(first posted 7/23/2016) Our European readers are no doubt familiar with Ikarus, a manufacturer of motor coaches based in Budapest Hungary.
While Ikarus is still operating today, its heyday was in the period prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, where it was a major provider of buses to countries throughout Eastern Europe. This is its 55/66 series bus – quite a feast for the eyes…
Ikarus-Crown 286 Articulated Coach in Portland
Ikarus was unique in that it was a company from a Soviet satellite country that tried on several occasions to market its products in the US. The first attempt came in 1980 in the form of an alliance with Crown Coach Corp of Los Angeles, a long-established maker of heavy duty school buses and fire apparatus, which by this point was in financial difficulties. Ikarus shipped unfinished versions of its 280 articulated coach for final assembly by Crown. However, this partnership ended in 1986 with few orders, though Portland did purchase 87. Portland was not a happy customer though, and subsequently sued Ikarus/Crown for substandard workmanship, documenting forty-five major problems with its coaches. The suit was settled out of court.
Ikarus-Orion 286 (also known as Orion III) in Toronto
Its second attempt came in 1987, when it entered into a joint venture with Orion Bus Industries to provide 60 foot articulated coaches to the Toronto and Ottawa transit systems. Unfortunately, this effort was also less than successful, as no additional orders materialized, and Toronto retired its coaches early due to corrosion problems.
The company tried one more joint venture, in 1989, this time teaming with Union City Body Co., of Union City Indiana to assemble a version of the Ikarus 415 transit coach, labeled the 416. It also incorporated this joint venture as Ikarus-USA.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the company was faced with a much more competitive environment, and its market share decreased significantly. This put strain on its US operations and Ikarus-USA was forced to dissolve in 1992. Thus began a major transition for the company. Ikarus sold 75% of the company to a UK-based Fund Manager who moved operations to Anniston Alabama. Then in 1996, Ikarus sold the remaining 25% essentially ending its US operations – the new company was renamed North American Bus Industries (NABI), with no affiliation or tie to Ikarus.
Free from the shackles of its former parent, NABI began making successful inroads into the US transit market, developing and selling a full line of products. It continued to offer updated versions of its 416 high floor coach.
And in 1997, began marketing its LFW low floor model in 35, 40 and 60 ft articulated versions. Powertrain options were typical for North America (Detroit Diesel, Cummins, Caterpillar; Allison, Voith, ZF).
NABI routinely updated the model – this is a 2012 Gen 3 version, 31 ft, using CNG.
The BRT series was the final new model NABI developed.
In June 2013, New Flyer Industries acquired NABI from its current owner, Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. (yes, that Cerberus…). It elected to discontinue all NABI models and switch production to New Flyer buses – the last NABI coach was built for DART (Dallas) in October 2015. The Anniston plant began assembling the New Flyer Xcelsior in 2016.
Perhaps due to a similar acronym, NABI is often confused with BIA (Bus Industries of America) which we reviewed in a previous post. They were in fact two separate companies with separate products, though the one thing they did have in common was that they were both ultimately subsumed by New Flyer.
I see an Icarus once in a while feeding one of the casinos near work. Usually VanHools and MCI are used but once in a while the Icky is out. My fav is a beautiful Dina that runs daily.
I just love that 66 Series. If Tatra built a bus, it would look like this.
Actually, Tatra did built buses and trolleybuses but I’ll have to disappoint you, most of them, like their trucks, had a conventional appearance, like the Tatra 400 below…
I’d hardly call that conventional! So much glass…and those low-mounted inset lamps.
Interesting how this series has made clear how firms in the bus bui!ding business have great difficulty remaining viable over the long term. One would think, with all US sales essentially being financed with Federal dollars, that there would be stability and profitability. Perhaps an economist in our midst could enlighten us. What is wrong with the bus building business in Noth America?
I’m not sure what’s wrong, but it seems to be the same problem affecting the railroad passenger car-building business. Every few years, someone comes in to the USA to build cars for Amtrak or local transit authorities (since no one here seems to want or know how to do this anymore,) and promptly goes bust once an order is completed and funding dries up. The next time Amtrak or the locals want new cars, they have to start from scratch again.
Perhaps ‘Buy America’ section of Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 is the reason?
If the transit agencies are to receive the federal funding toward the procurement, it’s politically convenient to purchase the vehicles that have certain percentage of US-sourced components and final assembly in the United States.
Not to mention the arduous and expensive process of testing and certifying the public transit vehicles to meet the federal safety regulations.
The financial incentive and return of investment might be too small to be sustainable for many of manufacturers.
My experience is that The Bus Company I worked for was so UNBELIEVABLY mis-managed, that they could go broke operating a money-printing press. A “Property” (typically a city, purchasing buses for their Transit Fleet with Other People’s Money, i.e., Federal Funding) would contract with us for a number of buses, to be equipped in a certain way, with various options, and with a delivery date that can’t be exceeded without paying damages. The Property would usually send an Inspector or team of Inspectors to our site (Final Assembly) but not send inspectors to the main assembly plant.
Buses were paid for in stages. The company would get a partial payment as the bus achieved certain completion goals. For example, money would be released when a ‘Bus Shell” entered Final Assembly, more money released when it had a powertrain package installed, more when it complete enough to be Final Inspected. The last payment would be when it was delivered, I suppose. No one ever told me–a Schmuck on the assembly line–what the actual payment schedule was, just that it was incremental
In thirteen years, I never, ever, saw a “Revision A” drawing (blueprint) with it’s Bill of Materials (all the fasteners, clamps, minor-and-major parts needed to complete the sub-assembly) that could be built as-designed. The “engineers” specified fine-thread bolts in coarse-thread holes, Dash 8 hoses to go with Dash 6 fittings, and in one case they actually laid out the drawing so that a two-inch square steel tube of bus structure ran directly through one of the radiator tanks. We had to cut every bus structure apart to remove the tube before the radiator could be crammed into place. The engineering staff had college degrees, but the company relied upon Assembly Line Schmucks to make the decisions of how to correct Engineering Mistakes. That’d be me, and a handful of others like me. I spent ten years in the Engine department, before going to Rear Axles.
My crew took hand-held drills with hole-saws, and cut washers out of sheet steel, because no one had the damned sense to go to a hardware store and buy them. The washers were poorly formed–looked like they’d been cut with axes–and cost about a hundred times more than commercially-obtained washers due to the enormous man-hour investment, not to mention the destruction of bigass hole saws being turned too fast by 3/8 drills instead of a drill press. Fortunately, that lasted only one week.
I still have a collection of Engineering Change Request forms, which I authored and which represent how the bus was actually built…which never got “official” approval from Engineering; and which were therefore never incorporated into official documents. Every time that particular sub-assembly was required on a contract, I’d re-submit the ECR, build the bus my way, and a month later on the next contract of buses, I’d do it all over again. Wrong parts got ordered because the documentation was never corrected. Correct parts had to be expedited to make the bus saleable. And they NEVER LEARNED TO FIX THE DOCUMENTATION. I personally saw a Voith transmission shipped in from Germany; the tag said “747 Cargo” on it–because the Company hadn’t counted correctly and needed one more to finish the contract.
Don’t even talk to me about “ISO 9000” standards. This company had ISO certification; and as soon as the ISO inspectors left the premises, everything went back to the Same Old Crap of inefficient and ineffective procedures.
Example: We were building a contract of “X” number of buses for Some Major City in America.
At some point mid-way through production, a bus shows up with a missing or damaged window. The windows are installed by the parent company, we were “Final Assembly” in a different city. It is not our job to install windows, but in truth we do “whatever it takes” to make the bus saleable, generally on forced (mandatory) overtime.
There are no window available to us. The Main Plant has no extra windows to send to us. And by this time, the bus has wound it’s way through the “assembly line” to the point that in another couple of “Line moves” it’s finished and ready for road-testing and then acceptance/delivery. So we do what we did a jillion times in similar situations. We stole a window from the bus at the beginning of our Final-Assembly line, put it in the bus that’s nearly complete, and that bus gets finished, tested, approved, and delivered.
This leaves us with a ‘new” bus that’s missing a window. It makes it’s way down the Final Assembly line without us getting any support from the Main Plant, and when it’s ready for completion, testing, and sale…we steal another window from a bus just entering Final Assembly. And THAT bus goes through Final Assembly.
We stole six or seven windows, eventually grabbing a window from the final bus of that contract. And THAT bus got special permission to be delivered without a window.
So the Final Assembly plant robbed windows from bus-to-bus multiple times, incurring Forced Overtime of the workforce, time-and-a-half labor charges, plus the disruption of doing work we were never supposed to do to begin with–all the problems of being on the wrong end of the learning curve for that assembly step. And we did it for NOTHING, because in the end, we shipped the bus without a window.
Our Field Service team would have installed that window on-site at the customer’s service location.
We built buses to be delivered in California. That property specified that no antifreeze was to be installed. Antifreeze is a chemical, chemicals are E-V-I-L in California. It’s July. My guys did what we were told. We filled the cooling systems with water and some nitrate additives. But those buses were delayed due to parts shortages. We were FAR beyond the contracted delivery date when the buses started popping the heater cores due to freezing weather at our Final Assembly plant.
What happens when a company can’t plan ahead? What happens when a company pays huge overtime costs because they won’t fix production problems where they occur, opting to fix them in Final Assembly? There’s no money. Vendors put the company on credit-hold. They shipped no parts until we paid our overdue bills. In the meantime, dozens of buses go through Final Assembly with multiple shortages of critical parts (Engines and transmissions, for example.)
And then it’s Mandatory Overtime to catch up the shortages. More money wasted due to a total inability of management to manage.
In the early years of my employment, I was the leader of the Safety Committee. I asked what my budget was. Plant Manager told me “We don’t budget for safety”; which I took as a good sign. What Safety needed, Safety got.
How wrong I was. What he meant was “There’s no money for Safety”. I ended up buying Band-Aids and other First-Aid supplies from my own pocket.
If you folks saw the incredible amount of rework done to faulty parts because of incompetent engineering and a Quality Assurance Department that walks around tapping white canes on the floor, you’d never ride a bus again.
And for what? Buses are ghetto taxis. Nobody “wants” to ride a bus, they “have” to ride a bus because they can’t manage something better.
Public Transit in America is a Subsidized Disaster from manufacturing to ridership. 80 or 90 percent of Public Transit should be instantly discontinued before more tax money is flushed down that toilet. Every route that doesn’t have enough ridership support to be viable, should be dumped.
In my hometown, prior to the Communist Viral Plague that decimated public transportation ridership, 40-foot buses drove around with average occupancy of 3.2 people on board, and one of them is the driver.
Well BIA (Bus Industries of America)/OBI (Ontario Bus Industries) which both were later incorporated into Orion Bus Industries then Daimler Chrysler Bus NA lastly Daimler Bus NA had acquired a license from Crown Coach Ikarus to build the Orion Articulated Bus which was heavily based from the Ikarus 186. So there was somewhat of a confusing connection between BIA and Ikarus North America which later became NABI. Convoluted I would say.
Perhaps there is a chart available that will show how all the various entities were related.
Good article and I liked seeing the Ikarus-Crown 286 Articulated Coach in Portland, OR since vintage photos of even Trimet are cool. All the businesses on that bus are still around and some buses still wear a modified version of that paint scheme.
But the buses were pieces of crap. I knew people who worked in the TriMet bus garage and they all had nothing good to say about them. Except very upper management who raved about how good they were but they would say that about a cardboard box on wheels. They were warned before they even bought them they were rolling disaster areas on wheels.
I like the bike carriers on the front ! Never saw that before. Another great bus story with ditto pictures, thanks.
I saw them for the first time in Canberra, where they’re quite popular
The Go Bus Volvos we have locally have them, must try them out one day take my bike into town and ride home.
I spent a lot of time in Ikarus buses as a kid, as my stepdad drove one for the Intourist travel agency in Moscow throughout the 1970s. Those buses were super modern and very comfortable for the times and were only used for inter-city travel for sight-seeing Western tourists. They looked like this:
My only experience travelling with an Ikarus was with the below, an early 90s E 99. This was one of the models Ikarus developed to compete with western European manufacturers like Neoplan, Setra, Van Hool and others. They were used at the time (1994) on Eurolines’ London-Vienna-Budapest route, which was a 22 hour trip from London to Vienna back then, when we still had proper border controls and not the current mess (I’ll stop here for fear of getting too political). I did not get the feeling it was any worse than the equivalent western Europeans, quality wise; in fact, it had one advantage, namely you could sleep on the floor at the front of the top deck without being in other passengers’ way (well, not too much), always useful on such trips. If I remember correctly, it had a Ràba-MAN V10 with 400 hp which for a bus back then was VERY respectable. I was probably the only non-Hungarian passenger, most were either Hungarian tourists returning from the UK or au-pair girls… All nice people. Driver change was performed on the go (yes) on the German Autobahn… Oh, on the last rest stop in Austria, the driver gave the Hungarians a 30 minutes break, German-speaking persons got 20 and English-speaking ones… 10. Probably on account of losing the odd drunken English yob in the past.
Oh, why would one subject oneself to such a trip? Simply due to to the fact the return ticket was open for a half a year (not possible if you wanted to fly) and you could call Eurolines at a short notice and still get a seat; during my studies, I used to go to Austria for my summer vacation to work and it was very handy as I could never say when, exactly, I’ll decide to go back. And of course, I did not have the back issues I have now, heh.
I made a point of riding in Ikarus articulated buses ca. 1978 in Los Angeles and in the early ’80s in Seattle, when those transit systems were trying them out. They didn’t end up buying any.
As a matter of interest, their home-market name was Ikarusz. In Hungarian, the letter S by itself has the sound of “sh” in English, and “sz” has the sound “s.”
Considering the fate of the mythical Icarus, I always thought it was an odd brand name, especially for a transportation-related product.
Maybe the Icarus bus is fine, but SEPTA as a transit system is foul and vile – perhaps the worst in the country.
Interesting stuff, and that Series 66 bus is wonderful!
I was a student in the mid 80s, when Ottawa invested heavily in the Ikarus-Orion 286 (Orion III). I recall they were biggest adopter in North America of the Ikarus 286-derived articulated buses. They had a massive fleet. Problem was, they were very susceptible to corrosion due to road salt. Ottawa used tonnes of road salt. OC Transpo even bought Orion IIIs from Toronto, as they were having corrosion issues.
They moved a lot of commuters, and that was one of the few advantages for cities without subways or rail systems. And Ottawa had just invested heavily in their ‘highway’ Transitway network, that allowed only buses exclusively. I still recall riders seated on the driver’s side of the mid-section of the bus were regularly treated to large plumes of black smoke from the Cummins NH Series diesel engine. They were very spacious and airy. With huge windows. These were European in every sense.
They were the workhorse bus from 1985 until the mid 90s. Especially on the bus exclusive ‘Transitway’.
Large plumes of exhaust inside the bus…?
lol If you were seated in the two or three seats near where I have inserted the red dot, black diesel exhaust would shoot out sideways (exterior). It was entertainment for riders to see adjacent unsuspecting car drivers with their passenger windows open, get a blast of the bus exhaust on start-up from traffic lights. Brutal design. Should have been an exhaust pipe leading above the roof.
You’re reminding me of that game we used to play on early-’80s diesel school buses.
That link was hilarious! I always make sure to read all your stories, but I missed that one. Love your school bus stories. I never had the pleasure of a diesel school bus. I had a blonde school bus driver in 1983, who broke down crying when she had a bus break down. She was driving a tired late 60s GMC, so the breakdown wasn’t really her fault. She also partially pulled the bumper off a car around that time, when we tried to pull a car out of a snow bank with the bus. lol
Glad to entertain. That link went to partway down the 3rd page; djya see the first two?
Pulling the bumper off a car with the bus…I have to imagine you’ve seen “Duel”?
Absolutely amazing! Of course, I should have checked that you didn’t have additional pages. Your posts and articles are always chock full of Easter eggs, and very detailed documentation. With slick coding. Beautiful packaging of all your articles. Incredible memories you have drawn here, with the bonus of the sound effects. This is a magnum opus of the American/Canadian school bus experience. lol I’m a bit surprised how hard some of these buses are being driven. But many drivers accelerated hard, and drove aggressively. They had no business driving kids! I also had several Loadstars with manuals, and one in early high school with an automatic. That one very impressively also had a chrome front bumper. lol Fords were virtually non-existent in Ontario. Same with Dodge. I’m a bit surprised that Colorado and Ontario generally shared the dominate popularity of the Loadstar and Bluebird body. But it was a solid combination. With the Chevrolet and Superior combination dominating a bit earlier here, in the mid to late 70s. I noticed a couple years ago, a school board in Central Ontario (New Liskeard), added strobe lights on the rear roofs of their buses. You could not miss, a stopped bus. The International S-Series started to dominate after I left high school. The S-Series was a late bloomer here.
Just great work Daniel, thank you for this. You are a strong asset for this site!
Thanks kindly…again! 🙂 My whole COAL series is indexed here.
Though actor Lou Frizell had many character roles, I always associated him primarily with his role as the school bus driver in Duel.
One school bus memory I recall as a kid, was being blown away seeing photos of the GMC 9500 being used by some New England school districts in the mid 70s. A model you never saw used anywhere in Canada. The ’68 era C-60 Chevrolet was the standard Chev/GM across Canada for years.
Thank you for that link! I will enjoy this. Wonderful, you are a Mopar authority. I have to admit, I don’t spend as much time here as I should. So many valuable things to learn. 🙂
Well, if ya come here for the Daniel Stern stuff…that link is here! 😜 (at the moment I’m rather seriously behind on posting new stuff; I anticipating that logjam beginning to clear shortly).
Love it! Thanks for sharing your links. Really creative and fascinating topics you explore! Some of the more technical information is both deeply interesting, and occasionally over my head. lol Also appreciate your very people-oriented non-corporatist views on the environment and society in general.
You can see the exhaust tip here (red arrow). The exhaust was routed downward, but it would hit the pavement, and shoot sideways. A black cloud, every time the bus moved. lol
It was a common topic of discussion for riders of these buses. And car drivers got to be very wary. I probably rode this exact bus ‘8504’, multiple times.
One big advantage these Orion III buses had over future low floor articulated buses, was they had better traction in snow. The middle axle being the drive wheels allowed the bus to handle snow, better than rear-axle driven articulated buses. Though, not by much.
Hoogeeze. Yeah, that’s a very European-style tailspout. The American roof-level tailspout is just plain better. This what you show and describe is giving me bad flashbacks to street-level tailspouts on heavy trucks in Europe during my visits there in the early and mid 1990s—and the dirty diesel exhaust they put out.
(you’re also giving me bad flashbacks to the years before diesel bus and truck emissions were regulated in any meaningful way in North America—and the clouds were bigger in Denver where I grew up, on account of the high altitude)
I recall reading, it was some transit services themselves that adopted the roof-routing of the exhaust pipe on early GM New Look buses. I don’t believe it was GM that came up with that. Though, I’m not 100% sure, until I find the source. All those toxins used to shoot out at street level.
I know, the Ottawa Transit Commission (predecessor to OC Transpo), was an early adopter of the exhaust pipes being routed to the roof.
Hot Rod Ikarus. Check out that exhaust!
I recall, another significant drawback of the many Ikarus-Orion 286s (Orion III) used by Toronto and Ottawa, was none of them had air conditioning. They’d be sweatboxes in summer. The large volume of glass, heat from the mid-ship engine, and high passenger capacity, combined with the small top-opening windows, created lots of stagnant air for passengers.
Very telling, that Ottawa saved their first Orion III (8501) for years in their historical collection. Then decided to scrap it. Because they knew, though the bus was a workhorse for over a decade, it was not remembered fondly by the public. And it was a financial failure as well. As North American buses usually lasted twice as long in service.
This dog does a spot on impression of that 55/66 rear end. The GIF is hilarious but it’s pics only here at CC.