(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”.
I remember when Flxible buses were very common, but I never saw any that looked like these. A few things strike me:
– The headlamp and grilleless front treatment looks very Tatra 603
– The slanted side windows must have given GM ideas for its New Look bus, which arrived a full 13 years after the postwar Clipper, and
– These look like they have much better outward visibility for the driver than the concurrent GM Old Look buses.
– The back of the louvered buses reminds me of the Stout Scarab
Is there any structural or other advantage to using slanted side window posts, or do they just look cool?
Talking about international sales, we had a few imported to Israel but I think they were TOO advanced for the market at that time. Back then, the typical Israeli bus was mounted on a truck or school bus chassis with a very utilitarian, locally built body. I think operators were overwhelmed by them. When integral, modern buses and coaches eventually arrived on the scene in greater numbers they were French Chaussons, an inferior design if you ask me. Ultimately the market standardized on the full-chassis Leyland Royal Tiger which swept all ahead of it. Very few other US-made buses were imported, never figured out why. Here’s one of the Israeli Flxibles operated by a tour company on the road to Eilat (on the Red Sea) – IDF escort was necessary due to neighbors’ sports activities.
Those are great pictures – thanks for sharing. Never knew Flxs made it over to Israel. Jim.
Not NY… Picking up passengers at Haifa port on the shores of the Med
… and a group picture (by Fritz Schlezinger).
This is the typical Israeli bus of the 40s and beginning of the 50s (pic by Benno Roda)…
I think the slanted side windows just look cool. They help give the bus a sense of motion even when it’s parked. A school bus with its vertical windows looks more utilitarian, but one of these buses has a classic streamlined look that (for me, anyway) makes it look like you’re going somewhere special. Sadly, the only one of these I’ve ever seen was a rough camper conversion at a campground in Nova Scotia when I was a boy. I’ve love to see a shiny restored one in the metal sometime. I just hope I have a camera handy.
A great article about one of my favorite bus designs. My favorite cap….
…and a couple of 1/50th scale diecasts from my collection.
We had them here in Australia. A company called Ansair assembled them but I don’t know what engines they had.
Doug the ones in Tasmania were I think Maguiris Deutz engines and I cannot remember if they were aircooled.I used to love the rare times I got to travel on those buses.They had a low aisle and you had to step up onto the raised platform the seats were fixed to.I thought they were very comfortable also and the seats vaguely resembled those from a 1950/ 60s commercial passenger plane.Close to where I live is a transport museum,restored trains,carriages,trams and buses and it has one of these Ansair buses.This article inspires me to go and look at it,thanks.
I remember riding to high school on the clippers run by pioneer tours. Early 70s. They used air cooled Deutz diesels. I used to sit in the front passenger-side seat to get an idea of how the driver operated the vehicle. They used a strange gear shift lever mounted in a vertical column beside the driver with a slotted gate grill at the top of the column. There were 6 slots (5 forward and one reverse) and could be operated as a standard manual shift or alternatively some drivers used the shift lever to preselect the next gear then dab the clutch to perform the gear change like an automatic. I remember the magnificent uninterrupted forward view through the curved windshield. The design of these busses was definitely slicker than the other busses in the fleet. I must visit the transport museum to inspect their clipper. They were very stylish.
The Deutz engines were aircooled.The Flxible Club of Australia has some great early pics on its website,worth a look.
They were also a fast bus in that era reaching 80 miles per hour.
From the club website, the first one imported into Australia in 1948 had a Buick straight 8, from 1950-54 most had the 7.4L Leyland diesel, then most had a Cummins until mid-1956 when the Deutz took over. It says some later ran GM diesels, particularly those used in the Snowy Mountains in the 1960s, but these must have been replacement engines as none are listed on the build data.
I’d like to buy a vowel.
These are beautiful….
+1 on both counts!
These photos of a 1921 Henderson illustrate the unique design feature of the Flxible sidecar that inspired the brand name.
Great pics Gene – thank you. Jim.
You’re very welcome, Jim.
Until reading this article, I’d always thought this company’s name was “Fixible” (as in easily fixed) and always thought it to be an odd name. The script on the bus itself is hard to distinguish, and not being much of a transit enthusiast, I’d never read about the company to learn the correct name. Flxible is no less odd, but at least it clears up the mystery somewhat.
Yes Eric, the original sidecar company name was Flexible, but they changed it to Flxible in 1919 so they could copyright it. Jim.
Eric, me too!! I always thought it was “Fixible”…until reading Jim’s great article. I feel so slow!
I had the pleasure to ride in the 1949 Flxible Clipper pictured above with the “Hershey” signboard. It was restored by Bob Malley of Rochester, NY who frequently has brought it to Hershey. The ride took place at the Nash Car Club Grand ‘Nashional’ at Batavia, NY a few years ago, where Mr. Malley was kindly giving rides to all comers. It was a great time!
That’s a beautifully restored bus – must have been a great ride. Jim.
That’s a great looking bus.
Did the Visicoach get its name for the larger windows only, as I don’t see any roof lights?
If so, you could almost name the other the Invisicoach, given the small windows and lack of rear window
Yes Roger, the larger side windows were the main reason for the Visicoach label, though there were special touring bus models made with roof “skylight” windows also. Jim.
Gray Line of Seattle used Flxible Clippers for their sightseeing tours and it was there that I first saw them. Some of the buses had overhead skylight windows. These buses were well maintained both inside and out. My first ride in a Clipper happened in Los Angeles where they were used as “airporters”, from LAX to a downtown hotel. I was headed to my first duty station at the Navy base and it was the fastest way downtown. I learned later that a bus would have taken us directly to Long Beach rather than “dog-legging” to LA but what the heck… I would have missed my one and only Clipper ride…!
Great article. The Buick straight 8 engine is interesting in these. Before they got into buses, Flxible was known for a line of funeral cars and ambulances that were built mostly on the Buick chassis. The longtime Flxible-Buick connection undoubtedly played a part in the familiar Buick Eight finding its way into the buses, too.
There was another connection: GM’s ‘Boss’ Kettering sat on Flxible’s board for many years. Kettering was from Loudonville OH., where Flxible was located.
I love this site for all the cool things you learn. Great piece, Jim.
Is the Tarmac Classic in the fourth picture from the bottom a DC-4? That makes the second time in as many weeks that a classic Douglas airplane has photobombed on this forum. Last week it was the venerable DC-3 in one of the ’73 Chevy articles.
Yes, that’s a DC-4, or perhaps a civilian conversion of a wartime C-54; I’d have to research what Capital Airlines had. The round side windows identify them; the subsequent DC-6 had squared windows. The DC-5, from 1940, had two engines and a high wing. It did not go into volume production, only twelve being built in both civilian and military versions; production was stopped in favor of the military versions of the DC-3 (C-47) and DC-4 and never resumed.
In San Francisco these Flxibles were frequently seen as downtown-to-airport buses.
Can’t beat a bus with “Flxilastic Torsion Rubber Springs and Independent Front Suspension”
It’s the 1958 Airporter!
I think I saw one of these sitting in the weeds in east Texas today! I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to shoot it on this trip. I’ll try again soon.
Douglas propliner and Flxible bus, streamline shapes that just go together!
If you don’t have any other choice but to take a bus, you do what you have to do. When you’re young, it isn’t so bad – I took Greyhound between Marysville & Sacramento when in the USAF until I was able to buy a car. Got to ride a Scenicruiser once or twice!
Later, after I married, Wifey worked for Trailways at the St. Louis garage – as a secretary, not a mechanic! She could ride free, of course, and so could I. We decided to take the bus to Florida one year, and it was not a pleasant experience – a very long ordeal. We flew home, which was the plan. After that, we took the bus to Kansas City – an all-night ride on US-50.
We took the train home…
Also once took the bus to Jefferson City for a weekend. Also took the train home!
Those buses are cool looking vehicles, but I certainly don’t want to travel in them, unless it is a charter – not because of the people necessarily, but the routing and the frequent stops that makes the trip aggravating the longer the distance to the destination.
I had read somewhere that Charles Kettering was a large investor in Flxible–that was why they were able to us GM components.
I rode in a Flxible just once, in 1986. I was traveling from KC to Pittsburgh via Trailways, and the company’s maintenance workers were on strike. Newer buses were down from lack of repair, so they pulled old stock out of the barn. I was fascinated by the long-legged unsync’d 4-speed. The driver knew how to doubleclutch, but it was still extremely clumsy going through cities. 5 or 6 speeds would have been better.
Awesome article! I’ve always liked vintage buses, particularly those produced during the 1950s. If I had a choice of engine, I’d choose the Cummins Diesel engine.
One of my all-time favorite buses. There used to be a popular hard-rock band based in Iowa City that used one for their touring, and I got to ride in it once.
And there’s a superbly restored Clipper here in Eugene; I’ve been trying to catch it for years, but no luck yet.
The local car club that I belong to has a ’52 model. We bought it a few years ago and it had been converted to a motor home. We changed it back to carry passengers by installing school bus seats around the perimeter facing each other. The Buick 8 blew up a few years ago and we installed a SBC and auto in it. It sure sounds different. It isn’t much to look at, but we have had lots of fun with it.
Another excellent write up. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but think a Buick straight eight would be the ultimate gas powerplant for a bus. Or an emergency generator.
Back in the late ’50s I lived in a small town and had to be transported to a High School about 7 miles away. A local guy bought a bunch of odd old buses to do the job. One was a great old Flexible. It was quite a treat to climb into that road giant and relax into a reclining seat for that early morning ride.
just saw one of these 4 sale, ebay or craigslist prob cool rig
CC Effect. I just watched that movie last weekend. The bus was the real star and easily overshadowed the acting, plot etc.
I’ve always had a fascination for busses as a kid. Living outside the city there was an inter-city bus that went by on an hourly schedule in either direction, Niagara Falls one way and Hamilton terminal the other with connections to other exotic, for a kid, destinations. In the summer mom used to walk us to the corner and my older brother and I would catch the bus to the city and find the right route to get us to grandma’s house where we would stay for a week. Kids had a lot more freedom back then.
In 1975 my aunt took me on a bus tour out west and for a week I had 15 sets of grandparents. I was absolutely spoiled. Our driver sensed that I needed a break form all the attention and showed me all the features of the bus. The hidden button that opens the door, how to check the brakes were set and locked, how to start the bus and turn on the heaters. It bacame my job to start the bus and warm the interior for the old people after rest stops and lunch stops. It was an honour and a thrill for a ten year old to get the coach ready and help the seniors board. Things like that will never happen today! Looking back the driver and the tour guide always seemed to be last to board the bus and they always came from a different direction than everyone else. I suspect he was getting a bigger thrill than I.
Now I wish I had been born 20 years earlier so that maybe I would have experienced wonderful coaches like these. Nevermind I wouldn’t trade away the memories I already have.
Thanks for the write up.
Truly a classic in the world of bus transportation. The Clipper and it’s derivatives had a great reputation with small and medium sized bus operators for many years, explaining their long production run. The Clipper was quite light compared to contemporary coaches, and the Buick 8 provided adequate power. Interestingly, Buick kept producing the Straight 8 for Flxible for a number of years after it was replaced by the Nailhead in Buick cars. Flxible’s ‘FB 320’ was modified for bus service and had a number of differences compared to the ‘Fireball 8’. In the 60’s, many Buick powered Clippers were retrofitted with GMC V-6’s. At that time GMC was actively marketing their gasoline V-6 as a replacement engine for older trucks and buses. A Clipper with a 401 or 478 was a very fast bus!
Flxible actually offered engine mount kits to repower with the GMC V6. An engine from a GMC 6500, 7500 or 8500 series truck with air brakes was a direct replacement for the Buick 8. We have a 401M in our 47. Great engine but underpowered still. Have to imagine the Buick 8 was unimpressive. Rear axle gearing limited speed as well but helped on the acceleration end. We installed an Allison 6 speed overdrive in ours. Overdrive is a very welcome addition.
And then this almost happened…..
I’d like to hear more about that!
A classic industrial design. They always remind me of the country music stars that toured in them. Flatt and Scruggs, Bob Wills and Floyd Tillman come to mind right off. I’m sure there were more. What was it back then that buses and even milk trucks had charm?
Beautiful bus, and a classic design. Lots of these were used in Canada after WWII and a nice example is preserved at the Reynolds Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin Alberta.
IIRC correctly it’s a 1948 model with the Buick straight 8. It’s not on active display which is a shame.
When I was a kid, we’d see these buses headed to the Grand Canyon all the time. The movie “RV” with Robin Williams, has one of these buses converted to a motorhome
Very nice ! .
I remember riding in these in the 1960’s , they were comfy and rode well plus of course , looked better than any other bus =8-) .
IIRC , the Hall-Scott gasoline engine was the one than made these rigs get up and _GO_ ! .
Oh these are awesome-looking! First time I saw a Flxible was in the RV movie,and I was instantly smitten with the style! In the CC-effect I saw my first Clipper in the metal 4 weeks ago. We were driving along a narrow gravel road near a tiny coastal settlement, and some way from the road, under some trees near an old house was the unmistakable shape of a very dirty and dusty Clipper. To my partner it was just an old heap, but I had to stop and look at it (from the roadside, the house was occupied). Because this is New Zealand, I’m assuming it’s an Ansair version rather than a genuine Flxible, but regardless, such a wonderful design.
What gorgeous old buses. I’ve never seen one in the metal, but it looks like such a sleek design for a bus. Back when even industrial object like buses had style for style’s sake…
Orange Belt had several of these. When the Buick straight 8s needed replacement, they used GM V6 medium truck engines.
When watching classic TV like Route 66 and the Twilight Zone these busses were featured. Always wondered who made them. Did they come with or offer air conditioning? If so what year? Thanks for the cool article and pics.
We own and operate an original unrestored 47 Clipper in Phila PA. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itSs8SYvpbM
Hello, I have seen a lot of pictures of this bus on the internet. She is beautiful. We have one just like and are in the search for many parts. We are looking for someone that has some pieces of the the same siding, for ours has pieces needing replacement. If there is anyone you may know with such please let me know.
I have a flxible bus ,( 1947), the straight 8 Buick blew up in 1961 and it was returned to Flxible in Ohio and they installed a White Mustang engine .
In the mid-60s I heard stories that the Chicago bus company (Continental Air Transport) that connected O’Hare with downtown used to drive their green Flxibles down the expressway at insane speeds (presumably to keep schedule) and the Chicago Police pretty much looked the other way. I got some RTSs going pretty fast on our town’s bypasses (when no one was riding) in the early 90s, but I wonder if these beautiful Flxibles were actually kind of “hot.” Any comments? Who’d win a drag race?
I have a Flxible bus rear engine door that I want to get out of my garage, but I don’t want to scrap it. Does anyone want a 1948 rear engine door??
Quad 7″ round headlamps (well, headlamps outboard and frog lamps inboard): hubba, hubba!
As a geek about all things broadcasting, I’ve seen plenty DuMont items maintained or restored. This bus is the most unexpected one of ’em.
Saw this one several years ago
I swear I’d had seen that Flxible in the first image before! Sure enough it was eight years ago when CC helped burn that beauty into my memory. As a kid growing up in the 80’s I have many miles of “unique experiences” riding Greyhound buses. While probably better in most aspects they could never stop me in my tracks like all these beautiful Flxible’s do.
Anything about Flxible/Loudonville touches upon my NE OH roots—and then there’s the sidelight of Fageol having a presence in not-too-far-away Kent, OH.
I see the the Australian “Ansair” Flxible buses have quite a following there—lots and lots of images can be found via links here: http://flxibleclipperclub.com.au
Wow! When I was a kid, a family in our church bought or converted a motorhome in exactly the same brown and tan livery as the lead picture– right down to the yellow fog lamps. We lived outside of Boston, so I may be learning their Flxble had migrated up from Pennsy!
They had at least 6 kids, including a pair of sisters orphaned in the Korean War. The Dad was a tall, intimidatingly handsome fellow of Italian extraction who always wore a serious –morphing to annoyed– expression, and hardly ever spoke. I recall thinking the Flxble was a surprisingly playful purchase for him. In retrospect, I think it might have bee a practical choice, as the immediate family was too large for any station wagon summer vacation.
The best-looking bus ever. Somehow scary, intimidating, and seductive, all at once.
And I’ve been one, about 5,000 years ago, albeit it was the Aussie-built Ansair copy. I remember because – believe it or not – it had air conditioning! (Nothing in this wide, brown land did then).
I was going to add “we shall not see their like again”, but on reflection, why not? Buses are generally limited to 60mph-level speeds, and so it’s aero would be good enough. A retro bus, electric if you like.
Say, I really like my own idea!
I like it too Justy – use the old tooling if it’s still around and make new models using a new diesel or a battery electric drivetrain – Cummins is currently making both…
I think there’d be enough demand to break even or make a small profit…