7020 was the last of twelve Leyland Tigers, numbered 7009-7020 that were delivered to the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (MPTE) between April and August 1982. These coaches were primarily intended for the long distance private hire and excursions market which the MPTE had been trying to develop for a few years.
The Leyland Tiger, launched to representatives of coach operators, dealers and press at a very elaborate party in Gibraltar, was Leyland’s response to the foreign competition for the UK coach market of the early 1980s. Seen as a companion to the Leyland Leopard, rather than its replacement, the Tiger gave what Leyland claimed to be exactly what coach operators had been asking for; a high performance, air suspended coach chassis from a British manufacturer.
Powered by Leyland’s Turbo charged TL11H engine, rated at 218bhp, later up-rated to 245bhp the Tiger was very popular with operators throughout the British Isles and Australia. The early Tigers, including the Merseyside examples, had five-speed pneumocyclic gearboxes similar to that fitted in Atlanteans and Nationals but it was soon discovered that this gearbox could not take the power that the 245bhp engine passed through it and so later Tigers were fitted with hydrocyclic gearboxes. However manual Transmission was also available.
The Merseyside Tigers were fitted with Duple ‘Dominant IV’ forty-nine seat bodywork fitted with ‘express’ (also known as ‘grant’) doors. This wide two-piece door, along with other fittings such as a fixed bulkhead behind the driver, additional handrails, bell pushes etc enabled the coaches to be eligible for the ‘New Bus Grant’ whereby the British Government paid part of the cost of a new bus providing it met certain specifications and spent a prescribed proportion of its time on local service work.
It was therefore common to see the Tigers in use on peak hour duties and lightly used routes which were considered safe from vandalism. Whilst in use on bus work, a cab door incorporating a cash tray and ticket machine holder would be attached but these would usually be removed prior to use on the MPTE’s extensive programme of excursions and private hires which saw these vehicles travel throughout the United Kingdom and indeed Europe.
The Tigers were also regularly used on National Express Coach services. Unfortunately by specifying coaches that complied with the Bus Grant the MPTE was prevented from competing with local operators in the developing ‘Executive’ coach hire market, which demanded coaches to be fitted with toilets, reclining seats and televisions. Southport Depot soon removed the cab bulkhead to make them more suitable for excursion and tour work.
When new, the twelve Tigers were spread out between the five Divisions of the MPTE, each getting a pair with the exception of the North and South Liverpool Divisions which got three apiece.
A thirteenth Tiger (7031), with Duple Laser body and ZF manual transmission arrived in the MPTE fleet in June 1983, having been new as a Leyland Bus demonstrator and was allocated to Southport where it joined the two existing Tigers and two previously delivered Duple Dominant 1 bodied Leyland Leopards.
Each division had a pool of specially selected drivers who received additional training for the role of coach driving. The coaches were delivered in standard MPTE livery of the time of Verona green, Jonquil cream and brown.
7020 was delivered on 17th August 1982 and was soon afterwards allocated, along with 7014 and 7018, to Speke Garage which used them on the 72 (Pier Head – Hunts Cross), 80E (Speke – Royal Liverpool Hospital) and 84 (Garston – Speke Airport) in order to clock up the required Bus Grant local mileage.
On 26th October 1986, Bus Deregulation Day, 7020 passed to the newly formed Merseybus (Merseyside Transport Ltd) company but it remained at Speke Garage until its closure in March 1988 before moving to Edge Lane followed by a brief spell at Gillmoss (July 1991 – April 1992).
Fortunately, by this time the requirement for the Tigers to be used on stage carriage had ceased and most lost the upper part of the cab bulkhead. Now part of MTL, 7020 then passed into the appropriately named ‘Coaching Unit’, later to be called ‘Sightseers’ in April 1992 where it remained until October 1993.
Unlike most of its counterparts 7020 was not extensively overhauled at Edge Lane during this period. Instead it was transferred along with three others to MTL’s Heysham Travel Operation in North Lancashire. Painted in the attractive, albeit non MTL corporate Heysham Travel livery of green and yellow, the Tigers were used on school and college contracts, including a lengthy one that took them from Lancaster to Blackburn every weekday.
The Tigers also put in regular appearances on stage carriage work from Lancaster to Carnforth and Kirkby Lonsdale. Sometime during this period 7020 was involved in an accident which resulted in the rebuilding of the body framing at the back and the removal of the boot and the original distinctive style of rear lights as well as some of the stainless steel trim.
Shortly after Arriva’s takeover of MTL in February 2000, the Heysham Travel operation with the four Tigers passed to Stagecoach North-West who soon moved the fleet to its new depot in Morecambe. 7020 was repainted into Stagecoach livery shortly after and renumbered 220 remaining in service until late 2002 when it went into store at Lillyhall near Workington.
With the assistance of Stagecoach, 7020 was acquired for preservation in March 2003 and drove faultlessly to Burscough. It was quickly Mot’d but never rallied as it was one of the conditions of sale that it did not remain in Stagecoach livery.
Restoration work soon began and a considerable amount of bodywork had to be done to replace the corroded Duple framing and also to re-instate the original style of boot lid and distinctive back light apertures. Fortunately the parts required were readily available as a number of similarly bodied coaches were reaching their retirement age and so regular visits to Barnsley and coach operators’ yards were made.
Much of the rebuilding work was undertaken at the North West Museum of Transport at St Helens and indeed 7020 was the last vehicle to leave St Helens Museum prior to its closure for refurbishment. After a brief spell of storage at the former English Electric Vulcan works near Newton-le-Willows, 7020 returned to Burscough for further welding and re-fabrication of framing before work ceased to concentrate on other MTT projects.
Restoration work recommenced in 2010 and its hoped the Tiger will be able to roar down Menlove Avenue once again in 2012! 7020 is currently on long term loan to the Merseyside Transport Trust.