The Daimler Fleet line (known as the Leyland Fleet line from c.1975) is a rear-engine double-decker bus chassis built between 1960 and 1973 in Coventry, Warwickshire, England, and from 1973 until 1980 in Farington, Lancashire, England. However, the last complete vehicle did not enter service until 1983. It was superseded by the Leyland Olympian.
The Fleet line was built mainly for the United Kingdom market, but a number of Fleet lines had been exported to Portugal, South Africa and Hong Kong.
It was the second of three bus models to have a marque name as well as an alphanumeric identity code. The other two were the Fleet line and the Road liner.
Daimler had a long and respected image in the eyes and hearts of many a transport manager as a builder of rock solid and cost effective buses right up the brands disappearance in 1973. Where Leyland was king of the corporate fleets that existed before the creation of the National Bus Company in the late ’60s, Daimler buses were the backbone of most of your Council or Municipal undertakings up and down the land.
Traditional half cab decker’s featuring a lazy Gardner engine, an open rear platform featuring a conductor complete with bell punch machine and leather money satchel evoke many a fond memory of buses.
Leyland had amazed the bus scene with its all new rear engine Atlantean in 1958, and at this time both Leyland and Daimler were bitter rivals in every sense. Not wishing to be outsmarted by the Lancastrian Empire, the good men of Daimler at Radford in Coventry, under William Lyons’ instruction, set upon designing their own rear engine front entrance bus chassis.
A prototype was developed with bodywork by Birmingham based Metro Cammell. A vertical Daimler D6 engine was used with transmission of semi automatic design by Coventry based Self Changing Gears Ltd. After a period of testing and consultation, production versions rolled off the line in 1961 with established Gardner 6LW power units.
Daimler continued to produce traditional half cab buses with its CVG5 and CVG6 throughout most of the 1960s with Northampton Corporation taking the very last ever open platform bus as late as 1968. What made the Fleet line different to its similar looking, Leyland Atlantean, rival! Was the fitting of a drop-centre rear axle as standard, whereas the Leyland only offered it as an expensive option! This allowed lower height bodywork to be fitted where obstructions such as railway bridges dictated the maximum overall height of a bus. It was not long before the Fleet line became a popular chassis with UK operators.
The Fleet line was a favourite amongst Municipal Corporations. This one is from the vast Birmingham City Transport fleet.
Whereby the Atlantean was Leyland-engine, Daimler remained loyal to Gardner and following the launch of the more powerful and economical 6LX engine range, the Fleet line was soon the only credible alternative to the Atlantean prior to the Bristol VRT. Engine options did change following the creation of British Leyland and the same Atlantean power unit of the 0.680 Leyland engine became optional in the Daimler. After the spectacular flop of the single deck Roadline chassis, the Fleet line was quickly redeveloped to be available as a single deck bus though no where near as popular as the double deck variant.
Leyland remained jealous of Daimler even though they were both now part of the same family; and one or two tactics were played out in order to make the Leyland Atlantean seem a better option. Raw chassis prices were regularly hiked up along with parts costing’s, yet operators continued to buy them partly spurred on by Leyland’s worrying attitude of ‘we know best’.
Operators still viewed Daimler as a respected concern despite its new parentage and despite some truly disastrous Leyland designs like the 0.500 diesel engine for example. Another event that was seen as a disruption and an attempt to stem the Daimler’s popularity came in 1973.
Owing to the success of the Jaguar XJ6, production was ramped up at Radford, and British Leyland opted to remove all the bus production tooling, after a production run of more than 7000 units, and move it all up to Lancashire – rather than extend the Radford plant. This event caused huge disruption to Fleet line production, and delays soon backed up. Those cunning Leyland men offered readily available Atlantean’s at favourable prices to compensate for delays. Some took the offer but most held out for the Fleet line, but another kick in the teeth for ‘dye in the wool’ Fleet line operators came in the form of the Daimler name being dropped, all future chassis were known as Leyland Fleet line.
West Midlands PTE bought the Coventry designed Fleet line in huge numbers most with locally made MCW bodywork.
Another sacrificial Leyland Lamb
It was reported that some of the tooling was damaged or broken either before or during the 1973 move to Leyland and it was also alleged that vital parts were missing upon arrival. Delays continued but Fleet line production recommenced and after a trail batch of both Atlantean and Fleet line types, London Transport (LT) placed an order for 679 Fleet lines built to a specification partly dictated by LT.
These proved to be problematic in service though later it was proved that this was caused by LTs refusal to change their engineering plans to match the bus as previous LT designs had been designed bespoke for them right from the drawing board. They were soon withdrawn from service yet dozens of operators snapped them up as soon as they were put on sale.
Other users found them reliable and cheap to run, the ultra long lasting and economical Gardner engines made the Fleet line popular as far north as Scotland or as far east as China who bought them by the hundreds. By 1980 new laws were coming into force relating to safety and noise levels and Leyland stopped production of the Fleet line in July of that year. Leyland had wanted ride of the Fleet line years before and just as the parent company had done with AEC and Bristol despite operator outcry, once great names were killed purely to keep the Leyland name on life support.
Due to bodybuilder backlogs, the last ever Fleet line to enter service rather fittingly went to a Municipal operator – Cleveland Transit in November 1982.
The Fleet line was the second rear-engine double deck bus chassis to be launched by a UK manufacturer, following Leyland’s introduction of the Atlantean in 1958. From the outset, the Fleet line had a drop-centre rear axle fitted as standard, enabling low-height bodywork to be fitted without necessitating an inconvenient seating layout in part of the upper deck, as was the case with early Atlantean’s. Leyland responded by offering a drop-centre rear axle as an option on the Atlantean, but after the two companies came under the same ownership in 1968, the low-height Atlantean option was discontinued.
The prototype Fleet line was fitted with a Daimler engine, but when production started only the Gardner 6LX or 6LW engines were offered. By 1968 Gardner’s new and more powerful 6LXB was also an option, and in 1970 Leyland’s 0.680 engines became available. Gardner engines had an excellent reputation for reliability and economy while Leyland engines were livelier and thirstier. Most Fleet line customers preferred Gardner engines, but the Leyland engine became popular – particularly for a period in the 1970s when Gardner could not meet demand.
In late 1960s, Daimler developed the longer 36′ double-deck Fleet line which was based on the single-deck Road liner chassis. This chassis had a longitudinally-mounted Cummins engine at the rear offside corner. It was designed mainly for export, but one was built for Walsall Corporation Transport.
In mid-1970s, Leyland developed a special version of the Fleet line, known as the B20, with Leyland 0.690 engine, chimneys on both sides above the engine compartment and reduced noise levels. All of these went to London Transport.
As with many British bus chassis including the comparable Leyland Atlantean, the bodywork was supplied separately by a range of different companies to their own designs, meaning it can be difficult to identify the chassis. Some, but not all, vehicles have a manufacturer’s badge on the rear. A notable difference between the Atlantean and Fleet line is that the front of the engine cover, towards the rear of the lower deck, is sloped at about 10 degrees on the Daimler, but is vertical, with a notch at the top, on the Leyland.
Daimler Fleet line chassis designations started with the letters CR, of which the C is reported to stand for Coventry, and the R stands for Rear-engine. For single-deckers this became SR (although not on the earliest examples which were referred to with the standard CR).
This was followed by a code to indicate the engine fitted: D6 (Daimler 6-cylinder, prototypes only); G6 (Gardner 6-cylinder, more often than not this was expanded to the more specific G6LW, G6LX or G6LXB); L6 (Leyland 6-cylinder); C6 (Cummins 6-cylinder).
The standard length of the Fleet line was 30′ but lengths of 33′ and 36′ were also available, which were sometimes (though not consistently) identified by a suffix of -33 or -36 (sometimes with an oblique stroke in place of the hyphen).
Later Leyland Fleet line chassis designations were different: FE for Fleet line, followed by 30 or 33 (length in feet); A (if applicable) for Air brakes; G for Gardner or L for Leyland engine; R for Right-hand drive.
The prototype London DMS-class Fleet line (left) next to the AEC Route master rear-entrance class which it was meant to replace, but which eventually outlived the DMS in London service
London Transport was the largest British Fleet line operator, whose DMS and DM classes totalled 2,646 vehicles (the last 400 were built as B20s), in addition to the earlier XF (experimental Fleet line) class of eight buses. At the time of delivery of London Transport’s first DM/DMS class Daimler Fleet line (December 1970), the Fleet line was a successful model (when comparing sales against other chassis), more than 3500 Fleet line buses having been produced for other operators.
The DMS and DM-class vehicles were fitted with either Park Royal or MCW bodywork, and were given fleet numbers (DMS 1 – DM 2646) under the drivers’ window on the offside and at the rear of the nearside of the vehicle.
The first vehicle into service was DMS 1 at 0454 on 2 January 1971 from Shepherds Bush Garage on route 220. However, celebrations at the garage meant that the bus left two minutes late and thus DMS 31 at Brixton Garage actually entered first at 0455 on route 95. The last vehicle was DMS 2438 also on 2 January, in 1993, returning home in the dark at 1845. This bus operated a farewell tour between Croydon Garage, Chipstead Valley and Hammond Street, London on special one-day only route 459.
A total of 60 garages operated DMS’s in London. The smallest allocation was at Willesden where just 10 vehicles in total ever operated, and the largest at Croydon with a huge allocation total of 417 spanning a period of twenty years from 1973. In the Croydon example, an allocation could be as short as two months or as long as ten years. Croydon were the last garage to operate the type in normal passenger service in what became known as DMS heartland principally because of the other large operational garages at Brixton, Merton, Sutton, Catford and Thornton Heath.
The first batch of London Fleet lines had Gardner engines, but Leyland engine the majority. The final type of DMS, the B20, appears to have been the least reliable and several were fitted with Iveco engines during the 1980s.
DMS’s proved unpopular in London, mainly due to the slow boarding times compared to those of the open-backed Routemaster class. To counter this, London Transport trialled the AFC (Automated Fare Collection) turnstile entry system on some of the fleet. This was coin operated and was intended as a quicker, second boarding option as an alternative to paying the driver. However, the AFC system proved unpopular due to unreliability and by 1977 the trial had been abandoned.
Maintenance was also another major issue, as the parts became defective much sooner. Maintenance costs for rear-engine, front entrance buses were much higher than the older half-cab models due to the inability to separate the body from chassis for modular overhaul. This was also exacerbated by the presence of a 50% Government grant for new vehicles at the time, rendering withdrawal a cost effective option at or around the time of their first (7 year) recertification for service.
Withdrawal commenced in 1979 with the early vehicles being the first to go, the first to leave the fleet in this way being DMS 251 in February 1979, quickly departing for bus breaker Wombwell Diesels in Yorkshire. The very first vehicle to leave the fleet was DMS 1248 which was completely destroyed by fire whilst in service on route 280A from Sutton Garage in August 1978. In London, the successors of the DMS/DM buses were the Leyland Titan and MCW Metro bus.
Many of the sold Fleet lines were sent to Ensign Bus in Purfleet as a dealer for onward sale or spare parts. So many vehicles were despatched there between 1979 and 1983 that the yards became known as the ‘DMS graveyards’ as not enough buyers could be sought. Often vehicles could not be brought out and so rotted away where they sat.
However, hundreds of London Fleet lines proved popular second-hand purchases for operators throughout Britain from 1979 and during the 1980s, including the aftermath of bus deregulation. In some cases, the special modifications which had been built into the buses to meet London Transport’s own specifications were removed at the request of the purchaser, to improve reliability and restore standardisation with other Fleet lines in their fleets. There was also a number of DMS/DM buses sold for export, many departing for the Far East in Hong Kong. In addition, nearly 50 vehicles found operations in the USA for open-top sightseeing work.
Few vehicles have entered preservation, DMS 1 being with the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, DMS 132, 999, 1051, 1052, 1515, 1601, 1868, 2375, 2456 and appropriately DM 2646 with the Ensign Bus Museum. DM 2646 has been preserved in the Shillibeer livery which it carried back in 1979. DMS1515 is still in its Super car incarnation, from when the Travel card was instigated. 2008 saw a resurgence of fleet lines being bought for preservation and DMS’s 115, 550, 1002, 1911, 2216, and 2357 also reached cherished status, albeit work-in-progress. April 2010 saw DMS2127 enter the ranks of preserved DMS’s, fresh from service at Whipsnade Safari Park.
West Midlands PTE operated over 2,000 Fleet lines of varying types
Second in fleet size was Birmingham Corporation and its successor West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive with well over 1,000 buses, including the first single-deck Fleet lines in 1965. Other constituent municipal fleets – and Midland Red – also contributed Fleet lines to the WMPTE Fleet line fleet to boost the number to over 2,100. The Daimler factory in Coventry was, of course, in the WMPTE area.
West Midlands PTE preferred the Gardner engine, but received 220 Fleet lines with Leyland engines during 1974-76 when Gardner’s were hard to obtain. However, the Leyland’s were found to be less reliable, particularly in the hilly Black Country, and most received Gardner engines during the early 1980s. The 700 or so Fleet lines inherited by West Midlands Travel in 1986 all had Gardner engines and the type lasted with WMT until 1997.
Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive purchased over 500 Fleet lines in addition to a similar number inherited from its constituents (although even in such numbers they were still outnumbered by Atlantean’s). One of these, numbered 583 (BCB 613V) of the Lancashire United (subsidiary of GMPTE) was sold to Chester City Transport in 1992, numbered 79. It remained in regular service until May 2007 and it is now preserved in the Chester City Transport livery that it carried when withdrawn from service. It regularly attends rallies and when withdrawn was believed to have been the last closed top Fleet line in regular stage carriage service in the UK.
South Yorkshire PTE (SYPTE) operated a significant number of Fleet lines during the late 1960s and 1970s. Some were quite short lived although one example ‘1515’ OKW515R saw service in London and Sheffield, then onto private operator Andrews of Sheffield where it served in competition to SYPTE for many years. Preserved in the late 1990s, the vehicle is said to be under local restoration for future bus preservation rally duties.
Another preserved fleet line from SYPTE ‘WWJ754M’ is owned by the Sheffield Transport Group and housed at Sandtoft, a museum near Doncaster. The vehicle was widely applauded as one of the best designs of double Decker bus from the 1970s and is a centrepiece of local rallies. Using Sheffield Transport livery, it is said to be one of the last remaining examples of its type.
SYPTE also saw a number of inherited 1973 ‘L’ registered Fleet lines from Doncaster independents. These were operational on the popular Rotherham to Sheffield route 69 for almost 15 years boasting low floors, large luggage and buggy storage plus blue coloured interior lighting near the cab area.
Most notably though, SYPTE fitted all its vehicles with comfortable sprung leather or fabric seats.
Ending their life with the PTE in the early 1990s, the remaining Fleet lines were placed on short duties between Rotherham bus station and the nearby Asda supermarket formerly at the Eastwood Trading Estate. Upon re-location of the supermarket, the dwindling remaining members of the fleet were sent to Ipswich and Scarborough with the SYPTE choosing Dennis as replacement across the whole county.
Other English PTE’s, plus many fleets in the municipal, such as Cardiff Bus with 90 examples, BET Group, Scottish Bus Group and independent sectors purchased Fleet lines.
Unusual Fleet lines
Walsall Corporation specified some non-standard short-wheelbase Fleet lines, the first of which, 1 UDH , was only 25 ft 7 in long, had no front overhang and had its entrance behind the front axle. The next 29 vehicles were 27 ft 6 in long with a short front overhang and again only an entrance behind the front axle. The remaining 69 were 28 ft 6 in long, with a narrow entrance in the usual position along with the entrance behind the front axle. 1 UDH had Northern Counties bodywork with wrap-around windscreens on both decks, similar to that specified by Barton Transport on AEC Regents and a Dennis Loline.
Several operators purchased single-deck Fleet lines (Birmingham was the first, in 1965). Rotherham Corporation purchased two 33′ single deck fleet lines with 45 seat Willowbrook dual purpose bodies, no’s 169 and 170. Mexborough and Swinton Traction Company ordered 3 similar vehicles with Marshall Bodywork for White Rose Express services. However they were delivered as Yorkshire Traction 228-230 following the takeover in October 1969. In late 1970, Yorkshire Traction purchased nine 36′ Fleet lines with dual door Walter Alexander W type bodywork, no’s 357-365.
Walsall Corporation purchased one 36′ double-deck Fleet line CRC6 in 1968, which is now preserved.
Unusual engines temporarily fitted by operators in Fleet lines in the 1960s included a Perkins V8 installed in Walsall 8, and a BMMO 10.5 litre unit in Midland Red 5261. Most remarkably, in 1972 a Rolls Royce LPG engine was fitted in Teesside Municipal Transport (ex-Middlesbrough) S470.
Two of the many books available.
May I thank Old Buses and Show bus for the use of their pictures. I have not been able to use my own pictures due to problems with my Laptop ( my pictures are on a seperate harddrive which is unavailable to my laptop for reasons unknown to me!) I will get it sorted,