Heavy Haulage History: Leyland Roadtrain

The 1970s, was a period of rapid change for the UK road haulage scene. Following years of cash starvation mainly caused by propping-up BL’s car divisions, Michael Edwardes, the infamous British Leyland chairman and chief executive, persuaded the government (the company’s majority shareholder) to allow him to make a truly massive investment into the Leyland Truck & Bus Division. This facilitated the creation of new state of the art production, testing and proving facilities giving a huge boost to the slowly-ailing division.

During the 1960s, British hauliers had resisted foreign imports from Germany, Holland and Sweden, at first, staying loyal to British metal from AEC, Atkinson, ERF and Leyland – all of which, excluding AEC, offered Gardner engines. The term ‘gaffer’s lorry’ applied to all of the UK-built trucks, which tended to be cheap to buy, run and be dependable.

As Britain entered into the ’70s, the marketplace quickly changed beyond recognition, and consequently, drivers demanded more power and comfort. New motorways were being built resulting in shrinking journeys. Slowly but surely, as with the British motorcycle market, the foreign invasion started – and rival makers were keen and quick to exploit any weakness in a UK-built truck.

Volvo launched its F86 and F88 range, which offered unheard of engine power and comfort backed up with superb quality. From Holland, DAF introduced its 2000 series truck, with a market-leading warranty and breakdown package. The latter was at first viewed upon with curiosity by UK hauliers, who thought that maybe these Dutch trucks would be problematic.

But any doubts were to be unfounded, as the early DAF products sold here proved to be quirky, but otherwise superb and well engineered. Their aftercare system known today as DAF-AID continues to be the benchmark that all other truck makers aspire to offer.

The Leyland Marathon was intended to go head-to-head with the best of the European artics, but starved of development funding it was perceived by buyers as a knee-jerk reaction to foreign competition, and was nothing more than up dated ’60s technology. And quickly, the Marathon became known for being prone to rust and difficult to locate spare parts for.

In fact, an operator once said that the reason it was called the Marathon was because it would only run for 26 miles before breaking down. The later Marathon 2 was a much improved, and dependable product – but Leyland badly needed a replacement and fast!

Reviving the range – A Marathon task:


blue circle
A late launch spec TL12 powered Roadtrain of the Blue Circle fleet in 1983. The same year saw the Leyland produced engine deleted from the range.


Following a few years of research and development with Ogle design and Motor Panels who went on to design, style and produce the cab,  state owned haulier BRS not to mention many operators and truck owner, the T45 range burst onto the scene in 1980. At launch, the Roadtrain was a much lauded truck, winning international truck of the year and many design council awards.

At launch, only one engine option was available, the Leyland TL12 (derived from the AEC 760 unit). Gearboxes from Spicer made sure that drivers were familiar from their previous trucks. Underneath the cab, the chassis was an improved Marathon frame with hub reduction rear axle allowing for a low frame height if required. Once characteristic feature of this axle design was a hum and whine noise at speed owing to the epicyclical gearing within the rear hubs.

No other truck looked like it nor had endured such stringent laboratory testing; even the shape of it had been dictated by wind tunnel testing. But the clever part was in the production of the cab. Production tooling was kept to a minimum by using as many common parts as possible, only 120 parts were required regardless of model over the whole of the T45 range which spanned from 10–38 tons GVW, and 40 of them were common to every model.

Hence the Roadtrain cab was internally called the C40 cab – the moniker being 40 common parts regardless of type or model. At its launch, the whole world sat up and took notice following the Truck Of The Year Award. No longer were commercials aggressive and intimidating looking beasts; this new range from Leyland was sympathetic to its environment and pleasing to the eye.

Leyland (almost) delivers the goods:

Some novel engineering touches were there also, the instrument packs featured printed circuits with snug fitting connectors that were fully interchangeable with other T45 trucks and could be swapped over in less than five minutes in the event of a fault. The pedal box assembly could be replaced in 20 minutes and other hard wearing fittings including door hinges and handbrake levers could be easily and quickly replaced. Downtime costs money and Leyland was keen to recognise this.

At the same time, the parts division, Multipart, launched a new streamlined parts system claiming that most parts could be obtained and delivered within 24 hours from one central parts depot based in Chorley. To this day, Multipart is a market leader in its field. But the single engine option and the year long wait for a sleeper cab hampered Leyland’s success with this new tractor unit right from day one.

Shortly after launch, the gutsy Leyland engine was dropped, owing to operators requesting engines from Cummins and Rolls Royce. The Leyland TL12 engine rated at 280bhp was a well-kept secret as many users reckoned it was one of the best engine ever made by Leyland. But sadly it had no pedigree over the water and besides, Leyland engineers were already of the mind-set that a long term strategy would involve engines bought in from outside suppliers as per rivals like ERF, Foden or Seddon-Atkinson.

The void was filled with options from Cummins, Rolls Royce who latterly became swallowed up into the Varity-Perkins empire. In later years, Cummins’ superb L10 engine/Eaton twin split combo was the driveline choice for UK built trucks as the 1980s progressed. By then, it offered up to 325bhp, for operators requiring even more power, a Cummins NTE series engine of 14-litres gave 350bhp and colossal torque.

Other power options came from the Rolls Royce Eagle which morphed into the Perkins TX series. According to rumour, Gardner trail fitted their massive 6LYT into a Roadtrain in the late 80’s but nothing came of it. Leyland was also keen to make use of maximum publicity in the up and coming sport of truck racing with their Team 45 racing trucks, the team went onto considerable success too. Sales however were slowly slipping away as Leyland lacked the long term development that its European rivals once again, were quick to exploit.

Just like the fatal blow in the ’70s Volvo fired another Scandinavian salvo in the `80s with the Volvo FL (Forward Low) range. These soon became their answer to UK hauliers needs – a mid distance or distribution truck that offered good back up support and reliable operation 


As competitors vehicles improved, the Roadtrain stayed pretty much the same and soon became bought as a fleet vehicle with TESCO and Mothercare being fleets of note. Rivals including Volvo’s excellent FL series of trucks did the same to the British lorry scene as the Honda CB750 did to the bike industry. What eventually did it for Leyland, was the T45’s small cab in comparison with the Globetrotter from Volvo and the Space cab from DAF. This led to the high roof version known as the Interstate, but other makers cabs were also longer and wider.

Time eventually was called for Leyland when the state owned company was taken over by DAF in early 1987. The Roadtrain became known as the Leyland DAF 80 series from 1991 and then became offered just one engine; the DAF 11.6-litre rated at 300 or 330bhp and this unit ironically was based on an old 680 series Leyland unit. Production of the 80 series ceased in 1994 being replaced by an all new DAF 85 series known today as the CF – the Roadtrain’s spiritual successor.

Production of trucks for DAF/Paccar alliance continues in Leyland to this day.

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