Flashback Friday: The Silver Eagle
Gordon Lowe reflects back to the days of the Ansair flxible clipper and reviews a modern-day model of this classic bus
Several years ago, I was in the outer Brisbane of Strathpine for reasons I now cannot recall.
That, of course, does not matter — what does matter is that when I stopped the car, by sheer coincidence I parked near a vacant allotment, surrounded by a chain wire fence, which had something extraordinary in it.
To my astonishment, sitting there in the long grass, with its familiar balloon, back was an Ansett-Pioneer Flxible Clipper.
Readers will recall my passion for the ‘Silver Eagle’, but I have always felt the same way about the Ansair Flxible Clipper.
At the time, the importance of my find did not sink in, but a few days later I decided to drive back to Strathpine to once again inspect the bus. Alas it had vanished!
The block of land was empty, except for the long grass. I never found out what happened to that wonderful old bus.
Who knows where it went? It’s probably now in the hands of some lucky collector. Let’s hope so anyway!
When aviation pioneer Reginald Ansett acquired rights to produce a radically different interstate coach long-distance bus transport in Australia was set for a revolution.
The Flxible company in the US had been building its streamlined rear-engine Clipper coaches since before World War II and by 1950 Ansett was manufacturing them in Australia as well.
Early versions used war surplus diesel engines from tanks, mounted behind the passenger a cabin which initially accommodated 29 passengers.
Later versions were extended to accommodate 37 passengers. By the late 1950s, when the bulk of Ansair Flxibles were being manufactured, a variety of high-speed engines including Cummins, GM 2-stroke and the French Deutz were fitted to various vehicles.
Around 131 Australian-made Flxibles were built, with production ending in 1960. Once air travel became more affordable, long-distance coaches needed to accommodate extra passengers in order to remain viable.
So the Ansairs were relegated to tourist routes in areas like the Snowy Mountains where the Flxibles with their roaring engines would ascend steep mountain passes and even travel right inside the newly-constructed tunnels.
Now, dear readers, I will probably never ever own a Flxible Clipper. They are rare finds these days. The next best thing for those who are interested in this wonderful vehicle is to purchase a replica model of this unique bus, which created a new meaning for the words ‘interstate coach’.
Luckily a superb replica of this wonderful Australian coach is available as a model. Produced from scratch by Trux Models, the Flxible Clipper is a model of great complexity and is presented in 1:76 scale. According to Robert Hill from Trux Models, creating the model was a daunting and time-consuming process.
It occupied some 12 months of hard work before releasing the first Flxible (Ansett-Pioneer) model on to the Australian market. Initially, invaluable assistance was given by Gary Driver of Driver Coaches in Melbourne who owns a fully-restored Flxible in Ansett-Pioneer livery.
Apart from the 150 dimensional photos there were more than 300 measurements taken, before a solid plaster body shape mould was made. A 2:1 pattern 1:43 scale was manufactured, until finally, the finished diecast model was produced which was based on a 1:76 scale.
The Flxible replica is not your average model. More than 100 print plates and spray masks were used to reproduce the intricate colour scheme on the Pioneer version and its multitude of signs and emblems.
The models are painted in two-pack epoxy paint and baked in an oven in similar fashion to the way motor vehicles are painted today. Even the rubber tyres have virtually the same treads as were fifi tted to the original Flxibles.
The models feel solid, and are definitely suitable for the most discerning of collectors. Hill says the development costs of the Flxible Clipper model approached $100,000 in the tools required to produce the finished product and this did not include the actual production cost.
Hill confirmed the development process took around 12 months. The Clipper model is branded Trux, with Top Gear being the manufacturer. Only 2,000 of the TX15 models were built when released in 2007. Fast selling is an understatement.
The models hardly had time to appear on Trax’s website (www.topgear. com.au), when orders began arriving. The TX15 Flxible Clipper in Ansett-Pioneer livery is no longer available. It completely sold out — snapped up by collectors.
The Clipper in Ansett-Pioneer livery will never be produced again. The model has appreciated and is now worth around $125 to purchase on eBay or from a collector. There are, however, three additional Flxible Clipper models available that were made last year.
This includes the TX15B in Newmans Coachlines (New Zealand) livery and the TX15C in Ansett Airlines livery which reflect the versatility of the buses used in years gone by. The third model is in the stylish Tasmanian livery of Cooks Tours.
It is designated TX15D. This is a stunning model, and is definitely not a toy! The TX15B (the Newmans model) sports a livery that is generally unfamiliar to most Australians but well known across the ditch. Newmans Coachlines is New Zealand’s longest-running and largest coach company. Newmans operated Flxibles on several sectors of its route network in years gone by.
The model TX15C in Ansett Airlines colours has been produced in larger numbers with a run of 3,000-plus models being manufactured. The Ansett Flxible Clipper once ferried passengers out to Essendon Airport in the 1960s and a similar coach in the same livery was used to ferry passengers out to Mascot Airport in Sydney.
Flxible Clippers in Newmans Coachlines, Cooks Tours and Ansett Airlines retail for $42.95 each. Good value for something so special. These are really great models with much attention being paid to detail. So there you have it dear readers.
While the Flxible Clipper is no more, it lives on in die-cast zinc model form. It is indeed a collector’s item that can either grace one’s desk or bookshelf. Who said good things don’t come in small packages?