1771 is from the MPTE's first batch of ten Leyland
Nationals (although the MPTE had inherited a batch
of eight dual door Leyland Nationals when Southport
Corporation was absorbed in 1974). All ten of this first
batch, originally numbered 1766 - 1775, entered
service at St. Helen's Jackson Street Garage in
The Leyland National was the result of a partnership
between British Leyland and the National Bus
Company, which resulted in the design and production
of a modern single deck bus, the first of which
appeared at the 1970 Motor Show. Although
available in two lengths, with several options regarding such things as the number of doors, the Leyland National was designed as a highly standardised bus which was in itself contrary to the normal way of doing things in the bus industry.
Previously, whilst there had been basically standard designs, bus operators always had the freedom to choose how the vehicles were completed and the larger operators such as Liverpool Corporation and later the MPTE ordered buses that were built to designs produced specifically for themselves. The Leyland National was the first bus where everything was standardised, down to the destination boxes, interior trim, seats and so on. The only options were such things as colour (although even this was limited in range) and the arrangement of seats.
Leyland's radical 510 engine was originally fitted to all Leyland Nationals, this engine had a fixed cylinder head and was commonly known as "the headless wonder", this being designed to eliminate head gasket problems, mounted horizontally at the rear of the bus. Most of the MPTE's Leyland Nationals were fitted with five speed epicyclic gearboxes. Another unusual feature was the fitting of specially designed low profile tyres, primarily to lower step heights.
The Leyland National was superseded in 1979 by the Leyland National 2, by which time a total of 6,550 Mark 1 Nationals (as the earlier version became known) had been built in only eight years.
In May 1980, 1766 - 1775 were renumbered 6050 - 6059 as part of the PTE's numbering scheme which saw all bus seated Nationals re-numbered in the 6000 series. The MPTE eventually operated seventy-two bus seated and three dual purpose Mk1 Leyland Nationals and one hundred and three of the later Mk2 version, four of which were dual purpose. All of these passed from the MPTE to Merseybus on its formation in October 1986.
6055, as 1771 had now become, was transferred to Edge Lane not long after Merseybus took over and during January 1988 was painted in the attractive experimental colour scheme of Brunswick green with eau-de-nil relief. However it was withdrawn very shortly afterwards. Rather than being scrapped, It was sold to the Mersey Regional Health Authority and Merseybus's Edge Lane Works carried out a professional conversion for its new role as a mobile breast-screening unit. It fulfilled this role for as many years as it had operated as a bus until it was declared surplus to requirements and withdrawn in the Autumn of 2000.
After a couple of months in storage, it was purchased for preservation in February 2001. Although heavily converted, with little of the original interior remaining, the riveted modular construction of the National means that the re-building should be a relatively straightforward task. A start has already been made on collecting the many interior panels that will be required to re-instate the vehicle back to a 49-seat bus, thanks to the assistance of the Ribble Vehicle Preservation Group who have a number of Nationals in use as temporary store sheds.
It is intended to restore 1771 back to its original livery of verona green and jonquil cream with St. Helen's Division orange emblems in the future. The original preservation owner has kindly donated 1771 to the Merseyside Transport Trust.