Over the 30 years since the Leyland P76’s were released onto showroom floors, owners’ clubs have been established, and much has been written about them, regardless of whether they may be NV Green, Am Eye Blue, or even Plum Loco; Executive or Super; V8 or straight 6; or indeed manual or automatic.
We’ve also read, perhaps to the point of distraction, about the P76’s characteristics: their good and bad points; how they were marketed, how they could be repaired or modified; and of course how the opposition in the form of the Big 3 dealt with them. In the process we have also learned much about their owners and their foibles too.
I don’t believe there would be a National Magazine in which you could not find items dwelling on one or another of any or all of these aspects.
What I suspect hasn’t been looked at amongst all this is firstly that the P76 was probably the only car Leyland produced in either Australia or the UK which was directly badged “Leyland”, in contrast to “Leyland Mini” or “Leyland Marina”. Of course we all know it was the only one in which the parent company did not have any design/production involvement.
However, I feel that Leyland’s badging of the Mini and Marina could be compared with AMI’s badging of the Toyotas it assembled before Toyota set up its own manufacturing plant here.
Likewise, as far as production goes, we all think of the large Zetland plant in Sydney (now long gone), where all the P76’s were manufactured, along with a few of the other BLMC marques, and the lesser plant in NZ where P76’s were assembled, largely from Zetland-produced components.
Secondly, little attention has been paid to Leyland as a firm; its beginnings and heritage.
Thus, let’s not forget that this wasn’t the whole picture for Leyland Australia, because at the peak of its operations it had quite a network of plants. The main plants (apart from Zetland) were located at Enfield in Sydney’s west, and West Footscray in Melbourne’s west; the latter confining itself to truck (& bus) manufacture. Later Leyland Australia also acquired through share purchase Denning’s plant in Brisbane (1968), and later(mid 1970’s) the Freighter Industries plant in Adelaide, both of which were bus/coach building operations, producing bodies not only for Leyland chassis, but others too, notably Hino & Mercedes-Benz. Indeed, it seems that the Enfield plant, as PMC (Pressed Metal Corporation) before Leyland took over was also involved in bus/coach body building to order, and when BLMC took over, manufacture and assembly of the various marques began. In 1983 Leyland Australia became defunct, and the West Footscray plant was taken over by Hino. From this collapse JRA emerged, and it is possible that they may have continued vehicle assembly at Enfield until 1991. As well, between 1981 and its demise in 1983 Leyland Australia was also the Australian agents for Peugeot, and as such assembled, sold and serviced Peugeot vehicles in Australia. For this they set up a new production line at Enfield to assemble both diesel and petrol models of the 505, along with Minis, Land & Range Rovers etc. They also imported other fully built-up models from the Peugeot range for sale through their dealerships. JRA continued this arrangement until 1991.
Some useless information is that prior to Leyland Australia taking over assembly of Peugeot vehicles, this was done here by Renault Australia, in Melbourne, and it was reportedly the only place in the world where a competitor assembled its rival’s vehicles. Just imagine how agitated the petrolheads would be if they found that Ford had contracted to build Holdens!!
But let’s go back a bit further, to around 1890, when steam and petrol vehicles were gradually replacing horses and wagons for heavy haulage, and Leyland was there for these beginnings. Over time the fact that for a large part of its life, Leyland Motors Ltd was solely a builder of heavy trucks and buses of high renown, resulted in its becoming the largest British manufacturer, selling its products around the world, along with its rivals, Foden, AEC, Albion, Scammell, Thornycroft, Guy, Dennis, and later at the lighter end of the market, Bedford and Commer. However, to be accurate, due to GM’s having taken over Vauxhall Cars in 1925, Bedford’s origins lie in GM’s Chevrolet truck series, from which it evolved into its very British style, until succumbing to the Izuzu marque in recent times.
All these examples of good British steel and workmanship frequented our roads (or in the case of Dennis, our fire stations) in considerable numbers until around 1970, when Britain entered the European Common Market, obliging the Commonwealth Trade Preference system with Australia to be terminated. Of course this did not apply just to trucks and buses. It also meant the end of importation of cars such as Ford Zephyrs & Consuls; most of the Vauxhall range; the various marques belonging to the Rootes Group, e.g. Hillmans, Humbers; and Singers, and those from the Standard Motor Coy, whose name came from that fact that they only used engine parts that were standard across the industry. Over time, a whole range of cars and commercial vehicles from the various European, American and Asian marques have replaced them, as is amply evident on our roads today.
Some would argue that the decline in demand for English cars was due to the companies’ collective failure to modify design policies, and hence their vehicles to suit operating conditions in countries other than England, in the same way that Leyland Australia found that their parent company was quite unprepared to change its sales and marketing philosophies to meet the different trading situation Leyland Australia found itself in here. There is certainly a degree of logic in this argument, and it was no doubt a contributing factor in the tapering off of sales of English marques such as Austin, Morris or Wolseley.
Whilst discussing Austin and Morris, and the curious way the English car companies did business, a good illustration was Morris’ introduction of Alex Issigonis’ brilliant little car, and a milestone in motoring history; the Mini. This was intended to be a direct competitor to the Austin 7, so when the marketing executives at Morris asked what the customer price on the showroom floor would be, they were told that it would be £5 cheaper than the Austin 7. And thus it was, until British Leyland took over many years later, and asked the difficult question “How much does it actually cost to produce a Mini?” Nobody knew.
And speaking of the Austin 7, there is the story about of a motoring writer who was interviewing an Irishman sympathetic to the I.R.A. When the interviewer asked him what he thought about the Austin 7, his reply was: “They are all innocent, every one of them, and in fact weren’t even there when it happened.”
The genesis of Leyland was with the founding of the Lancashire Steam Motor Company by James Sumner and Henry Spurrier in 1896. Sumner was the blacksmith in the small town of Leyland, in Lancashire, and since 1880 he had been dabbling with light steam pleasure vehicles and lawnmowers, trading as J.Sumner Ltd. In 1896 he joined with Harry Spurrier, and they changed the firm’s name to the Lancashire Steam Motor Company, by which time they already had 20 employees, and their first effort was a 1½ ton steam van with an oil-fired boiler, cart wheels and tiller steering. Finance for the new entity was provided by the Spurrier family.
They then began production of a range of steam trucks with capacities ranging from 3 to 6 tons, and in the first 6 years they produced 72 of them.
In 1904 they started to phase in petrol-engined vehicles, but at the same time continued spasmodically with steam models, the last not being produced until the mid 1920’s, by which time they had manufactured some 900 of them
In 1907, the Lancashire Steam Motor Coy took over the nearby rival firm of Coulthard’s of Preston, who had begun in 1904, also building steam-powered vehicles. They are also believed to have been body builders (using factories, not gymnasia) and the merged and revamped entity became Leyland Motors Ltd. At this time Leyland made the decision not to continue to source their petrol engines from Crossley, but to design and build their own. The great reliability of this new motor was ultimately one of the reasons for Leyland’s continuing success. For reasons unknown, the first trucks under the new name became the “P” series. They cannot have been so easy to handle with their solid rubber tyres, because over time the drivers of said machines decided that the “P” stood for “pig”, and the model became universally known as “the pigs” although perhaps not by Leyland!
Just prior to World War 1, Leyland Motors Ltd was selected by the War Office to manufacture some 6000 RAF-type trucks, which apparently performed admirably in the theatre of war.
At war’s end, many of these were being sold off to transport firms, making it difficult for Leyland (and others) to sell new ones. As a result, Leyland accrued a loss of £1 million – a huge sum in those days, and to regain its momentum it decided to buy as many as they could back from the Army, strip them down, and completely rebuild them in the old Sopwith Aeroplanes factory. Another part of their rationale was that it would retain their credibility as a builder of reliable machines.
Overall they rebuilt around 3000 of these war surplus trucks, and many of them were still in service 25 years later. This refurbishment scheme enabled Leyland to get through what could have been a difficult period for them.
So much for the recent trumpetings of GM and Mitsubishi about their supposedly bold new plan to take back and refurbish some of the cars previously sold through their dealer networks!
Pneumatic tyres were fitted to Leyland trucks for the first time in 1925.
In 1927 Leyland produced their first bus. Here it must be pointed out that their bus chassis were used not only for buses, but also trade (delivery) vans, which often resembled buses without windows and were frequently quite flamboyantly signed. These latter became known in the trade (in England of course) as “showboats”, for quite obvious reasons. The reason for this choice was the softer springing and better speeds of the bus versus the truck chassis. The nearest we have to this here are the racehorse transports, which are often built on bus chassis for the same reasons.
As well, in the 1920’s some railway administrations also bought these bus chassis for conversion; and with an appropriate body they added, these became the early forms of railmotors for use on country branch lines to speed up passenger travel to those destinations.
Along with the ordinary buses, Leyland also marketed a limited range of trolley-buses (basically electric buses that collected their power from overhead wires) With trolley buses, the drivers had to be very careful to turn in the direction the wires went on corners, because pushing an 8 or 9 ton vehicle was embarrassing if the wrong turn was made. This did happen occasionally.
It goes without saying that with a company as big and diverse as Leyland was at its peak, it manufactured a number of miscellaneous specialized vehicles; not the least being a range of (agricultural) tractors which have continued to be sold here until recent years. The small market-garden version can still be found (plus trailer) in a few supermarket car parks where they are used to ferry shopping trolleys back into holding bays.
Then for Leyland motors as a company, like Topsy, they just grew as a result of a series of mergers and takeovers, the first being with Scammell Lorries Ltd in 1954,
In 1957 they took over Albion Motors. However, in this case they continued to build and market Albion trucks, albeit with some subtle Leyland changes until 1972, the last model being the Albion Caledonian.
In 1958 they set up their West Footscray factory to produce truck chassis and bodies, and in 1962 they also took over AEC (which by then included Thornycroft) in England. As with Albion, they continued to produce AEC trucks for some years after their takeover; a number of them being manufactured at West Footscray.
In 1961 Leyland took over Standard-Triumph apparently in order to have access to a range of light trucks, as well as to bail the latter out of the heavy debt they had accumulated.
In 1965 the Leyland operation in Australia ceased to be a direct subsidiary of its parent, Leyland Motors Ltd (UK). The latter absorbed the Rover Company in 1967 and its name was amended to Leyland Motor Corporation.
By this time, as we can see, Leyland Motors had evolved from being a maker of a single type of heavy truck (lorry if you are English) to a large conglomerate producing a whole range of passenger and commercial vehicles, along with the trucks they (and others) started out building.
Three years later the Leyland Group, and the British Motor Corporation (comprising Austin, Morris, Jaguar, Wolseley) agreed to join forces, possibly with a little prodding from the UK Government; and the British Leyland Motor Corporation (UK) came into being, along with its Australian counterpart.
Need I dwell on this further???
One thing of note from this merger was the appearance of another group of Leyland trucks – the Redline series. The Leyland Redline trucks were those formerly marketed as BMC prior to the merger. Most of these truck models started their lives originally as Austin or Morris.
Then we move to the next thing of particular note about Leyland Motors Ltd, which was their decision during the 1920’s to assign their subsequent models animal names, and as would be obvious, these became known as the “Zoo Series”, and the first two named were the Badger, and the Beaver. Obviously, the name assigned to particular models matched their size or capabilities.
The Octopus was their twin steering 4-axled (8-wheeled) version, whereas the Hippo was their prime mover, with the Rhino as the 3-axled version.
Actually the Rhino was the first model in which Leyland tried a diesel engine in 1925.
Some other members of their menagerie were:
Bison, Buffalo, Bull, Bear, Steer, Lynx, and Cub.
Two odd ones were a 6 x 6 Martian, and the Standard Atlas (from the 1961 Standard-Triumph takeover).
Later, getting away from the Zoo, in 1947 there came the Comet, and the Super Comet, and curiously both names were re-allocated to current models in 1987.
Then finally around 1960 there appears to have been a change of tack, and subsequent truck models were named after dogs, and for us P76 people, the best example is the Leyland Terrier, into which many of the surplus P76 V8 motors were installed after the cessation of P76 manufacture. This was actually the second series of Terrier trucks: the first had appeared 40 years earlier. Others were the Boxer; Reiver; Mastiff, and Retriever.
The single-decked Leyland bus models were named after big cats, viz Cheetah, Tiger (+Royal Tiger & Tiger Cub) Leopard and Panther, but the double-deckers were another story, with names like Worldmaster, Titan, Olympic, Fleetmaster and Atlantean. Sydney at one stage had a large fleet of Atlanteans.
Whilst the trucks had plain badging, the buses, particularly the cat series, boasted quite detailed, striking and colourful enamel depictions of each animal on their radiators or front aprons. It is not known when Leyland moved from the quite austere ” on the upper radiator tank,
to the elegant scrolled version depicted here.
And here we must try to get away from our car-oriented thinking, where the next year’s model or version brings with it another name. With trucks in general, and Leyland in particular, these models, or more accurately type names, particularly those of the Zoo series, continued to be made over a considerable number of years.
Please note that the order in which I have listed the truck and bus model names is random only.
Another way in which Leyland Motors attracted attention to themselves (deliberately!) was their clocks.
In a rather clever advertising ploy, Leyland obtained permission to erect mostly free-standing railway station-type clocks large enough for motorists to read at strategic spots along England’s main roads. Apart from other considerations, this was quite a service to motorists who usually didn’t have clocks on their dash, as is the case today. To remind them of whom they had to thank for this, each clock had “Leyland Motors” in large lettering across the face. One can imagine how their competitors squirmed as they passed these clocks!
And so we move to the present: what remains?
Firstly there is the Leyland Motors Brass Band, founded in 1946, and still performing quite successfully. Works brass bands were very common across British industry, and were encouraged by the owners of the works concerned, because they believed it represented a form of leisure for their workers.
Secondly, there is the old Leyland works site of 100 acres. This has been partly transformed into a museum by the town of Leyland.
And finally, the Leyland Truck business of today is owned by Paccar Inc of Seattle, U.S.A., makers of Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks, who bought the factory and the name from DAF. Some useless information is that Paccar is a contraction of Pacific Car & Foundry. DAF was a Dutch truck manufacturing firm who took over Leyland Trucks in the wash-up of the British Leyland debacle in the UK. This was quite logical, given that DAF had been building Leyland trucks under licence since 1956, and had been using Leyland engines in their own vehicles since 1953.
Finally Paccar Inc purchased Leyland-DAF Trucks, and continue to make them, minus the DAF name. What logo they use is unknown to me.
Then, to add insult to injury, in mid-2000 BMW sold what was basically the original BMC (car) operation, which was still making Minis and had some 3000 workers, to a group of British Leyland executives for the record low price of £10. Of course, with this £10 went a £300million debt.
And that brings us to today. Happy 30th Anniverary!!
Barry Sykes, TRARALGON; 25/1/2003