Photos to enlarge)
Bruce Elston of Botswana,
Africa has graciously answered a question I asked of him about one
of my favourite old trucks of the 1950's/60's. The LEYLAND HIPPO, an
underpowered (By Canadian standards) fascinating truck that grows on
you. A tough machine that was pretty hard to hurt. The
following is his description to my question, --- Diesel Gypsy.
The photo on the right is
taken from the Australian Outback during the 1950's, just one other
part of the world that Leyland penetrated.
Maybe a little of their "history" may be of
interest. Leyland Motors of Leyland in Lancashire, England were a
venerable truck manufacturer going back to the days of steam
propulsion in 1892 when the founder, James Sumner, son of a
blacksmith, produced, of all things, a steam powered lawn mower. The
real start was in 1896 when "The Lancashire Steam Motor Company" was
formed, becoming Leyland Motors Ltd in 1907. At one time Leyland was
the 5th largest producer of trucks and buses in the
world. They tried car manufacturing in 1920 with introduction of the
"Leyland Eight" but it was not successful, probably due to its price
and being too sophisticated.
Leyland is now owned by Paccar and still
churning out trucks for export all over the world, but "badged" as
England's roads in the first part of the 20th
century were definitely not suited to large or fast trucks. They do
say "The rolling English drunkard built the rolling English roads!"
There was a blanket 20 M.P.H. speed limit
for trucks until after WW 2; also strict legislation relating to
vehicle size and axle loads. These conspired to make the
"conventional" truck layout impractical so far as maximising
payloads was concerned. Everything over about six tons went COE.
Leyland's trucks (and buses) were generally
given animal names to identify the various models: Octopus
"8" wheeler), Hippo (3 axle "6" wheeler), Buffalo - a turbocharged
Super Hippo, the aptly named Steer (this was a 3 axle "6" wheeler,
but with 2 steering and one drive axle (often referred to as a
"Chinese Six" by British drivers), then came the Beaver
(2 axle 4 x
2), - so that makes the wine tanker in the last picture of Bill Weatherstone's Hippo memories actually a
For operation in England all these trucks
would normally be COE with the few exceptions, that Bill
Weatherstone mentioned, of conventionals used on float
(we would say low-bed or low-loader)
work. Notwithstanding the situation in England, Leyland produced
thousands of "conventional" Hippos and Beavers for the "colonial"
markets; in this form they were known as the Super Hippo or Super
Beaver - which is how Bill's truck came about.
These were highly popular, as Bill
noted, in Australia, also in Africa, Middle East
fields), South America etc. all areas at that time with
predominantly dirt or gravel roads where lack of speed
is of little consequence but an ability to slog slowly
through mud, sand, bush or jungle is a great
recommendation. This is what made the almost
indestructible Super Hippo, in particular, a winner.
Unfortunately the Buffalo was not a great success as the turbocharging rather
over-stressed the "680" engine with resulting loss of reliability.
Having the ability to slog through mud - Leyland Beaver bus
Looking at the photo of
old Super Hippo it is plain to see that the steering wheel is in a
quite high "sit up and beg" near vertical position. This suggests it
is an early 1950's build and would have had Leyland's "600" Diesel
engine. Fitting the auxiliary transmission must have been a great
improvement, but I am amazed that it didn't have Leyland's own
"aux-box" in place. This was a very robust built two-speed unit
(direct and reduction) which enabled
"splitting" of each gear on the way up or down. It could prove
invaluable in those frequent situations with wide-ratio
boxes where the
relatively small engine screams away in a low gear, but can't
pull the next one up. This arrangement was only offered as an
option in pre - WW 2 days, but I honestly thought it was
standard post-war - I certainly never saw a Leyland Hippo or
Beaver in Africa without one. Perhaps Leyland's African
operation treated it as a standard requirement.
Rear axles had worm
(screw) gears and were
utterly reliable over huge mileage if you looked after the
lubrication properly and "matched" the tyres carefully - this
was essential with no inter-axle diff. (We
used "William Penn" SAE 250 grade gear oil!!)
Mid-fifties the Supers were refined a
bit. A more horizontal steering-wheel position was achieved by
mounting the (still
"Armstrong") steering box
further back on the chassis, just in front of the cab floor,
with a drag-link connecting to the axle steering arm.
(Low speed manoeuvres become almost
impossible with worn-smooth tyres)
Engine was up-rated to the "680" model - about 180 hp.
Photo) Late 50's Hippo slightly "rebuilt" and
about 15 years old by now. Lost its front opening
windscreens, plus homemade fenders.
Next development was in mid-1960's with the
Super Hippo "Power Plus" version. Power steering
(Hooray), air assist clutch, the old
680 motor up-rated to 200 hp. An Albion 6 speed transmission with 6th
being an overdrive plus a built-in "under-drive" splitter working on
the counter-shaft; the catch with this gear arrangement was that the
splitter could not work on fifth gear as that was "direct drive" -
there was absolutely nothing you could do about the wide 4th
to 5th gap. It was a case, if heavy loaded on just the
wrong grade, of "rowing" it along with the gear lever - grab 5th
and then slowly lose it, down to 4th till she screams and
up to 5th you go again, and so on - frustration
personified. But just think what you could have done if that
counter-shaft splitter had been an overdrive; it would not only fill
the 4th to 5th gap, but give you a double
overdrive on top of 6th - dream on! The down-side? Loss
of the deep reduction 1st gear - I didn't weep at the
Also Leyland installed new design
hub-reduction rear axles which were great as singles as in the
"Beaver" but gave no end of hassles as double drives if you did much
dirt road work. The inter axle prop shaft was at quite an angle up
to a through-drive shaft in the front diff housing. This meant that
as the axles bump up and down on bad roads the prop shaft, no matter
how well greased, tends to give the rear bearing of the
through-shaft a pounding with disastrous results - a real "Achilles
Heel" in a potentially good truck. We did develop some modifications
that alleviated the problem slightly. I even converted one Hippo
from 6 x 4 to 6 x 2 for a client - an exercise I vowed never to do
again as the complexities just seemed to grow as the job progressed!
Sadly, the new Hippo's potential was never
realized and it was about this time that Leyland started to lose the
plot, to be overtaken in Africa and elsewhere by the likes of
Mercedes Benz, M.A.N. etc - not to mention the Americans.
(Left Photo) Last Super
Hippo purchased by Buffalo Transport. I'm parked on the
right, so must be somewhere in the Congo. Jack Tomambile
took this truck over from me.
Photo) Jack Tomambile - drove Buffalo Transport's
Hippos for nearly 30 years. A great guy.
I have a 1936 (or
thereabouts) Leyland Super Beaver that I acquired in Ndola,
Zambia where I lived through the 1960's and 70's, it was known
around the town as the "Queen Mary" and had started life with the
town management board as a "night soil" tanker (!). With the advent
of water born sewerage it was then re-bodied with a flat deck
In those days the
local Motor Sports Club organized an annual vintage and veteran
(social) motor rally passing
through most of the "Copperbelt" (mining)
towns. It was a Sunday run, with a mid-day stop for judging the
vehicles and ending with prize giving and bbq. We
(the Motor Club Committee) managed
to persuade the Town Council to enter the QM for a few years.
The Council insisted on a qualified driver so it always fell to
me and my great friend the late Bruce Kirtley to crew for the
trip. I would collect the truck about a week before the run
along with a couple of gallons of the Council's official green
paint and a set of municipal-crest decals.
local Leyland distributor would do a swift re-spray as well as
loan a smart new set of wheels and tyres from a stock vehicle.
Truck was originally supplied as "chassis and
scuttle" which means no cab - just with engine hood
back to the scuttle. Original cab built by the Ndola
Town's own workshops.
The Leyland power plant.
re-spray prior to vintage run. Next to a COE Beaver.
(Lower Left Photo)
I would spend all my
spare time polishing the brass and copper in
preparation for the show. But the hard work was all
worthwhile at showtime. She looks prety good all
This show will be the last
of her "on loan" to Leyland Motors for exhibition.
On the reliability run, posed with Ken
and Marj Lancashire.
My acquisition of her was sheer luck. When
finally auctioned off by the council in the late 1960's she was
knocked down to an old guy who operated a small quarry. He wanted it
to haul rock from the face up to his primary crusher. Fortunately
the "driver" very soon (before too much other damage was done) snaggled up the transmission
(stuck in gear, with the shift lever
jumped out of the selector) and no-one knew how to fix it - and
I never said a word; so it lay at the side of the track with a load
of rock on board.
NOTE --- (LowerRight Photo)
--- "OK, you can have it"
Every time I passed that way I would call in
and ask old John what he was going to do with the truck.
Initially it was always going to be fixed up or rebuilt,
but one Saturday, after a couple of years pestering him
he mumbled "OK, if you can move it you can have it" - I
had to ask him to repeat it just to be sure and, of
course, how much? - Nothing, you can have it! - He even
arranged for his maintenance crew to take a compressor
along and pump the tyres for me! Sadly, about five weeks
later he was dead.
That afternoon I press-ganged a friend into
helping and went back with a truck, oxy-acetylene, tow-pole etc. We
cut all the "U" bolts holding the load body which we then chained to
a tree and pulled the chassis out from under. With my friend
standing on the clutch and steering I towed it home. A few minutes
jiggling in the selectors had the shift problem solved, gallon of
diesel in the Autovac, about 3 or 4 yard tow down the front lawn and
she was running!
There followed a leisurely 3 or 4 year strip
down and re-build which required very little in the way of
replacement parts - incredibly Leyland were still using identical
steering tie-rod ends, road-spring pins and bushes and similar small
items. The only item that we couldn't source was a replacement for a
piston with a cracked skirt. I probably could have had one made at
vast cost, but elected to weld and re-machine. Its still going fine
as far as I can tell.
When my wife and I decided to move down to
Botswana from Zambia I acquired a large van body from a friend which
I adapted to fit the QM. Quite a job as the chassis rails are quite
a bit wider apart than modern trucks and the body itself was much
too long for the chassis. I turned it into what is known in U.K. as
a "Luton" body, with the lower front cut back and the top of the
body extending forward over the cab.
The trip to Botswana was going to be about
1000 miles and, with a top speed around 35 mph, a daunting prospect.
I have found the old Leyland two-speed auxiliary transmission can be
an absolute boon in the right circumstances, so with all our
furniture and stuff due to be loaded on I installed one I had spare,
but put it in "back to front" so it worked as both a splitter and
overdrive for a cruising speed about 45 mph - only a pleasure!
Since that first trip the old
girl has been dusted off and fired up a number of times
to handle our various moves around Southern Africa and
has never failed us once - the worst that happened was a
cracked injector pipe.
The move to Botswana ended my
involvement with Leyland as I there joined the local
Mercedes Benz dealer and remained with MB dealers and
the parent company for the next 12 years. ---- Bruce