Eagle is a make of motor coach with a long and interesting history. During a period of over four decades, some 8,000 Eagle coaches were built in four countries on two continents. The coaches were a common sight on American highways and were strongly associated with Continental Trailways for over three decades.
Greyhound Lines introduced the 40 foot long, two level GM PD 4501 Scenicruiser in 1954 and that sent its main rival, Continental Trailways, on a hunt for a unique design of its own. They first contacted The Flxible Company of Loudonville, OH. Flxible agreed to produce Continental's dream coach on condition that Continental paid all design and tooling costs up front. As Continental had bought the Santa Fe Trail Transportation Company (the large bus operations of the Santa Fe Railway) in 1948 and transcontinental carrier American Buslines in 1953, they were not flush with cash at the time and started looking elsewhere. Mack, Beck and Fitzjohn either couldn't or wouldn't build this new bus (Beck and Fitzjohn were out of business by 1958 and Mack left the bus and coach business in 1960) unless the upfront costs were paid in advance. That sent Maurice E. Moore, Continental's CEO, to Europe looking for a supplier. Eventually he made an agreement with the German firm of Kässbohrer for the production of a prototype, which was completed in 1956 and shipped to Houston. In the meantime Moore ordered 113 Vista-Liner 100 coaches from Flxible for delivery in 1955 and 1956. The Vista-Liner (commonly called the VL100) was an advanced two level design but it was only 35 feet long (eight fewer seats than the Scenicruiser) and the difference in height between decks was about of half that of the Scenicruiser (much less space for baggage and package express shipments). The VL100 was also noticeably underpowered which caused certain timetables to be adjusted on longer journeys. On the other hand the VL100 had B. F. Goodrich Torsilastic suspension (independent on the front wheels) and a very fresh exterior design. The suspension and certain visual design aspects of the VL100 were integrated into the design of the future Eagle coaches that Kässbohrer built under its Setra brand.
The first 55 Eagles were Golden Eagles built by the German company Kässbohrer. The first Golden Eagle was a prototype that differed in a number of ways from the production versions. After about a year in service Continental placed an order for 50 more modified versions based on lessons learned from the prototype. The largest external difference was a new design for the six piece windshield because drivers complained that the original design had them baking in the Texas sun even with air conditioning. They were part of an order for 185 highway coaches manufactured under a contract with Continental Trailways. Of this original group, four were articulated Super Golden Eagles. All of these coaches were of the 'Setra Design' which meant that they were 'integral' coaches without a separate body and chassis. Kässbohrer took the German words selbst tragend (self-carrying) for a trademark in the form of Setra, a name formed from the first letters of those two words. Golden Eagles originally contained an aircraft style galley plus a rear lounge that had two tables with pairs of facing seats, observation windows and other luxury features such as piped in music, newspapers and magazines. An on-board hostess served snacks and drinks en route and other amenities such as pillows and blankets were available. The exterior aluminium siding was anodized in gold, hence the Golden Eagle name. The standard version without the galley and lounge was called the Silver Eagle because the aluminium siding was in silver. 41 Silver Eagles followed their Golden Eagle sisters down Kässbohrer's production line in 1958 and became the standard fleet bus for Continental Trailways. The first Eagle buses were powered by MAN D1566 diesel engines and ZF preselector transmissions from Germany. The four Super Golden Eagles had more powerful Rolls Royce diesel engines. No Eagles were produced in 1959 while Continental gained experience with its new fleet. Continental suggested a number of design changes to Kâssbohrer that included a new front end and a standard American powertrain. The result was the NEW Silver Eagle model that was to be produced in 1960. Most NEW Silver Eagles had Cummins 300 HP NRTO engines but some arrived in the USA without engines as GM finally released the Detroit Diesel 8V-71 engine and these were installed when the buses arrived. All older Eagles except the four Super Golden Eagles received 8V-71 engines and Spicer four speed manual transmissions to replace their original power packages. Continental also bought two other Setra articulated buses in 1957 for service from Denver to the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. They were not high level buses and lacked underfloor luggage space. They were standard Setra buses for their European customers rathre than something designed for the US market. They had nothing in common with the Eagle coaches that Setra built for Continental and were powered with Cummins underfloor engines.
Around the same time in 1959 that Continental and Kâssbohrer were agreeing on the details of the second generation of the Eagle (the NEW Silver Eagle, mentioned above), Kässbohrer decided to concentrate exclusively on building coaches for the rapidly growing European market. At this point, Continental Trailways was forced to find a European partner. They found one in the form of the Belgian transportation equipment manufacturer La Brugeoise et Nivelles (Brugge and Nivelles, the two cities where they had factories). La Brugeoise, as they were commonly known, helped Continental to form its own bus manufacturing company, Bus & Car Co, N.V. ('NV' is the Dutch/Flemish term for 'Inc' as Dutch/Flemish is the local language in Flanders, the region of Belgium that Brugge is located in). La Brugeoise et Nivelles (later known as BN and today part of Bombardier of Canada) worked with Bus & Car to set up a new factory at Sint Michels bij Brugge (Saint Michael's near Brugge, a suburb). La Brugeoise had a long history of building railway and tramway equipment including PCC streetcars built under license from the Transit Research Corporation in the USA. Kässbohrer sold the tooling and spare parts to Continental Trailways and La Brugeoise started producing the 85 NEW Silver Eagles (the ones that Kässbohrer would have built) in its Brugge plant late in 1960 with certain parts and materials that Kässbohrer had already built, including steering wheels with the Kässbohrer emblem on the horn button. In the meantime, La Brugeoise helped Bus & Car design it's new plant and supervised it's construction. Bus & Car started Eagle production with the Model 01 late in 1961 in their new plant which was near to the main offices of La Brugeoise. In 1968 Continental Trailways spun off the Bus and Car Company to its stockholders. Most of its stockholders were the companies that Continental bought out by means of stock swaps during its large expansion of the 1950s and 1960s The former Bus & Car building still stands and is presently a shopping center. Parts of it had earlier been used as a Rover car dealership, various shops and an indoor downhill ski track with artificial snow. BN went on to build 204 diesel locomotives for the Belgian and Luxembourg Railways with GM 567 engines and many more PCC cars for Brussels, Antwerp and Gent in Belgium plus Den Haag (The Hague) in Holland.
Bus & Car built a number of other models in Belgium for different markets through 1980 and that included right hand drive models for Australia and Ireland. They were quite flexible concerning lengths and widths and other details like the number of axles. They also sold new coaches in Canada, Thailand, Morocco, South Africa and across Europe less the United Kingdom. They are detailed are in the All Time Eagle Model List below. The Model 05 was introduced partway through the 1968 model year and was produced in Belgium and later in the USA. The first 05's had the 05 chassis changes built into the 01 body and the 05 styling changes arrived in 1969. Bus & Car also built three 05 Silver Eagle coaches with Ford Gas turbine engines of 450 HP during 1969. They were used on transcontinental service until the program was terminated about a year later. High fuel consumption, only 4 MPG, and severe reliability problems caused these coaches to be repowered with the standard Detroit Diesel 8V-71 engines. Another 1969 product of Bus & Car was the Model 07. This was an 05 that was 102 inches wide rather than 96 and 45 were produced. The 'Bus & Car' name may sound odd as they never made automobiles but the word 'Car' in this case came from the European term 'Touring Car/Touringcar' or highway coach as opposed to a local or regional bus. Continental Trailways also had a parts division in the USA called Bus and Truck Supply Company. It seems the only truck parts they distributed were those that were common to Eagle coaches such as Detroit Diesel engine parts, Lockheed brakes and Ross steering.
In the early 1970s, Trailways drivers and maintainers referred to 'Round' (01 and 05 Old Look) Eagles and 'Square' (05 New Look and 07) Eagles based on the body design. The 01 Eagles had the drive axle ahead of the tag axle. The 05 and 07 Eagles had the tag axle ahead of the drive axle which made them 'interesting' to drive. The front suspension was very soft with a lot of travel, and since the tag axle torsion bar (mounted crosswise) was also pushing the front end up, some drivers said it was like driving a diving board when driving on certain road surfaces. The front end went up and down at every expansion joint in the road and occasionally the driver had to grip the steering wheel hard to remain seated. On the other hand, Eagles had almost no body roll in curves or corners, unlike buses with air suspension which gave the feeling they were about to tip over when turning. All older Eagles had suspension seats for their drivers and some drivers would take the hydraulic jack from the tool kit and set it up under their seat to reduce its motion.
Trailways Eagles provided a more comfortable ride than Greyhound's GM and MCI coaches. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Trailways and Greyhound ran competitive services on the Boston to New York and New York to Washington routes with hourly departures for most of the day. This let many frequent travelers to make comparisons between the two companies and their equipment. The Eagles were warmer in the winter, had a softer ride, much more comfortable seats and a quieter cabin appointed in better quality materials than any of their competitors.
Increasing wage rates in Belgium and a decline in the value of the dollar overseas started to cause problems for Eagle and Continental. The solution was to set up a plant in the USA. Very late in 1974, Eagle International, Inc. started building coaches in Brownsville, Texas and for two years the Model 05 was built both in Belgium and Texas. Since 1977, all coaches for the US market were built in Texas. MOL, N. V. bought the remains of Bus & Car after it went bankrupt in 1977 and continued selling buses and parts up to at least 1987 under the 'MOL Eaglebus' name. In the USA, the early buses made in Brownsville had some notable quality issues compared to their Belgian sisters and this got worked out by 1977 but it was a bitter pill for the Trailways operating companies to swallow in the short term. The Model 10 replaced the Model 05 with many design and technical changes in 1980. A small number of Model 05's with Model 10 styling features preceded the real Model 10 down the production line and caused confusion because they did not have any of the Model 10 improvements other than the new styling. The spotting feature that gives them away is the Model 05 dashboard and instrument panel. The Model 10 introduced the Detroit Diesel 6V-92 engine and an Allison four speed automatic transmission to Eagle coaches. In 1985 the Model 15 was introduced making the standard bus 102 inches wide and from 1989 coaches could be ordered in 35, 40 and 45 foot lengths. The 96 inch wide Model 20 arrived in 1986 to replace the 96 inch wide Model 10. The 20 had the same styling as the Model 15. In 1987 Greyhound purchased Trailways Inc. and Eagle International, Inc. and the name was then changed to Eagle Bus Manufacturing. Inc. In the 1990s, Greyhound declared bankruptcy, which also included all of its subsidiaries including Eagle Bus Manufacturing. Inc. Some Eagles continued to be made but they were mostly entertainer coaches for celebrities and motorhomes rather than seated coaches for charters, tours and scheduled service.
In the late 1990s, the company was split and moved to two locations in Mexico. Mexico has a high demand for seated coaches and Eagles were built for the Mexican market. All had the trademark Eagle styling and Torsilastic suspension. In time Eagle ceased to be a major player in the Mexican market and its activities were wound down.
In the mid-2000s, Silver Eagle Bus Manufacturing Inc. (SEBM) was established in Brownsville, TX to revive the Eagle coach. Using tooling and parts stocks from Mexico, SEBM offered the older Models 15 and 20 in 37, 40 and 45 foot versions. There was also a new design, the 102 inch wide Model 25 available in 40 and 45 foot versions. The Model 25 abandoned most Eagle styling traditions in favor of a boxy look intended to maximize interior volume for motorhome conversions. Only one Model 25, a 45 foot version, was ever made and sold. The Model 25 was never tested and certified as a passenger coach in accordance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in effect at the time. SEBM also produced one 37 foot Model 20 but it has never been learned if it was actually completed and sold. The company was undercapitalized from the start and went out of business after relocating to Gallatin, TN as it was unable to pay off its many creditors.