Leyland Motors

Leyland Motors
FateMerged with British Motor Holdings
SuccessorBritish Leyland Motor Corporation
Founded1896; 123 years ago (1896) (as Lancashire Steam Motor Company)
Defunct1968 (1968)

Leyland Motors Limited (later known as the Leyland Motor Corporation) was a British vehicle manufacturer of lorries, buses and trolleybuses. The company diversified into car manufacturing with its acquisitions of Triumph and Rover in 1960 and 1967, respectively. It gave its name to the British Leyland Motor Corporation, formed when it merged with British Motor Holdings in 1968, to become British Leyland after being nationalised. British Leyland later changed its name to simply BL, then in 1986 to Rover Group.

Although the various car manufacturing businesses were eventually divested or went defunct due to the troubled existence of BL and its successors (Mini and Jaguar Land Rover are the two surviving organisations), the original Leyland Trucks business still exists as a subsidiary of Paccar.


Badge on a 1954 Leyland Comet 90 flatbed lorry


The original Leyland steam van
A 1924 Leyland Trojan tourer
A 1927 Leyland Eight, with sports bodywork
Petrol-engined Leyland wagon

Leyland Motors has a long history dating from 1896, when the Sumner and Spurrier families founded the Lancashire Steam Motor Company in the town of Leyland in North West England. Their first products included steam powered lawn mowers.[1] The company's first vehicle was a 1.5-ton-capacity steam powered van. This was followed by a number of undertype steam wagons using a vertical fire-tube boiler.[2] By 1905 they had also begun to build petrol-engined wagons. The Lancashire Steam Motor Company was renamed Leyland Motors in 1907 when it took over Coulthards of Preston, who had been making steam wagons since 1897.[3] They also built a second factory in the neighbouring town of Chorley which still remains today as the headquarters of the Lex Autolease and parts company.

In 1920, Leyland Motors produced the Leyland Eight luxury touring car, a development of which was driven by J.G. Parry-Thomas at Brooklands. Parry-Thomas was later killed in an attempt on the land speed record when the car overturned. Rumours that a chain drive broke were found to be incorrect when the car was disinterred late in the 20th century as the chains were intact. At the other extreme, they also produced the Trojan Utility Car in the Kingston upon Thames factory at Ham from 1922 to 1928.

Three generations of Spurriers controlled Leyland Motors from its foundation until the retirement of Henry Spurrier in 1964. Spurrier inherited control of Leyland Motors from his father in 1942, and successfully guided its growth during the postwar years. Whilst the Spurrier family were in control the company enjoyed excellent labour relations—reputedly never losing a day's production through industrial action.

World War II

During World War II, Leyland Motors, along with most vehicle manufacturers, was involved in war production. Leyland built the Cromwell tank at its works from 1943 as well as medium/large trucks such as the Hippo and Retriever.

After the war, Leyland Motors continued military manufacture with the Centurion tank.

Post war

1948 Leyland Beaver flatbed

In 1946, AEC and Leyland Motors form British United Traction to build trolleybuses.

In 1955, through an equity agreement, manufacture of commercial vehicles under licence from Leyland Motors commenced in Madras, India at the new Ashok factory. The products were branded as Ashok Leyland.

On the other hand, Leyland Motors acquired other companies in the post war years:

Holding company: Leyland Motor Corporation

Share of the Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd, issued 8. January 1968

Donald Stokes, previously Sales Director, was appointed managing director of Leyland Motors Limited in September 1962.[5] Originally a Leyland student apprentice he had grown up with the company.[6] He became chairman in 1966. In 1968 Leyland Motors merged with British Motor Holdings (BMH) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC). BMH, which was the product of an earlier merger between the British Motor Corporation, the Pressed Steel Company and Jaguar, brought with it into the new organisation more famous British goods vehicle and bus and coach marques, including Daimler, Guy, BMC, Austin and Morris. Leyland diesel engines were used in Finnish Sisu and Vanaja lorries and buses in 1960s. Chronologically, the growth of Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC) was as follows:

British Leyland era

BLMC logo

The BLMC group was difficult to manage because of the many companies under its control, often making similar products. This, and other reasons, led to financial difficulties and in December 1974 British Leyland had to receive a guarantee from the British government.

In 1975, after the publication of the Ryder Report and the company's bankruptcy,[8] BLMC was nationalised as British Leyland (BL) and split into four divisions with the bus and truck production becoming the Leyland Truck & Bus division within the Land Rover Leyland Group. This division was split into Leyland Bus and Leyland Trucks in 1981. Leyland Trucks depended on British sales as well as export markets, mainly Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth markets. The early 1980s were very hard, with export sales drying up in many places such as oil-dependent Nigeria.[9] In 1986, BL changed its name to Rover Group. The equity stake in Ashok Leyland was controlled by Land Rover Leyland International Holdings, and sold in 1987. At this point, while building about 10,000 trucks per annum, Leyland was more and more depending on outside engines as production of their own 98-series was steadily declining. The 1986 closure of Bedford's heavy truck plant further harmed Leyland, as they had been planning on selling axles and other components to the General Motors subsidiary.[10]

Leyland name post-British Leyland


The bus operations was sold in a management buyout to form Leyland Bus, and was subsequently bought by Volvo Buses in 1988, which discontinued most of its product range but adopted the Leyland Olympian, re-engineering it as the first named Volvo Bus model, the Volvo Olympian aside from minor frame changes the major alterations were the fitment of Volvo axles, braking system and controls. Both were the best selling double-deck bus chassis of their time.


  • 1987 The Leyland Trucks division of Rover Group (formerly BL) merged with DAF Trucks of The Netherlands, and was floated on the Dutch stock exchange as DAF NV. The new company traded as Leyland DAF in the UK, and as DAF elsewhere.
  • 1993 DAF NV went into bankruptcy. The UK truck division was bought through a management buyout and became Leyland Trucks. The van division was also bought through a management buy-out and became LDV. The Spare Parts Operation (Multipart) was also subject to a management buy-out before eventually becoming part of the LEX organisation.
  • 1998 Leyland Trucks was acquired by the US truck manufacturer Paccar. Leyland Trucks now operates as a division of Paccar from the Leyland Assembly Plant in North West England manufacturing around 14,000 trucks per year of which about a third are sold in the EU, though not with the name Leyland.

Ashok Leyland

Ashok Leyland Corporate Building in Chennai, India

The Leyland name and logo continues as a recognised and respected marque across India, the wider subcontinent and parts of Africa in the form of Ashok Leyland. Part of the giant Hinduja Group, Ashok Leyland manufactures buses, trucks, defence vehicles and engines. The company is a leader in the heavy transportation sector within India and has an aggressive expansionary policy. Ironically, since 1987, when the London based Hinduja Group bought the Indian-based Ashok Leyland company. Today, Ashok-Leyland is pursuing a joint venture with Nissan, and through its acquisition of the Czech truck maker, Avia, is entering the European truck market directly. With its purchase of a 26% stake in UK-based bus manufacturer Optare in 2010, Ashok Leyland has taken a step closer to reconnecting with its British heritage, as Optare is a direct descendant of Leyland's UK bus-making division. On 21 December 2011, Ashok Leyland bought an additional 49% stake in Optare, bringing its total to 75%.

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