The Leyland Story Part One: 1896 – 1946

In 1892, on the death of his father, James Sumner inherited the small, family blacksmith and engineering business based in Leyland, Lancashire.

James, however, who had previously experimented with forms of horse-less vehicles, including a steam-powered tricycle, decided that powered transport was the way forward and promptly disposed of the smithy equipment, which was more appropriate to horse-drawn transport.

When a local gardener gave him an old lawn mower to experiment with, he fitted the engine from the steam tricycle and the machine became an instant success, securing a first prize and silver medal at the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show.

In 1895, Sumner fitted a lawnmower engine to a three-wheeled car; the owner being so impressed that he ordered an improved model the following year.

However the main business was still the production of steam lawnmowers, which sold at £85 each (a considerable sum at the time) and, as sales grew, further capital was needed. Coulthard & Co., an engineering firm based in Preston purchased a half share in the business and a new company, J. Sumner Ltd., was formed.

Coulthard’s share later passed to George Spurrier, whose brother, Henry, took an immediate interest in the company.

Henry Spurrier had returned to Britain in 1896 after spending some eight years with an American railway company and had gained valuable experience in the use of steam power.

Within days he had joined James Sumner and a new partnership, the Lancashire Steam Motor Company was formed; in 1903 it was incorporated as a limited company. Premises were rented in Herbert Street, sufficient to accommodate the workforce of around twenty.

By the end of 1896 the first steam vehicle was produced, and by 1899 the first passenger carrying vehicles were offered for sale.

In May 1899 the first Leyland bus was built. With seats for 18 and top speed of 8 mph, it was delivered to the Dundee & District Tramways Company.

By 1903, with sales of steam wagons rising and the workforce numbering in excess of 150, the Company moved to larger premises in Hough Lane.

With the increasing interest in the petrol engine, Leyland produced an experimental vehicle in 1904. Nicknamed ‘the Pig’, only one was built, but it served to pave the way for further developments.

The Company exhibited a petrol-engined double-decker in the 1905 Show at the Agricultural Hall (although design problems with their own engine meant that the vehicle had to be powered by a 24hp Crossley engine).

This probably influenced the London and Suburban Omnibus Company to order the first petrol-engined double-deck Leyland bus for the capital.

Although the Company still traded under the title Lancashire Steam Motor Co., this chassis bore the name ‘Leyland’, and by the end of the year ten such vehicles were in service.

These proved to be so reliable compared to other makes that over 100 Leyland vehicles were purchased before the London General Omnibus Co. acquired the Company (which by then had become the London Central Motor Omnibus Co., and later the New Central Omnibus Company) in 1914.

By 1906 the Company had smoothed out the problems with its own engine and began to market it. It has been suggested that the work was not entirely that of the Leyland workforce and that close collaboration with Crossley Motors, who had supplied the engines for the first vehicles, resulted in the improvements necessary.

At this time Crossley was not engaged in the manufacture of commercial vehicles and any assistance in designing the engine was unlikely to conflict with their current interests, so this is a distinct possibility.

The first recorded Leyland demonstration bus was also built in this year. Bodied by Milnes-Voss (who were better known for their tramcar bodies) it seated 40 and sported a curious forward spiralling staircase that extended over the engine, which must have seriously restricted the driver’s vision to the left.

Passengers boarded at the front of the vehicle via a platform by the side of the driver, which made it suitable for one-man operation!

In the spring of 1906, the Leyland ‘X’ type made its initial appearance at Olympia and became the first really successful petrol-engined Leyland model, although the Leyland ‘U’ type was also been introduced in the first few months of 1907, Todmorden Corporation buying the first two examples.

The Company acquired the business of Coulthard’s of Preston in 1907, who had provided the capital for expansion in the early years, and the Company’s name was officially changed to Leyland Motors Limited.

Leyland Motors offered a range of its own factory built bodies to compliment the various chassis types, an option not normally offered by chassis manufacturers at the time, though most of the bus and charabanc bodies were built for them by the United Electric Car Company of Preston, up until about 1911.

Although many of the charabanc designs were rather spartan and included bench seats on a basic flat platform, service buses were normally panelled up to fitted side windows.

By 1912 concern was growing about a possible conflict in Europe and the War Office was authorised by the Government to hold trials to determine which vehicles would qualify for a war subsidy.

It was intended that owners of vehicles that qualified would be eligible to receive a premium of £50 on the purchase price of each vehicle and an annual subsidy for three years of £20.

The vehicle was expected to be maintained in good order and would be available for purchase at 72 hours notice in the event of war at current market value plus 25%.

Vehicles were arranged in two classes, 30cwt and 3 tons, and it transpired that Leyland vehicles were the only ones capable of gaining certificates in both classes, which resulted in an order from the War Office for 88 chassis.

This proved a great boost for sales and increased the Leyland reputation, not least among some of the larger organisations.

The dramatic rise of the petrol-engined vehicle meant that demand for steam vehicles was now slowly falling and manufacture of these types of vehicle was transferred to a small factory at nearby Chorley.

In 1913 a new site was acquired at Farington, just north of Leyland, for the increasing volume of work. The workforce now numbered over 1500, and over 2000 vehicles had been produced up to the outbreak of war.

With the declaration of war in 1914, all the subsidy vehicles were pressed into military service, along with many other Leyland vehicles.

During the first two years of the War all civilian production ceased and output was reorganised for the speedy production of vehicles for the armed forces. In 1915 the entire production of Leyland lorries was allocated to the RAF (which, in the event, turned out to be almost 6000 chassis).

With the cessation of hostilities in 1919, however, large numbers of the ex-RAF chassis appeared on the market.

In order to protect their reputation Leyland Motors set about purchasing as many of the redundant chassis as they could, refurbished them and sold them on. More than half of the chassis supplied to the RAF was treated in this way.

During the years up to 1925, Leyland Motors introduced around 40 different models, some of which were in production for a relatively short time and differed only by minor changes. Examples were the ‘M1’ and ‘O1’, which appeared in 1919, both using the Leyland 36-40hp engine.

The ‘M1’ could accommodate up to 28 passengers with an overall chassis length of 24ft. 0½in, whilst the ‘O1’, with a slightly longer 25ft. 4in chassis length could accommodate up to 33 passengers.

Towards the end of 1919 the ‘G’ range was introduced, based on the wartime RAF chassis, using the same 36-40hp engine. There were eight variants, from the G1 to G8, the G7 (the longest wheelbase version at 15ft 10in) was the best seller.

By this time the Government thought it necessary to enact legislation to govern the design and safety of the increasing numbers of motor vehicles and the overall length of buses became strictly limited by law.

In order to maximise the space offered within these limits, Leyland introduced the ‘side-type’ variant in 1922. This meant moving the driving position alongside the engine and over the forward axle, which offered a more practical solution than the previously tried ‘over-type’, which had the driver perched more or less above the bonnet.

‘Side-type’ variants of several of the ‘G’ range appeared in small numbers, the first variant being the SG7.

Since their early success with the London Central Company, Leyland had found the London market difficult to expand.

The all-consuming London General undertaking had historic ties with the Associated Equipment Company and purchased almost all its required vehicles from this source.

In an effort to break this virtual monopoly held by AEC, Leyland introduced the ‘LB’ range (standing for London Bus). Similar to the popular G7, the first model was the LB2, which sold well to independent operators in London.

In 1923 the ‘GH’ range, with its high radiator and which comprised of six models; GH2, GH4 to GH8 replaced the ‘G’ range, although some ‘G’ models were still produced until 1925, the year in which Leyland Motors made a significant change in the way chassis were designed.

The ‘L’ range was the first chassis specifically designed for bus only use and for the first time Leyland gave the model a name – the ‘Leviathan’. Up until this time chassis were commonly designed for both lorry and bus bodywork.

The first model of the Leviathan range (designated ‘LG1’) was a forward control double-decker with 4-cylinder side-valve engine. The LG1 still sported solid tyres since the development of pneumatic tyres had not yet reached the stage where they could support the weight of a fully laden double-deck bus.

A few months later the ‘LSP1’ variant with 40 hp engine came onto the market. The single-deck variants in the ‘L’ range were the ‘Leveret’ (‘LA2’; 20-seat), ‘Lion’ (‘LSC1’; 32-seat), the ‘Lioness’ (‘LC1’; 36-seat) and the ‘Leopard’ (‘LSG2’; 38-seat), which, when they appeared in 1926, were supplied with pneumatic tyres.

Later the chassis designation included a prefix ‘P’ for ‘Passenger’ (e.g. PLC1). In late 1926, probably the best known of the range, the ‘PLSC3 Lion’, was introduced.

16 LSC1 Lion chassis were supplied to English Electric in 1928, without engines or gearboxes, to be converted to trolleybuses for Bradford Corporation. In time Leyland came to offer its own purpose built trolleybuses.

By the time of the 1927 Commercial Motor Show, Leyland Motors was already established at the forefront of passenger vehicle manufacture and cemented its lead with the introduction of the ‘Titan’ double-deck and ‘Tiger’ single-deck chassis.

Technological advancements in the design of pneumatic tyres had meant that it was possible to fit them to all single-deck vehicles, but they remained inadequate for fully laden double-deck vehicles.

Leyland overcame this problem by designing a lightweight body specifically for the Titan chassis. The chassis was constructed with a low overall height on a lower built two-axle frame, making the overall height of the finished vehicle approximately 13ft.

Along with other improvements and adjustments, including aluminium panelling, the total weight was reduced to around 5.5 tons, which meant that for the first time pneumatic tyres could be fitted as standard. The new model was designated TD1.

The ‘Tiger’ single-deck had much in common with the ‘Titan’ and was designated TS1 and proved extremely popular.

With the overall length of a two-axle double-decker limited to 25ft, Leyland also produced a version for bodywork up to 30ft in length. Named the ‘Titanic’ it had two driven rear axles with single tyres and could seat around 72 passengers.

The initial design was designated ‘TT1’ and did not prove as popular as the Titan, only 6 were built and although there were later models (TT2-TT5) the Titanic was never a great success.

Even with the introduction of the new models, some of the older ranges were still being produced in large numbers, including the LT1 ‘Lion’, which was improved and redesigned as the LT2 in 1930.

The Leyland body shop introduced a new modern style of single-deck bodywork designated ‘Comfort’ for the 32-seat version and ‘Popular’ for the 36-seat version.

The TD2 Titan was introduced at the end of 1931, replacing the TD1, which had set the pace for nearly five years. It had larger tyres, better brakes and was generally of more robust construction. The Cub was also introduced in the same year.

It was intended for goods and passenger chassis and was normal control, although in 1932 two forward control models (prefixed with ‘S’ for side-type), the SKP and SKG were introduced.

The TB range of trolleybuses was introduced in 1932, with two- and three-axle versions (TB and TTB respectively) and was one of the first range of custom trolleybuses offered, as opposed to the more common conversions from standard petrol/diesel engined buses.

In 1933 the first Leyland oil (diesel) engine for passenger vehicles was exhibited at the Commercial Motor Show and by the end of the year the diesel engine was available for all models in the Leyland range.

The TD2 was replaced by the TD3 in May 1933, the Tiger range having progressed to the TS6. In 1934 a six-wheeled version of the Tiger was offered for sale alongside the TS6, mainly to satisfy demand from some of the more important customers whom Leyland were reluctant to lose.

The vehicle, designated TS6T, was 30ft in length with the capacity for 43-seat bodywork. The rearmost axle was a trailing axle (i.e. undriven – hence the ‘T’ suffix). On versions with double-driven axles the designation had a ‘D’ suffix (e.g. TS7D)

By the end of 1934 all-metal bodywork was offered as standard to customers, and proved to be more robust and longer lasting than traditional timber-framed bodywork.

By the end of the decade operators were looking for bodywork that could be used for stage carriage work during the week and for excursion or express duties at the weekend and this led to the development of the ‘dual-purpose’ body, intermediate between standard saloon and luxury coach.

A new lightweight chassis, the ‘Cheetah’ (with two variants the LZ1, with 16ft 9in wheelbase and the LZ2 with 17ft 7in wheelbase), was introduced in 1935 along with the Titan TD4 and an improved version of the Tiger, TS7.

In 1937, 100 TD4s were delivered to the London Passenger Transport Board where they formed the STD class, Leyland’s first large-scale London order since the early part of the century.

Their reputation for silence and operating smoothness undoubtedly led to the co-operation of both parties in a prototype, underfloor-engined ‘Tiger’, designated the ‘FEC’.

After undergoing proving trials a fleet of 87 (classed TF by LPTB) entered service in 1939. Sadly, however, the onset of the Second World War brought an end to the experiment.

The infamous ‘Gnu’ also made its appearance at the 1937 Commercial Motor Show, but its twin steering did not find favour with operators and only 8 in total were built.

Another joint development with London Transport was the rear-engined Cub, the prototype of which was built in 1938. With B20F bodywork built by London Transport themselves it was designated the CR class and 59 production models were ordered.

Sadly, because of the impending War, only 48 were delivered and the subsequent hostilities brought the experiment to an end. It was to be over 20 years later before Leyland introduced another rear-engined single-decker.

In 1941 plans were announced for the Titan TD8, but had to be shelved when the Government ordered Leyland Motors to stop production of all passenger chassis and concentrate on military vehicles.

The Ministry of Supply, however, allowed Leyland to build as many buses as possible from components which had already been assembled, resulting in the construction of 196 TD7s and 22 TS11s, such vehicles being known as ‘unfrozen’.

Between 1942 and 1945, Leyland Motors’ production was given over entirely to the manufacture of vehicles for the war effort and it was not until December 1945 that buses were once again built, and it was some six months later in 1946 before full production was again attained.

With thanks to Mike Sutcliffe for correcting some of the errors that had crept in during the compiling and transcribing of these notes.