In August 1973, Cabinet approved a major upgrade of the Canberra Bus Service, with the introduction of new routes and improved timetables. A substantial addition to the bus fleet was required and speedy delivery was essential. Leyland appeared to be the only manufacturer capable of delivering all the required number of buses in the time. Accordingly, the Department ordered seventy of the brand new Leyland National 10.9 (10.9 metres long — a bus especially developed for the Australian and New Zealand markets to meet rear axle weight restrictions), plus sixteen Volvos. Delivery of the Nationals was expected between April and August 1974. Originally it was intended that 32 of the buses would be imported complete from England and the others assembled in Sydney from imported components. Following objections from trade unions and a realisation that it was going to be easier to obtain shipping space for boxes of components rather than complete buses, the mix was altered to 16 imports plus 54 assembled in Australia. A combination of labour disputes in England and Australia and delays in shipping between the two countries resulted in the first National being delivered to Canberra in November 1974 and the last in October 1975.
Again being the pioneer operator of another brand of English rear engined bus created problems. Although the National has an exceedingly strong and good looking steel body, is a delightful bus to drive and offers a high level of comfort to passengers, it has had more than its share of mechanical and electrical problems. Also, the innovative ‘70’ series low profile tyres have not been particularly successful. On the other hand, the bodywork, after eight years, is in the best condition of any series of buses purchased for Canberra. The Department has replaced the original steering with heavy duty steering arms designed for the Leyland Titan double decker and in one bus has substituted a Gardner 6HLXB engine for the original Leyland 510 in a bid to improve the reliability of the bus and reduce the excessive smoke problem which has plagued the National since new. It is pertinent to note that Leyland has discontinued using the 510 engine in Nationals and is now offering Gardner and Leyland TL11 engines as original equipment on the revised National Mark II now available in Great Britain. If Canberra’s re-powering is successful, it is expected that other Nationals will be re-engined, thus extending their economic life.
This article is an extract from “Canberra’s Engineering Heritage” and was written in 1983.