Bus Stop Classic: Crown Motor Coaches – California Royalty

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If you grew up on the West Coast of the USA, in particular California, and more specifically Los Angeles, the picture above no doubt brings back a flood of memories……because if you took a bus to school, you most likely rode in a Crown Coach.

 

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Crown Body and Coach Corporation of Los Angeles was one of the most unique, prolific, and successful bus, truck, and fire apparatus manufacturers in the western US from the 1930s to the early 90s.

 

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The company began as the “Crown Carriage Company” in 1904, incorporated at the corner of 6th and Los Angeles St., in a no doubt much less crowded downtown LA………..

 

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They made their first motorized vehicle in 1916, and in 1920, their first school buses using Reo, Diamond T and Moreland truck chassis (1927 model pictured).

 

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Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the company produced an evolutionary series of school bus designs………

 

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The pinnacle of this evolution, and its signature model, was the Super Coach introduced in 1949.  This was a fully modern coach with an under-floor engine in the middle of the chassis.  Width was 96 inches and lengths came in 35 or 40 ft, for a max seating of 72 students.

 

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1952 model

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1977 model

So good was this initial design, that while modified and improved, it maintained the same general appearance for over 40 years……

 

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What made Crowns so special?  In a word – toughness – these buses were legendary for their strength, robust construction, and longevity.  While most of Crown’s competitors used 45,000 psi steel, Crown’s floorpan and framework were constructed of 90,000 psi ultra high tensile steel sheathed with heat-treated aluminum bodywork.  The Super Coach’s double-walled steel body structure was both bolted and welded to outriggers on the main chassis which was built using nested channel frame rails and cross-members.

 

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Multiple body posts protected both ends of the coach and the roof of the 35’ model was made up of 22 roll bars spaced 17 ½” apart. The 40’ Super Coach used 26 roll bars, all constructed of the firm’s 90K psi 12 gauge steel.

 

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Yes, this was one tough bus…….and Crown backed that up with an unprecedented 20-year/100,000 warranty on all of their coach bodies (later increased to 20-years/150,000 miles).

 

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In addition to single axle models, Crown also built larger tandem axle versions that could seat up to 97 students……

 

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Super Coaches were mid-engined and used horizontal Hall-Scott 779 cu in gasoline or Cummins 743 cu in NHH “pancake” diesel engines.  Later versions used mostly Cummins NHH 855 cu in diesels.  The Hall-Scott engines, though offering poor gas mileage, gave these buses good power.

 

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The Super Coach chassis was also used for an intercity model……

 

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Crown built other vehicles also – their fire apparatus arm was perhaps just as widely known……..

 

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Maybe more so as one of its models had a starring role in a certain 1970s Jack Webb produced TV show………

 

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If you were in Southern California in the 60s – 90s, you likely encountered a Crown product……(hopefully not this one)……..

 

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Maybe the Library………

 

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Or Post Office……….

 

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And if you weren’t in California, you may have ridden in one at another location, such as a national park……

 

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Similar to Flxible Corporation, the company produced one-off and specialized models such as touring coaches for entertainers………(brownie points to anyone other than Paul or I who can remember Gene Autry…..)

 

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And special models such as this “bruck”, a combination bus and truck……..

 

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So what became of the company?  Sadly, it closed its doors in 1991 – cheaper (and less robust) competitors emerged and the company was slow to adopt to a changing market.  Both Crown and Gillig, based in San Francisco (which Paul did an excellent post on here), gradually lost the west coast school bus market to these less expensive competitors.  The fire apparatus arm, though still selling well, was not sufficient to sustain the company.

 

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I grew up in the mid-west, so while I was aware of the company, I never had the opportunity to ride in one of their buses until a military tour took me to Hawaii in the mid-80s – where several older Crowns were still operating as tour coaches.  There were newer MCI units in service, but I always tried to see if I could catch a tour using one of the older Crowns – they had a distinct “solid” feel to them, and the Hall-Scott gasoline engines had a unique “deep baritone” engine note.

Though their numbers are slowly dwindling, you can still see examples of these tough coaches in service on the west coast, testament to a great company and a great product…..and a unique part of California history.

 

The other distinctive CA school bus: CC Gillig Transit Coach – Built Like A Tank  PN

Another rear-engined bus:  CC 1957 Blue Bird All American  PN