Chapter 13: Mercedes Benz Integral Buses and Coachesby John Veerkamp
The origins of Mercedes Benz go back to the 19th century when Gottlieb Daimler started experimenting with the development of engines. In 1885 Daimler presented the first motorized vehicle and in 1888 the first car worldwide with a 4-stroke gas engine. The Daimler factory continued its pioneer activities and presented its first bus in 1898. The company flourished and became one of Germany's most important vehicle builders. After the First World War, however, the German economy was under pressure and Daimler was forced to merge with the Benz company to become Daimler Benz AG. Until the Second World War Daimler Benz developed various bus models under the Mercedes Benz name, some with its own bodywork, but also with bodywork by one of the many German bus body builders. Normal control as well as forward control vehicles were developed. There were normal buses and coaches, but also double deckers and semi-trailers. Towards the end of the Second World War most Daimler Benz factories were destroyed and after the war the difficult process of reconstruction began.
The first post Second World War buses were the O5000T trolleybuses. From 1948 onwards the production of conventional chassis O4500 and O5000 with a steel bodywork began. A total of 770 of these were produced until 1950. A new conventional model was developed with series production initiating in 1950. This model was quite successful with a total production until 1955 of 6049. Initially it was called the O3500, from 1954 onwards O311. A forward control version was also produced as OP3500, from 1954 onwards as OP311. It was produced as a chassis until 1961, with a total of 1675 units. A larger conventional chassis was the O6600, later O304, 625 units of which were produced until 1955. An order of 500 O3500 model buses for Iran meant the start of Mercedes Iran. Irankhodro, using Mercedes licenses, still is the largest bus and truck builder in Iran.
As there was a demand for forward control buses and several body builders had already transformed the conventional chassis into a forward control bus, Daimler Benz decided to start builing its own model and introduced the O6600H, an 11 meter long vehicle with rear engine. This was later called the O320H. The considerable number of 354 vehicles of the trolleybus version, the O6600T was delivered to Argentina in 1952/1953. Mercedes Benz Argentina had been founded in 1950 as the first Latin American division. A version with front engine, OP6600, later OP315, was mainly built for export and for the construction of articulated buses.
In 1954 Daimler Benz constructed its first semi-integral bus, the O321H. The way of construction still permitted other builders to construct their own bodywork on the underparts, a system Daimler Benz would continue on later models. This rear engine model was very successful; until 1964 over 20,000 were produced world wide. In addition to Germany, it was also built up in Argentina, Brazil and Greece. In 1958 TATA in India started building Mercedes buses under a license agreement.
In 1958 Daimler Benz introduced the Mercedes Benz O317 bus series with underfloor engine. A shorter version, 11.3 instead of 12 meters, was called the O317K. Mercedes constructed its own semi-integral bodywork but made the components also available to other body builders. Daimler Benz built complete O317 buses until 1972 and made the components available to other body builders until 1977. From 1974 to 1977 these were built in Austria by Stey-Daimler-Puch. The model was popular with body builders for the construction of articulated buses and the typical German one-and-a-half decker. As usual, the Daimler Benz factory concentrated on the normal standard model and left special versions to other companies. A total of 3550 complete buses and 3740 underframes were built. FAP-Sanos in Yugoslavia completed serveral buses.
Less successful was the O322 bus that replaced the O321 bus version in 1960. Only 949 complete buses and 17 underframes were built until 1964, though underframe components were built for export to Brazil until 1970.
The O302 coach
In 1965 the Mercedes Benz O302 was presented. This was to become one of the best known and popular Mercedes models. It was built in various lengths and heights, as a coach and bus. Some companies even used it as a city bus with a double width central exit, though it was not really designed as such. The German army also had many buses of this version. The O302 was built as a complete bus and as a drivable underframe to which the front end was attached. As a result the vehicles built up by other companies were immediately recognizable as Mercedes. Until 1976 a total of 14,152 complete vehicles and 17,329 underframes were built. Most underfames went to Biamax in Greece, FAP-Sanos in Yugoslavia, Otomarsan in Turkey and Khawan in Iran. Venezuela also was a big customer of underframes.
In addition to the complete buses and their underframes, Daimler Benz also developed chassis that are intended mainly for export though some are also sold on the home market. These lack the Mercedes front end. The designations start with OF for front engined models and OH for rear engined models. Externally it is the body builder who decides how these buses and coaches will look.
The O305, O305G and O307 family
On the public service front, the German Union of Public Transport Companies (VOV, Verband Offentlicher Verkehrsbetriebe) had developed a design for a standard bus during the mid 1960's. Mercedes' response to the specifications was the O305 that was presented in 1967. After extensive tests some modifications were made, resulting in the well-known 11.3 meter long bus. Other companies developing similar vehicles were MAN, Bussing and Magirus Deutz.
Not only the VOV developed specifications for a standard bus in Germany, but also the Working Group Standard Regional Bus (STULB, Arbeitskreis Standard Uberland Linien Bus) developed specifications for a regional bus. Mercedes designed the O307, which was presented in 1970. This bus was 11.7 meters long, had a narrow entrance and a 15 cm higher floor with a small luggage space. The front end design was more appealing than that of the VOV bus and later many O305 recieved the O307 front end.
In 1977 Mercedes presented the O305G, the articulated version of the O305. This was a pusher model with a rear engine. For this reason it used almost exclusively O305 components and its production was thus easy to integrate into the O305 production line. Earlier articulated buses with Mercedes chassis had been built by other bus builders as Mercedes did not want to go through the hassle of adding another production line. The O305G emant that from then on Mercedes artics would be fully built by the Mercedes factory in Mannheim, Germany.
Various experimental models and variants were built using the O305 and O305G. A limited number of trolleybuses and buses with dual electric and diesel propulsion. Buses using alternative fules were also built. A really experimental bus wa a double articulated bi-directional guided dual propulsion bus. Various foreign body builders built on O305 chassis for their home markets, notably in Autralia and France, where Heuliez was successful with this model. The O305 was also used for the guided busway in Adelaide, Autralia.
In two countries double deckers were built on Mercedes Benz O305 underframes; Hong Kong and South Africa.
The O303 coach
The popular Mercedes O302 coach was further developed and modernized and became the O303, presented in 1974. It was available in different lengths, indicated by the number of seat rows (9 to 15) and in different heights, door layouts and seating arrangements. These were indivated by suffix letters, in which R stood for coach (Reise), HD for High Decker, U for regional bus (Uberland), etc. For example a O303-15RHD would be a 12 meter high deck coach, nominally with 15 seat rows. While there were variations in length and height, the coach construction was again highly standardized and as usual Mercedes left the construction of special models such as double deckers and coaches with an undefloor driver position to specialized coach builders. The O303 underframe was again delivered with the front end, so coaches with foreign bodywork would be recognizable as Mercedes. One important market for the Mercedes O303 was Israel, where many received bodywork by Merkavim and Haargaz.
Several companies entered into license agreements with Mercedes leading to O303 look-a-likes though with other technical specifications. Well known models are the FAP-Sanos S315 from Yugoslavia and the Mercedes O302S-Biamax from Greece. Interestingly, Merkavim in Israel built coaches on IVECO chassis with a Mercedes O303 front end.
A total of over 37,000 O303 was produced from 1974 until 1991, when it was replaced by the new O404.
The O405, O407 and O408 family
During the beginning of the 1980's, the German Ministry for Transport promoted the development of a new modern city and intercity bus. Mercedes had prototype S80 and U80 vehicles built by HHG in Hamburg. One aspect that was not used on production vehicles was the use of smaller wheels and tyres to reduce floor height. Using the experience with the prototypes, Mercedes built the 11.5 meter long O405 city bus, which was presented in 1983. Series production started in 1984.
The articulated version, O405G, was presented in 1986. It was again of the pusher type, similar to the O305. Both the O405 and O405G were built as trolleybuses O405T and O405GT, some als with auxilliary diesel engines or as full dual mode vehicles. One series of dual mode buses was built for an experimental guided busway system in Essen, Germany.
Series production of the O407 inter urban bus started in 1985. It had a slightly higher floor to provide some luggage space, a narrow fron entrance, and was 11.9 meter long. While the O405 had a two piece windshield, the O407 had a one piece version. However, this was later also made available on the O405.
In 1989 Mercedes presented the O408, a somewhat de-standardized model that could be used as an inter urban bus or as a short distance coach. This model became very successful and was bought by many operators instead of the O407.
Also in 1989 the low-floor versions of the O405 and O405G were presented, called the O405N and O405GN. In addition to a low floor, these vehicles also had the engine moved slightly sideway, making space for a third (in the O405N) or fourth (in the O405GN) wide exit door. This had not been possible on the O405 and O405G. Initially the O405N and O405GN had seats mounted on platforms, but in 1993/1994 a new version was presented where these were lowered and placed directly on the floor. As passengers were sitting lower now, the underside of the windows was now also lowered in the front part of the vehicle. These vehicles are called the O405N2 and O405GN2.
To respond to the demand for shorter buses, Mercedes presented the O402, looking like a scaled down O405. The underframe was built in Switzerland by NAW while the bodywork was provided by Göppel in Augsburg, Germany. Sales were, however, not up to expectations and the model was already dropped in 1991. The same happened to a coach chassis, designated O301, based on the O402 and available only with foreign bodywork.
Production of the O405, O407 and O408 family continued until the end of the century, when they were replaced by a new generation of vehicles.
The O404, the Turkish coaches and the Travego
While the O303 coach had been a development of the O302, the new O404, presented in 1991, was a completely new development. Though it had a modern design and reliable technology, it didn't gain the popularity of its predecessors. Like those, it has been available in various lenghts and heights. Mercedes even made an attempt to produce a double decker based on the O404, but only one prototype was built and shown at the Frankfurt show in 1992. Mercedes was negotiating the production with Drögmöller in Germany, but this company was bought by Volvo. As during this period Setra-Kässbohrer was taken over, it was decided that special luxury coach models would come from the Setra range and the O404 double decker was abandoned. The production span of the O404 was relativily short, by 2001 it was replaced by the new Travego.
The O404 also received competition from within the Mercedes concern. Mercedes Turk, originally Otomarson from Turkey but now a full member of the Mercedes group, exported its O340 coach and from 1993 onwards the O350 Tourismo coach to Western Europe. These stylish and relative cheap coaches started competing with the more expensive O404. The O404 thus automatically moved to the higher end of the coach range.
The new Mercedes Germany coach, the Travego, was introduced in 2000 and emphasises its position as a luxury coach, leaving the less exclusive part of the market to the Turkish built Tourismo, which received a small facelift in 2000. The Travego is available in a 12 meter and a 14-meter three-axle version. The 12-meter version is available in 2 heights, the 14 meter one only exists in the high version.
The O520 Cito, O530 Citaro and O550 Integro
During the second half of the 1990's, Mercedes, now part of Daimler Chrysler and acting as EVOBus, together with Setra, designed a completely new range of public transport vehicles. Mercedes also introduced names for their vehicles in addition to the traditional model designations. The O520 Cito is the smallest and technically the most advanced vehicle. It has a diesel-electric propulsion and a full-length low floor. It is available in 3 lengths: 8, 8.9 and 9.6 meters. Unfortunately the engine compartment in the rear takes up a lot of space, reducing passenger capacity. The bus is also rather loud and up to now is mostly used on a trial basis.
The O530 Citaro is the low floor urban bus. It is available as a 12 meter city bus, a 12 meter inter urban bus with a different interior, a 15 meter 3-axle bus, and an 18-meter articulated vehicle. This bus is now gaining wie popularity in Germany and other European countries.
The O550 Integro is the successor to the popular O408. It is available in the normal version, a higher version and a long, 3-axle 15 meter version. This model is also rapidly spreading through Europe.
Mini and midibuses
Mercedes is a big player on the market for small buses. These are mostly van derived. The midibus O319 was introduced in 1956 and was replaced by the O309 in 1967. The O309 became very popular with over 30,000 produced. In addition large numbers were assembled in Turkey, Tunisia and Iran. These buses sat between 15 and 25 people and were available in many different dimensions and with various engine types. By the end of the 1980's the third generation midibus was presented as the 600-series, with the O609, 611 and 614. An O814 was added. The O-series midibuses are built by Mercedes as buses. One can often see L-series midibuses. In that case Mercedes constructed them as vans and another company modified them to become buses. The L in the Mercedes designation stands for Lastkraftwagen (truck).
In 1971 Mercedes took over Hanomag-Henschel and continued that companies minibus as the 206 range. A new model with a short, squarw hood, replaced it in 1977 and became available as 206, 306, 308, 309 and 310, among others, duplicating some model designations with the midibus. The minibus range has also been redesigned and is now known as the Sprinter. In Spain a different type of minibus is built, known as the MB100. A D behind the model designation of midi- or minibuses indicates a diesel engine.
Brazilian integral buses
Finally mention should be made of the Brazilian buses and coaches. As mentioned above, Mercedes Germany exported many bus kits to Brazil during the 1950's and 1960's. The South American production became more and more independent over the years and a wide range of bus chassis adapted to local conditions was developed. Interestingly the conventional type was continued for a very long time. Mercedes Brazil also introduced its own integral models. Well known are the O362 and O364 coaches and buses from the 1970's. Around 1980 a joint development of Mercedes Brazil and Mercedes Germany was the O370 coach which found wide acclaim in Latin America and was also exported to Africa. A 3-axle 13.2 meter version was called the O371RSD. Later a modernized version, the O400, was introduced. It seems Mercedes Brazil has given up production of complete buses and is now concentrating on the production of chassis to be built up by other companies, amove that apparently cost it quite some clients.
Lit.: Gebhardt, Wolfgang. Deutsche Omnibusse seit 1895.