London Transport gave Leyland a major boost when it started ordering hundreds of Nationals from 1973. London is an obvious shop window for export sales, although the National’s sales performance outside the UK was poor.
In the late 1970s a small number of operators decided to try articulated buses as an alternative to double-deckers. Volvo and Mercedes-Benz were naturally keen as they already made them. Leyland responded by fitting Leyland National body elements on to a chassis from DAB, a Danish bus builder owned by Leyland. This was another attempt to get more volume out of the Workington factory. The result of bolting a Leyland National body to an underfloor-engined chassis was not especially harmonious. Here’s one of the fleet of five trialled by South Yorkshire PTE in 1979. It is seen in Sheffield in September 1981.
The uneasy partnership between chassis and body is emphasized in this view of SYPTE 2008 taken at the same time.
Let’s end with a mystery. I can’t find any information about this photograph and the story behind it. This Ribble National has found itself in a waterway, presumably after some mishap. But when, where, why? Answers on a postcard please, or via the Comments box.