Vintage Video (and More): Britain Enters Europe, And Starts A (Leyland) Marathon Journey

During one of those intensive (lockdown) research sessions that can be necessary for a CC Outtake around an old Leyland truck, I came across these linked videos, produced in 1973 and intended to promote the then new Leyland Marathon truck. They seemed too good to keep to myself.

The Marathon was to be Leyland’s heaviest tractor unit, built to haul up to 38 tons gross (although the UK limit was then 32 tons) and compete with the Volvo F88, Scania 1 Series and DAF 2800 vehicles. The target market was, as the name implied, true long distance haulage. So, even though the UK weight limit was still 32 tons, building a 38 ton capable tractor unit made sense.

Although it was badged and sold as a Leyland, it is perhaps best to see this as the last product of AEC, the London based heavy truck specialist within the Leyland truck empire, and indeed some were sold with AEC badges.  Although it used a version of Leyland’s relatively new Ergomatic cab, it was mounted in a higher position on a new chassis. The truck used the Leyland TL12 engine, a version of an older AEC engine and which developed a reputation for being able to take high mileages. More powerful Rolls-Royce and Cummins options were also available.

The cab was also developed to offer Leyland’s first factory built sleeper cab, albeit to a standard that might not pass muster now.

Like the cars side of the business, Leyland Trucks seemed to have had difficulty in distinguishing between development engineers and customers, and there were various issues with the first Marathons – braking systems were prone to a simple pedal mechanism failure, the heater was weak (you feel for the guy going to Norway), the taller cab on soft springs rolled a lot yet the ride was brittle and hard and the leaf springs wore quickly.

Many of these defects were rectified by the time the Marathon 2 came in 1977. Although sales were stronger, by then the international hauliers had made their choices, and Scania, Volvo and DAF were ahead, and stayed there. Limited manufacturer support outside the UK held back international sales, and also international usage by British hauliers.

The Marathon’s genes were retained though – the 1981 Leyland T45 Roadtrain  used the chassis and engine of the Marathon in a bang up to date cab design, and was a truck that won awards if not huge commercial success.