Bus Stop Classic: Eagle Coaches – From Belgium to Brownsville

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If it’s been awhile since you’ve read Paul’s excellent post on the Kassbohrer-Setra Super Golden Eagle articulated coach, I’d encourage you to take another look – it’s a superb article on a very rare model.  Re-reading it the other day inspired me to pick up the pen and scribe a few words on its descendants, the classic Eagle Coaches…

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As Paul’s article highlighted, in 1956, Continental Trailways Corp. was looking for a bus to compete with Greyhound’s new 40 ft GM PD 4501 Scenicruiser intercity coach.  Not finding any suitable alternatives in the US, they looked toward Europe, and the came across Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke, one of Germany’s largest motor coach manufacturers.  Trailways was impressed with Kassbohrer’s coaches and placed an order for 51 special models (plus 4 articulated versions) – they were produced in the 1956-57 timeframe and named “Golden Eagles.“   These were high-end luxury coaches with quality (expensive) interiors and amenities.

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One area where Continental was able to contribute was in the suspension – Continental had collaborated with Flxible on the Flx VL-100 VistiLiner coach which had the BF Goodrich “Torsilastic” rear suspension – Continental purchased 100 VistiLiners, however found them too small at 35 ft and also under-powered.  But they shared the suspension design with Kassbohrer who incorporated it on later Eagle models.  Continental advertising played up the smoothness of their buses with this suspension – I can still remember my father in the ’60s  saying how much smoother riding Continental’s Eagles were compared to Greyhound’s GM and MCI units.

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Pleased with the buses, Continental placed another order in 1958 for a less luxurious, more mainstream model – these were known as “Silver Eagles.”  Golden Eagles came with MAN diesel engines which weren’t quite up to the stress of longer US routes.  Silver Eagles had Cummins NRTO diesels but these were somewhat under-powered.  As a result, with GM engines becoming available in the late ‘50s due to US government anti-trust action, all buses were re-engined with Detroit Diesel 8V71 diesels and Spicer manual transmissions.

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In 1960, a slightly updated model was introduced as the “Eagle 01.”  Then, in 1961, Kassbohrer decided to focus exclusively on the rapidly growing European market and withdrew from its production agreement with Continental.  Kassbohrer sold the tooling for the Eagles to Continental and the company searched for another partner.  They found Belgian manufacturer La Brugeoise, and a joint-venture assembly plant was constructed in the city of Brugge; and given the name Bus and Car, NV.  The 01 series coach continued in production at this facility.

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The next update came in 1968 with introduction of the “Eagle 05.”   The major differences from the 01 model were a reversal in the location of the rear tag axle; from behind the rear drive axle to in front of it – increasing under floor storage space, and the front fascia was re-designed to the now-familiar Eagle look – a strong, boxed lower front bumper with square headlight recesses, with the eagle symbol in the center.  Size remained 96 in wide and 40 ft in length, and powertrain was an 8V71.

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With exchange rate fluctuations causing European production to become ever-more expensive, Continental established an assembly plant in Brownsville Texas in 1974.  Model 05’s were assembled both in Europe and the US for two years until all US production switched to Brownsville in 1977.  1980 saw introduction of the “Model 10” which came with the DDA 6V92 TA engine and a more streamlined front upper area replacing the previous “notch” above the front windshield.

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Model 15 45 ft

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Model 15 40 ft

With the universal adoption of 102″ width maximum for buses and trucks, and a 45′ maximum length for buses, Eagle introduced its first 102′ in wide bus in 1985 – the Model 15.  This model could also be ordered in both 40 and 45 ft lengths.  Additional changes included a larger front windshield, a one-piece front skylight, and optional square front headlights.

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The Model 20, introduced in 1986, was a Model 10 (96 in) coach with Model 15 styling updates.

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In the late 80’s, New Jersey Transit ordered several special Model 20’s with large destination signs and black transit-style bumpers for use on its suburban routes.

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Unfortunately, from this point it was somewhat of a downward spiral for the company – Greyhound, not in the best of financial health, bought Trailways and Eagle Bus Manufacturing in 1987.  Then in 1990, Greyhound declared bankruptcy – with Eagle following in Chapter 11 in 1991.  Assets were sold to a Mexican conglomerate which re-started production at low rates in 1992, mostly as motor home shells.  But by 1998 they too declared Chapter 11.

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The last gasp was made in the mid-2000s with a company named Silver Eagle Bus Manufacturing Inc which produced one Model 25, an ungainly, high-roof model maximized as a motor home – no sales resulted and this company also folded.

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A sad end – but with over 8000 buses built over four decades, there are still quite a few Eagles still rolling smoothly down the road…

 

Related:

CC 1958 Super Golden Eagle: Strike Two For The Articulated Highway Bus    PN

CC GMC PD-4501 Scenicruiser: Everybody’s favorite Bus Except Greyhound and GM  PN