The Leyland National
The Leyland National was conceived in the mid-60's as an improved rear engined single deck bus for urban service. Contrary to some sources, it was not conceived jointly by Leyland and the NBC - at that stage, only Leyland was involved, as the NBC did not yet exist! Whilst the majority of such services were then being operated with crew-operated, front-engined double deckers, one-person-operation (OPO) of double deckers was not then permitted, and it was believed that the future requirements of this sector of the operating industry would be met with large single deckers of this type. The first generation of rear engined single deckers had been developed a few years earlier, but (with the exception of the Bristol RE) were proving to be unsatisfactory in various respects. Thus a new design was prepared, together with plans for a new, purpose built factory using production line techniques to produce up to 2000 buses per year. The new factory was to be built in West Cumbria and would provide a welcome boost to the local economy. However, at around the same time, the regulations governing OPO were changed, to permit double deckers to be worked in this way. The politicians, having supported and encouraged the project for the new bus and factory, had, at the same time, changed the rules, and taken away much of the justification for the project. Is this what Tony Blair meant when he talked about 'joined-up government'?
Once OPO of double deckers was permitted, the urban operators quickly started implementing it where possible. The first generation of rear engined double deckers, while not as trouble-free as their front-engined predecessors, were preferable to the slightly more recent rear underfloor engined single deckers, and they did of course offer greater capacity, and therefore more economical operation. By 1970 it was clear that the major urban operators were planning to buy large numbers of OPO double deckers in the immediate future, and the urban single deck boom of the mid-60's was over. Leyland had, however, already started on the project for the new bus and factory, and could presumably now see its intended market disappearing rapidly, so a deal was struck with the National Bus Company, whereby NBC would take an half share in the project, and guaranteed orders of 500 vehicles per year for seven or eight years. Even that level of production was only a quarter of the planned maximum capacity of the new factory. The NBC, as successor to the BET and THC groups, operated principally rural, interurban and suburban services - not the type of services that the Leyland National was designed for.
Nothing but Nationals!
Full details of the Leyland Nationals delivered new to the companies can be found in the table. There was a considerable amount of swapping of vehicles between R&W and WW in the early stages.
It is notable that, during the period 1974-79, apart from a few small minibuses, National Welsh or its predecessors bought no other type of single deck bus than the Leyland National, and most of those were the 37' (11.3m) long version. The Nationals were being used to replace double deckers with 60 - 70 seats, Leyland Tiger Cubs and Bristol MWs with 45 seats, and anything in between! The Bristol LH was a vehicle with a very similar configuration and engine to the Leyland Tiger Cub, and also similar dimensions to the Bristol MW, and would surely have been a more suitable replacement for at least some of those vehicles. Other NBC subsidiaries, such as Hants & Dorset, United and Bristol built up substantial fleets of LHs in the same period. Perhaps the ex-R&W engineering managers, who led the engineering department of the combined group, and who might therefore have been expected to favour Bristols, were suspicious of lightweight vehicles - but the Tiger Cubs seem to have given satisfactory service. However, one of the senior engineering managers is reputed to have wished that the whole fleet be made up of Bristol MWs!
Dual Purpose Nationals
The dual purpose Leyland Nationals would also not have been as flexible as their predecessors, having no separate luggage accommodation, and would therefore not have been suitable for use on express coach services. They tended to be used on the longer interurban services, such as Cardiff-Gloucester, or the improved service between Cardiff and Llantwit Major introduced late in 1975 in place of a proposal to reopen the parallel railway service. The publicity for that service described the Leyland Nationals as having 'air conditioning'! The railway service was eventually reopened, but it took another thirty years to achieve!