Eighty years young, and still producing “Ultimate Class” bus shells for high-end custom conversions and the touring entertainment industry.
By K. Stephen Busick, F45180
Eighty years ago, Eugene Prevost, a manufacturer of church furniture in Sainte Claire, Québec, Canada, built his first wooden-bodied coach and placed it on a new REO truck chassis. Seventy-nine years ago he built his second bus, and 78 years ago his third bus. As strange as it may seem, in the early days of what would become Prevost Car Inc., bus production was limited to one unit per year, a “winter project” for Mr. Prevost and his fellow craftsmen living about 30 miles south of Québec City. Today the Prevost name is emblazoned on high-end coach conversions enjoyed by motorhome enthusiasts, as well as on premium entertainer touring coaches and corporate specialty vehicles. Over the years, the company has produced some 4,000 shells for these select markets.
The company built its first bus manufacturing shop in 1937. With frequent additions, the shop had grown to 22,000 square feet by 1947. During this time the buses changed from all wooden construction to a metal body over a wooden frame, and finally to an all-metal body over an all-metal skeleton.
Along with building buses, Prevost began stretching passenger cars, manufacturing tanks for oil trucks, and creating other specialty vehicles. The custom nature of this work required that the manufacturing facilities be practically self-contained, with metal and woodworking shops, die-casting and plating equipment, and a foundry. Even windows and seats were built by the company.
Shortly after the end of World War II, the plant was almost doubled in size to 40,000 square feet to help meet postwar demand, and by 1951 Les Ateliers Prevost (The Prevost Workshop) had received 100 orders for highway buses from the Canadian government. This helped establish the Prevost name as a respected manufacturer. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the cycle of prosperity started to decline for coach manufacturers, and bus manufacturing across all of North America suffered the effects. Some 25 bus makers went out of business. At Prevost, work ground to a near standstill, and only three buses were manufactured in 1956.
In 1957 the company’s assets were purchased by industrialist Paul Normand and business partner Evariste Laflamme, and operations resumed under the name of Prevost Car Inc. Later that year, the silver-sided LeNormand, named after the firm’s new majority owner, was introduced. This first model to debut under the new ownership was equipped with a diesel engine and a pneumatic suspension. Four years later, the 25-foot Travelair passenger coach, available with a gas or diesel engine, was offered to operators of airport shuttles and companies providing short, intercity transportation. Shortly after came the 40-foot Panoramique intercity parlor coach, featuring large side windows and an improved air-ride suspension.
By 1966 Paul Gourdeau had purchased Laflamme’s shares in Prevost. Andre Normand, son of Paul Normand, became chief financial officer and then president of the organization. He is credited with having the vision of using only the best that modern industry had to offer in materials, tooling, technology, and industrial relations with employees. The Champion, a three-axle, split-level, air-conditioned coach, was introduced soon after.
By this time, operators of bus lines were showing enough interest in Prevost coaches that company officials decided to set up a sales and service network in Canada and the United States. Prevost’s first American dealership was opened in New Jersey and was followed shortly thereafter by a dealership in California. A third dealership was opened in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Two American businessmen, Thomas B. Harbison and William G. Campbell, formed a partnership with Andre Normand in 1969. Two years later, the Prestige, Prevost’s first coach with an integral frame, was introduced. Many consider this model to be the direct predecessor of the Le Mirage. Once again, the enthusiastic acceptance of this unit by the passenger coach market encouraged further Prevost developments.
The hallmark Le Mirage was introduced in 1976. This coach also featured an integrated frame, plus roof-wrapping side windows, all stainless-steel skirting, and much less riveting than other coaches of the time.
In 1978, at FMCA’s summer convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Le Mirage conversion shell was introduced. This shell was more than just a bus without seats; it featured a completely flat floor with no wheel humps and the choice of an 80-inch, 83-inch, or 86-inch floor-to-ceiling height. And to accommodate various floor plans, the roof-wrapping windows could be placed virtually anywhere along the sides of the coach.
In 1980 a new 100,000-square-foot factory was built less than 1/2-mile from the original Prevost facility. This new factory boasted the latest in technology, including the trans-border, an assembly system that allowed coaches under construction to be moved sideways along the production line to specialized workstations. This system provided the flexibility to produce virtually any kind of custom coach shell.
When the laws were changed to allow wider buses, this investment in technology paid off. In March 1984 the company unveiled the Marathon XL and the Le Mirage XL, the first North American 102-inch wide-body intercity coaches and conversion shells, respectively. Production of Prevost’s 96-inch-wide coaches ceased at that time.
Prevost further increased its investment in technology, as well as in research and development. By 1988, after the factory had been expanded twice, the Prevost H5-60 articulated coach was offered to bus-line operators. Standing slightly more than 12 feet tall, this 60-foot-long passenger coach had five single-wheel axles and two front steering axles. With seating for 72 passengers, opposite-steer rear wheels, a fiber composite outer shell, and a midcoach engine on a slideout cradle, the H5-60 was hailed as a technological marvel. These coaches were possible because of the latest computer-aided design (CAD) systems used by the Prevost research and development team. Without this technology, the coaches would have taken considerably longer to bring to market, requiring conventional trial-and-error engineering and testing.
Since that time, the Prevost facility in Sainte Claire has expanded to 375,000 square feet, and the company continues to offer improvements and innovations to the coaches and for the owners of the coaches. These include independent suspension, a rivetless stainless-steel outer shell on the Le Mirage XLII, and electric slideouts. In addition to company-owned parts and service centers in North America, more than 150 independent service centers specialize in the maintenance and repair of Prevost coaches and conversion shells. Prevost Parts Division, the exclusive distributor of Prevost OEM parts, offers one-stop “ordering desk” convenience, with around-the-clock online parts ordering and 24-hour, toll-free access to technical advice. Warehouses in Canada and the United States facilitate rapid delivery of parts. Prevost Action Service System, or PASS, provides drivers of registered Prevost coaches with toll-free instant access to 24-hour emergency roadside assistance.
In recent years, Prevost Car has been jointly owned by Volvo Bus Corporation, a division of the Volvo Group, and British bus manufacturer Henlys Group plc. In October 2004 Prevost announced that Volvo had contracted with Henlys Group to purchase Henlys’ outstanding shares of Prevost Car Inc., thus becoming the sole owner of Prevost.
In 1994 Prevost was the first North American bus manufacturer to qualify for ISO 9001 certification, the most stringent world standard for quality-controlled manufacturing, and ISO 14001 certification for environmental protection. Prevost’s parts and service centers are also ISO-certified.
In addition to producing over-the-road luxury passenger coaches for bus and tour operators, Prevost Car offers its XLII conversion shells in three configurations: 40-foot and 45-foot units designed for motorhome and specialty conversion, and a long-wheelbase 45-foot Entertainer unit specially engineered for traveling entertainers. Rounding out the Prevost offerings for conversion, and using much of the same technology as the Prevost H-Series premium touring coaches, is the 45-foot H3-45 VIP conversion shell.
While Prevost products are certainly cutting-edge modern, the mission statement of the company could be considered old-fashioned. It reads: “Our corporate mission calls for us to achieve and maintain leadership by designing and building coach shells and intercity touring coaches that bring our customers an unparalleled level of satisfaction. Prevost’s ongoing commitment in pursuit of that goal is to produce “˜ultimate’ quality bus shells that exceed owners’ expectations through meticulous manufacturing and innovative use of state-of-the art technology.”
I think that if Eugene Prevost, who died in 1965, could see his company today, he would be happy with that philosophy. And he probably would be more than a little amazed to see his name on the back of modern coaches and buses crisscrossing North America.
Prevost XLII Conversion Shell Features
All Prevost conversion shells feature an integral structure assembled with “zero tolerance” jigs engineered by Prevost. The XLII-Series conversion shells come under three configurations. Although the 40-foot shell and the two 45-foot units are somewhat similar in appearance, they are very different vehicles.
Besides the variation in overall length, the differing wheelbase of the three models may be the most noticeable attribute. The XLII-40 has a wheelbase of 279 inches, the XLII-45 measures 314 inches, and the Entertainer conversion bus shell, also 45 feet long, has 339 inches between the wheels. All of the buses have a turning radius shorter than their length, but, not surprisingly, as the wheelbase increases, so does the turning radius. The XLII-40 has a turning radius of 38.4 feet, while the XLII-45 and the Entertainer have turning radiuses of 41.8 feet and 44.25 feet, respectively.
At 68.75 inches, the front overhang, including the bumper, is the same for all models. However, the XLII-45 has a rear overhang, again including the bumper, of 107.75 inches, while the shorter XLII-40 and the Entertainer with its longer wheelbase both have a rear overhang that measures 82.75 inches, including the rear bumper.
Floor-to-ceiling height in both the XLII-40 and XLII-45 is 86 inches, while the Entertainer is 3 inches higher. Not surprisingly, the Entertainer’s overall height, at 143 inches, is 3 inches higher than the other two models.
The specific requirements of the entertainment industry and touring artists that use the Entertainer model dictate a maximum amount of below-floor storage space. This coach provides 433 cubic feet of space there. The XLII-40 has 315 cubic feet, and the XLII-45 has 407. All dimensions include the standard driver air-conditioning system.
The XLII Entertainer and the XLII-40 have a 250-gallon fuel reserve, while the XLII-45 has a 208-gallon tank. With tanks this size, refueling stops can be far apart. Plus, it is nice to know that all of the models have fuel filler necks on both sides to simplify the task.
DDEC Series 60 engines vary according to the model. The XLII-40 and the Entertainer both have 12.7-liter engines rated at 455 horsepower. The XLII-45 has a 14-liter, 515-horsepower engine. The Allison World 4000MH six-speed automatic transmission is standard in all models.
The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the XLII-45 is 54,500 pounds, while the other two models have a GVWR of 51,400 pounds. According to company officials, all three models boast the industry’s top front axle load capacity, at 18,000 pounds.
Standard equipment includes disc brakes with ABS (antilock braking system), an independent suspension system, cruise control, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and power steering with constant assistance. However, those wishing to have variable-assistance power steering can order it.
Naturally, many, many other items are available as standard equipment or as options. For example, various driver’s seats, lights, mirrors, fuel filters, an air brake connection for a trailer, or paint with special marble effects can be added at the factory if desired.
As many owners have found in recent years, slideouts can greatly increase the livability of a coach. So, in addition to deciding the type and location of Prevost-patented frameless windows, all-aluminum slideouts can be ordered for placement in the front and/or rear of the XLII-40 and XLII-45. These all-electrical (no hydraulic) slideouts employ four synchronous gears, one on each corner of the slideout, to provide smooth, quiet operation. When slideouts are placed on the coach, the baggage doors under the slideouts are equipped with vertical hinges so that the bays remain accessible while the slideout is extended. Aircraft-type, twin-blade wiper seals tightly close around the slideout and clean the outer skin when the slideout is retracted. Pneumatic pins maintain shell integrity when traveling. The slideouts are an integral part of the shell structure and are backed 100 percent by the Prevost “Ultimate Class” warranty and after-sales support.
Prevost H3-45 VIP Conversion Shell Features
At 316.12 inches, the wheelbase of the Prevost H3-45 VIP 45-foot conversion bus shell is slightly more than 2 inches longer than the wheelbase of the Prevost XLII-45. However, the turning radius of 41.8 feet is the same for both coaches. Other similarities include all-disc brakes with ABS; an independent suspension system; the 14-liter, 515-horsepower Detroit Diesel engine; and a six-speed automatic Allison 4000MH transmission. The GVWR of 54,500 pounds includes the industry’s highest front axle load capacity, at 18,000 pounds.
Standing 149 inches tall, taller than even the XLII Entertainer model, the H3-45 VIP boasts an astounding under-floor storage capacity of 505 cubic feet when equipped with the standard driver air-conditioning system. While the bodywork of the XLII-Series is all stainless steel up to the window level, the H3-45 VIP has a fiber composite outer shell reinforced with carbon fiber. And since the “H” in the name signifies this as a high-deck coach, it is not surprising that the cabin floor height, as measured from the ground, is 63 inches, 14.5 inches higher than the XLII-40 and XLII-45. Its floor-to-ceiling height reaches 83 inches.
Other features that are unique to the H3-45 VIP include a 230-gallon fuel tank; an entrance door width of 27 inches; and an entry step height of 14 inches. Overhang, including bumpers, is 75 inches for the front and 107 inches for the rear.
One or two aluminum and all-electrical slideouts may be ordered with this unit also, as can an assortment of window types, including single-pane or dual-pane glass with electrical awning type partitions.
Because Prevost is constantly updating its coaches, this information, while the latest available, is naturally subject to change. However, be assured that the staff at the Prevost factory stands ready to answer any questions that you might have about their products and will happily assist you as you begin your journey in the “Ultimate Class.”
Prevost Car Inc.
35 Gagnon Bd
Ste. Claire, PQ
Canada G0R 2V0
USA: (866) 637-4355
Prevost Car Inc. is a strong supporter of its Prevost Prouds owners club, an FMCA chapter. The company provides the chapter with technical support, sponsorship assistance, and attendance at the annual Prevost Prouds Rally. Membership is open to owners of motor coaches with shells manufactured by Prevost. For more information about this group, refer to the “Chapter Spotlight” that appears on page 42 of this issue.