Chapter 12: Ikarus Buses

by John Veerkamp

Early history, 1895-1948

The origins of the Hungarian Ikarus factory go back to 1895, when Imre Uhry started a wagon building shop. In 1908 he started building vehicles, in 1920 the first truck was built and in 1924 the first bus body left the factory. Around 1930 the "Bodywork and trailer factory Imre Uhry" was a victim of the worldwide economic recession and went bankrupt. However, at the auction Imre's sons bought the factory and renamed it "Car Body Works and Vehicle Factory Uhri Brothers Ltd". In 1939 the company started building parts for airplanes, and during the second world war army vehicles and equipment were built. At the end of the war, the factory was virtually destroyed during the battles around Budapest. It was rebuilt, but only in 1947 the production of buses resumed with the model TR5. In 1948 the first integral bus was produced, model TR3,5. The same year the factory was nationalized and merged with the "Machines and Metal Works Ikarus" to become "Ikarus Body and Vehicles Works Budapest - Matyasföld".

Ikarus 1948-1991

During the 1950's various models were produced: the 30, 31, 311 series, the 60, 601, 602, 620, 630 series and the famous "rockets" 55, 66. In 1961 a new, quite modern citybus was presented, the 556, which was followed in 1962 by an articulated version, the 180. As Hungary had been selected within the COMECON group to be the main producer of buses, a standard model was developed that could be adapted to the various requirements.

In 1968 the first 200-series bus was presented and received immediate wide acclaim. During its production over 200,000 vehicles were built, and in fact the modernized version is still available as the C series (Classic).

There are many variants and sub-series of the 200-series, but the most important, typical or interesting ones are:

208: suburban bus, 8.5 meters

  • 210: coach, 8.5 meters
  • 211: bus, 8.5 meters, IFA chassis
  • 212: bus, 8.5 meters, various chassis
  • 216: bus, 9 meters
  • 220: suburban bus, 9.4 meters, no series production
  • 230: coach, 9.4 meters, no series production
  • 240: city/suburban bus, 10.4 meters, no series production
  • 242: city/suburban bus, 11 meters, no series production
  • 246: citybus for low requirement markets, rear engine
  • 250: coach, 12 meter, produced in large numbers
  • 252: coach, 11 meters
  • 254: a luxury high deck coach, predecessor to the 300-series
  • 255: coach or intercity bus, 11 meters, leaf springs
  • 256: coach or intercity bus, 11 meters, air suspension
  • 259: suburban/intercity coach, export
  • 260: standard citybus, with 2 or 3 doors, 11 meters, underfloor engine
  • 261: as 260, but for driving on the left hand side of the road
  • 263: longer city/intercity bus, 12 meters, 2 or 3 doors
  • 266: intercity bus, mostly 2 doors, sometimes as 3-door city bus, rear engine, leaf springs
  • 270: coach, high-decker, only prototype
  • 280: standard articulated bus, underfloor engine, 16.5 meters
  • 281: as 280, but for driving on the left hand side of the road
  • 282: articulated bus, underfloor engine, 18 meters
  • 283: articulated bus, underfloor engine, pusher type, 18 meters
  • 284: articulated bus, rear engine, pusher type, 18 meters
  • 286: the US version of the articulated bus
  • 290: airport bus, 14 meters, 3-axle
  • 293: double articulated bus, prototype
  • 260T: standard trolleybus
  • 280T: articulated trolleybuses

Sub-series are indicated by more figures, separated by a period. For example the 250.59 is a special version of the 250 coach. By far the most common models are the 250, 255 and 256 long distance coaches, the 260 urban bus and the 280 articulated bus.

Most standard buses had a Rába engine and axles, many of which were built under a license agreement with MAN from Germany. But in addition, 200-series models were built on a variety of chassis, mainly for export: Renault for Egypt, Steyr for Austria and Uganda, Volvo and Scania for Sweden, IVECO for Kenya, among others. These too often have 200-series model numbers, but these are not always displayed. For example, the Egyptian vehicles on Renault chassis are called 259. To complicate the numbering scheme, some of the export models on foreign chassis had numbers in the 500 and 600 series, though the model was of the 200-series. Examples are the Swedish 662 and 664 on Scania chassis.

The largest clients for the Ikarus 200-series were the Soviet Union, Hungary and East Germany, Czechoslavakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Turky, Greece, Egypt, Irac, Iran, China, Cuba and Angola. But in total over 70 countries bought new Ikarus buses and coaches. The Ikarus 200-series model was produced under license in Cuba as the Giron. For the US a special model articulated bus was developed, the 286. Ikarus' history in the US is told below.

During the 1980's, Ikarus developed new modern models: the 300-series coaches, and the 400-series buses. Export of the 400-series started also to the United Kingdom, on DAF SB220 chassis, and to the US. Midibuses were named in the 500-series.The 200-series, however, remained in production as the cheap and simple alternative.

Ikarus since 1991

The political changes in Eastern Europe meant the end for Ikarus' priviliged position, as its main clients did not have the cash to buy new buses. Production collapsed from over 17,000 a year to a virtual standstill. In 1991 the company was partly privatized, but the Hungarian state kept most shares. Apparently a Russian "maffia" firm bought some 20%. It was also split up into two different companies; Ikarus Vehicle Construction Ltd for the construction of city buses, and EAG for the production of coaches and midibuses. Various efforts to revive the company were not very successful, but finally a well-known Hungarian businessman took over control in exchange for shares. The state assumed the (huge) debts and the Russian shares were bought back. The new management succeeded in gaining consumer confidence again and sales increased. Ikarus Vehicle Construction was reorganized in various divisions and the bus production was separated. In 1998 it was sold to IRISBUS, the company created by Renault and IVECO. It was renamed Ikarusbus and continues as a separate entity. Both Ikarusbus and EAG buses are sold as Ikarus. The Ikarusbus models are numbered in the 400 and C-series, the EAG models are now named in the E-series.

Already in 1990, the main bus factory, where 200- and 400-series buses were built, started producing a redesigned 200-series coach, the ALFA series. Limited numbers of the 256.74 and 256.99 were built in 1990-1992, followed by a small number of 253, most of which were exported to Kuwait. The standard 200-series bus received a facelift, including a new front end, by the mid 1990's. This modernized 200-series is called the C-series (for Classic). Models so far are the C60 2-door city bus, the C63 3-door city bus, the C80 articulated bus and the C56 coach in a number of sub-variants.

Several companies started modernizing Ikarus 200 series buses in the 1990's, either for export or for the owners of the vehicles. In former Eastern Germany, Manika has modernized a few dozen, among others with new doors. In Hungary, Kravtez in Győr has modernized buses for export to Russia and the Ukraine for a long time. Also, the former Volan (the Hungarian national bus company) Rákos workshop is modernizing buses and renaming them Union. Several, with a new front end, were recently exported to Nigeria.

Ikarus in the US

An interesting, and complicated, part of the Ikarus history is its entry into the US.

Ikarus did the same as Neoplan and MAN and looked for a US partner for final assembly and "americanization" of their standard 280 articulated bus. The US version became the 286. An agreement was signed with Crown Coach in 1978, who built 246 buses as Crown-Ikarus for various US cities from 1980-1984. After the end of Crown marketing, the same model was assembled in Canada by Orion and sold as the Orion III, but only in Canada and only to Ottawa and Toronto, from 1985-1989. A total of 257 were produced. In 1986 Ikarus presented a completely new model, the 416, based on the new Ikarus 400-series but redesigned for the US market. A deal was made with Union City Body Company (step van producer) in Union City, Indiana, for marketing and assembly of the buses. Bus shells were still produced in Hungary. Ikarus USA was created as a subsidiary company of Union City for sales and marketing. The buses were sold as Ikarus USA from 1989-1992. By that time, Ikarus in Hungary, and as a result the US operations, were in financial problems. As mentioned before, Ikarus had its production seen falling from over 17,000 in its best years to a few thousand units at best, in just a few years time, because of the political changes in Eastern Europe. Union City Body Company went bankrupt and Ikarus in Hungary was desperately trying to survive.

This would have been the end of the Ikarus bus in the US if a Hungarian immigrant to the US, Mr. Peter Róna, had not created the First Hungary Fund. Mr. Róna saw opportunities in Hungary for technology intensive investments, building on the high quality but relativily cheap labor force of the country. Seeing an opportunity to continue the sale of Ikarus buses in the US, he bought Union City Body Company at a liquidation sale for 1.3 million US$. He negotiated with Ikarus in Hungary the transfer of one of Ikarus' bus factories in Budapest in exchange for which Ikarus would obtain a 25% stake in North American Bus Industries, NABI, a joint venture in which the First Hungary Fund would own the other 75% of the shares. Ikarus accepted and NABI was created in 1993. Until 1997 the two previous Ikarus standard 416 and articulated 436 models were sold as American Ikarus.

Early in 1997 the FHF bought out the 25 per cent stake of Ikarus. The company was then transformed from a limited liability to a joint stock company and is now traded at the Budapest Stock Exchange. The name of the buses was changed to NABI. NABI rt in Hungary is the parent company, with the engineering departments and the bus shell construction. Bus shells are transported by train and ship to the US where they are finished by subsidiary company NABI Ltd, now in Allentown, Alabama. While NABI still is a Hungarian company, it no longer has ties with Ikarus. In 2000 NABI bought Optare from the UK, which so far exists as a separate entity. However, in addition to introducing the Optare low floor bus in the US, NABI is now also starting up production for the Hungarian, market, directly competing with Ikarus.

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