(first posted 3/12/2016) 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 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.
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…
LA…(note the turn signals in the aluminum strip above the headlights denoting an early model).
Atlanta…(later model with turn signals outboard of headlights).
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.
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.
AM General has an interesting history – it traces its origins back to the Willys-Overland company in the 1930’s-40’s 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”.
The company built vehicles mainly for government contract; 2 ½ and 5 ton trucks, M151 “Mutt” 4X4s, and the Jeep DJ “Dispatcher”.
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.
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.
Flyer liked the modifications and incorporated them on its Canadian model designating it the D800.
Major users included Pittsburgh…
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).
This nicely refurbished AM General is part of San Francisco MUNI’s historical fleet and is shown here in 2014.
AM General exited the bus market in 1979, refocusing back on government work, and went on to achieve success with this vehicle.
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.
Little that everybody would have predicted that the 2015 Nova Bus LFS (on the left) and the 2015 New Flyer Xcelsior (on the right) would have become the future “spiritual” successors to ALL 3 the Nova Bus RTS, Nova Bus Classic and the GM TDH 5300 Series “New Look” at least for the LFS. The New Flyer Xcelsior became the “spiritual” successors to ALL New Flyer High Floor Transit and Low Floor Buses which also included the New Flyer D900 sourced AMC AM General Transit Bus. The Flxible lineage had no successors though after The Flxible Corporation went bankrupt in 1996. Same thing with the Orion Buses including the last of the Orion VII NGs. (Photos courtesy of Shane Ramkissoon)
One thing I failed to mention here six years later that Flxible could have become a part of Orion Bus Industries before Flxible’s bankruptcy in 1996 but the deal fell through and the parts department were later acquired by MCI. Orion Bus Industries around 2013 was acquired by MCI which shortly was dissolved after the Daimler Bus Group (Mercedes Benz and Setra) found that there was no need for the Orion Transit Bus to exist on the North American Transit Bus Market especially since Mercedes Benz either with Setra or by itself can exist in European and other markets.
I never realized that the AM General was so short lived in the market. In Pittsburgh some were still trolling about in the early 1990s!
The AM Generals were generally licensed by then Flyer Industries which produced the identical Flyer D800 series in Canada so the licensing agreement between Flyer Industries and the American Motors Corporation only had a 7 year run from 1973 through 1980. In addition had the Transbus came into fruition, AMC would have developed its own Transbus (photo courtesy of A.M. Bromberger as noted below) design independent from Flyer Industries. Lastly during AMC’s last hurrah in 1980, it even had an articulated transit bus which this time was licensed by a different manufacturer which was MAN of West Germany back then.
And this was AMC AM General’s last hurrah in which it was granted license by MAN of West Germany to joint venture an Articulated Bus heavily based on the MAN SG220 Articulated Bus which INMHO more like badge engineered.
I hope these were better than the Hungarian built articulateds that TriMet in Portland bought in the 80’s. They had to be the worst buses in the US at the time. They had a very short lifespan.
The Ikarus which later became on NABI (North American Bus Industries) and then New Flyer also acquired and merged them into their product line as well.
Yes, And Pittsburgh had quite a few of the MAN articulateds (in Pittsburgh, articulateds are sometimes called “gumband” busses!)
I recall seeing this bus together with the demonstrators from GM and Flxible. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to ride any of them.
So was I, I was a young child back during that era and buses weren’t my interest during that period in time of my childhood life back then.
We had both the GM and Flxible models in San Juan’s (Puerto Rico) Metropolitan bus system. Some of the Flxible models did not have A/C, a most for the tropics.
I agree that the GM models felt better compared with the Flxible ones. Then in the 80s, most of the buses were GM’s RTS model and in the 90s were a mix of RTS and Orion.
We had the AM General buses in South Bend when I grew up there. (And GM New Looks, in about equal measure.) I rode on them tons of times … and preferred the GMs.
As a driver, I preferred the GMC’s with Flxy a close second. I particularly liked Flxy’s placement of the idiot lights, arranged vertically on the “A” pillar, at eye level, rather than dash cluster mounted.
The AM Generals were trash. The ones I operated had (in 1975) an anti-lock brake system that would sometimes release the brakes and allow the bus to roll, even with driver holding the treadle down to stop/hold the bus. Not a good thing when loading or unloading passengers.
San Francisco Muni riders occasionally rode a Flxible. Muni acquired ten, alongside hundreds of GM New Looks. The Flxibles looked old-design, with their Fageol-derived windshield made of flat glass. They were also noisy and rode roughly so they also felt old.
Speaking of AMC AM General which also produced the HUMMER, it was ironic that General Motors at one time also owned the rights to produced the HUMMER line of vehicles starting in the earlier part of the 2000s until GM’s bankruptcy when it was sold to another manufacturer perhaps in China IIRC.
Pretty sure the China deal didn’t go through and GM still, at least for toy-licensing purposes, owns the Hummer brand.
HUMMER was again revived as a rugged truck brand in the GM folder a couple of years after I made this comment. Perhaps they are trying to create electric powered SUVs this time around independent from Chevy Trucks and GMC.
I remember seeing and riding these buses here in Seattle during the 70s and 80s, probably into the 90s. They were comfortable to ride, but they rattled and squeaked something awful!
There were still a few AMG Metros running from 2nd / Pike Pine areas to Capitol Hill as recently as 2002. They were being phased out then and replaced with the new models. Definitely rattly compared to the buses they have now, but I liked riding them better; they seemed to have more character, although not so sleek as the GM New Look models but sharing the large fishbowl windshield. I think all of the AMGs have been retired by now. Sometimes I see the occasional one sitting out in the countryside; the city must have auctioned some of them off to folks who wanted to buy them for motorhome conversions and whatnot.
Once again CC has educated me on bus manufacturers I knew little about as I don’t believe any AMC AM buses were purchased by cities in the western prairie provinces.
I was pleased to see the Flxible poster at the top of the feature as the city of Edmonton had some of the propane powered Twin Coach models. I rode them in the sixties and the propane smell was evident at the rear of the bus. If I recall correctly one such Twin Coach has been restored and remains in possession of the city.
Drove city buses in San Luis Obispo, California in the early 1980s to supplement my meager income as a radio DJ. We mostly drove Canadian Orions, but when the Orions were down, as they often were, we had ca. 1960 GM New Look buses to substitute. Holy cow, those were a bear to drive. Two speed automatic transmissions (Low and Go!), top speed of 45 mph, and an unfortunate tendency to dump it’s automatic transmission fluid at the worst possible time.
I’m not an expert on transit bus mechanics, but weren’t those early trannys basically Dynaflows/PowerGlides on steroids? I could be (…probably) wrong. But operation seems similar (not to mention “performance”!)
Kind of. The original V drive had basically two ‘speeds’, slipping converter and lock-up. Later versions had an overdrive gear as well.
I’ve often wondered, I never drove one, I’ve heard bus drivers talk about them, and “100” years ago I had a ’50 Buick Super with the original Dyanflow and the “action” of the tranny sounded similar. So I just figured if it was good enough for a tank, (both kinds.) why not a bus!
Drove a lot of these buses in Portland, Or. 1960s GM New Look ( Fish Bowls ) were ok, not much power on the hills. 70s Flxbles were better, we had them for many years. 70s AM Generals seemed to have the most power, nicer to drive, partly due to 4 speed tranny. The downside was the steering, which took more turns. At least it was power steering, unlike our other buses. But the AMs developed cracks in frames and had to be retired early. Another bad thing was the location of the passenger bell strip at arm level.If they leaned on it , or stuck a bag against it, it would accidently ring.
I grew up in Portland, Oregon and rode those AMG’s to high school everyday and remember that bell thing. It drove the drivers crazy. At the end of their life I remember they installed some aluminum cover strips that covered part of the bell to prevent that.
Wow, not one, but two buses from my neck of woods! Toronto Transit Commission 7506 and Mississauga Transit (now known as MiWay and MiExpress) 2081. If I’m not mistaken 81 denotes 1981. Newer buses have switched year to the first two digits.
I drove all three of the models mentioned, first in Seattle and later, Los Angeles. The GM’s were the sleeker designed buses. Their only downside was their tendency to rock at speed. The Flxibles in Seattle were older and under powered but I had no trouble driving them. LA’s Flxibles were top-notch and fun to drive. So too were their GM’s. The steering wheels on the GM’s seemed close to the windshield and sometimes you’d rap your knuckles when reaching to make a turn! Now the AMGenerals: trash! LA’s had underfloor AC that soon proved unworkable. Replaced over the engines, the rear windows were blanked out. Still horrible. The buses broke down a lot and most ended up in division backlots awaiting expiration of their 12 year leases. The Seattle buses had weak frames and tended to sway in the middle if crowded. One night I had a heavy load and noticed one of the leafs of the rear door (ours were extra-wide and folding) had come off the track and was hanging out in the street! I got out, went back, hung on the door and put it back in the track. Low bids allowed them to end up in fleets around the country including Hawaii. ADB’s would soon push these buses out of most systems. When I retired as a supervisor, most American systems were turning to foreign owned and designed buses. Gillig today is the only wholly owned American transit bus builder.
A note about the Seattle Flxible Clippers. The elementary school that I attended was a few blocks up the hill from the Gray Line company garage and I often saw the Clippers going and coming. I recall that they were extremely well-kept. The windows were slightly tinted and also spotless.
I think the reason why LA Flxible were better, because they had 8v71’s and some had 903’s. I read Seattle’s Flxible had 6v71’s, but atleast they had Jake brakes. You do not see that in today’s transit buses.
One thing that held Flxible back until the late 60’s was their use of a ‘T’ drive arrangement. Even though they used the same 6V-71 Detroit that GM used in their transits, Flxible mounted the engine longitudinally with a troublesome Spicer automatic transmission. Flxible eventually redesigned their transit buses to use the transverse engine/V drive transmission, which was a vast improvement.
Yes, we had 100, 1963-built Flxibles with the original T drive. You had to watch how you handled them, especially on slight hills. I recall that the transmissions were later modified and functioned much better. They lasted in Seattle for 24 years.
Interesting stuff. Thanks.
I remember using the bus system in San Francisco in 1998 – would I be right to remember the single deck bus as AM General, similar to the restored example you show?
Also, in the last photo, what is the frame on the front of the NE flyer bus?
Hello Roger – yes, I think there were some old AM Generals operating in SF in the late 90s. Here’s a short video if it may help jog your memory.
The rack on the front of the New Flyer is most likely a bicycle carrier – it’s becoming quite popular in the States to “bike and ride” in major metropolitan areas. Jim.
Saturday I was in the middle of nowhere Nevada and saw a Flxible Clipper resting quietly in the sand….
I immediately thought of this site but wasn’t driving so I wasn’t able to stop and snap a pic.
I never thought the AM General New Looks and D40LF were related until recently. I always thought the AMG New Look, was a hybrid of both the GMC and Flxible New Looks. It has a curved windsheild like the GM NL, but it has a smooth strait across base at the bottom of the windsheild like the Flxible NL, instead of the arch under a GM NL.
As written in the article, the AMC/Flyer NL, can be trace all the way down to the current and very beautiful New Flyer Industries Xcelsior series, and the GM NL to the Nova LFS, sadly Flxible went out business in 1996. I remember reading some where, that Flxible was working on a low floor design before they went out of business.
Flxible’s Chinese Subsidiary is still pumping out those Chinese Domestic Market Flxible Metros even in Double Decker Low Floor versions as we speak. The only remaining legacy of The Flxible Corporation which was once based in America.
As someone mentioned earlier, some of the AM Generals were sold off to be converted to motorhomes, My wife and I recently purchased this 1977 AM General 10240b.
We’ve got serial number 107, It was listed as bus 966 by the Cincinnati company that owned it, it ran a regular route to Detroit.
At least, that’s what we’ve been able to track down.
Any additional info is welcome. I will say, ours drives great, but we don’t have experience with other busses to compare.
We’re a little murky on all this though, I found the original list of who bought what bus, and 107 was the tour bus for the factory, whereas 1007 was sold to a company in Ohio, so I suspect we actually have bus 1007, not sure how I can verify.
With the low mileage and condition of this bus, we’re theorizing it was the factory tour bus, and was then sold when they decided to get out of the bus business. But that is complete speculation.
In Pittsburgh, the 1975 Flxibles quickly rusted out within a few years. By 1980 with the Flxibles being just 5 years old, many were permanently out of service due to the rust on both the body and underside.
Pittsburgh’s 1978 AMG’s also had corrosion issues on the underside but they weren’t anywhere near as bad. They were much more powerful than the GMs and Flxibles with the same 8V-71 engines and were the best buses they had for driving in the snow at the time,
Hi everyone, very interesting post on buses, i have a 1969 Bedford Vam and something is wrong with the steering, its hard to find a manual for a 69 bedford, if anyone has any suggestions i would love to hear from you.
This is the information i have found on my bus
TRP2D7N713448 9/5/69 ED3586 Midland Coachlines Ltd, Christchurch 35 ED3586 11/69 VAM3 NZMB C41F
Madge Coachlines Ltd, Palmerston North 1 JK9174 5/4/73 later 101
Transbay Coaches Ltd, Whakatane 778 JK9174 3/10/02
Transbay Coaches Ltd, Whakatane 778 JK9174 30/6/04 (Madge Coachlines Ltd)
C A Davies & A Hooper, Mt Maunganui GAP1T 13/3/07 Movan; change plates 29/3/07
C A Davies, Tauranga GAP1T 20/8/08 Movan
MADGE 101 JK9174 1969 Bedford VAM70 713448 Midland B0F…
What’s the reason for such a small width difference of 96 versus 102 inches? Can the 102 accommodate one extra seat per row? Is the 102 too wide for streets in relatively older cities like San Francisco?
Made the aisles wider, which made a not insignificant difference when there were a lot of standees, and when passengers wanted to get off. Getting by the standees to get off could be an issue.
Buses rarely run as crowded as they used to be.
Thanks for the picture of the Boston AM General with the Dave Dinger Ford ad. Now I can’t get the jingle out of my head!
As a summer-replacement driver for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in the mid-1960s, I spent a lot of hours driving Flxible New Looks. The CTA was a loyal customer and purchased diesel and propane engines. The diesel buses had a modicum of punch, but the propane buses were very lethargic.
The units provided a satisfactory driver experience except for the disconcerting propensity for everything to rattle.
The GM Fishbowls had a better ride and superior body integrity.