by Larry Plachno
Photos by the Author
Several members of the intercity bus industry met in Maryland over the weekend of September 25-26, 1993 as guests of Jemco Sales and TAM-USA. Saturday’s breakfast and dinner were held in the contemporary Sheraton International Hotel located on the grounds of BWI Airport outside of Baltimore. 1n between, they were transported to Belcamp, Maryland to see and inspect nine new TAM 260 coaches that had just arrived on a boat from Slovenia.
Although a demonstrator and at least one commercial TAM coach were already operating here, these nine coaches represent the first group of TAM intercity coaches to be delivered to the United States. Picking up the coaches from Baltimore harbor and their inspection prior to delivery was under the direction of TAM-USA and handled by Ken Stranger and European Bus & Truck. Their facility in Belcamp had previously been used to import European coaches into the United States and still does a lively business in repairing, servicing and supplying parts for European coaches.
The Economy Market Niche
Although essentially an economical coach, the TAM 260 is designed to be integrated into your fleet of larger, more expensive buses. The single most interesting aspect of the TAM 260 is that it is being built and marketed as an economical and possibly smaller capacity coach with big coach features–a market niche that has effectively remained vacant for years. In fact, some say that we have not had a real economical/smaller coach alternative since the late 1960s when Flexible gave up intercity coach production.
The basic reason for the lack of a suitable coach in this particular market niche is that most of the big coach manufacturers have concentrated on the larger and more expensive bus market because it was more profitable and offered more sales potential. GMC gave up manufacturing their 35-foot coach (the P8M4108A) in 1978 because they could not offer more than a $10,000 reduction in price from their 40-foot model. Hence, the majority of operators opted for the larger unit and there were insufficient orders to warrant keeping the 35-foot coach in production.
One of the new TAM 260’s was photographed in Belcamp, Maryland prior to being delivered to its new owner, TransAmerica Charters and Tours in Scottsdale, Arizona. From a distance, the TAM 260 looks smaller than its actual size. However, it not only has an attractive European appearance but is also within inches of being forty feet long.
MCI took their 35-foot coach (the MC-5C) out of production in 1980 for virtually the same reason. Van Hool and Neoplan both offered shorter and more economical coaches during the 1980s, but both have tended to concentrate on the larger coaches in more recent years. Eagle continues to offer a 35-foot coach but their problem is very similar to what GMC and MCI discovered; that the relatively small reduction in price from the full size coach tends to encourage few orders. Hence, there has been very little on the U.S. and Canadian intercity coach market that offers big coach features while still providing a meaningful reduction in price.
Three organizations, two American and one European, have combined their talents to offer the TAM 260 to fill this market gap. The original idea came from Jemco Sales; named for John E. Morley in Indianapolis and now including Dick Parkhill and Thomas “Sal” Ciraulo, a past salesman for both Setra and Eagle.
The second organization is TAM bus of Maribor, Slovenia, a major bus builder in a new country comprising what was once the northwest corner of Yugoslavia bordering on Italy and Austria. In fact, the Maribor factory is within 20 miles of the Austrian border. TAM has been building buses in Europe for over 47 years and has a substantial product line including both transit and intercity models. Particularly interesting is the fact that the TAM buses have been used throughout Eastern Europe and have a reputation for durability and ruggedness.
The third company is TAM-USA, a joint venture company located in Van Nuys, California. This company has been active in recent years in the United States in regard to the development of the TAM 252 project and a heavy-duty school bus. They now will be the importer and distributor of the new TAM 260.
They elected to start with an established TAM intercity coach model that had first been sold in 1985 and already represented a production run of more than 4,000 units. This model was then modified to suit the American market and was highly Americanized for U.S. and Canadian bus operators using domestic componentry. The result is the new TAM 260. It is interesting that the TAM 260 has more than 50% American content, and most of the remainder is represented by the framing, body and seats.
I was favorably impressed with the TAM 260 from the standpoint of what you get for the money invested. Components and systems are substantially American and up to big coach standards. In fact, some of the systems are remarkably state-of-the-art for what is supposed to be an economical coach.
Construction and Exterior
Like the big American coaches, the TAM 260 is full integral construction with a strong “birdcage” underframe made from tubular steel. Although no stainless steel is used, the body panels are made from galvanized steel and zinc chromate or other anti-corrosion material is applied to all external frame members and internal body panels. Based on the experience of existing TAM coach owners in several countries, it appears that these coaches hold up very well and are not prone to rust.
Externally, the TAM 260 is of typical European design but with American configuration and components–a combination generally found desirable by American coach operators. With its large, square passenger windows, smooth and fully paintable exterior, and “plug” type passenger door, the coach retains a typical European appearance. However, the single level design, single front passenger door and right rear restroom are more typical of American coaches.
While it tends to look small, the 260 is actually very close to contemporary American coaches in size. The length is 39.37 feet which is very close to the current American standard of 40 feet. Width is 98.5 inches, the current European standard and only slightly narrower than the current American 102-inch standard. Height is only 128.5 inches, considerably shorter than some of the newer coaches on the market. Interestingly, the TAM 260 offers a turning radius of only 34.5 feet.
One major difference in the TAM 260 is that it is equipped with two axles. This at first may be perceived as a problem in regard to road axle weight limitations. However, the 260 is amazingly light, and even fully loaded with passengers and luggage it is legal on the majority of roads normally used by big buses.
Some of the componentry is particularly interesting. Instead of the typical marine plywood, the TAM 260 uses a composite, pressure bonded floor that comes from the State of Washington. It not only reduces noise but takes 660 pounds out of the weight of the coach. The large passenger windows are made in Los Angles. All of the passenger windows can be used for emergency egress. On the other hand, the TAM 260 has a particularly strong roof structure.
In several places the original European design has been modified for the American market. For example, the original one-piece windshield has been replaced with a split windshield to reduce glass costs on windshield repair. Dual electric windshield wipers are provided which are very similar to those on the Setra and Van Hool. A spare tire is carried behind the front bumper as is typical on American coaches. Air brakes are of the S-cam drum type with Bendix pressure regulating valves. A Bendix AD-9 air dryer is provided on the air system as standard equipment.
Engine and Systems
The standard power train on the TAM 260 is a 275-horsepower Cummins diesel engine coupled to a five-speed ZF automatic transmission with push-button control. We might note that the transmission has an integrated hydraulic retarder controlled by a multi-position wand on the steering column. As is typical with four-cycle diesel engines, a fuel-fired heater is provided for additional heating. The 260 has one of the new electronic Webasto heater units as standard equipment.
The standard fuel tank holds 100 gallons and can be filled from both sides of the coach. The coach is equipped with a fuel gauge, and fuel economy is quite good considering its weight and engine.
Expectedly, the 260 provides underfloor luggage compartments. They have a capacity of 260 cubic feet and are equipped with modern pantograph-type doors. Two smaller compartments are provided towards the front of the coach that can be used for safety items (chocks, reflectors and chains) or the usual fluids carried by the driver.
There are also two extra compartments located just behind the rear wheel but both of these are used for componentry. The one on the right side houses the rear electrical panel and batteries while the one on the left side contains the Webasto unit and transmission fluid dip stick. All of these compartments, including the three engine compartment doors, come with locks as standard equipment.
Continental 12R22.5 tires are provided and aluminum wheels are standard. The rear axle comes from Rockwell and ABS brakes are supplied as standard equipment. The suspension system includes air bags (two on the front axle, four on the rear) with heavy-duty shock absorbers. Since the air bags are mounted outboard, the coach has a good ride plus substantial stability. A “kneeling feature” is provided as standard equipment.
The electrical system is remarkably up-to-date. There are two main electrical boxes; one in the usual position under the driver’s window and another towards the rear on the right side. Components are nicely marked in English. A dual 24/12-volt system is used. The usual pair of 8D batteries (on a slide-out tray) is hooked into a Vanner equalizer. Twenty four volts is used on the Delco starter and virtually all coach systems while the 12-volt power is used for the headlights and any 12-volt coach componentry. There are two Delco alternators in the engine compartment; ostensibly for coach power and air conditioner power. The coach will continue to operate if one of the alternators go off line.
The TAM 260 is equiped with a fully electronic state-of-the-art heating and cooling system. All the driver need do is to set the desired interior temperature and the electronic system takes it from there. Sutrak roof-mounted air conditioning is used. It incorporates the new 6-cylinder FK-26 compressor. This all-aluminum compressor will not only handle all types of refrigerant but has considerably less vibration than the old four cylinder FK-4 compressor.
Because of the sunlight that comes in through the windshield, increased air conditioning capacity is provided in the driver’s area with air diffusers above the windshield. The Cummins engine does not require a fast idle feature but one is provided primarily to satisfy the air conditioner at idle. It comes on automatically at idle when the air conditioner is operating. Unlike many coaches, the TAM 260 does provide a manual system of ventilation with outside air for those days when neither heating nor air condition is required. This manual ventilation system can also be used in an emergency if the air conditioning system fails.
You enter the coach at the usual position at the right front. The door is a European electric over air “plug” type door. 0nce inside you will notice a fold-up tour guide/escort seat on your left and a microphone for the public address system on the right–both standard equipment in the 260. Optionally available is a European-type narrow refrigerator adjacent to the tour guide seat.
TAM 260 drivers are pampered with a fully adjustable Isri air seat. In addition, a tilting and telescopic steering wheel is standard equipment.
Unlike many American coaches equipped with only a small “toll” window, the TAM provides a relatively large sliding window on the driver’s left. In fact, it is large enough to stick your head out when backing the coach. Immediately below the window is a small panel that incorporates the parking brake air release, the AM/FM cassette radio and the controls for coach entertainment and electronics. Both the radio and the entertainment controls are built by REI in Omaha, Nebraska.
Looking towards the rear of the coach we can see the higher class interior provided as standard equipment on the TAM 260. While the parcel racks are of the limited-capacity European style, the TAM seats are attractive and drapes are provided between the windows. Normal seating capacity of the TAM 260 is 44 passengers in reclining seats.
Up in the left front corner of the coach is the driver’s microphone. It is mounted on a flexible support and will remain in the same position without the necessity of being held by the driver. On the far left of the dash is a small panel that includes the push button gear selectors for the transmission, the air conditioning controls and the Webasto heater controls.
The main panel, in front of the driver, includes a row of colorful “tell tale” warning and condition lights across the top. Included are the expected indicator lights for the parking brake, high coolant temperature, low oil pressure, etc. The remainder of the main dash is taken up with instruments. Interestingly, the TAM 260 has relatively complete instrumentation. Expected are the air pressure, engine oil pressure, and engine coolant temperature gauges plus a speedometer. Over and above this, the 260 provides a battery condition (voltage) gauge, a fuel gauge, a transmission oil temperature gauge and tachometer. In addition, the speedometer has both a built-in odometer and a built-in trip odometer.
In typical European fashion, a large stalk is provided on the left side of the steering column. This controls the turn signals, lights and windshield wipers. On the right side of the steering column is a wand that controls the built-in transmission retarder.
On the right side of the dash is another small panel that incorporates most of your switches. Included are the usual switches for interior lights, heated mirrors, hazard lights, opening and closing the door, front kneeling feature, retarder and the optional refrigerator. There is also a small group of indicator lights that show when your headlights, turn signals, and brake lights are on.
Looking behind the driver, you will find that the passenger area is remarkably well equipped for an economical coach. Normal configuration calls for 44 seated passengers. The reclining seats with fold down armrests are made in Slovania. However, Holdsworth fabric is used and it is possible to match many if not most of the popular seat fabric designs. Magazine “nets” on the backs of the seats are provided as standard equipment as are drapes between the windows that match the passenger interior. Fully adjustable aluminum footrests are optionally available.
The overhead parcel rack is the simple, open European type. However, the passenger convenience module mounted on the underside of the parcel rack for each pair of seats is impressive. It incorporates the usual reading lights, individual ventilation, plus a speaker, a “next stop” button and an attendant call button.
Expectedly, a restroom is located at the right rear. We found it to be quite elaborate and inclusive by current American standards. In the rear is a Thetford flush toilet. To the front is a mirror and a narrow shelf incorporating a sink with running water and a liquid soap dispenser. Also built into this wall is a space for a conventional toilet paper roll, a tissue dispenser and a built-in garbage chute and container.
I must admit that I was very curious when I discovered a door adjacent to the restroom, but in the rear wall of the coach. It turns out that the TAM 260 has a narrow driver’s closet and storage area built across the rear of the coach. Included is a rod for clothes hangers so the driver can conveniently carry extra uniforms or clothing without crushing them. There is room on the floor for luggage and for other bus items such as cleaning materials or supplies. A wallmounted light provides illumination for this interesting area. Perhaps the best part is that this back door can be locked by the driver.
Like most American intercity coaches, the TAM 260 offers substantial underfloor luggage capacity and pantograph-type luggage compartment doors. These main underfloor compartments have a capacity of 260 cubic feet. Additional storage is available in the two front underfloor compartments and in the rear driver’s closet and storage area.
Numerous options are available in the passenger area. Several of the new coaches were delivered with a video system and TV monitors mounted above the seats. Some of the coaches were equipped with a coat rack opposite the restroom. This has the interesting advantage of eliminating the need for someone to sit next to the restroom and allows coats to be hung instead of stuffed into the overhead rack. TAM also optionally provides a wide table with cup holders and reversed seats.
I was frankly impressed by the number and amount of items that were provided as standard equipment on the TAM 260. These include ABS brakes, aluminum wheels, the front tour escort seat, radios, speakers and public address system, microphones for both the driver and the tour escort, fueling capability from both sides, seat back nets, full dash instrumentation, a kneeling feature, an air dryer, heated mirrors, fog lights, a built-in transmission retarder, the new electronic Webasto fuel-fired heater, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, driver’s air seat, drapes between the passenger windows, and the overhead passenger convenience module with reading lights and ventilation controls.
There still are a few options available. These include the refrigerator next to the tour escort seat, sun shades and shawls, adjustable aluminum passenger seat footrests, a video system with three or more monitors, and remote control external mirrors.
In spite, of all of the standard equipment, a new TAM 260 sells for less than $200,000. The coach carries a one year/100,000 mile warranty. This is enhanced by a two-year unlimited mileage warranty on the transmission, rear axle, air conditioning and engine, with a warranty for up to 500,000 miles available on the engine. I found it particularly interesting that each coach is delivered with a colorful and professional manual written in English and Spanish.
Parts for the TAM 260 should not be a problem. We found that a large shipment of parts were delivered with these nine new coaches mostly in the luggage compartments. Ken Stranger’s facility in Belcamp, Maryland will be a primary parts depot as well as Cinedyne, Inc. in the Los Angeles area. The Belcamp facility has the ability to ship parts virtually anywhere in the United States within 24 hours.
Actually, parts supply may not be as critical with the TAM 260 as you might expect. The coach is built to SAE specifications around U. S.-manufactured components and accessories, thereby ensuring the availability of replacement parts and service at any supplier-authorized center.
Repair facilities for TAM buses are being set up around the country. Included are European Bus & Truck in Maryland, Cinedyne Inc. in Los Angeles, DeLong Diesel in Phoenix, and D&D Diesel Repair in Salt Lake City. Additional repair and service facilities are expected to be announced for northern California and Florida in the near future
Current Sales and Deliveries
The initial sales and customers for the TAM 260 surprised me. Because of the two axles and economical price, I personally had expected to see these first nine coaches go to eastern commuter operators. Instead, virtually all of them were sold by Sal Ciraulo to southwestern tour operators.
Transamerica Charters & Tours of Scottsdale, Arizona took two coaches. They arrived with red and blue stripes and were fitted with 44 seats and a rear coat rack.
Transportation Charter Services of Anaheim, California took two coaches. This company is the only previous TAM commercial operator, having taken delivery of a TAM 252 in December of 1992.
Superior Tour Service of Las Vegas, Nevada will receive two coaches. One arrived with a striking red and black paint scheme and the second will probably be painted in similar colors.
One coach is going to Sonoma Charter and Tours of Sonoma, California, and another is going to Tony’s Tours of Lake Havisu, Arizona. The final coach is slated to go to the new Florida sales office which has a potential buyer.
Present plans call for 20 more coaches to be delivered by April of 1994. Some improvements are slated for 1994 production. The existing hydraulic engine cooling fan will be replaced by a Horton electric fan. Also being redesigned is the rear step area near the rear restroom. In addition, both the bumpers and the dash are slated for some improvement in the 1994 models.
Several of the TAM 260 coaches planned for 1994 delivery have already been sold. The salespeople tell me that additional coaches can be ordered but that the waiting time at this point is about six months.
The current TAM 260 sales program includes three sales offices with a fourth office coming on line in the near future, as well as TAM-USA as the importer and distributor of the TAM 260. Interestingly, many of the people involved with the TAM 260 are old timers in the industry and well known by commercial bus operators. Included are John Morley at JEMCO Sales in Indianapolis, Indiana (317) 787-7811 and Sal Ciraulo at JEMCO Sales in Scottsdale, Arizona (602) 994-9315. On the east coast is Ken Stranger at European Bus & Truck in Belcamp, Maryland (410) 272-8882.