(first posted 3/18/2017) In the mid to late 1970s, intercity motor coach operators in North America had several options to choose from as they looked to recapitalize their fleets. As we saw a few months ago, GM was still producing its “Buffalo” – the P8M 4108/4905, though production was slowing, making it ever more clear the company would not be in the intercity bus market much longer. MCI was heading in the opposite direction, with its manufacturing facilities going full bore, building coaches for Greyhound as its sole source provider, and offering its popular line of buses to other operators.
Then there was Eagle, supplier to Continental Trailways, and to those in the entertainment industry that preferred its “Torsilastic” rubber encased torque tube suspension. But there was one other model who’s manufacturer outlasted two of the previous three, and went on to serve as the vanguard of the company’s successful entry into the lucrative US market – the Prevost Le Mirage…
As we discussed in our post on the HS-60, Prevost, now a subsidiary of Volvo Bus, is a Quebec-based motor coach manufacturer with a history of innovation. Popular in Canada, it first marketed its Champion model in the US in the late 1960’s – a 96 in wide coach that came in both 35 and 40 ft lengths. Unfortunately, it made little headway against the dominant and entrenched GM, MCI and Eagle brands.
GM PD 4104
Looking to differentiate itself from the competition, Prevost took a page from European buses and opted for a unique, much larger side window design. You may remember from our recent GM PD 4104 post that an iconic design element of this ground-breaking bus was its forward canted windows. Every bus thereafter mirrored this design – MCI, Eagle, Flixble, Fitzjohn, Beck…even Mack used it, though the 97G had them somewhat surprisingly canted rearward. To quote Madeline Khan in Blazing Saddles, it’s hard to tell if this bus is coming or going…
This updated Champion had vertical, cathedral-like side windows, 42 inches tall, that extended up into the roof. Prevost called this new model the Prestige. While selling better than the Champion, it still wasn’t the breakout hit the company had hoped for – likely due to limited marketing and promotion.
With the exception of GM, by the mid-70’s manufacturers were moving away from their “notched” or “stepped” front ends by increasing the windshield’s height and having a smooth, unbroken roof line from front to rear. Prevost followed this trend, and with a much larger budget and more focused marketing strategy, introduced the Le Mirage model in the US in 1976.
As they say, “the third time’s the charm”…transport operators and the tour industry quickly took to the new model which offered passengers improved visibility and a much more open and brighter interior compared to its contemporaries. Orders poured in forcing Prevost to expand its manufacturing facilities in 1980.
Initially offered in only a 96 in by 40 ft version, Prevost widened the model in 1984 to 102 in, naming it the Le Mirage XL.
Appearance remained largely the same – halogen headlights were added in 1987 which resulted in a new lower front fascia.
In 1995, a 45 ft model, the XL-45 was introduced to compete with MCI’s popular 102DL3
Finally, in 2000, the Le Mirage XLII was launched with a fully paintable exterior (no stainless steel fluting).
DD 60 Series DDEC diesel
Powertrains were typical for North American motor coaches – early models used the GM/DD 8V-71 with a Spicer or Dana manual transmission. This was supplanted by the DD 6/8V-92 with the option of the Allison HT-740 automatic. The later XL-45 used the DD 60 series engine with the Allison B500 6 spd auto. Cummins or Caterpillar engines could also be ordered, but it appears DD’s went in most models.
Prevost dropped the Le Mirage name in 2004, with the coach carrying on with the XLII moniker. It remained in production until superseded by the X3-45 model in 2006.
I couldn’t find overall production numbers but its clear that quite a few rolled out of Prevost’s factories over thirty years – and many still remain on the road today, hard at work ferrying passengers or carrying families as mobile home conversions.
It’s a landmark model – the genesis of the company’s rise to the top tier of motor coach manufacturers in North America it occupies today.