Bus Stop Classics: 1990-94 Motor Coach Industries (MCI) 102 B3 – Casting Aside 50 Years of Intercity Bus Design

(first posted 5/13/2017)    Take a close look at this bus…doesn’t look especially unique, does it.  Seems to be fairly representative of any intercity coach in the US and Canada in the decade of the 1990’s.  But this model was actually quite revolutionary – with this coach MCI broke precedent with a fifty-year design element that was the hallmark of every intercity bus produced in North America, irrespective of manufacturer.  This is an MCI 102 B3, and it was the first intercity coach since the late 1930’s to have a fully painted body, i.e., no fluted aluminum or stainless steel exterior.

Well, to be truthful, that last statement is only partially correct – the 102 B3 was initially offered only with fully painted sides and front.  But this may have been a “little too much, too soon” for the typically conservative transportation industry, as operators weren’t sure how their passengers would react.  They lobbied MCI to add back the option of stainless steel siding (which the company did).  Consequently, you’ll see 102 B3 models both with fluted siding, and fully painted.

When I talk to fellow bus enthusiasts in Europe and Asia, I find myself somewhat consistently answering the question; why did all North American intercity buses up until the 2000’s look so “Industrial?”  It’s a valid question, and I usually answer by offering a short history of the dominance and influence of General Motors, which set the template for the modern intercity coach with their PD 3701/3751 “Silversides” model in the late 1930’s (if you haven’t seen Paul’s informative Silversides article, it’s here).

Of course, GM was just imitating the groundbreaking Pioneer Zephyr of 1934, built by Budd, which introduced the stainless steel fluted cladding. And North American railroad coaches used the fluted cladding for about as long as the buses did. It just became deeply entrenched, and it was of course practical too.

Beck 1040 and GM PD 4501

GM set the standard when it came to buses, both urban transit and intercity, from the late 1930’s until 1980.  A good example was highlighted in our recent PD 4104 Highway Traveler post.  GM was the trendsetter, and every other manufacturer followed the company’s example – some to the extent that they were almost a direct copy (see CD Beck and Sons post here).

1950’s – ACF Brill IC 41 and Flxible High Level 

1960’s – Eagle Model 05 and GM PD 4106

1970’s – GM PD 4107 and MCI Model 7

1980’s – MCI Model 9 and Prevost LeMirage

Fluted aluminum or stainless steel became the defacto exterior design theme for all intercity coaches, for over five decades.

But back to the subject – the 102 B3 was built from 1990-94, and had typical North American dimensions; 102 inches wide, 40 feet long.  A two-axle version, the 102 B2, was also built.  Most seated 47 passengers.

The DD 6V92TA seemed to be the preferred power train with either an Allison HT 740 4 speed automatic or a Fuller T-11605D 5 speed manual.  Similar to the bodywork, there was also a transition in the engine bay – 102 B3 was the last MCI coach to use a version of GM/DD’s two-stroke diesel (71 and 92)  that were being phased out due to their inability to meet ever-tightening emissions standards.  Subsequent buses used the four-stroke 50 or 60 series.

The 102 B3 was superseded by the 102 D3 in 1994.  Operators gradually became more comfortable that customers would accept the lack of fluting, but MCI would continue to offer it as an option on the 102 D3 and D4500 models until the turn of the century.

As an old guy, I tend to favor the older fluted designs, though I have to say the latest Greyhound scheme in dark blue is fairly attractive.

So, what’s your preference; fluted siding or fully painted?