Note: This is another joint Niedermeyer/Brophy bus post.
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.