Note: This is another joint Niedermeyer/Brophy bus post. (first posted 12/23/2016)
We’ve looked at several unique multi-front axle, twin-steer vehicles over the past couple weeks. Let’s close out this series by reviewing one that’s a little more modern – and a good deal longer; the Prevost H5-60 articulated intercity coach. It was the third attempt at an articulated highway coach in North America. The first two had stuck out; how would the Prevost fare?
Prevost Le Mirage
We’ll delve more deeply into Prevost’s history in a future article but as I’m sure most CC’ers know, Prevost Car is a long-time motor coach manufacturer based in Sainte-Claire, Quebec, Canada, now owned by the Volvo Bus Corp. Successful in their home country, they entered the US market with their Champion model in the late 1960’s but became most well-known with their popular pillar-windowed Le Mirage coach in the late 1970’s-80’s.
Mid-’80’s GM New Look Classic Artic
Prevost was always an innovative company, known for thinking ahead, and in the 1980’s they began exploring building a large, articulated intercity coach. Although articulated urban transit buses, first developed in Europe, became increasingly common in North America, articulated highway coaches had struck out both times they were tried in NA.
The first was also the first documented articulated bus, the revolutionary 1946 Kaiser bus. It was a very advanced one-off prototype, and even had steering on the rear-most axle. It was used in service for some years, but the promising design never developed into a production unit, presumably because of cost and overall-length regulations that limited where it could be operated.
The second was the ambitious Kässbohrer-Setra Super Golden Eagle, of which four were built in 1958 and used in premium-fare service by Continental Trailways. It too was not a success, and they were mustered out in 1966. Paul found one of the four of these remarkable coaches in Eugene, and his full write up is here. The articulated highway coach having struck out twice in North America, Prevost was taking some risks to go up to bat once again with this type bus.
Evidently, based on studies and marketing analyses, a profitable business case for the bus was made and a demonstrator fielded in 1986, with the first commercial model being offered for sale in 1988. The twin-steer front wheels were likely the result of weight – this was a heavy coach and twin forward axles would have been deemed necessary to meet axle-loading requirements. These twin axles were unique, but so were several other aspects of the coach. First, it could accommodate up to 79 passengers when most other 40 ft intercity buses then in use seated around 45. Second, the engine was located in front of the middle drive axles instead of behind them, as was usual practice. Lastly, the rear-most axle was steerable (counter to front wheels).
That steerable rear axle was no doubt useful as this was a big bus – 102 inches wide, 12 feet high and 60 feet long. Engine was a 12.1 liter DD 8V92TA (500hp/1250 ft lbs of torque) with an Allison HT-755 automatic transmission.
An early order for 14 coaches went to Holland America Cruise Lines who used them to shuttle passengers between their ports-of-call in Alaska. Twelve more were ordered by Voyageur Inc. for the Montreal – Quebec City route.
Unfortunately, further significant orders failed to materialize, and over four years of production, only 46 coaches were built. Why? As we’ve seen time and time again, in the transportation industry, it all comes down to cost. The coaches were just more expensive to operate than their non-articulated cousins. Their size restricted them to certain routes, the 8V92 engine was thirstier than the smaller 6V92 used in other models, and the buses were difficult to work on and maintain – replacement of the articulating mechanism, which did fail, was a minimum $60K fix.
But the company deserves admiration for taking a risk – and there was a silver-lining – while the H5-60 wasn’t a winner, the H3-40 and H3-45 derivatives developed from it were a great success and, with updates, the H3-45 is still being built by Prevost today.
1946 Kaiser Articulated Bus: The First American Fully Articulated Bus PN
1958 Kässbohrer-Setra Continental Trailways Super Golden Eagle: Strike Two For The Articulated Highway Bus PN
Our new bus service starts next month, a route from the mall to downtown. The new single axle front steering 60 ft. articulated buses are 1.1 million each, 10 were purchased for this route which included new stops with longer pull off lanes. The construction which is almost now done has really made traffic a mess for the last year and a half. They will control the traffic lights and are more wheelchair friendly, and the additional doors and general design are supposed to make for faster loading and unloading.
They are New Flyer Xcelsior Hybrid Diesel-Electric models. I have a feeling the maintenance costs are going to be high, as history with this type of bus has proven, although the transit authority claims the improved fuel mileage and larger capacity will be cheaper in the long run.
Nice to see this article appear just as my town gets it’s first articulated buses going into service next month.
Thank you for your well researched article Jim and Paul. In theory this design should have been well suited to the high volume Highway 401 corridor between Montreal and Toronto, as well as the Highway 417 corridor between Montreal and Ottawa. The 401 being one of North America’s busiest freeways, with much of Canada’s population living along this corridor. Given this was their home market, both Prevost and potential buyers, would have likely received government subsidization as well. Though competition with VIA Rail on those routes would have been very stiff.
If market research couldn’t confirm it’s viability on the 401 corridor, it would likely be a hard sell in their home market. As a frequent commuter between Toronto and Montreal at the time, I have never seen this design on the road.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the arrival of the 45′ rigid coach, which were first approved about the time this bus came in service, killed this articulated bus. I don’t know the specifics, but the undoubtedly much greater expense to build this just didn’t justify the extra 15′.
I couldn’t agree more, as it certainly seems that way. As Prevost traditionally seemed quite conservative as a company, they must have felt confident enough to proceed with production when they made this initial commitment.
I drove for Grayline Seattle/Tacoma, a subsidiary of Holland-America Westours when they were deciding what equipment to use on the Skagway to Fairbanks run. I saw several Neoplans in our yard in Seattle before they settled on the Prevost H5-60. Several years later I worked in Skagway, Alaska driving a 1930s Kenworth Touring Car and saw the Prevosts regularly come and go from their trip over the White Pass. My sister actually designed the paintjob you see on the Holland America coaches in this article (McKinley Explorer). One problem they experienced on the Alaska Hgihway was that the trailers tended to bounce around a fair amount due to frost heaves in the road. Not comfortable for passengers.
And yet another twin steer surprise ! Now that’s a sturdy coach, and I like the more recent H3-45 too. Very modern and sleek.
Articulated buses are common in public transport, both in the cities as on the more regional routes (driving from city to city). But so far I haven’t spotted a long distance articulated coach. They have been built, see Neoplan below, but I don’t know if this is still the case.
The most common long distance -as in vacation trips- coach these days is a double decker with 3 axles, the last (rear) axle being a steerable tag axle with single wheels; length up to 14.00 m (45’11”), height up to 4.00 m (13’1”).
I’m really interested in these modern-era North American highway coaches, as I never see them and know nothing about them. So keep them coming please !
An example of a typical luxurious trans-European coach, a Van Hool TD927 Astromega. Double deck, length 14.10 m, height 4.00 m and with a 510 hp DAF engine.
We have Astromegas here too (obviously slight differences due to differing standards). Low-cost operator Megabus uses quite a number of them, generally the only double-deck buses I see plying the roads here.
There you go, I didn’t know that, thanks. Cummins powered, I assume ? Since Van Hool is an independent Belgian family-business, I guess they choose the most appropriate and renowned “regional” powertrain.
Johannes, here’s one you mention that I’m happy to say I’ve seen quite frequently.
Sadly, Megabus has recently scaled back service in my part of the world, having cancelled service to Kansas City.
Thanks for answering a question about what this bus is!
I’d say that’s a Megabus alright…
And an example of a double (twin ? twice ?) articulated public transport bus.
Very attractive designs Johannes. Europe is very progressive in their mass transportation solutions, and a number of Canadian transit company have sourced their buses from the UK and Europe. Toronto’s Go Transit and Ottawa’s OC Transpo have each made significant investments in the Alexander Dennis Enviro500 for their fleets. With Ottawa investing in 74 of the double deckers.
My cousin, Paul Finnerty, born in Ashton under Lyne, UK, was responsible for the introduction of double deckers to GO Transit
Btrain style, I like it that could be fun to drive in town.
I suppose it makes sense that the articulated coaches never saw great success here, but it’s still quite interesting to learn of their existence. Also one of the uncommon examples of twin-steer vehicles on this side of the Atlantic. I wonder how many, if any, are still in use?
I also wonder if that Super Golden Eagle articulated from Paul’s older post is still hanging about in Eugene or if it’s been hauled away by now.
Caio/Induscar has been making some bi-articulated buses in Brazil for some time now, but I still get kinda shocked everytime I see one of these monsters here in Sao Paulo.
Interesting feature as I didn’t know these coaches existed especially the Diversified Transportation unit photographed in 1999. I’d be curious to know where they used that bus as I’ve never seen it around. I’m going to assume it’s a one-off for Diversified and did not catch on because of the cost of unit and maintenance costs.
Wild stuff, I don’t believe I have ever seen an articulated bus on a highway (besides a short haul for a local operator), I had no idea these existed.
That seems like a lot of capacity and expensive to keep around, great if it is used at capacity often, not so much if it’s underutilized.
Thanks for the great article. While the application for such a large, articulated coach was surely limited, Prevost (as you mentioned) deserves credit for tackling such a project. They are very proud of the H5-60. I visited their facility in Sainte-Claire a little over a year ago, and they are still quick to tell you about its innovative design and features.
Like VanHool, Prevost began as a family-operated business until Volvo stepped in during the mid-1990s. Thankfully, Volvo appears to have left them lots of latitude in their designs and they still retain their unique, premium character.
Do Prevost coaches always come with Volvo hardware (engine, transmission, axles) or can their customers order whatever powertrain they want ?
There are not many independent bus and coach manufacturers left. Most are under the big umbrella of a global truckmaker.
Now we’ve mentioned Van Hool and Volvo, here’s a combination of the two. A 1988 Van Hool Alizee on a Volvo B10M bus chassis. The grille already says it’s Volvo based.
I’m not sure about the axles. The engine is the the Volvo D13 (in both the H- and X-series). They stopped using Detroits some years ago, after the Volvo merger. The transmission choices are currently Volvo’s I-Shift or an Allison unit.
I remember the generation of Van Hool in your photo. Those were fairly common in the North America, especially here in Florida, as are the new Van Hools. In fact, Disney Cruise Line uses Van Hools exclusively, and Nova busses for transport between their hotels and theme parks. And you’re right…there’s no denying the Volvo design of that grille!
Thanks, I didn’t know that Van Hool had that kind of representation in North America, and for such a long time. The company does not only build buses and coaches, by the way.
They stopped using Detroit Diesel engines after Daimler stopped selling them to non-Daimler manufacturers. I don’t think it had anything to do with Volvo.
Thanks for the pic and info Chris – I’ll have to put a trip up to Sainte-Claire on the to-do list – have always been a fan of Prevost coaches. Jim.
If buses(and trucks also)had to pay their fair share of the cost of the roadway they travel over then rail based transportation would win out almost every time. They haven’t paid their fair share of their costs in over 100 years and I doubt if they will anytime in the future. A sad legacy to GM who started the whole thing of destroying rail based transportation in favor of IC buses which I consider a far deadlier sin than anything they did otherwise.
As far as public transportation goes, it’s true, if you want to take the bus, there is a small charge once you step inside. BUT, more than 99% of the cost to buy, maintain, staff, administer and run every single bus is totally subsidized by the TAXPAYER. I’m not convinced that is a good use of taxpayers scarce dollars, especially when politicians come year after year after year asking,…no telling us our taxes are going up. Like it or not.
Apologies to this site and readers, my political eggs know no bounds.
I owned a 1988 prevost h5-60 in santa cruz california. Had it on private property and one day this… Persons responsible at large. I have left is a 188k detroit motor allison tranny and 12k onan generator.. Make me an offer.. Enzo_saul@yahoo.com.
Oh my; sorry about your loss. There aren’t exactly many of these left.
Im interested in your bus parts. Please get back to me.
I drove an H5-60 in training in the early 90’s . My boss thought he was going to give GO Transit a run for it’s money. Bankruptcy soon followed. Still owes me $2,000 in wages:)
Van Hools weren’t allowed in Canada at first. They didn’t have enough total sq inches of brake shoe surface for the weight of the bus. Soon remedied though.
To me though Prevost will always be #1 in my book. A pleasure to drive, always. Neat when you drove one with a manual trans. A different pattern. Gotta have your head on straight.
1 retired busdriver aka John
How easy is it to drive the double front axles cant find any info on them. Are there any out there for sale
This unit just showed up for sale this morning