Information Royal Tiger buses

The Celtic Tiger may be resting for 2002, but here we remember another Tiger who formed a relationship with the horizontal way back in 1937

Museum tokens
Why preserve
A CIE Leyland Royal Tiger when brand new in 1954
The collection
About the museum
Elsewhere on this site we looked at the Leyland Royal Tiger coaches that did so much for our budding tourist industry in the 1950s. But it was not in touring work alone that this model made its mark; the Royal Tiger and its competing contemporaries also revolutionised service bus design and layout fifty years ago.

Following World War Two, British builders of heavy weight or premium bus chassis introduced models with the same layout as those they had turned out during the 1930s. These had a front engine and rear wheel drive, and were intended for operation with a two-person crew. In lengths of eight or nine metres, a maximum seating capacity of between 30 and 40 could be achieved, and for a few years operators were content with what was on offer. But change was on the way.

In 1937 Leyland built for London Transport - a body that has contributed mightily to passenger vehicle development - a prototype Tiger with its engine located horizontally under the floor. A production batch of 87 followed in 1939, but the war stopped further development. In 1946, another innovative and pioneering company, Midland Red, introduced a more advanced bus with an underfloor engine. Midland Red – the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company – manufactured its own chassis and mechanical units and, like London Transport, was a leader in design. Both operators exercised great influence on bus design and operation, and it was inevitable in the late 1940s that commercially available buses with the new mechanical layout would appear.

Among the first three underfloor-engined models, Leyland’s Royal Tiger was offered in 1950 and was an immediate success. Demonstrators were tried out by various operators. In Ireland, all the major companies were potential customers for underfloor-engined buses, but CIE - and, to a lesser extent, the Great Northern Railway - had a problem. Between 1948 and 1951, CIE placed 290 front-engined Tigers in service and these buses had a life expectancy of up to fifteen years. However, demonstrator Royal Tiger coach MTD 235 was tried, working for the company for three from December 1951.

A further 61 front-engined Tigers were placed in service by CIE before its first Royal Tiger buses appeared. Numbered U51-88 (ZO 6922-6959) these 38 buses had a body style clearly derived from that of the P class Tiger. These vehicles were all 45-seaters with rear entrances – the concept of one-person operation was still in the future. The first twenty were allocated to provincial services and displayed only a destination, while the other eighteen also had the route number aperture for Dublin City Services. The Royal Tigers proved reliable and a feature particularly liked by passengers – especially children – was the pair of seats beside the driver at the front of the bus.

On taking over the GNR bus fleet in 1958, CIE inherited four more Royal Tigers of 1952 vintage. These centre-entrance 44-seaters (Nos. 225-228, to which CIE prefixed “U”) had Saunders-Roe bodywork and were six inches narrower than CIE’s eight-feet wide vehicles. Like the CIE Royal Tigers, the GNR quartet had lengthy lives and ended up in Donnybrook Garage, working the notoriously difficult 44B service to Glencullen.

The CIE Royal Tiger buses had chequered careers. When driver-only operation was becoming established in provincial areas during the early 1960s, some of them, including Dublin vehicles, were converted to front entrance layout. To cater for one-person services in Dublin, notably to Ballymun and Coolock, others were rebuilt with both and centre doors – that amazing feature that has been so controversial ever since. When the Royal Tigers were replaced in the early 1970s, they found yet another role as driver trainers and one or two of them lasted into the 1980s.

So much part of the scene for so long, many people were lulled into believing that they were still there somewhere when in fact the last ones had finally been withdrawn. This was one of those instances when even the preservationists were would not have been rescued from the breaker’s yard. An alarm call from a foreman at Broadstone galvanised us into action and, when it was rescued, several of U78’s windows had already been broken, a regular prelude to scrapping. This bus, yet another sole survivor, once more proves that we can never become complacent about any type of vehicle.

Although the Royal Tiger model had a production run of only four years, it achieved a very important position in public transport throughout Ireland. It was bought new by CIE, Lough Swilly, Ulster Transport, the Erne – and the Defence Forces, which had a Saunders-Roe bodied example, ZU 5000, to transport the Army bandsmen and their instruments. Used Royal Tigers were bought in great numbers by independent operators in the 1960s, many of them continuing to work into the 1980s.

It is hard to believe that this historic model is now more than 50 years old. But at least our two examples, coach U10 and bus U78 are safely stored awaiting the day when some enlightened body provides the funds to restore them. Unfortunately, some of the skills essential for the task will have to be learned again more than two generations after the vehicles first took to our roads.

Above: Ex-GNR Royal Tiger in CIE green at Store Street in 1964

Below: Former GNR Royal Tiger U225 at Store Street in 1960

Above: How a provincial CIE Royal Tiger looked when new.- U54 at Store Street in the mid-1950s. Notable are the rear luggage access ladder, the triple bumpers and the spare wheel carrier. The conductor and hatted passengers on the left could have stepped straight off the set of a period film.

Below: Royal Tiger U82 emerging from Clontarf Garage in 1964

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