(first posted 2/26/2016) If you were a user of bus transportation in the ‘50s through early ’60s, both city and over-the-road, you no doubt traveled on several different types of motor coaches; GM Old Looks and Silversides, Macks, ACF-Brills, Twin-Coaches, etc. In terms of design, they all had one thing in common – typical oblong, rectangular styling – one that places function over flair. Certainly a wise choice for such a utilitarian appliance as a bus. But there was one US motor coach manufacturer that tried to balance utility and style.
Flxible (no, this is not a misspelling) was a manufacturer of both transit and intercity coaches. The company began building motorcycle side-cars in 1913 and continued in operation through various owners until 1995. While not a major manufacturer on the scale of a GM, it was fairly successful and profitable, especially during the decade of the 1950’s – and produced the beautiful (in my opinion) Flxible Clipper.
Modern Clippers (the most familiar style) began being manufactured in 1946. From 1950 to ‘56, an upgraded Visicoach model was produced. In 1957, the Starliner was introduced with a raised roof section, and finally later model Starliners, without the raised roof, were made from 1960 – ’67. International readers will recognize them also as they were built in Canada by White and in Australia by Ansair.
Power trains for these buses varied widely. Early models came with a Buick straight-eight OHV engine – which made for a unique sound. Later models had Fageol, Hall-Scott (gas) and Cummins (diesel) power plants. With the anti-trust decision in 1959 that forced GM to sell its engines, transmissions, and related components to other manufacturers, some had 4-71 GM diesel engines. The engine was in a cradle on rails that could be extended out for service or change-out.
Clippers were primarily intercity coaches, used by smaller bus companies, on smaller routes (they typically seated 29/33 passengers). In contrast to most intercity coaches, baggage was stored in the rear of the bus rather than under-floor. On the East Coast, many Clippers were purchased second-hand and used in a city transit role on routes not served by the larger bus companies, even though they had only a front door.
This is a Clipper Visicoach – notice how much more visually expressive this bus is in contrast to its more rectangular contemporaries.
The Clipper’s design also allowed for more interesting and varied paint schemes and livery.
The two-piece wraparound windshield was unique.
As was the fully enclosed rear.
Always reminded me of the 1950 Nash.
The signature engine air intake on the rear roof.
Here is a Starliner with the raised roof section.
When this didn’t prove popular, a regular roof returned in 1960.
Perhaps because of its name, the company was willing to tailor-build buses for special use; here is one outfitted for mobile TV work.
And in an age before connecting bridges and skyways, they spearheaded the market for an airport bus that transferred passengers from plane-side to terminal.
The “Clipper” finally ceased production in 1967 – a production run of some 21 years.
Clippers are highly sought after today for motor home conversions with fully restored ones currently trading in the $250-$300K range. One starred in the 2006 Robin Williams film “RV” (not my favorite Robin Williams movie but worth watching for the bus scenes).
Though they didn’t ride as nice as the GM models with their air suspension, and the small windows made the interiors somewhat dark (sitting in the back with no rear window was like sitting in a dark hole), I always enjoyed riding in one – it was the only bus that had “style”.