Back in 2016, we reviewed the motor coach manufacturer Ikarus, based in Budapest Hungary. That post focused mainly on the company’s attempts to market its products in the US in the 1980’s and 90’s, though there were several pictures of the 55/66 series bus. After a little more research, it became clear to me that this coach deserves its own article…
Why does it deserve its own post? Well, obviously there is the look – which we’ll touch on later. More importantly, this is a historically significant coach. During the 50’s and 60’s, while most West Germans, and many in Western Europe, were being ferried to their weekend trips and other excursions in modern Mercedes Benz, Setra, Krauss-Maffei, and Kassbohrer coaches, choices over the border in East Germany were much more limited.
The two major producers of buses behind the Iron Curtain outside of Russia were the Czech firm Skoda and Ikarus. The bus above is a Skoda 706, manufactured from 1958 to 1972, and was considered a contemporary of the Ikarus 55. But while a contemporary, it was not an equal, as it was an older, conventional front-engined design.
So the Ikarus was considered the most modern, and in turn, most popular intercity coach in a majority of Eastern European countries; especially East Germany. For many Eastern Europeans, seeing a 55 today evokes a deep sense of nostalgia – like a West German seeing a MB 0321H, or an North American seeing a GM PD 4104/06.
And boy, what a looker. Whether you think that look is bad or good, depends on your taste, but it’s clear Ikarus put in significant effort to give the 55 some style – something you don’t typically associate with Eastern European products during the Soviet era.
Let’s look at some details; the 55 (the 66 was the urban transit version) came in two lengths; 30 and 38 feet, seating 32 and 44 respectively. The suspension was fairly primitive – leaf springs at both ends. The engine however was more modern – a water-cooled inline six cylinder pre-chamber turbocharged diesel, made by Hungarian firm Csepel; 8.3 liters putting out 125-145 hp hooked to a five speed manual transmission – located in the rear in a “T” configuration. It made for a unique look and sound…
The rear is both stylish and functional. I can imagine more than a few US bus mechanics who would marvel at the access to the engine.
Early 60’s Model
Few updates were made during the eighteen year production run. From 1955 to 59, the headlights were located low in the front bumper, similar to some US Flxible models, making a smooth, unadorned front end. They were moved upward in the early 60’s, then incorporated into a small a small grille on later models.
As was mentioned above, it had a long production run – 1955 to 73. Over 8,000 were imported into East Germany, and in 1988 over 700 were still in service.
Count me as a fan – though the ride would likely be pretty stiff, I’d be glad to take an excursion in one…
As always, nice post Jim. I go with you, this is a very unique design and maybe a little unexpected for something from behind the iron curtain.
I can´t remeber seeing one of these in the metal when we visited the GDR back then,but I knew this model since childhood. From a book about busses I got as a present there.
I always enjoy your posts regarding buses, as it was a more expensive way to travel between cities than by rail when I was growing up.
I’ve seen those Ikarus Lux during my childhood in USSR (early 80’s) but never had a chance to ride in one. However I’ve ridden in later models, both urban as well as intercity. Intercity model felt fairly luxurious compare to domestic LAZ buses.
Some of the smaller Soviet buses (PAZ-672, KAvZ-685) were really uncomfortable, as I couldn’t stand up inside. Mind you, I’m 195 cm (6’4″ ½), but I’ve had no issues in Ikarus.
An aviation note to the last photo: it is an Ilyushin IL-18. Malev was the national airline of Hungary; it ceased operations and was liquidated in 2012.
I’ve seen these in lots of photos, but never knew the back story. Yes, that tail is a bit different, a genuine shelf butt. As you pointed out, access is superb.
The engine compartment is a mechanic’s dream. Built-in lighting, built-in workbench, no way to lose a wrench on the floor.
Some pix of the passenger area are here:
Speaking of Ikarus buses, there is a variety of clips at YT of someone with a modified Ikarus 260 who uses it in tractor pulls, car rallies, and impromptu stunt rides for thrill seeking passengers. I believe this gentleman is based in Hungary. But clips appear in various languages from Eastern Europe. Unique and oddly entertaining in the vein of ‘Russian driving’ clips. 🙂
The Csepel D614.22 engines were actually naturally aspirated engines used in these buses.
Thank you Simon, I’m sure both turbocharged and naturally aspirated engines were used – given so many were built. I found my reference on the German Ikarus 55 Wikipedia page;
“The drive unit used was a water – cooled six – cylinder turbocharged D – 614 diesel engine from the Hungarian manufacturer Csepel with a cylinder capacity of 8275 cc together with a manually synchronized, partially synchronized five – speed gearbox . The engine output 107 kW (145 hp).” Jim.
Icarus flew too close too the sun, and his wings melted. Ikarus seems to have driven too close to a dodgy Soviet nuclear plant, and mutated. A most bizarre creation. For the new kid at a bus stop “The bus is coming, the bus is coming!”, only for grizzled local to inform him “Nyet, child, bus is GOING.” And they said you couldn’t tell if the ’49 Studebakers were coming or going..
A bit ironic that Skoda was endangering lives everywhere with their poor copy of the Renault Dauphine, yet for home consumption, they put their bus engines in the front. Safety for the masses, swing axled-rear-engine for the bourgeoisie.
Skoda made buses! Still learning me, Mr Brophy.
I’m most familiar with the Ikarus 256, the go-to tourist bus-liner in the Soviet Union/CIS that lingered on well into the 2000s. I got to ride on them a number of times to go from Novosibirsk to Biysk to visit grandparents. No A/C, windshield always spiderwebbed from gravel, occasional breakdowns. They’ve all been replaced by used Chinese “King Longs” and Kia busses which have at least lukewarm A/C.
Beautiful bus. People in the US have retrofitted vintage GM buses with air ride and vintage Flxible buses with modern diesels, so I’m sure somebody with more money than sense (i.e. me, if I were to win the lotto) could do the same for these. Thus retrofitted, this would make a lovely candidate to convert into a weekend/car-show RV.
About the Csepel D614 engine, it was only the naturally aspirated version that was installed in the Ikarus 55/66.
Me and my friends owned a 55 from 1992 to 2002. We took it to the Ikarus works for the 1995 centennial celebration. We had it serviced and worked on it ourselves inside the actual Mátyasföld factory preparing it to be displayed at the exhibition coinciding with the centennial.
We were asked to do so because at the time there was no decent example of a 55 available in Hungary to display. On those ocasions we were in contact with factory engineers and historians. No turbocharged version was ever used on a 55/66. Although it was considered in the planning stages as was an automatic transmission. Ikarus engineers were aiming high being formar ME109 builders. But economics did not permit a turbo nor an automatic transmission. For military use of the engine turbocharged versions may have been built.
Greetings from a longtime Ikarus fan from Holland.