Bus Stop Classics: 1955 – 1973 Ikarus 55/66 – The Bus Behind the Iron Curtain

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.

Skoda 706

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 Model

Early 60’s Model

Later 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…