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Larry Plachno
October 4, 2022
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The Origin of Eagle Coaches (Part 2 of 2)

Editor’s Note:  This article was originally run in the April 2021 issue of National Bus Trader Magazine. Part 1 was run in BCM last month.

The Aerocoach, built in East Chicago, Indiana by General American Transportation Corp., originated from the Gar Wood bus. Designed by William Bushnell Stout, an aeronautical engineer who developed several planes including the Ford Tri-Motor, the Gar Wood incorporated an integral tubular frame with an aluminum skin. This was expanded into the well-known Aerocoach that was popular with smaller bus companies. However, Aerocoach never did offer a diesel-powered coach and was the first of the larger integral bus builders to cease production in 1952.

Another popular coach builder was ACF- brill, a combination of the American Car and Foundry Company, J.G. Brill of Philadelphia and Fageol Motors of Kent, Ohio. Their most modern units offered an air-operated passenger door behind the front wheel and a passenger seat across from the driver. 

Powered by an underfloor Hall-Scott gasoline engine, the coach had a reputation for fast running and found its way into both Greyhound and Trailways fleets. An optional Cummins diesel engine was offered in 1952 and some were ordered by Continental Trailways. However, faced with the new air ride GM transit buses and coaches, ACF-brill ceased bus production in 1953.

One possible option for Trailways was the Fitz John Coach Co. Their 37-passenger roadrunner model introduced in 1954 looked remarkably similar to the GM PD4104 with silversides and a rear-mounted Cummins diesel engine. Greyhound bought some for sightseeing and some did go to a Trailways operator. This model was also available with a Waukesha gasoline engine and several were delivered; probably the last use of gasoline power in a larger intercity coach. Production ceased in 1958.

Located in Sidney, Ohio, beck was a smaller builder with a larger coach product line that included their B-29 that competed with the Flxible Clipper.  Beck’s popular Mainliner model was offered with a Cummins diesel engine and silversiding. Beck also produced several deck-and-a-half coaches of 35 and 40-foot lengths in imitation of the Greyhound Scenicruiser. Included were 12 40-foot models with Cummins diesel power. Mack Truck purchased the beck operation in 1956 and delivered existing orders but soon discontinued the existing models.

Mack did build a few additional orders including five deck-and-a-half coaches. Their own model 97D was introduced in 1958. It looked much like the PD4104 with silversiding and a rear engine but only 26 were sold. Mack then developed a new 40-foot, three-axle coach known as their MV-620. Greyhound did run this coach as a demonstrator for several months but no orders developed. Like the PD4901, it became a one-of-a kind and ended up transporting people around Mack’s Allentown, Pennsylvania plant.

All of   these   companies   discontinuing bus manufacturing could have been a factor in the U.S. department of Justice filing an antitrust suit in 1956 against GMC buses that also named Greyhound and three other companies.  In particular, the complaint charged that GM had built 84 percent of intercity and transit buses in the United States in 1955 and Flxible had built another seven percent. The charges were never proven and the suit was settled by consent decrees years later. While I am often on the side of the little guy, I would have to suggest that GM’s biggest offense may have been being good at what they did.

The Continental Trailways people continued to look for a bus builder. Both MCI and Prevost were regional Canadian builders in 1954 and hence would not have interested Trailways. However, we might mention that Greyhound, seeking an alternative to GM because of the anti-trust suit, saw potential in MCI. They had the time and money to develop MCI into what they wanted.

Having apparently exhausted options in the United States, the Trailways people began looking at Europe. This presented an additional problem since integral construction had taken longer to become popular in Europe than in the United States. Hence, in searching for a suitable European builder the question of integral construction and durability was important. Records indicate that the Trailways people contacted bus builders in England, Holland, Belgium, France and West Germany.

The Trailways people made the decision to work with Karl Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke GmbH in Ulm, Germany. Located in the Bavaria area of southern Germany, the company’s history goes back to the 1800s when the Kässbohrer family-built boats for use on the nearby Danube River. In retrospect, it appears that two things prompted this partnership. One is that Kässbohrer was already familiar with integral construction and the second was that European coach sales were down and they were anxious to find customers for bigger buses.

By 1951, Kässbohrer had developed web frame construction and had a small, short bus called the S-8 in production in 1952. A famous 1951 photo shows six Kässbohrer employees holding the web frame for the S-8 to show its lightweight design. The company called the concept “selbsttragend” or “self-supporting” from which the Setra name was derived.

While the new small S-8 model had proven to be popular, Kässbohrer was anxious to move into larger coaches. The Trailways need for coaches provided Kässbohrer with a ready market for a larger coach. Hence, the company was willing to underwrite a portion of the tooling costs. After substantial negotiation and discussion, a contract was signed in 1955 by a Continental Trailways vice president with Kässbohrer.

As a result, these first Eagles were somewhat of a composite design from different sources. From Kässbohrer came the basic construction techniques that were developed for their integral design Setra series. This provided a somewhat European look. The Trailways people provided the basic dimensions, particularly a length of 40 feet. Greyhound’s Scenicruiser influenced a second front windshield set back only a few feet on the roof from the front. Because of the use of a second level windshield, this came to be called a triple windshield.

From the Vista-Liner came the concept of a wrap-around rear lounge and torsilastic suspension. Since GM engines were not available at this time, the decision was made to use the M.A.N. diesel engine. The M.A.N. engine was popular in Europe and dated back to the initial experiments of Dr. Rudolph diesel. ZF provided the transmission which was a pre-selector semi-automatic type. 

Interesting unique features included four baggage doors on each side, a galley, card table and a restroom over the right tag axle instead of the traditional right rear. The front design included an inverted “V” arrangement that came to be called the “mustache design.” originally there was a “K” for Kässbohrer under the mustache although this was later changed to an Eagle after the coach was named.

The original coaches had the tag axle at the rear although was changed in later models. Several later Eagle models, starting with the Model 05 in 1968, would have the tag axle in front of the drive axles. This increased luggage capacity but decreased turning radius.

To Kässbohrer’s credit, they put in a lot of work to make sure that the new coach model would meet the need. They started by putting a great deal of effort into the tooling and construction of the original prototype. Several photos survive of this first Eagle being tested on Germany’s autobahns, often accompanied by a Kässbohrer engineering crew following in a smaller S-8 bus.  Hence, there was some adjustments and minor changes before the prototype was shipped to Trailways. 

The original prototype was brought to the United States and delivered to Continental Trailways in mid-1956. It was almost immediately named the Golden Eagle. The “golden” came from the gold-colored aluminum siding. the “Eagle” came from the logo of American bus Lines, a Continental Trailways predecessor that had been retained by the new company. Trailways got as much publicity as it could in newspapers, magazines and on television with their new model. This coach was given fleet number 1800 and was operated in service in Texas.

Continental Trailways put this first Eagle through some tests of its own. They were pleased with the coach other than having a preference for an American engine and transmission. Although this could not be resolved immediately, they placed an order for 50 coaches that were delivered in 1957 with the last two arriving in 1958.

The only significant change from the prototype on this order was moving the second windshield to being more vertical and less horizontal. When they arrived, these coaches were assigned to Golden Eagle Hostess Service with Trailways companies throughout the United States.  These coaches included a galley with beverage service and snacks, carpeting, tray tables and pillows. Trailways had previously offered similar special service using IC-41 Brill and GM PD4104 coaches.

Bus historians will get upset if I do not mention that Trailways also ordered two articulated coaches that became known as Academy Express buses.  They were assigned to Denver - Colorado Springs - Pueblo Motor Lines. Because of their length, lack of luggage space and lack of air conditioning, they were less than totally successful and no similar units were ordered.

In 1958, a second major order placed with Kässbohrer consisted of 41 Silver Eagles. These were of more conventional design, without a galley or rear observation lounge, and would be used in regular service replacing conventional coaches. Major changes from the previous order included the use of silversiding instead of gold, and a single “Z-bolt” design on the side in place of the “double Z-bolt” design on earlier models. 

Other changes included new taillight styling, a simpler front with four headlights instead of two and a destination sign below the windshield. When delivered, these coaches went into regular service replacing older models like the PD4104 and Vista-Liner.

Also produced in 1958 were four articulated Golden Eagles. These were similar in design to the 1957 Golden Eagles but were 60 feet long, seated 63 passengers and were powered by underfloor Rolls Royce engines. Presumably, they would correct the problems of the Academy Express buses by offering air conditioning and luggage space. 

There were suggestions that Continental Trailways planned to use them in transcontinental service, but their length made this problematic. Instead, they were assigned to Denver - Colorado Springs - Pueblo Motor Lines where they proved to be more successful than the Academy Express buses.

An upswing in the German economy found Kässbohrer busy building buses for European operators. As a result, no Eagles were built in 1959 while Continental Trailways looked for another source for their Eagle coaches. This is another story for another time.

Article written by Larry Plachno

Larry Plachno has spent most of his life working in the bus industry. He purchased his first bus in 1963, worked for bus companies and owned bus companies including Executive Commuter Coach and Wisconsin Illinois Stages.

He has owned several bus conversions including three by Custom Coach. Since 1977, he has served as the editor of National Bus Trader.

You can contact Larry Plachno at
Reception@BusMag.com
or visit the website: BusMag.com

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