Bus Stop Classic: 1954-58 Fitzjohn Roadrunner – Another Casualty of the GM Juggernaut

(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.