I recently had the unexpected pleasure of sampling a recent arrival in Torbay, a Leyland Titan PD2/3. This 1947-built bus carries Leyland bodywork (open top since 1962) and has been acquired by English Riviera Sightseeing Tours.
Calling in by chance on my way home from Teignmouth, I got into a long conversation with Anthony, the proprietor. He is looking for a suitable driver to take the bus on tours around the three towns of the Bay – I wondered if I might be the chap he was looking for? It would have been very opportune, as I had been made redundant from my job as a designer that same day.
The PD2 looked very eye-catching, wearing its freshly-applied custom livery. I had a guided tour of the newly-refurbished inside and top deck as well, the fine handiwork of the chaps at Mardens of Benfleet I believe. We talked about the history of the vehicle and about my experiences driving heritage buses for weddings. This led to a further opportunity a few days later.
I was invited to take the PD2 out for a multi-purpose test drive. I say that because I would be assessed as to my suitability, I would be assessing the capabilities of the bus and Anthony would be looking to see whether the bus could cope with the route. So I turned up at the stabling point next to Torquay’s Railway Station and became acquainted with the spartan cab. I could almost number its components on the fingers of one hand. Steering wheel, gearstick, pedals, handbrake and 3 dials (speedo, vacuum and oil pressure).
On starting the 0.600 diesel engine the first thing I noticed was that the idle speed was unusally fast. I asked about this when we were under way (there’s a sliding window in the bulkhead behind the driver so I was able to have a conversation with Anthony while we were en route) and apparently the tickover speed had been raised to eliminate the tendency of the engine to ‘hunt’ when idling. This rising and falling of the revs at idle is a characteristic of Leyland diesels and I thought it was a shame that it had been adjusted out. All Leylands of that era do it, don’t they? While it made for even running when stationary, it did have an impact on driving technique. Whenever we came to a halt I had to dip the clutch earlier than I would normally, otherwise the engine would carry the bus forward by itself. Although we didn’t discuss it further, I later thought of 2 more disadvantages: it could cause more wear to the brake shoes due to being unable to use engine braking at low revs and it could affect the fuel consumption too.
Apart from that, the driving experience was very good. There is synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears, making it unnecessary for me to do my customary double de-clutching! It still pays to pause when changing up as it gives a smoother change. The steering was tight (no play in the wheel) and reasonably light, thanks to two brand new front tyres. The cab was also pleasingly free from rattles, too. Finally, the front window opens as it was fitted with 2 new adjustable hinges recently. This was a welcome bonus on a very hot afteroon.
One of the main aims was to see how the PD2 coped with the hills. There was a suspicion that it was prone to overheat, as water was often seen at the radiator filler cap so we talked about my experiences with incontinent Lodekkas, especially if they stop immediately after climbing a long hill slowly! I was careful to drive without thrashing the engine and, apart from one time when we braked rather smartly after some traffic lights turned red, no water was lost.
It was great fun to be driving such a venerable machine round the streets I know so well. The summer sun had brought out all the tourists and we could see the potential for this being a very desirable way for them to see the beauty of the Bay.
For those who know Torbay well, our route took us to Torquay harbour, up the long hill to Babbacombe Downs, down to Meadfoot beach, up over the Lincombes and down to the harbour again, along the seafront to Preston for ice creams, along Paignton seafront, past the pier, over the railway, through Goodrington and Waterside, over the steam railway at Churston and down to Brixham. After passing the fishing harbour, we tackled the fearsome Overgang – a steep hill with a nasty hairpin bend halfway up. I was advised to take it wide, which I did. We got round OK, but only after we’d stopped to engage 1st gear! I double de-clutched on the move but the bus was having none of it and made horrible noises at me.
The return journey from Brixham was almost the reverse of the outward journey except for when we passed through Paignton town centre instead of the seafront.
My assessment of the journey was that, assuming that the PD2 was in good health, the route shouldn’t pose many problems. The trickiest bit was the hairpin bend at Overgang in Brixham but, by taking it wide and engaging 1st gear early, this should be do-able. I was asked to judge if having a full load would affect the viability of the trip but, apart from using lower gears on the hills, I didn’t think there was a significant risk of failure. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating so nobody will actually know how successful this will be until a loaded journey is undertaken.
Whether your humble scribe will be in the driving seat is another matter, so watch this space!