We reviewed the Flxible Clipper back in Feb 2016, but it’s such an iconic design, I thought it would be worth another look. Specifically, let’s dive into the variations and changes Flx made during the Clipper’s nearly 30 year production run.
Clipper Gen 1. While Flxible had been building front-engined buses using the Clipper name for several years, in 1938 they introduced their first rear-engined model with an all steel semi-monocoque body. It was 27 feet long and could seat 29 passengers. In 1939, Flx added another row and overall length grew to 30 feet. Power was supplied by a 320 cubic inch Buick straight-eight engine – a powertrain that would remain a popular choice. Note the lack of the familiar engine cooling duct on the back of the roof and the straight rectangular windows.
In 1941, more of the recognizable Clipper shape began to appear – forwarded-canted windows replaced the old straight designs, and the cowling duct was added to the rear of the roof to improve engine cooling. Two broad steel bands were also added to the front. Flx continued to produce these during the war for government use and then returned to commercial sales in 1945.
In late 1946, Flx updated the Clipper to the version most people recognize today – dual headlights with a wrap around front windshield, and the “Flxible” badge added underneath. Three lengths were offered; a 27 foot model seating 29, 30 footer holding 33, and a larger 35 foot version seating 37. It proved a popular seller in the vibrant post-war market, and over 2,000 were produced over a four year production run.
Clipper Gen 2 – Visicoach. From 1950 – 56, Flx produced an update to the Clipper called the Visicoach. Larger side windows, similar to ones used on GM’s 4104, Highway Traveler coach were incorporated, along with a one foot stretch in the engine bay, to allow for more powertrain options. Flx had been offering Fageol gas and propane engines as options and in 1953, bought the company outright. Engines were mostly the Buick straight eight and these Fageol models, with the occasional Hercules or Waukesha gas straight six, or Cummins diesel. The Buick straight-eight, which by 1954 had been supplanted by the “Nailhead” V8 in the division’s cars, was still manufactured and continued as an option. Many attribute this to the fact that GM Vice President Charles Kettering sat on the Flxible Board, and encouraged GM support to the company.
Clipper Gen 3 – Early Starliner. In 1957, the Starliner model replaced the Visicoach. Two major updates were incorporated; one you could see, one you couldn’t. To perhaps give the bus a more modern, bi-level appearance, Flx put a ten inch rise in the roof in the center of the coach. While it did increase headroom and visibility, it did not affect the seating arrangement which was still on one level. Underneath, Flx finally updated the old leaf spring suspension with a version of BF Goodrich’s “Torsilastic” torsion bars, then in use on its VL 100 VistaLiner model.
Clipper Gen 4 – Later Starliner. The roof “eyebrow” was not popular with operators, and Flx went back to a flat roof in 1960. From then until 1967, only 200 or so Clippers left the factory. The 60’s were all about modern change – a “New Look” – and to 60’s bus passengers, Clippers looked anything but modern.
Our readers in Australia and New Zealand may recognize these Clippers; between 1950 and 1960, Ansair Pty Ltd of Melbourne produced 131 under license. They typically were powered by a 7.4 litre Leyland diesel, though Cummins or Deutz diesels were available also.
I still think they’re just a timeless beautiful design.
I’m not familiar with this Clipper though – perhaps it’s a one-off…