Historic Truck Brands
The Ansair-Flxible story in Australia starts with the USA’s Flxible Company history. The Flxible Company – the name trademarked without an ‘e’ – like many other vehicle manufacturers had a modest, but unique, beginning.
In 1912, Hugo Young, the owner of a motorcycle sales agency in Ohio had an idea for a new type of motorcycle sidecar: one that would permit the third wheel to tilt and stay on the ground when the motorcycle leaned while going around curves in either direction.
During 1913, Young founded the Flxible Side Car Company in Loudonville, Ohio, to manufacture his patented vehicle.
In the early 1920s, the sidecar market suddenly disappeared when Henry Ford established the price for his Ford roadster at US$360 less than the cost of a motorcycle and sidecar. Therefore, in order to survive, Young had to create a new type of vehicle to manufacture and market, so Flxible entered the bus-building business.
Flxible’s first bus was built in 1924: a wood-framed, side-loading, open tourer-bodied 12-passenger coach, powered by Studebaker.
Designs evolved until 1937, when the first model Clipper was produced. It had a cab over front engine design with a wooden frame and streamlined styling. After World War Two, the Clippers became more streamlined with curved windscreens, sliding side windows, top-mounted air scoop for the new rear engine and had integral chassis and body construction with an all-steel frame.
This was the LHD model used as a prototype for Australian manufacture when it was shipped here in 1948.
Ansair-Flxible Down Under
Reg Ansett’s Pioneer Tours was the company that imported the prototype. After evaluation by Pioneer, the Melbourne-based company Ansair Pty Ltd, also part of the Ansett group, obtained a licence from the Flxible Company in the US to build the Clipper in Australia. A straight-eight-cylinder Buick petrol engine powered the prototype. It was converted to right-hand drive by Ansair and began tour operations in January 1949.
Ansair built 131 Clippers between late-1950 and mid-1960. Most were 33 feet long, seating 29- or 33-passengers, had full air brakes, large luggage racks inside, a rear luggage compartment, sliding windows and public address and radio systems.
Each chassis and body was steel, with an aluminium roof that was jig-built in one unit, with unified under frames and side pillars to window level. The top, front and rear panels were built in separate jigs and brought together on the assembly line.
The rear-mounted engines were either Leyland, Cummins, Deutz or GM Detroit Diesel. This variety of engines was caused by the shortage in supply directly after the War.
In January 1955, Pioneer launched the first express service between Melbourne and Sydney, with Leyland-powered Flxible Clippers. They were used on all interstate services until circa 1962. During 1961, 11 coaches were extended with four feet added to the wheelbase and seating increased to 37. These coaches were used on economy express routes between Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane until mid-’62 when the economy services were discontinued.
In December 1962, two extensively modified Clippers were fitted with air suspension, air conditioning, toilet and washroom, to run on the Adelaide–Perth express route until 1966.
Pioneer used a fleet of between 12 and 14 GM-powered Clippers based in Cooma that operated on Snowy Mountains Tours during the 1960s.
By 1972, Tasmanian Coach Lines had acquired 17 Clippers and were still operating them up until the mid-’70s. Australian Flxible Clippers were also exported to New Zealand, with Newmans Coach Lines on the South Island in Nelson, running a fleet of six units.
Australian history details thanks to the Bus and Coach Society of Victoria Inc.