18th June 2020

The tale of the Leyland Tiger

With production spanning 40 years, the front-engine Leyland Tigers really got people moving in the first half of the 20th century and oversaw a huge period of change in public transport.

Described as a heavyweight, half-cab, single-decker bus and coach, the Tiger was built by Leyland Motors at its factory in Lancashire. Based on a ladder chassis and with the engine mounted upfront, it was technically a variation on the Leyland Titan launched in 1927. Both were unveiled to great fanfare, at the Commercial Motor show at London's Olympia all in November that year, after considerable development work.

The Titan caused a stir as the first double-decker bus that ran on two axles with pneumatic tyres, yet could carry 52 passengers. The Tiger used the same philosophy, albeit as a single-decker with fewer seats, and both continued Leyland’s practice of using mythical names for double-deck vehicles and naming single-deck chassis after animals.

Lighter than their predecessors, they offered greater refinement and efficiency thanks to a powerful six-cylinder, 6.8-litre petrol engine producing between 90-98 bhp. They also used a single-plate clutch wedded to a four-speed gearbox and vacuum-servo brakes for all four wheels. The previous generation of busses and coaches had used straight chassis, but the new Leyland designs used a low set frame, so passengers didn’t have to step up to clamber aboard, and could enjoy a more comfortable journey.

As a single-decker, the Tiger’s wheelbase was slightly longer than the Titan, (at 5.33m) which in turn allowed for longer bodywork and space for up to 35 seats. Interestingly there were two further subtle variations of the vehicle called the Tiger and the Tigress. The first is a half-cab version (with the driver positioned at the font of the vehicle and level with the engine), while the second has a more conventional layout with the driver behind the engine bonnet and sharing the main cabin with passengers.

Production started in 1927 and evolved from types TS1 to TS11 before stopping for the war in 1942. However, before hostilities resumed, the Tiger had caught the attention of fleet operators across the UK as a vehicle that offered better performance and practicality than rivals. Easy to maintain and operate, it was also cheaper to run.

In the 1930s, Leyland’s 8.6-litre diesel engine was introduced, offering better performance, and the Tiger proved popular overseas, being sold in Sweden, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina, Australia and Canada.

The Tiger returned after the war, (along with the Titan) but, although the name remained the same, it was really a newly designed vehicle to the same dimensions as the last generation of the old version. This allowed the use of better engines and gearboxes, and the Tiger once again found favour with buyers both at home and aboard.

Regional and national operators include Transport for London and the largest of coach firms, as the coach variant included a drop-frame extension to provide a boot for luggage, while longer versions were produced for international markets where legislation allowed.

Further development saw the buses and coaches adapt to different regulations and requirements. By the mid-1950s the Tiger’s half-cab design and the comparatively low seating capacity that had been eclipsed by that in more modern rivals meant that its popularity waned in the UK. One of the main issues was that the front-mounted engine robbed valuable cabin space from the vehicle. In this respect, the Tiger did sire offspring, and the Tiger Cub addressed many of the older vehicle’s issues. With an underfloor-engine, it picked up where the old model left off and was manufactured between 1952 and 1970.

That’s not to say there wasn’t still some life in the old Tiger, and many existing models were converted to double-deckers as a way of extending their service life. This was seen as a cheaper alternative to purchasing the equivalent Titan model. The old design also stayed popular in other parts of the world, especially the 'dirt road' markets, where it proved both profitable and effective in coping with the conditions. Production finished in 1968, but last Tigers were delivered to South Africa in 1970.

Picture credit – Jon Bennett