I’ve long been a fan of Leyland products. I know most of them were dreadful, but that just adds to the appeal for me. Yes, they may have been a bit hopeless, but I’ve always championed the underdog. After all, 2CVs may be cool now, but they were deeply unfashionable when I first got in to them. Joke cars were rear-engined Skodas, Ladas, Reliant Robins and 2CVs. I’m quite good at ignoring jokes and these cars were all desirable to the younger me.
They’re still desirable now. Back when I was young though, buses were the peak of my motoring exploits. For a time, we didn’t even have a car at all. Stressful times for the young petrolhead. So, it was buses or nothing, and I loved the thundering Daimler Fleetlines and whining MCW Metrobuses that transported me during my childhood. Leyland Nationals always appealed too, even though a chance to ride one was not a frequent occasion. I recall travelling on a National 1 at some point, that cut out every time it stopped, and I’ve a feeling I caught a National 2 with my aunt on the day my youngest sister was born. Nationals featured more strongly in my teenage years, as the same buses that took me home from school then took me home from Birmingham’s nightclubs in the wee hours of the morning. With the same drivers.
National 1s made a very high-pitched sort of a noise, and I loved the visible fan spinning around behind the engine cover. They had a very distinctive, top-end clatter and I really liked the styling – Giovanni Michelotti was responsible for it, bringing some car-based cohesiveness to the bus design. National 2s were redesigned with a longer nose, which now contained the radiator. Gone was the fan visible through the engine cover, and the new engine made a much deeper, throatier noise.
Some years ago, I got the chance to drive a National 2. At the time, it was used by North Birmingham Busways as a training vehicle. I was allowed to pilot it around the defunct Wolverhampton Truck Stop in exchange for some money.
It was brilliant. The switchgear was largely familiar, as a fair chunk of it was lifted straight out of British Leyland’s saloon range. The gear lever for the semi-automatic transmission is right-mounted, and easy to use. I love driving larger vehicles and the way you swing around in front of the front axle is truly joyous. I couldn’t get much speed up, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I was put through the manoeuvres you can expect on a full bus driving test. As a child, I dreamt of being a bus driver, but perhaps I’m glad I didn’t become one. It doesn’t seem too joyous a job these days. I’ll still to my community minibuses instead!
North Birmingham Busways is now sadly gone – having being absorbed by the Rotala Plc. The Leyland National still exists though! Happily, it has made it into preservation and, remarkably, a friend on the Autoshite forum is a part-owner of it! The bus now lives in Scotland and is red, white and black – Western livery.
You’ll have to follow the links, but here’s SHH back when I drove it, with its stablemates. http://tbg.150m.com/nbb-19.8.06.jpg
And here’s SHH as she currently looks. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/GVVT_Open_Day_2012_-_A_Western_Leyland_National_2_-_geograph.org.uk_-_3184441.jpg
If you ever get the opportunity, I thoroughly recommend driving a bus. It’s a valuable insight into the bus driver’s world, and great fun too!