Our past few Bus Stop Classics have focused on older buses – those from four or five decades ago. Let’s move forward and look at a bus that is still hard at work carrying passengers today. This is an “Opus” produced by the Optima Bus Corp. of Wichita Kansas, and was manufactured from 1999 to 2009. Contrary to the definition of the term, this Opus was not very lengthy.
Optima was previously known as the Chance Coach Division of Chance Industries, Inc. Beginning in 1979, they produced diesel-engined trolleycar replicas that were and are a frequent sight at tourist destinations in the US. Chance marketed two; the Alamo Streetcar, a basic version, and the American Heritage Streetcar which was Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. These were replica streetcar bodies placed over an existing medium duty truck chassis. I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of these – too fake…
Wrightbus Coachwork on Volvo Chassis
In the late 1990’s, seeing a demand for a mid-sized urban transit coach, Chance looked to partner with an existing bus manufacturer – and found one in Northern Ireland. To our UK and Irish readers, the Opus may look familiar – the initial bodies were produced by Wrightbus, formerly known as Wright and Sons Coachworks of Ballymena Northern Ireland.
Chance entered into an agreement to license-produce a smaller low-floor Wrightbus model naming it the Opus. Initial assembly at the Wichita plant, beginning in 1999, was from completely knocked down (CKD) kits imported from Northern Ireland. These CKD bodies were mated to a Chance designed rear-engined chassis. Chance kept the unique Wrightbus curved lower windshield – making the model easy to identify.
The Opus was a “Midi-Bus” – produced in 30 and 35 foot lengths; with passenger capacity 28 and 33 respectively.
Engine was the somewhat ubiquitous Cummins ISB; a 5.9 liter turbo diesel OHV inline six cylinder – outputs varied by year but most had on average 230 horsepower and 480 ft lbs of torque. Engines were mounted in a longitudinal “T” configuration. Allison B300 automatics were standard with Voith and ZF as options.
In 2003, Chance was sold to American Capital Strategies, who renamed the company Optima, keeping the same product mix.
The Opus was popular with both larger cities as a shuttle or for cross-town routes, and in smaller metropolitan areas in regular service.
In 2006, Cleveland purchased several as downtown shuttles with trolley-like body work – somehow I don’t think they convinced many passengers they were riding on a real trolley…
Optima was sold to North American Bus Industries (NABI) in 2006, and the Opus remained in production for several more years, but NABI ended manufacturing all Optima models in 2009. As was mentioned in our NABI post, that company was purchased by New Flyer in 2013.
Wrightbus is still going strong, marketing a variety of bus bodies that go over any chassis the customer specifies.
With a 15 to 20 year service life, there are more than a few Opus still in service.