A View From the North: Russ Swift – So much more than Mr Montego.

Mike Humble

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.

 

bataille
Stunt driver Gilbert Bataille puts the Roadrunner through its paces at Brands Hatch. Rumour has it though the Belgian mans skills came with an alarmingly expensive list of conditions.

 

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?

Enjoy!

Cheers Russ!

 


3 thoughts on “A View From the North: Russ Swift – So much more than Mr Montego.

  1. I remember the Leyland 7.5 tonners very well; a fair few have survived thankfully and I still see one or being driven around. Talking of Montegos, though; I am a member of the Maestro and Montego enthusiasts group and we are trying to get decent diecast scale replicas of both cars made for collectors. Recently, having exhausted all the other model companies like Corgi Vanguards, I sent a large A3-sized envelope of Montego and Maestro sales literature (including launch brochures, paint colour and trim guides etc) over to IXO Models in China. IXO were very appreciative of the documents and stated that they are now looking into the possibility adding the Montego, Maestro and possibly other BL cars to their range. However, can I please ask anyone else who might be interested in owning a scale replica, to please contact IXO at: info@premium-collectibles.com. The more people who enquire, the more likely they are to do the models.
    Very disappointing that Corgi Vanguards have not done the Maestro and Montego. The Metro, Maxi and Ambassador also.
    Anyone who is in contact with Mr Swift could perhaps ask him whether he might be able to use his influence to persuade one of the model manufacturers to do the Montego and Maestro? There would definitely be a strong market for these. Demand is now high. Thank you.

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