This ‘Flxible Visicoach’ Used To Tour Mount Rainier National Park, Now It’s An Incredible RV Conversion

Bustopp

Over 68 years ago, the bus plastered across your screen hit the road, providing tourists a scenic ride through Mount Rainier National Park. It was one of just a few buses to get the job. And after years of dutiful service, it now enjoys an easier life as an RV. The Flxible Visicoach is a neat piece of bus history, and this one has a story to tell.

Every day, I get wonderful emails from you, our lovely readers. The contents vary wildly from tips and bus finds to stories of how our little day-to-day automotive, aviation, and motorcycle musings have brightened your day. Thank you very much and we’re happy to have made an impact. This bus was sent to me by Josh, and I’ve been sitting on it for a couple of months just trying to find out more about it. Amazingly, it’s actually been for sale for over three years. Yet, as the owner told me, it still hasn’t sold.

Flxrear
Rich McKee

The history of the Flxible Company dates back to 1912. Back then, as our friends at RideApart write, Hugo H. Young ran a Harley-Davidson dealership in Mansfield, Ohio. He came up with an idea that would actually be pretty neat today, and sought to solve the problem of motorcycle handling with a sidecar.

Normally, you ride a motorcycle by countersteering and leaning into turns. The addition of a typical sidecar messes that up. When you turn away from the sidecar, the whole machine stays upright, and the riding experience can feel awkward for someone used to leaning. If you turn into the sidecar, you can end up lifting the sidecar itself off of the pavement, another awkward experience.

Young’s idea to improve sidecar design was two-fold. His sidecar wouldn’t be hard-mounted to the motorcycle. Instead, it would have a flexible connection. Then, the sidecar’s wheel would be able to lean with the motorcycle. The result was that the motorcycle still leaned like it normally would, and the sidecar could travel up and down independently without forcing the motorcycle into a lean.

Us1235177 Drawings Page 1
United States Patent and Trademark Office

As RideApart notes, a traveling salesman loved the idea so much that Young decided to patent his idea and start a company to build it. In 1913, Young organized the Flexible Side Car Company. In 1914, Young and business partner Carl F. Dudte incorporated the company for $25,000 in Loudonville, Ohio.

This caught the attention of none other than Charles F. Kettering, the founder of Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco), one of the engineers behind the Kettering Bug, inventor of an electric car starter, and the father of leaded gasoline. Kettering would serve as Flxible’s president of its board of directors from 1915 to 1940 and as chairman from 1940 until his death in 1958. Flush with cash from selling Delco to General Motors, Kettering was also Flxible’s largest shareholder.

In 1919, with the company growing, Flexible changed its name. As Flxible Owners International notes, the company couldn’t trademark “Flexible.” Thus, the directors dropped the first E from Flexible and gave the business a new name: The Flxible Company.

Flexibleside
CRF Museum / Mohican Historical Society, Loudonville, Ohio.

The company continued to make sidecars into the 1920s. However, as RideApart notes, inexpensive vehicles like the Model T started eating into the more expensive Flxible sidecar sales. Eventually, the company decided to jump ship on sidecars and began building different kinds of vehicles. Flxible’s first bus was a 12-passenger Studebaker sedan built in 1924.

The company also built ambulances and hearses, but by the end of the decade, intercity buses made up for half of the company’s sales.

Fdny Ambulance, 1949
FDNY

In 1937, Flxible introduced the predecessor to the bus you see here today. The Clipper was 28 feet-long, seated 25 passengers, and was driven by an engine mounted up front.

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Flxible Company via eBay

Passenger baggage rode on the roof and the body was supported by a wooden frame. This design lasted for just one year and in 1938, the Clipper saw major upgrades. Now it used a full-steel unitized construction and the engine was moved to the rear.

Flxible Owners International explains that in the early 1940s, these buses saw gradual changes throughout their production. Baggage was moved off of the roof and into a compartment. Windshields became curved for more visibility. Rectangular side windows were ditched for stylish parallelogram windows. The owners site also notes that these early buses also had sightseeing versions with glass roof panels. These buses found homes at resorts and National Parks.

Oh, and remember the old bus from the Robin Williams movie RV? Yep, that’s an old Flxible Clipper!

Rvmovie
Columbia Pictures

In 1950, Flxible further refined the Clipper design into the Visicoach. This bus is similar to a Clipper, but features three additional inches of interior headroom and an engine bay a foot longer. Curbside Classic notes that these buses had a wide variety of engines that came mounted on a siding drawer for ease of repair. They came with everything from a Buick Straight-8 engine to engines from Fageol Twin Coach, Hall-Scott, White, and Cummins.

Flxible Owners International says that 925 Visicoaches were built between 1950 and 1956. Flxible owners have maintained an incredible list of every Visicoach built, and six of them are known to have gone into service at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. Of those six, two were put into service in 1951, two in 1953, and two in 1954. This Visicoach that you see here is 30733, and entered into service in May 1954.

Flxcamp
Rich McKee

Amazingly, unlike many vehicles this old, this bus comes with documentation to back up its claimed history. A period brochure shows an illustrated Visicoach and photos taken around the National Park shows sightseeing buses covered in vast glass roof windows. Documentation includes registration, manuals, and driver logs dating back from its service serving the Mount Rainier National Park. The destination scroll shows stops all around the area.

Docflx
Rich McKee

In 1972, the bus was no longer carrying tourists and was converted into an RV. Originally, this bus should have had eight glass windows for sightseers to look through.

Josh, the reader who emailed me the bus, also sent me a picture of a vintage Flxible that they almost picked up. They believe it may have been a National Park bus, but I was never able to confirm that. Here’s what a Flxible looks like with those windows all in place:

Img 0278
Josh Townsley

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you like outside light), all but two of the windows were lost in the RV conversion. But the remaining two windows do make for an airy seating area near the front of the bus.

Image 10 3
Rich McKee

The conversion was thorough, and includes a full, working kitchen, a bathroom with working plumbing, air-conditioning, a generator, and beds. Despite the age of the conversion, it looks pretty cozy there. I’d love to see what it’s like to sit under those roof windows while the bus is going down the highway. And yes, those windows do have shades for when things get too toasty.

Flxint
Rich McKee

Unfortunately, not everything is great on the bus. The owner, Rich, notes that the clearance lights are disconnected, the toilet sticks, some outlets don’t work, and they have no idea if the shower functions. So, it may need some work if you enjoy taking showers in your camper. Thankfully, it does come with some spare parts including, incredibly, the shades for the windows that were removed and spare glass.

Businside
Rich McKee

Mounted in the rear of the bus is a Caterpillar 1150 573 cubic-inch V8 diesel engine. It’s good for 200 horsepower and 435 lb-ft torque depending on application. This isn’t the original engine, which was a Fageol Twin Coach FTC 180 404 cubic-inch straight-six gas engine that made 180 HP and 379 lb-ft torque.

Fageolengine
Fageol Twin Coach

That Caterpillar is driving the rear wheels through a four-speed manual. The seller says that over $10,000 of work was put into the powertrain, so hopefully it’s rock-solid.

Rich told me that this engine configuration is good for 10 mpg fuel economy. This sounds horrific, but it’s actually better than what my newer Nova Bus RTS gets with its 7.5 mpg. He says that the reason for selling it is due to his growing family.

He’s asking $64,995 for the bus.

Img 9224 Scaled
Rich McKee

That’s certainly a lot for an old bus, and perhaps is part of why it has been on the market for over three years. Then again, it’s also being sold on the seller’s site rather than other marketplaces. That said, it’s one of those rare opportunities where a used vehicle comes with a pile of all kinds of records and documentation. If the drivetrain is as sorted as it sounds, this just needs some minor repairs before you could easily camp in it today.

Buses remained one of the main focuses of Flxible for the rest of the company’s run. In 1959, it would make the New Look, a rival to General Motors’ bus of the same name that looked similar. It also made the Flxible Metro, a rival to GM’s famous RTS.

Sadly, Flxible never made it to the 21st Century. It built buses until it eventually closed its doors in 1995. Flxible buses might not have the cult-like following of GM designs, but these are still great pieces of transit history.

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30 Responses

  1. This is where you need a turbodiesel-electric power train. Heavy vehicles benefit the most from the regenerative braking. I wonder what power train I could steal to put in an old classic like this?

    Hmmm… Gets me thinking….

  2. Mercedes, I don’t know if you have tried driving a sidecar rig, if not, you should try it. Now that you have a link between sidecars and this bus, it is a logical connection.

    I took a sidecar course many years ago and it was one of my favorite weekends ever. I rode a sidecar rig for about four years and enjoyed it a great deal.

    My only concern is that encouraging you to try a different type of vehicle is like introducing an addict to a new drug. 🙂

  3. Cool history here. Thanks Mercedes.
    But, for $65k, I would expect everything to work, and the exterior to look better. I’m fairly certain for that money I could put together reasonable tow-pig, a serviceable camper, and even a toy (like dune buggy or SxS). And likely have enough for an Epic Trip Out West left over.
    Mind you, I’m not knowledgeable in that market being more the car-camper type

    1. Yeah, this thing needs at least another $10K put into it I’d say. Or maybe 2-3x that. The toilet is likely an easy fix (just replace the valve, or the whole thing). Reconnecting marker lights could be easy, but more likely there’s an electrical nightmare. Especially with outlets also not working. The photos in the full listing show a decent amount of body rust on the side, which makes me wonder what the bottom looks like. It’s cool, but that’s a high price for a money pit.

  4. I am having a hard time making myself believe that this bus needs only minor repairs to be a serviceable camper. If it were a house with these problems and a similar history, I’d say it looked like a can of worms. You start by trying to fix that dead outlet in the dining room, and before you know it you’ve gutted half the building, re-wired it, re-plumbed it, and sunk an additional thirty grand into unexpected structural repairs. Then you get to start putting it back together. That’s the vibe I’m getting from this bus.

    On another note, 200 hp? Dang, and I thought pulling out into traffic in my box truck was a harrowing experience. That has essentially the same power as this bus (slightly more) and I’m sure it weighs a heck of a lot less, unless maybe with a full load. You must really have to be patient and pick your moments, or else if there are no moments then just floor it (as if that really does anything) and pray. That’s not a criticism, it’s just an old bus thing, but dang.

    If I were going to become an RVer, I think I’d want to do my own conversion. That way if there were quality issues I would at least know about them, you know? Although I’d like to think that this is the kind of thing I’d do a good job on if I were going to do it at all—the bigger risk, knowing me, would be that I’d blow my budget and never finish on account of wanting to over-engineer every little detail. That’s my weakness in construction—I don’t know when good enough is good enough. I think I’d go with a mid-engined schoolbus, for that combination of sturdy ubiquity and massive, panoramic windshield. Either that or a 4×4 van conversion, depending on what I decided I wanted to do with it.

    1. When I drive my bus I basically just put the pedal to the floor. It’ll reach highway speed…eventually. It seems that once you get to vehicles of massive size it doesn’t really matter how slow you accelerate. Drivers will get out of your way, and if they don’t (get off the phone!) they’re going to lose the fight.

      1. What do you do when you need to make a left turn out of a parking lot onto a busy two-lane state route with a 45 mph speed limit, where the traffic consists of endless forced parades behind some dingus doing ten under, punctuated by the occasional dingus doing twenty over? Because that’s how I start my typical workday, and let me tell you I’ve often wished for some kind of deity who would listen to my prayers and cut me a break.

        1. Oh yeah, and then there was that one time when immediately after getting out of the lot a lady in a silver Tiguan pulled out right in front of me, forcing me to slam my box truck to a near-stop in front of all that aforementioned traffic, and I witnessed her just whaling on her kid through the rear window. I laid on the horn, pulled up alongside in the shared left turn lane, realized it was a kid (I thought it was a dog at first, but the beat-down I saw was horrifying enough to still make me stop the entire fucking road in my company-wrapped box truck to give the driver a piece of my mind) screamed something like, “What the fuck is your problem!?” through the window at the woman who was obviously terrified at having just been caught red-handed beating her son, and then backed up and followed her while talking to 911 until she got to the school she was dropping her kid at, where I figured she’d be tied up for a few minutes with plenty of authority figured around. Man, that was a day. I don’t know what the ultimate result was from all those wheels I set in motion, but I sure hope that kid is alright.

    2. My thoughts, exactly. For $65k I’d hope the existing owner at least had some idea whether the shower worked. So other than electrical problems stretching from the running lights to the power outlets, I’d at least know that my plumbing problems might only be a sticky toilet.

  5. Once again, Mercedes hits it out of the park with a fun, well-researched article. This flxible is one damned good-looking piece of machinery. Agreed the price might be a little high as some work is needed but, man, wouldn’t it be great to cross the country a few times in something so stylish?

  6. I’d definitely rather have one of these converted as opposed to the poorly crafted modern RVs of today. But for $68,000 I want more paint and less rust plus panel gaps better than a Tesla. None of the windows looks like they are sealed properly.

  7. That’s the same fuel economy I just got on my recent trip through the Gaspé region of Quebec with my 18′ travel trailer behind my 2012 Acadia:

    2750km, 613 litres of gas. 23.3l/100km or 10.5 mpg.

    I hate the current price of gas, that was $1165 in gas for the trip!

  8. Has no idea if the shower works?! Puh-leeze. You turn stuff on, fill the water tank, get in the shower, turn the handle and see if it works. This is like “the [replacement/fix] is only $20 and takes 5 minutes, I just haven’t gotten around to it” thing that lazy/lying sellers do. I can tell you why this hasn’t sold.. he’s asking way too much for a RV bus that will need a total restoration down to the frame, history or no.

  9. My lifted 27′ class C gets 7.5mpg, so 10mpg would be a very welcome improvement. If they havent managed to move this in 3 years during the hottest RV market in decades, its clearly wildly overpriced. Barring any major structural issues, I think $25-30k would make sense. All RV’s are money pits. I have not tallied up what I have into ours because I would then die and be dead.

  10. This was a damn-good read. It’s articles like this that I prepare a good mug of tea for and thoroughly enjoy.
    Regarding the price – any comps whatsoever to justify it? What may seem high (or low) is subjective unless there’s any supporting data to show if the price is a value or not.
    Either way, completely enjoyed this.
    P.S. – imagine ambulances today came in the form is a long bus as pictured in that NYFD photo…

    1. An ambulance in bus form is very interesting, and would be much more competitive than you might expect.

      I recently saw a study that showed ambulances on emergency runs with lights and sirens running barely move faster than prevailing traffic. Crossing intersections is the primary reason that they aren’t much faster than driving a car, and the others are that their acceleration isn’t that great, and their top speed isn’t much faster than the speed limit on the highway.

      Having a bus with the extra space might actually provide for better patient outcomes, provided it has the power to accelerate through intersections after pausing to make sure there’s no crossing traffic. An electric hybrid would be a great solution to making larger ambulances with more room for patient care. A big hybrid battery might even provide for more and better emergency treatment options.

    2. Lots of municipalities have mass casualty ambulances, most based on a bus chassis. Can’t post a pic, but google MCI bus. My department has two, each can transport a mix of stretcher and “walking wounded”. God forbid we ever need them.

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