(first posted 6/10/2017) Several months ago we reviewed the Mack MV-620-D, a large demonstrator intercity coach from the late-1950’s that the company hoped would be selected as a replacement for GM’s PD-4501 Scenicrusier, then Greyhound’s top-tier coach. Unfortunately that didn’t come to pass, however, Mack had much better luck with its urban transit models; the C Series. While produced in far less numbers than the ubiquitous GM “Old Look”, it could count on several large metropolitan transportation authorities as loyal customers. Why did these cities choose the Mack? Likely because the buses enjoyed the same “tough” reputation as the company’s trucks…
While most associated with its truck line, Mack also built buses from its earliest days – in fact, the company’s first model produced in 1900 was a 20 passenger surrey-type bus.
Motor coaches were in the company’s DNA and a key part of its product line. From 1900 until just prior to WW II, Mack produced approximately 55,000 vehicles – 42,000 trucks and 13,000 buses.
Post-war, it saw opportunities in the urban transit market as almost every transportation company sought to recapitalize their war-weary fleets. Its first model, introduced in 1946, was the C-41. This was a 96 in wide, 33 ft coach that could carry 41 passengers. These initial 1946 models came only with a gas engine – the Mack 672 cu in (EN-672) inline 6 with a 2-speed Spicer 184 “Turbomatic” torque converter transmission. Model code was C (series) 41 (passenger load) G (gas) T (Spicer torque converter). In the picture above, new C-41-GT’s are headed via railcar from the factory to the Detroit DSR (Detroit Street Railways).
Detroit was one of Mack’s loyal customers and purchased some 332 Mack buses – the last one being retired in 1962.
Operators quickly placed their orders but also wanted a larger model, and in 1947 the 35 ft C-45 answered that need – it also had a new diesel version of the 672 engine (END 672); its model code was C-45-DT.
In 1954, the final version was introduced, the C-49-DT – lengthened to just over 39 ft . The front end was given a refresh, with the “Mack” script being replaced by the trademark “Bulldog” symbol. In 1953, an updated version of the diesel engine was also made available; the END 673, which was the initial model of the long-running “Thermodyne” brand.
In 1958, the bus was treated to a new front end – larger front windows, dual headlights and a somewhat “frowning” lower fascia – similar in style to the MV-620-D.
There were overseas sales also – here is a smaller C-39 version being operated in Ghent Belgium in the mid-1950’s.
Mack’s bus sales reached a peak during the immediate post-war period, then began a continual downward slide. In 1960, the company realized it could make much better use of its production facilities to assemble its in-demand trucks. So after 60 years, Mack left the bus business.
Mack C-49-DT (left) and GM Old Look (right)
What were some of the reasons Mack failed in the bus market, while at the same time being extremely successful with its truck line? Well, once again, it all comes down to cost. As with their trucks, Mack buses enjoyed a reputation for being extremely durable and “tough”. Rather than using semi-monocoque construction like GM, Mack buses used a separate body on frame design – with that frame being extremely robust (and heavy) – in fact, it was given the marketing moniker “Fortress Frame”. As a comparison, a diesel-powered GM TDH-4507 with the 426 cu in 6-71 engine weighed 17,850 lbs., while a Mack C-45-DT with the 632 cu in engine was significantly heavier at 20,260 lbs. Given their greater weight and larger engine, they were just more expensive to operate.
But as previously mentioned, some operators were extremely loyal to the brand – the most loyal being perhaps New York’s MTA, at that time named NYCTA (City Transport Authority). NYCTA had been a buyer of Mack’s both before and after WW II – 800 prior to 1939, and over 1300 from 1947 to 1956. That loyalty was not surprising given the Mack Bros. established the company and its first factory in Brooklyn, before subsequently moving to Allentown PA in 1907.
Thanks to the forward-thinking folks at New York’s MTA, you can still experience riding in a Mack. No. 6259 is a beautifully restored C-49-DT that is part of MTA’s historical fleet – it is brought out on holidays and special occasions – I hope to be lucky enough to catch a ride someday…