he Associated Equipment Company (AEC) proved that despite having a history dating back to 1912, a loyal customer base and a reputation as ‘Builders of London’s Buses,’ you can still go to the wall if internal politics and bean-counters conspire against you.
So, whilst the merger of Leyland and AEC in 1962 should have been a catalyst for great things for the new company, as both truck builders had full order books and established export markets, the relationship proved less than beneficial in the long-term for the Southall-based truck builder. In addition, the 1968 merger of Leyland and BMC, which included GUY Motors and a plethora of car and van builders, brought even more model duplication, as well as serious financial and labour problems associated with the car-making divisions.
AEC had built the iconic Routemaster bus, which is still working selected tourist routes in London more than 50 years after it was first introduced, and had been producing trucks that were usually the most powerful in their class. It had an immensely loyal customer base, and sales even increased for a while when the new Leyland-group ‘Ergomatic’ truck cab was introduced across the AEC, Albion and Leyland brands for the first time in 1964.
That loyalty even remained after the debacle with the ill-fated V8-800 engine that briefly saw the light of day in 1968. Designed from the outset for eventual turbocharging and inter-cooling, with a potential output of 400bhp, the 12,154cc V8 produced 247bhp and a surprisingly low 580lb/ft of torque, which meant that it needed to be kept revving for maximum performance.
The concept of building an engine with which to compete against powerful European trucks, which were steadily increasing in popularity in the UK, was sound, but the project was under-funded by Leyland, and so was launched prematurely and underdeveloped. Whilst the AEC Mandator V8 took the commercial vehicle industry by storm at its introduction, it was destined to fail miserably.
Overheating, big end bearing problems, and troublesome semi-automatic gearboxes resulted in the model being withdrawn within months of its introduction, and AEC proceeded to buy back most of them. Even so, the customer base remained loyal, and, by the end of Mandator production in July 1977, the 12,473cc top-of-the-range AV760 straight-six engine had been uprated to 265bhp at 2200rpm. However, in reality, it was too little too late.
In 1971, Leyland took the decision to build the new premium heavyweight T25 truck range (eventually to be known as the Marathon) at AEC’s Southall plant, which was running at 77 per cent capacity compared with almost 100 per cent at Leyland. However, whilst AEC also proposed to re-launch the Mandator with an improved V8, politics within the Leyland management conspired against the plan and it was consigned to history.
The Leyland Marathon was designed from the outset as a high specification truck capable of combating the rising number of European trucks being operated by British firms. With the demise of the ill-fated V8-800 engine, the only engine within the entire Leyland group capable of being developed further was the AEC AV760 straight six. Re-engineered as the turbocharged TL12, it produced 280bhp.
Launched in 1973, the Marathon could not, however, be regarded as a true AEC, as it wasn’t directly developed from a preceding model. That didn’t stop operators loyal to the AEC brand purchasing them, with some even replacing the Leyland grille badge with that of AEC.
Unfortunately, the Marathon was also a victim of Leyland’s lack of investment and foresight, as it was denied the brand new cab that would have made it really successful. Instead, it got the standard Sankey (later GKN) cab, raised higher than normal, but with a ‘cobbled together’ look. The Marathon performed well, but drivers complained of poor fit and finish, and Cummins engines were introduced to overcome problems with the TL12 unit.
Leyland had always been the dominant force in the merger with AEC, and by degrees the design and manufacturing facilities at Southall were sidelined. With parent group, British Leyland Motor Corporation, virtually bankrupt by 1974, investment in and expansion of the AEC plant came to a halt. Production levels fell, popular models were axed in favour of less popular and troublesome new Leyland models, yet loyal customers stubbornly waited for new AECs that were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
On the 25th May 1979, the AEC factory at Southall closed with the loss of 2150 jobs. It was a needless and premature end for one of Britain’s most respected vehicle manufacturers, but against a background of bitter rivalry and the settling of old scores at boardroom level, it’s thought that Lord Stokes (the then head of British Leyland) raised a toast to the demise of AEC, after all, he had been turned down as an apprentice at the Southall works many years before.
Scotland-based Albion was acquired by Leyland Motors in 1951 and, despite cut backs to its model range, quickly found its niche as the builder of light and medium-weight vehicles within the group. However, after the British Leyland Motor Corporation was formed in 1968, which then brought competing models from Guy- and Bathgate-built BMC into the group, Albion’s days as a separate brand were numbered.
When the Sankey-built Ergomatic tilting cab was introduced in 1964, Albion also continued using the older Motor Panels-built Leyland-Albion-Dodge (LAD) cab, which reduced unladen weight and proved particularly popular with operators in Scotland. Both cab variants were used until 1972, when the Albion brand was discontinued by Leyland in favour of the parent company badge, and the company became Leyland Glasgow.
The new Scotstoun, Glasgow-built Leylands used a re-styled version of the Bathgate G series cab, itself developed from the old BMC FJ cab introduced in 1964. Production of Chieftain, Clydesdale and Reiver models continued at Scotstoun until 1980, when manufacturing was transferred to Leyland’s Bathgate plant.
1970 saw a new Scottish truck manufacturer appear, albeit too briefly. The East Kilbride-based Argyle Motor Manufacturing Company launched its 16-ton GVW two-axle rigid, known as the Argyle Christina, powered by the trusty Perkins 6.354 120bhp diesel, and fitted with a version of the Motor Panels cabs as used, at the time, by Guy and Seddon.
Whilst the truck sold well to local haulage companies, Argyle failed to compete against the might of major truck manufacturers, and production ceased a year later. Estimates vary on how many were built, but it’s thought the total was less than ten.
The 1970s proved amazingly disastrous for British truck manufacturers with names starting with the letter A. However, unlike AEC and Albion, whose demise was purely down to internal politics within the ill-fated Leyland empire, the fate of Atkinson was not of its own making.