(first posted 1/21/2017) The bus above is a Fitzjohn Roadrunner, an intercity model manufactured by the Fitzjohn Coach Corp in Muskegon Michigan, from 1954-58. The Roadrunner was the final bus produced by the company before it closed it doors. As with Beck, ACF-Brill, Aerocoach, and others, Fitzjohn was a company that found itself unable to compete with “The General” in the post WW II urban transit and intercity bus markets. Let’s take a quick look at the company and this last model to wear its badge…
Fitzjohn was a middle-tier manufacturer of coaches, limousines, and trucks in the early to mid-twentieth century. It was most well-known for building stretched versions of Chevrolet sedans used as small buses and “jitneys.”
So well known, in fact, that it received quite a few government orders during WW II for these “stretchouts” used to ferry workers at the nation’s defense plants.
After the war, it had two moderately successful designs; its Cityliner urban transit bus was initially purchased by several large cities; to include Detroit and Toronto. It was a 31 or 37 passenger bus that came in both gas and diesel versions; gas being a Hercules JXD inline 6 cylinder and a Cummins JT6 in diesel form. By most standards however, it was inferior to the GM “Old Look” and by 1954, as sales dwindled, Fitzjohn departed the urban transit business.
The other post-war model was the Duraliner – an intercity model that came in several different lengths with seating capacity from 28 to 41. It was front-engined, with the power-plant typically a Waukesha 140 525 cu in gas 6 cylinder putting out 177 hp and 450 ft lbs of torque.
It terms of looks, it was very similar to the more popular ACF-Brill IC-41.
GM PD 4104
With GM’s game-changing PD 4104 Highway Traveler being introduced in 1953, all the other coach manufacturers had to play catch up or risk being left far behind (hindsight would show that even with updated models, GM would still reign supreme).
Fitzjohn came out with their Roadrunner – similar in size to the 4104 at 96 in wide and 35 ft in length, with a passenger capacity of 37. Have to love that 50’s ad copy…“new from beak to tailfeathers”…
Engines were similar to the Duraliner – an updated Waukesha 140 series gas engine (model code FIG) with an option of a Cummins JT-6B diesel (FID).
Several operators purchased models built as tour and sightseeing coaches.
No matter the ad boasting, the Roadrunner unfortunately wasn’t “going places”, and further orders failed to materialize. After a purchase of 54 Roadrunners from a Mexican operator in 1958, Fitzjohn closed it doors – and the Muskegon factory was sold to Blue Bird who used it to assemble school buses.
My favorites are the “sedan buses” and the FID-SS Roadrunner sightseeing coaches. Lovely interior, with special attention to quality and details !
Thanks Johannes – the stretched sedans were actually quite popular in the pre-war US – they were used for regional transit – perhaps less than 100 miles. They had significantly lower operating costs than a similar capacity bus – though I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle seat…
Yes, it’s too bad the Roadrunner didn’t catch on – though I have to say Europe has North America beat when it comes to sightseeing coaches – even in the ’50s.
The only US sedan buses (well, sort of) we had here were used in wedding- and funeral processions. Coachbuilder Boonacker did some fine stretching jobs and added doors and seats, an example is the 1973 Chevrolet below.
Right after WW2 the company also built Lincoln based hearses and stretched limousines.
Some more here: http://my.net-link.net/~dcline/limocls5.htm
YOU WOULD THINK THAT LIMOUSINE WOULD HAVE A 454 C.I.D
Don’t forget the Checker Aerobus!
Multi seat sedans and tourers were used as service cars over here for many years on smaller routes where it wasnt worth running a fullsize bus, actual buses were often built on used import Cadillac chassis and new Cadillac commercial chassis, very very few survived the beatings they got on the unpaved roads that still existed during and after WW2
Here’s a Lincoln hearse by Boonacker.
Jim, you’ve just educated me on a bus that I was not aware of. The resemblance on the side to the PD-4101 is very faithful, even if the front is not so much so.
I wonder how they made room for the engines in back mounted longitudinal. The rear seat had to be a bit further forward, and presumably the rest of the seats all had a bit less pitch as a result?
Thanks for keeping this series going. I’ve learned more than I ever expected. And it’s becoming quite an archive by itself!
That’s a good question on the rear seat Paul – I tried to find a schematic of the interior but had no luck – I think your take is accurate.
Thanks to you for allowing me to contribute to your great site. Jim
Hall-Scott I think was already making “lay-down” models of their gas engines, could you get the same from Cummins? Strangely enough what you really wanted would have been a flat-6, but I assume no one made such as a diesel.
After working on the GM New Looks for over 30 years I was always amazed at the engineering that went into them. The short parcel shelf behind the rear seat to the window and then thinking wow, there’s a huge 6 or 8 cylinder diesel engine under there! That V-drive setup looked kind of weird but it worked beautifully! The only real drawback I could see was the starter location behind and under the rear seat! Usually the mechanic had to change it on the road…starter was hot and covered in grease and oil and also heavy as hell! Not fun!
You mention of the starter brings back some memories from my time working for Greyhound. I changed a couple of starters on those GMC coaches. I was young and fairly skinny at that time so I was the guy laying on the floor working thru the hole in the floor to change bad starters. What a pain. You could only work for a few minutes at a time before you started cramping up from the awkward position you had to work in. Dirty mess, those bellhousing bolts are a bear to break loose when you have reasonable access to them in a truck, these are really tough. Lastly hauling that starter out of the hole in the floor was a challenge and dropping back in wasn’t any easier. The starter weigh about 58 lbs. Thankfully they didn’t use the 6 pole 24 volt starter that weighs around 80 pounds.
Of all the vehicles I worked on over my career there was no dirtier work than working anywhere in the rear engine/drivetrain compartment of a bus.
I love the articles on buses, trains and ships that post here every once in a while.
A great, informative read–now, more than ever, I try to to note the make of these “midcentury” buses when I see ’em in photos, films, etc.
Not too much in the newspapers, I see, but here’s a satisfied operator in Kingsport TN (1947) who took out a half-page ad (top half):
KIngsport, TN, 1947 (bottom half):
Aha–the wartime stretch made the papers, too (July ’42):
Thanks for all the add’l info Sally. JIm.
Here is my cousin’s Fitzjohn RV conversion. He loved that bus. He passed away, and I have no idea what happened to it. I drove motorcoach for several years, and I had never heard of Fitzjohn before.
I am he owner of a 1955 fitzjohn roadrunner that I am trying to locate any info I can about. I am currently repowering with a 6v92ta detroit diesel, replacing a 6v71 that was blown from someone draining all coolant prior to it being driven sadly to that engines death. If anyone has info to give me or any contacts to point me to I would love to find out anything and everything possible. Mine has been a conversion to motorcoach and appears to had been too quality when done. Thank you for your time.
Jeff, feel free to contact me about your roadrunner. My parents used to own one for a long time, and I’m still in contact with the current owner.
I didn’t see the picture of my cousin’s bus in my first post. Repost!
Here’s the other Fitzjohn that my cousin owned!
Jim woods, the one your cousin owned was also owned by my parents from 1970 to 1992. Please email me where this coach is now. I have lots of info on it. Aztec7fan@yahoo.com
I don’t know what happened to it after Ray died. Then his wife died a few years later. I should have asked her who bought it.
Here is mine. Prime Time is the name on its glass signs front and rear
From an old bus in sudbury ontario