Silver Eagle Bus History
The first Eagles Coaches were built in Germany by Kassbohrer in 1956. The Eagle coach was the result of a contract between Continental Trailways in the United States and the Karl Kassbohrer bus and coach building firm in Germany. Continental Trailways was looking for something to compete with Greyhound's Scenic Cruiser. Unable to find a North American manufacturer who would start production on their terms, Continental started looking overseas. Ireland was considered first, then England (Rolls Royce). Continental even considered buying Neoplan. Kassbohrer had the connections to M.A.N. for diesel motors and Z.F. for transmissions. Continental watched as Kassbohrer designed the new bus and approved every line on the new drawings. Continental acquired the "Eagle" Insignia from American Bus Lines which they had purchased.
Kassbohrer was the pioneer for articulated buses in Europe and their patented trailer had dominated the market for a decade or so. One result was the export in 1956 of two articulated coach for Continental Trailways to the U.S.A., built on an "under floor" Henschel Chassis with Kassbohrer bodywork and trailer. Also in 1956, Kassbohrer started building a high specification 40 foot 3-axle coach specifically designed for Continental Trailways.
In May, 1957 President Moore of Continental Trailways visited the Kassbohrer factory. He is seen here with Otto Kassbohrer (to the left in the picture) at a ceremony to name his new fleet. These Kassbohrer Setra Coaches were called "Golden Eagles". Two hundred of these high-deck Eagle coaches were contracted.
Fifty coaches with M.A.N engines & Z.F. automatic transmissions were delivered in 1957 and the "Golden Eagle" coach was a success.
In 1958 a luxury high-deck version of the Setra articulated coach was supplied to the USA. This picture shows one of these vehicles on the Aichelberg, a steep and scenic section of the German Autobahn, during a test run. At least four of these 1958 Golden Eagles were delivered with this articulated design. They featured under floor Rolls Royce engines and a Kassbohrer trailing section, but had the same body design as the other Golden Eagles.In 1958, 41 more Eagles were built by Kassbohrer. This factory run had a different specification. These were called "Silver Eagles" as the golden sides were changed to silver. The "Silver Eagle" design was standardized and Continental Trailways had the platform coach for their fleet.
In the late fifties, Kassbohrer announced its decision to concentrate more on the European market and decided to wind down the manufacturing of Eagle coaches for Trailways. Trailways found another European partner - La Brugeoise in Belgium, an old company mainly building railway equipment. With the help of La Brugeoise, Continental established its own factory in Belgium, giving it the name Bus & Car, N.V. Kassbohrer completed its run of the first Eagles in 1960.
In 1961, Bus & Car, N.V. built 185 Silver Eagles, Model 01's of a somewhat different design. The first Bus & Car Eagles were similar to the earlier models except for the introduction of a wraparound mesh grill which remained an Eagle feature until 1969. Lower labor costs was the main reason to build coaches in Belgium but they still used many US components.
Bus & Car built the Model 01 until mid-1968.
In 1967 a prototype 2-axle "102" wide coach was built for Trailways, called the Model 02.
In addition to the coaches for the US market, Bus & Car developed other models. The Eagle 04 was a 2-axle coach for the European market and was manufactured from 1966-1970.
In late 1968, the new Model 05 was introduced. Late Model 01 and early Model 05 coaches have the same appearance. There was a number of internal changes but the main difference was the moving of the rear axle backward and placing the tag axle in front of the main axle.
One year later, the Model 05 received a squarer appearance. Bus & Car produced this Model 05 for the US market until 1976, using mostly Detroit Diesel engines.
In 1969 and 1970, there was a run of 45 coaches of "102" width, these Model 07's were delivered to various Trailways companies.
In 1972, Bus & Car built twenty Model 09 Eagles for South African Railways. These had the external appearance of the 05, but were shorter. Other exports of Model 05 look-alikes were made to Australia (24 coaches) and various European countries. In 1974 forty Eagle Model 14 buses were built for the Belgian Vicinal Railways (NMVB-SNCV, series 4285-4324), using Mercedes - Benz engines and SNCV's standard body design. Another effort at building buses resulted in the delivery of fifteen Eagle 16s with Caterpillar engines to a Brussel's public transport company, MIVB-STIB (series 8046-8060) . While the design of these buses followed the standard Brussels model they featured "silver skirts" and a rather special windscreen.
U.S. production started in 1975 and In 1976, Bus & Car N.V. stopped producing Eagles for Trailways. By 1978, bus sales had dropped so much that the company got into financial trouble and was sold to Mol, a long-established Belgian builder of heavy machinery. Mol had built a small number of bus chassis and wanted to expand in this area. In total, Bus & Car N.V. built around 4,000 Eagles. 1,450 of these were Model 01 coaches.
Mol revised the Eagle range and added the production of a seperate chassis for some models. At the bus show in Kortrijk, Belgium, in October 1979, several Eagles were shown by Eagle's new owner. The coach pictured here was named the "Transcontinental". It had several interesting features such as the large indicator lights on the front and the typical European low center door. It contrasted with another coach shown at the show (though outside the building) by having the arrangement with the tag axle leading the main axle and by having traditional rubber fitted windows.
Also shown were a prototype transit bus which was somewhat reminiscent of the Brussels Eagle 16, called the "City", and a coach named the "Touring". This one had Spanish Irizar bodywork. Also in 1979, Mol built three small chassis with Cummins engines, the Mol Eagle M28, for Belgian Vicinal Railways for use on their Brugge city services (series 5559-5561). These received Jonckheere "Trans City" bodywork. In 1981-1982 a series of 25 bus chassis, Mol Eagle M31, were built for the Vicinal Railways for use around Gent (series 5715-5739). These had Mercedes engines and received Jonckheere A120 standard bodywork. Apparently the "City" transit bus was demonstrated in the United States though no orders materialized. As a result of the depressed European market and strong competition, Mol only built 50 Eagle coaches between 1978 and 1987 when it closed its bus division.
Many U.S. parts were imported for assembly in Belgium, including Detroit Diesel engines and transmissions. Of the many running changes to the Model 01 during its lifetime, most were first seen in the 1964 models. Some were just appearance changes, but others were engineering, such as an air-operated parking brake and new air intakes for the engine. Most appearance features remained the same from 1965 through 1967 except that the silver siding and lightning bolt trim that was raised to the window level.
Rising labor costs in Belgium and a declining dollar resulted in the decision to shift production for the US market to the other side of the Atlantic. The Eagle Coach Corporation factory started delivering buses made in Brownsville, Texas in 1975. For one year, both the "Bus & Car" and "Eagle" factories produced coaches for the US market, but since 1976, all US Eagles were produced in Texas. The Model 05 was built until 1980, when it was superseded by the Model 10 of which 2,217 were built until 1987. In 1982 a second factory was opened in Harlingen, Texas, to produce a 2-axle Model 10 Suburban, which met with little success. In 1985 marketing began of the "102" inch wide "Model 15" (all the others had been 96 inches wide). Finally, the Model 20 was introduced in 1987, which was basically a Model 10 with the external design of the Model 15 - i.e. a narrow Model 15 with a smaller engine. Externally it is difficult to distinguish the Model 15 and 20. Over the years, many smaller improvements were made and some companies ordered special versions of the standard models. For example, New Jersey Transit bought a special version of the Model 20, called AE-20, which had, among other features, large destination displays. In 1988, a 2-axle 35 foot version and a 3-axle 45 foot version of the Model 15 were introduced. In 1989, smooth sides became an option. The Eagle also became popular as a conversion shell for motor homes and entertainer's coaches. Over 3,000 Eagles have been built in Texas, mostly for the North American Market, though some were exported to Australia, Chili & Taiwan.
In 1987 Greyhound bought Trailways and Eagle, but went bankrupt in June 1990. Eagle production stopped in December, 1990, and Eagle filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991. In October, 1991 the factory was sold to a Mexican corporation as Eagle Bus Manufacturing, Inc.
Bus production resumed in July, 1992, but output remained low, with a large proportion of vehicles built as conversion shells for the entertainer market. By the end of the decade, the company got into trouble again and filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, 1998. The Eagle trademark and product line were purchased by Maplex, and activities were re-launched as Eagle Coach in August 1998 when some of the old facilities were leased from the town of Brownsville. Priority was given to the manufacturing of spare parts.
Some bus production continued in two different areas of Mexico - note smooth sided Mexitur above made in the state of Aguascalientes.
During its production of over four decades, some 8,000 Eagle coaches were built in four different countries on two continents, and were the trademark of Continental Trailways for over three decades.
In 2005, Silver Eagle Bus Manufacturing Inc. was formed to manufacture Eagle Buses once again. The jigs were spread out in different locations in Mexico and had to be returned to Brownsville, Texas. The blue prints, lost for quite some time, were purchased and brought back to Texas. Brownsville once again is the proud home of the "Silver Eagle". A New Generation Model 25 has been added to the Classic Model 15 and Model 20 production.
In the summer of 2006, Silver Eagle Bus Manufacturing moved to their new larger facility near Brownsville International Airport on Billy Mitchell Boulevard. Spare part inventories were purchased from different facilities in the USA and Mexico and production of the new "Model 25" and the "Classic 15" has begun.