By the fall of 1965, all of the coaches purchased since 1953 by the DSR had been manufactured by General
Motors Truck & Coach. But the increasing domination and eventual monopoly of the Detroit transit system
by GM almost came to an abrupt end in 1965 when the Flxible Company of Loudonville, Ohio attempted to
add its "new-look" transit coaches to the Detroit market. The attempt would later result in one of the DSR's
most disputed and controversial bus purchases so far. But when all was said and done, the controversial
fleet of buses were literally run out of town.
Founded in 1913, the Flexible Side Car Company soon became the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars
after its founder, Hugo H. Young, had patented his invention of a "flexible" sidecar connection joint —- which allowed the
wheel of the sidecar to lean when the sidecar and motorcycle rounded curves. This flexible mounting invention resulted in
a high demand for his sidecars — a number of which were built for the Allied Armies during WW-I. In 1919, the company's
name was changed to The Flxible Company. The company's trademark name "Flxible" had been derived from Young's
invention, but the "e" was dropped from the common spelled "flexible" to allow the misspelled name to be copyrighted.
However, by the early 1920's, the price of the Model-T Ford had been reduced to $360.00, less than a new motorcycle
and sidecar, and dried up the motorcycle sidecar market. Flxible was forced to turn to the production of other vehicles to
survive, and began producing intercity buses in 1924, and funeral cars (hearses) and ambulances in 1925.
In 1951, the Flxible Company began manufacturing the transit buses for the Fageol Twin Coach Company. By 1953,
Flxible had acquired the production rights to the Twin Coach city transit bus design after Twin Coach decided to leave
the bus production business. Later, after GM Coach introduced its "new-look" bus design in 1959, Flxible soon followed
in 1961 with their own "new-look" design to compete against GM. It was this Flxible "new-look" coach the company had
hoped to bring into Detroit.
In June of 1964, a proposal presented by the DSR, that would have brought twelve Flxible buses to Detroit in 1964, was
meet with considerable opposition when first brought before the Detroit Common Council. Then DSR general manager
Lucas S. Miel, along with the chairman of the DSR Commissioners, had urged the Council to approve the purchase in
order to perform a year-long comparison with GMC coaches. Miel argued that the Flxible coaches were less expensive to
operate and maintain, and would cost $350 less per vehicle than GM coach models. Meil also felt that allowing a monopoly
on buses by any single firm was a poor business practice.
But many members on the Council felt that the DSR had written a separate set of specifications just so that Flxible could
win the bid on the twelve buses, while other council members feared that the DSR's coach situation might return to those
post WW-II years, when the DSR owned several different types of buses. That situation had caused a constant problem
of keeping enough parts in stock to service the various fleets. The Council rejected the proposal by a 4-to-3 vote.
After the specs were rewritten in early 1965, in order that both firms could then bid on the same specifications, the Council
approved splitting a 105–coach order, after general manager Miel had argued that he wanted to compare the operation of
the two firm's buses. A contract for twenty coaches was awarded to Flxible, with the remaining 85 coaches awarded to
General Motors. On August 23, 1965, the first of the twenty Flxible coaches (#3501-3520) — Model F2D6V-401 —
were delivered, and beginning on Thursday, September 2, 1965, were placed into trial service on the department's busy
Woodward Avenue line. The 40-foot long, 102-inch wide Flxible coaches would be tested along-side twenty of the new
#2200-series General Motors model TDH-5303 coaches due to be delivered that same month.
But it wouldn't take very long for trouble to beset the controversial new fleet. Just two days after being put into service on
the Woodward line, the first Flxible coach brake malfunction was noted. Shortly afterward — on September 10th — one
of the new Flxible coaches, with thirty-six passengers on board, was involved in an injury accident, when the brakes failed
on the coach and it slammed into the back of a semi-trailer on Woodward Avenue. Another less serious accident occurred
shortly thereafter. Faulty brakes were found on all twenty Flxible coaches, and the entire fleet was taken out of service for
three weeks while DSR mechanics repaired the faulty brake valves in the buses.
But that was only the beginning of the fleet's troubles. According to an August 1966 Detroit Free Press article, there had
been 64 transmission breakdowns on the twenty coaches, in addition to the high maintenance costs and numerous driver
complaints. The high level of complaints from the drivers forced the president of the city's bus driver's union (Division 26,
of the Amalgamated Transit Union) to request the department to take the buses off the fast Woodward line.
The Free Press article went on to say that through the month of July 1966, the twenty test GMC buses averaged 44,000
miles of service each, compared with 32,000 miles from each Flxible bus. Also, according to the Free Press article, "The
GM buses were out of service for three driving days, the Flxibles for 61." During the month of June 1966,
"the GM buses missed no days, while the Flxibles were out 23 days."
By August 1966 the coaches were operating on both the Woodward and Grand River lines, but general manager Lucas
Miel announced that the DSR had already decided to return the buses. The total cost of the Flxible fleet was $515,892,
with the DSR already having paid $375,000. The department had decided to withhold the remaining amount and seek a
refund—-minus a $10,000 to $12,000 credit for the number of miles driven. Also during that same month, a $539,528
order was made to purchase twenty new GM TDH-5303s to replace the Flxible fleet. The new GMC coaches were to be
financed with the $129,000 withheld from Flxible, along with the anticipated refund from the company, and with regular
Upon the arrival of the replacement GMC buses (#2501-2520), which began arriving on November 8, 1966, the Flxible
coaches were taken out of service and returned to the manufacturer. The former Detroit buses were later resold to Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, where they continued to run in their DSR colors.
Information for the above article was compiled from numerous Detroit Free Press and Detroit News newspaper articles supplied courtesy of the S. Sycko
collection, miscellaneous Jack Schramm articles, various Flxible related historical web-sites, and DSR and DDOT annual rolling stock inventory booklets.
Additional information was also supplied by Art Peterson, a transit professional and a transit historian and enthusiast from Chicago, Illinois.
Virtual Motor City Collection photo #48416, used by permission of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
All rights, including those of further reproduction and/or publication, are reserved in full by the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Photographic
reproductions may be protected by U.S. copyright law (U.S. Title 17). The user is fully responsible for copyright infringement.
|For Comments and/or Suggestions, Please contact Site Owner at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2006 (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 06-14-09)
Although the Flxible company's transit coach that was rejected by Detroit was considered by many in the industry to be
a durable and dependable bus—with hundreds being sold to larger properties, including the Chicago (CTA) and the New
York (MTA). But for various reasons — be they political, GM influenced, or whatever — the timing just wasn't right for the
Detroit market. With GMC and Flxible being the only two American based transit bus manufacturers left throughout most
of the sixties and early seventies, the locally–based General Motors Truck & Coach would continue dominating the local
transit market, providing all of the transit buses, not only for the city-owned DSR, but for all of the surrounding suburban
privately-owned bus companies as well. It would probably be safe to assume that any transit bus not built by GM Truck &
Coach just wasn't wanted here.
With the exception of six small-size Minibuses, purchased in 1966 and 1968, only General Motors built coaches would be
purchased by the City of Detroit, until the arrival of fifty-one AM General coaches in 1975.
To view a Detroit Free Press clipping (courtesy of Stan Sycko) on the new DSR Flxible buses Click Here!
|In this September 2, 1965 photo, new DSR coach #3519, built by The Flxible Company, can been seen headed |
northbound along Woodward Avenue at Larned, as part of a 20-bus parade to usher in the DSR's new bus fleet.
(Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo #48416 — used with permission)
|This photo of DSR coach #3504 was featured in a Flxible Company promotional ad brochure, and taken prior to
being delivered to Detroit Although the DSR logo decals are missing in this photo, the front roll signs display
"CANIFF" and "ALTER ROAD" in the destination sign window, which were former DSR route sign listings.
ON A SIDE NOTE: The Flxible Company was later purchased by Rohr
Industries in 1970, but was acquired by Grumman Allied Industries
in 1978, with Flxible becoming the Grumman-Flxible Corporation.
Shortly after the sale, the "Grumman 870" Advanced Design Bus was
introduced to compete with rival GMC's "RTS-II" bus. After Grumman
sold the company to General Automotive Corporation in 1983, the
Flxible nameplate was restored and a revised Advanced Design bus, the
"Flxible Metro" (based on the "870"), was introduced the same year.
Beginning in 1984, a fleet of Flxible buses would once again return to
metro Detroit streets, but this time not under the city-owned system,
but under the suburban SEMTA bus system (now SMART). These
"Metros" (#8401-8416) were the last new buses purchased under
SEMTA. Flxible would later cease production by the summer of 1996.
|PHOTO: SEMTA coach #8416, a 1984 Flxible Metro "A"
(Photo courtesy of the Jim Husing Collection)
A LONG SERVICE LIFE AFTER DETROIT:
After a rather brief career in "the Motor City," and being declared unfit for service by the City of Detroit, the twenty former
DSR Flxible coaches would find an extensive service live after Detroit. After the coaches were returned to the manufactur-
er, the coaches were resold to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Although renumbered as #2501-2520, the buses would continue to
run in their original DSR colors for many years to come. The coaches were still operating along the streets of Cedar Rapids
as late as the early 1980's, sixteen years or more after Detroit. But these buses weren't through yet!
According to information passed along to me by Art Peterson, a renowned transit enthusiast from Chicago, Illinois, ten of
these coaches went on to find additional life at the 1982 World's Fair. During the World's Fair held in Knoxville, Tennessee
between May 1 and October 31, 1982, several of the Cedar Rapids Flxible buses were used to help provide transportation
services during the Fair — nearly seventeen years after first arriving in Detroit. Additional information also seems to suggest
that several also ended up running for Brander Bus Lines in Rhode Island. You'll have to admit, an impressive history for
a fleet of buses that were once rejected.
|After service in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, ten ex-DSR Flxibles were used to provide service for the Knoxville / Bristol
area during the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. In this May 29, 1982 photo, coaches #2510 (left) and
#2513 (right), along with an unknown unit, can be seen parked and ready for service in Knoxville, TN.
[Photo courtesy of the Krambles-Peterson archive collection, A J Schill photo]
|After being rejected by the City of Detroit in 1966, twenty former DSR Flxible coaches were able to find new life in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa as coaches #2501-2520. In this June 25, 1977 photo, coach #2508 can be seen traveling
south along 5th Street SE in Cedar Rapids, while still sporting its original DSR green and cream colors.
[Photo courtesy of the Krambles-Peterson archive collection, Art Peterson photo]
|In this September 2, 1965 photo, DSR Flxible coach #3505 leads a special 20-bus parade of brand new Flxible buses along
their maiden voyage up Woodward Avenue. Numerous V.I.P.guests went along for the ride as the fleet pulled away from the
City-County Building in Downtown Detroit. The new buses are seen here turning off of Jefferson onto Woodward Avenue.
(Website owner's collection photo, courtesy of the Schramm Collection)
|The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.