During a brief trip to my hometown last week I finally managed a visit to the British Commercial Vehicle museum. (I have an excuse. I left 23 years ago and the museum is only 20 years old).

To the casual car enthusiast this eclectic collection might only be of passing interest.

But if you’re the sort of person who appreciates raw engineering, has a grasp of the main phases of C20th century history and an eye for styling and graphics, this place is well worth a couple of hours of your life.

It neatly spans – through road vehicles and a few buses – the development of the commercial vehicle from the 1896 Thornycroft (front-drive and rear-steered) Steam van to the intriguing 1986 Leyland TX450 concept truck (a low-rise, aerodynamically styled machine with an extruded aluminium chassis).


Fixed to the side of the amazing wooden Thornycroft is a copy of a report from an 1896 edition of Autocar detailing the van’s five-day drive in terrible conditions to reach Cardiff. It’s widely believed to be the first ‘autocar’ to have entered Wales.

There are other treats for the engineering-aware. A prototype Leyland truck gas turbine engine, tractor units that were used at the battlefront in WW1 and some early century load carriers, beautifully liveried with the names of their respective Thames-side wharfs. Look out also, for an original early 1970s Michelotti rendering of a Leyland truck concept.

But the joy for me was stumbling across a 1927 Tilling-Stevens bus, which was powered by a hybrid petrol-electric drivetrain.


The unusual layout was not designed for environmental reasons, but to eliminate the need for a gearbox. A typical period ‘box would have been incredibly hard work for the driver, especially in town traffic. It’s also said that the design made it easy for Tram drivers to switch to piloting buses.

I had to smile broadly at the Tilling-Stevens bus because it was Autocar that kicked off the project to design a new Routemaster bus for London, which is also a petrol electric hybrid design. Clearly, there’s nothing new under the sun.

(If you’re interested, nip over to Wikipedia and search ‘Future Routemaster’ for a summary of the project so far).

Anyway, the museum is just two minutes drive from J28 of the M6 at Leyland, Lancashire. If you are up that way, it offers much for the enquiring automotive mind.