The Ohio Museum of Transportation
Coach Manufacturer History
The AM General coaches that were built between 1974 and 1978 had a relatively interesting history with some mystery thrown in for good measure. In the short four year span of production, 5,212 coaches (not including trolley coaches, articulateds and prototypes) were manufactured. These coaches represented a bold move on the part of American Motors truck division.
AM General 10240-B operating in Pittsburgh PA
AM General, as the Transbus program was already underway. The reason AMG wanted in on the US bus market was simple, Federal contracts to supply vehicles like it had for the US Post Office and Military.
In order to get the experience in building buses, AMG turned to Flyer Industries of Winnepeg, Canada to work a deal out to use their coach design. Flyer manufactured one prototype for AMG using the D700 body and added a few new features such as standee windows and air conditioning along with the AMG name plates (it is believed that there were actually two Flyer demos as pictures that have been published show a D700 with AMG plates with and without standee windows). AMG was never really fond of the D700 appearance and set out to redesign the bus.
|Flyer D-700 operating in Winnipeg MB|
AMG's redesign resulted in a bus that you either loved or hated. Called a Metropolitan, it was essentially a D700 from the belt rail down, the new design was a complete facelift on the front, rear and above the belt rail. In addition, a Detroit Diesel engine with a "V" drive transmission was installed. Flyers used "T" drive as General Motors would not release the "V" drive technology to companies outside of the US at that time. This use of a "V" drive resulted in some structural problems (cracked frames) due to weight distribution problems a few years down the road as the bus was designed structurally for a "T" drive. This is why the back end has a larger than normal overhang.
The first order of the new AMG's went to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and there were a few bugs in the new coaches. Primary of these bugs was a roof leak. It is not known for sure on this point why exactly the roofs leaked at the seams. Officially it was told that the use of caulking instead of a rubber sealer was the reason however rumors still float to this day is that the original AMG coaches delivered to WMATA had the roof panels overlapping in the wrong direction thereby allowing water to be forced in by normal driving.
Another mystery that is still going around is in regards to who built what. It is said that Flyer manufactured bodies for AMG during the early days. Most likely it was parts that were shipped down from Canada and assembled in the US but nothing that can substantiate the rumors has surfaced. Another rumor that surfaced around that time as well was that AMG was building bodies for the Flyer D800's as Flyer dropped the D700 body. This rumor is untrue as Flyer just adopted the AMG body design as their own.
There were 3 series of AMG's. The first series, second series (suffixed with an "A") and the third series (suffixed with a "B"). There were no appearance changes per say from the first to the second series. It was mostly mechanical upgrades however the third series had a noticeable change. In the third series, B models, the air conditioner condenser was removed from above the rear window to the left hand side of the coach in front of the radiator. This eliminated the "hump" in the rear or the coach but lead to more frequent overheating of the buses.
AMGeneral was the first manufacturer to get caught up in the then new UMTA (Urban Mass Transit Administration) requirement that coaches ordered had to have wheelchair lifts. This created a design headache as the front end understructure needed to be redesigned to accommodate the required lift. Some transit systems were able to continue to order the buses without lifts if they had an adequate paratransit system already in place and this allowed the previous design to be used. Motor Coach Age (Feb 1985 issue) states that you can tell the wheelchair equipped buses by the use of different front doors on the lift equipped buses but this is not the case. Pittsburgh for example ordered both 35 and 40 foot coaches without lifts and the 35 foot coaches appeared that they did have lifts installed even though they did not.
As was stated before, these buses were one of those "love em or hate em" things. Notorious for windows that rattled, structural problems, body rot and a plentitude of other annoying things, the AMG's received a reputation of being a bad bus. On the flip side however, the buses were very powerful, could haul standee loads at posted speeds, good handling in snow and had excellent visibility.
Appearance seemed to be an issue with many fans. The AMG's had a very attractive "meant for business" front end however the rest of the bus was rather plain looking. As some people have stated, "the looks stop at the front door". Putting the looks aside however, the B model was a good coach overall even though it still had some inherited problems from the Flyer design.
Looking back in hindsight, if AMG would have redesigned the frame, the multitude of structural problems would have been eliminated. Using a "V" drive configuration in a structure designed for a "T" drive put to much weight on the very back end of the coach. This can be seen today in the Nova Classics that use the "T" drive. The Classic was designed for a "V" drive and the use of a "T" drive in them has caused frequent radius rod and drive shaft failures due to the weight distribution and slope of the driveshaft.
AMG never put the money into the Metropolitan bus design as it was the prime supporter of the Federal Transbus project. General Motors and Rohr were involved in the project as well but neither company wanted to build the Transbus. Instead they wished to build a hybrid coach that utilized aspects of Transbus along with the proven technology. This resulted in the GM RTS II and the 870 which were called Advanced Technology Buses (ADB). Only AMG refused to build an ADB and wished to go full steam into the Transbus design. AMG's design was the least attractive of the three bus designs entered into Transbus however it scored well in the testing program.
As the Transbus project became bogged down in government red tape, AMG saw the project fading away and had no ADB design ready. Federal policies already were changing to favor the ADB's by 1977 and AMG was losing orders to properties that wished to purchase the new designs. A decision was made to pull out of the bus business and the last diesel Metropolitans were produced in 1978. Articulated coaches and trolley coaches continued into 1979.
The articulated coaches were MAN coaches that were basically assembled by AMG during 1978 and 1979. The purpose of this was the US "Buy American" law that stated a set percentage of the bus had to be manufactured in the US. MAN, a major German bus builder, at that time did not have a US base of operations and having AMG assemble the buses allowed an entrance into the US market.
Like the AMG/Flyer coaches, there was virtually no difference in the appearance between AMG articulateds and MAN articulateds outside of the name plates. The difference was that AMG was in a builders agreement with MAN as opposed to the working relationship that existed with AMG and Flyer. Basically this meant that AMG had no say in how the buses looked or how they went together. MAN dictated the designs and technical specs.
The trolley coaches AMG produced were also manufactured under the "Buy America" law. Since Flyer was producing trolley coaches in Canada already and also exporting to the US market since there was no US manufacturer of trolley coaches, it was easy for AMG to take over this market. As they had a working relationship with Flyer, AMG was able to adopt the E-800 Flyer design (AMG's 10240 design) as it's own. Produced only for one year in 1979, AMG produced 219 of the 10240-T trolley coaches for Seattle and Philadelphia. Again there was virtually no difference between the E-800's and 10240-T's outside of the name plate.
To say that AMG should not have produced buses would be a bad statement. In the four short years that they produced buses, they hit both GM and Flxible hard and indirectly started the surge in the 80's of small bus companies coming into the market place with large buses. The overall design of the AMG's was a good design however the time and effort in perfecting the design was very much lacking.
The last vestige of AMG is still alive although no longer in the bus industry. Currently owned by LTV, they produce the Hummer which is the military vehicle that replaced the Jeep. The AMG division was sold off prior to American Motors being sold to Chrysler Corp.
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Page updated on August 13, 2004