A little while back we were sat there at his kitchen table… chewing the fat with Russell Swift, or more to the point, chewing our way though a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs. As we both hail from Darlington we were wandering down an avenue of nostalgia when we got onto the subject of engineering then trucks… namely Leyland. His sadness of the loss of many once great other British manufacturing names saddens him notably.
I asked him if he kicked himself at not getting the launch gig of the Roadrunner way way back in 1984 and had he ever tooled around in vehicles bigger than Minis or Montegos. For those of a younger disposition by the way, the Roadrunner was Leyland’s all new 7.5 tonne truck that was launched with a cracking T.V advert and billboard poster campaign. Belgian stunt supremo Gilbert Bataille was hired to do the driving.
Marketed with the strapline “The Toughest Truck on Two Wheels” and voiced over by Raffles the gentleman thief himself, Anthony Valentine, the advert is still admired and watched to this day on YouTube – though I’ve treated you to the full fat cinema version rather than the shorter one that appeared on telly. Anyway… Russ surprised me by saying he’d done the same thing – not just in one truck… but two.
He went on to say he had done a similar trick for AWD Trucks in 1987 using a TL750 model but found the truck suspension and steering set up so poor (the TL was based on an ancient Bedford design) it caused him so much worry that it brought on a stomach ulcer. As a consequence, he wasn’t keen to replicate the same stunt again until Ever Ready talked him into a publicity stunt using a brand new Leyland Roadrunner in 1989.
With some minor modifications to the suspension Russ told me the truck was very car-like to drive on the limits of gravity. When I told him the engine was actually built barely a short drive from his North Yorkshire home at Cummins Darlington plant (a fact he never actually knew about) he just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said “well there you have it nowt more needs to be said” – like me he’s proud of his northern roots.
Former Leyland marketing folk tell me that Gilbert Bataille presented a list of conditions that they reluctantly had to agree to before the advert and stunt took place. Whereby Russ is one of the most affable chaps I have ever come to know, of course he is a businessman but also a truly all round good egg. So much so that if you’d never met him or knew what he did for that matter, he could easily blend into a crowd of three.
If you’re wondering what Russ is up to now, he’s very much still in the display / stunt driving area, despite being of retirement age, even his lad Paul has followed in his footsteps with his own very successful precision driving business. Their antics and skills get them to all four corners of the world with events sponsored by BMW and Subaru not to mention a few others.
Anyway, have a butchers this home made video of Russ practicing a publicity stunt for Ever Ready in the Leyland Roadrunner and check out the marketing boss’s face at the end who hops out of the passenger side – its classic.
Why should those ruddy Belgians have all the glory when us northerners can do it just as good eh?