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.
I wonder what would happen if the Opus had lived long enough to get the Eclipse II front end, which to this day I think of as a very attractive design
You’ve probably never noticed, but there’s a special unmarked one in most larger cites around the world (but apparently you have to be a member to get in), called the Opus Dei.
Yes, apparently they don’t Handel very well and are hard to Bach up. Worst of all, if they are not loaded carefully, they tend to Liszt to one side. However, I don’t really know if all this is really true. It was just some Bartok I heard.
To be serious for a moment, these buses are quite handsome. What’s going on in the bus manufacturing industry though? There have been a awful lot of company owners in an awfully short period of time.
I don’t know, but I’d speculate that it may have taken a lot of name-changing to get away from the stigma of customers who didn’t fancy catching the Wrightbus by Chance.
There was a rumor that FCA was going to buy the company and build the buses with Hemis sourced from the Dodge Charger. It was to be the company’s Magnum Opus.
The Indianapolis bus system bought several of those trolleys in the early 80s and ran them in a trolley-fashion in downtown for awhile. Later they became available for private rentals. An inlaw rented one for a big rolling birthday party. They eventually disappeared from the area. I always kind of liked them.
The University of Miami has used these buses for free student shuttles. Given that the tuition is $50,000+ per year, they better be free. The curved windshield is very distinctive. The shuttle has been given the name “Hurry ‘Cane”, which is a little too cute.
The ‘smiling’ windshield design was probably intentional. As it adds a friendly quality to its appearance. It is reminiscent of the ‘smile’ Pacific Southwest Airlines used to apply to their aircraft.
As soon as I saw the opening picture I thought ‘Wright’. They used the same shape on their double deckers too, the Gemini, though they seem to be moving on to a new, more angular style now.
Thanks for this great article and photos Jim. The Opus reminds me somewhat of the ElDorado EZ Rider II from the same era, which seemed more popular in Canada. The Opus having a more memorable face.
i have a 2002 opus transit bus that has 4 batterys in a row and a cut off switch does anyone know how they connect together and have a diagram or pic of them please email me at email@example.com
Here is how my batteries are wired on an Optima Opus 29
can anyone tell me where to find a owners manual for this bus
I found one on eBay. Once it’s delivered I can make you a copy.