Bus Stop Classic: Flxible and AM General New Look Buses – Playing Second Fiddle to GM

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General Motors second major act in the transit bus market was the universally hailed New Look coach (superbly detailed by Paul here).  As it did with the Old Look coach in the post WW II era, GM continued to dominate the transit bus market in the ‘60s and ‘70s with this innovative model.  But there were alternatives for transit companies looking for a coach different than what everyone else had………

 

Flxible Twin Coach ad

Flxible Corporation, maker of the stylish Clipper, offered one alternative.  The Clipper was nearing the end of its long production run in the early ‘60s – and it was never really a true transit bus, even though some smaller companies used it in that role.  In addition, the company’s Twin Coach transit bus, acquired from Fageol in 1955, wasn’t that successful and was an “Old Look” design.  A new model was needed, and the 1959 introduction of the GM New Look spurred the company to field a competitor….

 

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…..and so in 1960 Flxible introduced its New Look coach (so dominate was GM that all buses introduced in this era were referred to as New Looks, with the manufacturer’s name being the differentiator).  Clearly, the old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery applies here as the Flx looked almost exactly like the GM; same front windshield design, same side windows, same aluminum fluting, etc.

Many large and small transportation companies bought and used Flxs…..

 

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LA…….(note the turn signals in the aluminum strip above the headlights denoting an early model)

 

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Atlanta…….(later model with turn signals outboard of headlights)

 

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Even Portland……

 

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Flxible’s New Looks mirrored GM’s in size and seating configuration –  96 or 102 inch width;  31, 33, 35 or 40 ft length.  Power train options were mostly GM 6 or 8V-71 engines with Allison automatic transmissions, though Cummins diesels could be ordered also.  One niche that Flxible was able to fill that GM couldn’t was with a larger 8V-71 engine in a 35 ft coach – due to the size limitations of the compartment, the largest engine available in GM’s 35 ft model was the 6V-71.  Companies needing the more powerful engine in this size bus due to hilly terrain, etc., typically chose the Flx.

 

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Flxible built just over 13,000 of these buses from 1960 to 1978 – not quite the 44,000 GM New Looks produced over roughly the same period but a respectful number nonetheless, and most importantly, they were profitable for the company.  Flxible’s next coach, the Model 870, would not be as successful, but that’s a story for a future post.

If companies weren’t keen on GM or Flx, then starting in 1974, AM General provided another alternative…..

 

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AM General has an interesting history – it traces its origins back to the Willys-Overland company in the 1930s-40s that was subsequently purchased by Kaiser Motors in 1953.  Kaiser sold the “Kaiser-Jeep” company to AMC in 1970, and in 1971 AMC made the “General Products Division of Jeep” a wholly-owned subsidiary, renaming it “AM General”.

 

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The company built vehicles mainly for government contract; 2 ½ and 5 ton trucks, M151 “Mutt” 4X4s, but perhaps its most famous product carried something other than GIs……..

 

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Rather than design a bus from scratch, AM General looked around for existing manufacturers that might be open to some form of joint production – they found one in Flyer Industries (later New Flyer) of Winnipeg Canada, at that time a struggling transit bus maker.  Here is their D700 coach……again, a virtual copy of the GM New Look…..

 

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AM General took this coach and made minor changes; primarily the front cap and adding larger side windows – and built and marketed this model in the US at the “Metropolitan”.  Sizes were again standard; 96 and 102 in wide, 35 and 40 ft lengths.  Power trains were all GM 6 and 8V-71 engines and Allison transmissions.

 

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Flyer liked the modifications and incorporated them on its Canadian model designating it the D800.

 

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Major users included Pittsburgh…..

 

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…….and Boston…….

 

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While only marketed for five years AMG built 5212 buses, a successful run.  An additional 219 trolley coaches were built for Philadelphia (SEPTA) and Seattle (Metro Transit).

 

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This nicely refurbished AM General is part of San Francisco MUNI’s historical fleet and is shown here in 2014…..

 

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AM General exited the bus market in 1979, refocusing back on government work, and went on to achieve success with this vehicle……

 

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Flyer Industries, now New Flyer, has grown to become one of the largest providers of transit buses in North America.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, I had the opportunity to ride all three New Looks, and according to my very subjective lower extremity bio-feedback meter, here’s how’d I’d rank them;

– GM:  Cleary the superior bus; more sound-deadening so much quieter, better interior finishings, smoother ride, and felt more solidly constructed.

– Flxible:  Nice coach but didn’t quite reach the GM’s level of refinement; little louder, more rattles, etc.

– AM General:  Felt like something constructed under government contract, i.e., “lowest common bidder”.  Spartan interior, lots of clanking, rattling, etc. – my ears tended to ring after I got off….

They were all great buses……….