Bus Stop Classics: Flxible VistaLiner (VL) 100, Hi-Level, and FlxLiner – The Last Ones From Loudonville

Flxible is mostly remembered for its classic Clipper models of the 1950’s, but it also built some other well-regarded intercity coaches.  Starting in 1954 through 1969, Flx manufactured and marketed three intercity coaches – all fairly similar except for the style of their roofs…

Introduced in 1954, The VistaLiner (VL) 100 was Flxible’s answer to General Motors then new PD 4501 “Scenicruiser”.  The VistaLiner was also a “deck and a half” split-level design, with eight seats on the lower level, and thirty-one in the upper rear portion.  Flx decided to keep the bus’ length at thirty-five feet – well short of the PD 4501’s forty-feet.  This was both an advantage and a handicap – since it was shorter and lighter, it could use an existing Cummins JT-600 diesel that provided limited, but adequate power.  As Paul outlined in his excellent PD 4501 article, GM did not have a diesel engine powerful enough for the heavy Scenicruiser.  The compromise was to use two GM 4-71 diesels in tandem coupled together hydraulically – which proved extremely troublesome.  On the other hand, the VistaLiner’s passenger capacity was thirty-nine, while the PD 4501 could typically carry forty-five, but could be configured to hold up to forty-nine.

Continental Trailways was a prime customer and ordered 126 – they came equipped with BF Goodrich’s “Torsilastic” rear torsion bar suspension, later a staple on Eagle coaches, which gave an extremely smooth ride.  One could imagine Greyhound executives wishing they had made a different choice, given the headaches they experienced with the Scenicruiser powerpack – which they were forced to live with until they were all re-engined with the new GM 8V-71 engine in 1961.

Flxible was noted for its specialty models – one of the first large manufacturers to customize a coach to meet a customer’s specific requests.  One such customer was Elvis Aaron Presley – whose first touring bus was a VL 100.

The front of this bus always appealed to me – something about the unadorned front, with the headlights way down in the bumper.  The rear, however, was much different – I’m not sure what effect the Flx designers were striving for here with these three wrap-around bars – it seems overly fussy.  Maybe one of the first “Brougham” attempts…

In the mid-1950’s, the company produced an artist rendering of a 40 foot “AstraLiner” coach for Trailways, but Flx wanted Trailways to fund all the development and tooling costs, which Trailways was unable to do.  That company then turned its attention to Germany’s Kassborher coaches.  Flx would never produce a 40 ft intercity model.

Operators continued to demand more storage space, so in 1959, Flx brought out the “Hi-Level”, which moved the roof forward to within three feet of the windshield.

Passenger capacity remained the same, but all seating was now elevated above the driver, allowing for more storage.  In addition, as this was one year after the government won its anti-trust case against GM, the Hi-Level added the more fuel efficient GM 6-71 to its powertrain options.

In 1963, the Hi-Level was re-named the FlxLiner, and the stepped roof was removed – the windshield was extended up and the roof was now flat from front to back.  Interestingly, MCI and Eagle wouldn’t make these changes until 10 years later, and GM would keep its stepped roof 4107/4903 “Buffalo” model until leaving the intercity market in 1980.  Engines were now GM’s more compact and powerful 6 or 8V-71.

L-R; Clipper, VistaLiner, Hi-Level, and FlxLiner

The FlxLiner was produced through 1969, but by then sales had fallen – as mentioned above, Flx did not develop a forty foot intercity model, while its other three competitors did – and in the bus business more seats means more revenue.  Additionally, Greyhound was committed to an all MCI fleet, and Trailways was doing the same with Eagle.  Flxible and GM were left to battle over the smaller operators.  Flxible had for several years at that point allowed the Mexican firm DINA to license-produce the FlxLiner, and in 1969, it sold DINA the rest of the factory tooling.  No more Flx intercity buses would come out of the factory at Loudonville Ohio.

But as our DINA post highlighted, the FlxLiner, with the new name “Olympico”, would go on to have a long second life south of the border.

And like the Clipper, these Flxible models continue to have a devoted following in the recreational/motor home market.